Monday, May 24, 2010

Enhancing Board Trust

You cannot guarantee others will be trustworthy, but you can create a climate that improves trust on your board of directors. That climate, no surprise, is built on healthy relationships.

Your board trusts you because they know you and see your work. However, it is likely they do not know or may not trust other board members whom they meet one time per month in a formal setting around your large conference table.

You can create a climate of trust among these strangers. Naturally, you will help select and support the election of board members whom you believe will be trustworthy. Once they begin serving, provide opportunities for them to understand, know and learn to trust other members. One way is to help each board member to articulate why your cause is important to them and share their commitment to it by sharing their personal story—perhaps once per year for everyone or one member per month. To further create a climate of trust, include regular opportunities for one-on-one conversations during your meetings. Also, take 20 minutes to get board members into small group work during a board meeting and report back to the group as a whole. You will also want to work with your chair to enforce the consequences the board sets for itself, especially in terms of attendance and donations. Also, let all the board members know how others fulfill their commitments and be willing to help less organized members remember their promises with minutes, email reminders and check-in telephone calls.

For more about building trust in and around your nonprofit, email us at for a copy of our May 2010 Added Value newsletter, “Frankly My Dear I Don’t Trust You.“

Monday, May 17, 2010

Managing Donor Relationships

I recently heard from a development professional about her discovery on taking a new position - the administrative professional responsible for maintaining donor files had taken it upon herself to shred the information in each file and discard the file folders. Why? She wanted more drawer space in her filing cabinet for other, presumably more important, files.

She also discovered that there were no fewer than four separate databases with donor information. Clearly, there is a need in this organization for records management!

Records management is key to maintaining crucial relationships with all your stakeholders. Having central donor files and a comprehensive database will ensure that anyone that has to have contact with the donor will have all the necessary information. Nothing is worse than being embarrassed because you didn't know something that was in someone else's file (or even head!).

The example above could have been avoided by having a comprehensive policy on what to do with your records. If you are unable to handle the volume of records on site, consider outsourcing your records management. Outside firms will catalog and store your records for as long as you require, and can retrieve records in a timely fashion. They can also provide backup to your database and securely store the information off site. All of this can be done cost-effectively.

Remember - you are the stewards of your donors' information and securing it is of utmost importance.

Laura Mikuska
Mikuska Group
Fund Development & Event Specialists

The Future of Low-Salary-Good-Benefit Jobs

An April 22, 2010 Wall Street Journal article, “Perils of Church Related Pension,” shares that, “Employees and retirees of Minneapolis publisher Augsburg Fortress are suing their employer, alleging in their complaint that it allowed their pension plan to fail…” Augsburg Fortress is a non-profit organization.

For years, many nonprofits, like Augsburg Fortress, have offered relatively low salaries and offset them with excellent benefit packages. Are good benefit packages a vestige of the past? If indeed low-salary-good-benefit packages are another victim of the great recession, what does this mean for nonprofits? If your nonprofit offers an excellent benefit package, can it afford to continue it? If not, how will it encourage new employees to select a career with your organization? Will passion be enough?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Create Institutional Memory

I hope this is a blog post you really don‘t need.

Log your interactions with your donors—individual, foundation, government and corporate. The foundation, government and corporate donors are relatively easy. You know from the start that you seek a long-term mutually profitable partnership with them. Individual donors are more challenging. When does someone become a donor of interest? Develop your own trigger point, perhaps when someone gives more than $100 three time three years in a row. The most important thing: log information about important donors.

What should you log?
At a minimum: their name, the date of the interaction and the content of your conversations, i.e., what they said especially in terms of their giving interests and any possible links with your mission, and anything you promised. Quick notes work as shown below:

6/10. Sally G. prefers direct service to children. Board is more family orientated and meets quarterly. Sally brings top 5 recommendations; Board usually selects those, but also reviews other requests and occasionally selects one. Promised to submit for 7/15 cycle.

7/13. Submitted request for $10,500 for family program, if funded will serve 100 new families in 18 months. Filed draft of grant, electronic and hard copy. Follow up date: 8/15.

Store your log records in a locked file. Share with other staff members and volunteers that they should not destroyed but built upon over the years. I hope you already do this. If not, begin today. Successful organizations go to bat over and hit home runs over and over again by creating institutional memory based on logging interactions and using these to shape their future.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Can You Afford To Be Forward Thinking?

A recent presenter shared that nonprofits were so busy worrying about survival that they could not look ahead. Yet, if we look into the past we see that forward looking and survival are not two different events, but two components of one event.

For example, the Y’s website shares, “The Great Depression brought dramatic drops in Y income, some as high as 50 percent.” However, in the Depression the Y developed program models involving exercise and educational classes were both up, along with vocational training and camping….” The idea spread widely and YMCAs discovered they could survive handily if they served a large number of people and had low building payments. In fact, the Chicago Y was able to organize a new South Shore branch in the depths of the Depression.”

Along with survival, think forward. Consider these questions: How can you enlarge the pie? How might you include more members of the community in your mission? How might you improve the stewardship of your current resources, i.e., spend your time better? If money were not object what would you do differently to improve your outcomes? What might we do differently, since money is an object, to achieve outcomes? How will you take advantage of the coming up swing?

For more forward thinking strategic questions, email, ask for the Month-By-Month Strategic Organization article.