Monday, January 25, 2010

Why The Word Charity Should Makes Me Shudder

Charity is top down, it is “I have the solution and you need my help.”

The late Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, once stated, “What the poor need is not charity, its capital. … We give them an opportunity. That’s the only thing that is given away. They’ve got to make the payments so that money can be used to help somebody else.”

Apply your concept of partnership to more than just your donors; apply it to your customers. Without your customers’ efforts and willingness to work with you, you cannot create outcomes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Are You Prepared for When Disaster Strikes?

This past week news has centered on little other than the devastating impact of the earthquake in Haiti. The challenges of responding to this crisis are immense. More than one newscaster has claimed the task impossible, despite the outpouring of help from around the world, the tens of millions of dollars in donations and the fact that Haiti has over 10,000 NGOs of its own to mobilize – the highest number of NGOs per capita of anywhere in the world. True, this is an extraordinary situation. But, it should serve as a lesson to all organizations in our sector. We must be prepared for the unexpected, whatever form that might take. After all, experience teaches us it is not a question of “if” something untoward will occur, but “when.”

No area in the world is immune to natural disasters. Therefore, your organization is susceptible. Is your data protected and retrievable even if your computers are smashed, looted or swept out to sea? Do you have a staffing plan where people know who is to report, under what circumstances, and where to report if your physical space can’t be reached, is uninhabitable or otherwise compromised? Do you have a means of checking up on staff who don’t immediately report to be sure that they are okay? What about a plan for providing service when your normal operations are disrupted? How will you access critical supplies? How will you determine which programs have priority if you cannot, for some reason, provide them all? Do you have a process in place for communicating with your clients if basic telecommunications are disrupted? How will you triage their needs? Do you have agreements with other organizations to work together or even take over for you in times like these?

Then there are man-made disasters, which are even more likely to occur. Pick up a newspaper almost any day and there is a story about someone in the public eye who said something politically incorrect when out with “friends” or in front of a live microphone that was assumed to be off. It can happen to your executive administrator or a visible member of your board. What about a trusted staff member or volunteer who absconds with organizational funds? Or, a program that gets bad publicity? Perhaps someone associated with your organization is accused of sexual harassment. Or, your property is burglarized or significantly vandalized. The possibilities are endless. Are you prepared to handle them quickly and intelligently? Have you identified an organizational spokesperson who will serve as the (only) voice of the organization in these circumstances? Do you have a policy for whether you will be proactive or reactive in dealing with the press? A script by which you control the spin? What about procedures for staying in the public’s good graces?

While it is never possible to cover all contingencies, having risk and crisis management plans in place that deal with the most likely will serve you in good stead. Not only will you be able to quickly respond to the situations you’ve previously identified, you will have a plan from which to start – one you can adapt – when faced with the unexpected.

Few people like thinking about worst case scenarios – it’s why so many die without wills, despite the knowledge that we all will die. However, your organization made a commitment to the community when it opened its doors. You cannot afford to be ill prepared to meet that commitment. As such, you need plans that are updated as new situations reveal missing elements. Bring key stakeholders in today and start them brainstorming. Tomorrow may be too late.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How to Grow Your Organization’s Esteem

High esteem organizations say things like, “We are a recognized and valued partner in our community” and “Even thought we are just a small (substitute regional, independent, etc.) nonprofit, we make a tremendous difference in the lives of those we serve.” Growing your organizations esteem will yield high esteem results including more resources for your mission.

I’ve just completed the January edition of my newsletter Added Value. In it I include a dozen practical tips to grow your organization’s esteem. Here is one:

Take Calculated Risks. Remember the first time you climbed to the high diving board? You stood at very tip of the board, toes over, feet secure, body wobbling, wondering if this new feat was a good idea. The other kids, all experts, holler for you to hurry up. Faced with the disgruntled mob behind, you dived. And, even if it was a belly flop, you were proud that you climbed high to take the leap. Take calculated risks to enhance your organization’s esteem.

If you would like whole article plus an article about how to create high esteem proposals, email me at

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Researching prospective donors is essential

While speaking to a journalist doing research for an article on the growing sophistication of charitable fundraising efforts, I explained the essential role of "doing your homework" by researching prospective donors before beginning any solicitation.

The essence of every successful fundraising program is establishing and maintaining strong relationships with your supporters and cultivating relationships with prospective donors.

While she laughed at the analogy with online dating sites, she clearly understood the need for organizations to establish a prospect's linkage to their mission and vision, their ability to give to the non-profit as well as their level of interest in the organization's projects. Research is essential in establishing the Linkage, Ability and Interest (LAI).

Research is also critical in determining the "Five Rights" in soliciting a major gift:
The Right person asking the Right prospect at the Right time for the Right amount for the Right project.

If you're not incorporating research into your everyday activities, are you as successful in attracting funds as you could be?

Laura Mikuska

Monday, January 11, 2010

Nonprofit May I

Create Next Steps

Like the children’s game, Mother May I, do you offer a variety of steps to help donors increase their knowledge, commitment and connection to your organization? Or, do you hope they meet you and just write a large check? Most donors will take baby and middle steps, before giant ones. Donors who give significant amounts from the start are a welcome exception. Your future will be solid if you base it on regular, predictable events. Therefore, offer many varied baby, medium and giant steps.

Here is one example of a successful series of steps:

1. You meet a couple.
2. You send them your monthly newsletter.
3. They attend an event.
4. They volunteer once per month.
5. They give $25 in response to your annual appeal letter.
6. You thank them. And invite them to a donor’s-only event.
7. They don’t attend, but continue to volunteer and next year send a second $25. You thank them.
8. You have coffee with them at your site, a time to get to know one another better. You learn that one of their parents was served by a branch of your organization during a crisis. And you learn of their interest cactus, War Eagles (Auburn) and travel to New Zealand. You thank them.
10. You send them an article on New Zealand.
11. You make a personal call to invite them to the donor’s only event. They attend.
12. They give $100 in response to your annual appeal letter. You thank them.
13. You interview them and include information about them in your newsletter in an article highlighting volunteers.
14. They pledge $5,000 to your capital campaign . . .

As you start your new year, examine opportunities you offer and consider if you need to add any new steps, either baby, middle or giant to help your donors move closer to you. For help, see
While this article focuses on grant donors the ideas shared are applicable to all.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Help Them Take You Home: Nonprofit What If

Over the holidays, we visited the Florida Aquarium. If you want to study a nonprofit practicing entrepreneurism, visit here. You’ll see the Odwalla machines in the lobby, the pre-penguin show video about how to enhance your visit and paid advertisements on the back of the restroom stall. If you take notes, you’ll easily fill a sheet of paper with ideas for your nonprofit to consider to boost your income.

My favorite was an exhibit about home aquariums. It nicely linked bringing what you see and learn at the site back home. Several displays on the history of small aquariums were available, plus examples of home aquariums based on various themes.

This exhibit offered The Aquarium benefits like:
–Access to new sponsors. While home aquarium stores and suppliers might have interest in supporting the aquarium at large, they would naturally have greater interest in an exhibit highlighting home aquariums.
–The examples of home aquariums offered a collection of low-cost exhibits to offer smaller donors.
–The variety of small aquariums allowed sponsor to pick one that fits their tastes. One was labeled, “More with Less.” One called “Shocking Orange” might be designed to match a donor’s preference.
–A long-term opportunity to connect aquarium visitors with the organization’s mission (in part “to inspire stewardship about our natural environment.”) What better way to help people appreciate the aquarium’s work and nature than to learn the challenges of building and maintaining an small aquarium?

Besides the collection of entrepreneurial ideas, the exhibit provides us another opportunity to play another round of Nonprofit What If. Remember how to play Nonprofit What If? Take a successful concept used elsewhere and consider how you can apply it at your nonprofit for fun, profit and mission enhancement.

How might you help your customers (including your volunteers) to further connect with your mission at home or elsewhere in the community? How about a display about how to create puppets for a puppet theater? For an orchestra, an exhibit on homemade instruments or highlighting local quartets of amateurs would add value. For social service providers how about a sponsored exhibit in your lobby for people to learn while they wait?

In this New Year, how will you help your customers bring more home? For help brainstorming ideas, see

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Consider Phased-Succession Planning

It’s the start of a new year, a new decade and the market is looking a bit bullish again. Some of the baby boomers who were considering retirement prior to the crash of 2008 but felt forced to put those dreams on hold are dreaming again of living a different life. However, most of them still feel the necessity of building back up their nest egg and some question how they will identify themselves in retirement. This push/pull can leave an organization with an uncertain future.

Boards have a responsibility to reduce that uncertainty in order to protect their organization and ensure that its promise to the community is kept. Succession-planning can help, especially if the design of the plan specifically allows for the retiring executives to meet their needs and the organizations to meet theirs.

To satisfy the potentially mutually exclusive needs of both parties, consider implementing what I call “phased-succession planning.” Speak candidly with your executive to determine his/her needs and desires. Then, set up a 2 – 5 year phased plan, where the executive commits in writing to working fewer hours each year for fewer dollars until retirement. For instance, in the first year of a three-year plan the executive might work 90 percent of his/her current contract, for 90 percent of his/her current salary. In the second year, he/she might work 75 percent. And, in the third year, he/she might work 50 percent, with the understanding that at the end of that year he/she will step down totally.

Besides helping the executive ease into retirement, this process serves the organization in several ways. First, we all know that work expands to fill the time available and that studies show that part-time workers contribute more work proportionally than full-time workers. So, chances are, the organization will still get a similar amount of work from its executive, despite the fewer hours. Perhaps more importantly, however, this phased-succession planning allows the organization time to experiment with what jobs it really needs done and who is best suited to do those jobs. The board can look objectively at what the executive has been doing and determine if each of those tasks can or should only be done by the executive. It can ask the executive to try delegating certain tasks to others on staff, to a new employee being groomed for leadership or even to someone outside the organization altogether. Given multiple years for implementation, the organization can play with what works best so that when the executive fully turns over the reins, there is an optimum system in place. And, by employing this gradual transition you increase the chance that the changes, when completed, will be smooth and accepted by all.