Monday, September 27, 2010

Partnership Unknowns

Partnerships always include unknowns. This summer, my husband and I vacationed in the Canadian Rockies. In Banff, because of grizzlies, Consolation Lake Trail was limited to groups of four or more. Day Three of the trip, we headed to the trailhead hoping it wouldn’t take long to double our party so we could use the highly recommended, but less frequently used path. As we approached it, we discussed that since we were Floridian flat-landers still getting our mountain legs, we didn’t want to hold up any eager young athletes. We needed older adults or a family for hiking partners.

At the trailhead, we found Walter and Granita, an older adult couple from Germany, waiting to hike to the destination. Delighted, we set off on the gorgeous, cool morning following their lead past the bear warning sign and over the boulders covering the trail. As we walked, we discussed travels, this trip and our respective homes. As we waked father we discussed-- us huffing-- that they loved to hike in the Alps and that they did so year-round. Walter and Granita, it turns out, were excellent, experienced hikers who attacked Consolation Trail with gusto. For three hours, we pushed to keep up with them.

Partnerships, even when you get exactly what you hope for, often turn differently than you expect. Nonetheless, they may have great value. The trip to Consolation Lake was a highlight. Even though arrived at the destination much faster than expected, our partnership with Walter and Granita, made the journey much more rewarding . . . and amusing.

To expand your thinking about partnerships review our September Added Value Newsletter (

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Accountability for Non Profits: A cautionary tale

This week the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) broke the story that some charitable organizations in Canada were using "professional fundraisers" to raise much-needed cash for their cause. It turns out some charities are paying astronomical sums for little return. In the case of an organization raising money for research into childhood leukaemia, $3.2 million of the 4.2 million raised over the last four years was paid to the telemarketing firm they hired. Read the story.

There are reasons why non profits and donors alike should pay attention to news like this. An organization has to be accountable to its donors. If it is receiving only one quarter of the money raised in its name, it should be re-examining how it chooses to raise those funds. As a donor, I would be appalled to know that my chosen charity was not receiving maximum benefit from my donation.

That said, it does cost money to raise money. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) guidelines stipulate that expenditure to revenue ratios should be no more than 35 per cent. If you're spending more than that, you're not spending it on charitable activities, and you should have your charitable status questioned or even revoked.

One additional comment about the CBC's use of the term "professional fundraisers". Those of us who pride ourselves on being part of the profession of fundraisers take umbrage with the negative undertone of the use of the term. We agree to abide by the Ethical Standards set out by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. AFP works hard to inform both its members and the giving public that there are ethical ways to give and raise money. Those that choose to ignore these standards do so at their own peril.

Non profits should continue to use outside consultants if they lack internal expertise or are short on staff. Hiring an expert to guide you through a capital campaign or help plan an event makes good fiscal sense. Finally, it's the relationships you build with your constituents and donors that will increase your bottom line - not farming that job out to the lowly telemarketer on the other end of the phone line.

Laura Mikuska
Fund development & event specialists
Mikuska Group

Return on Every Dollar You Spend

What do a group of marketing specialists have to share with nonprofit leaders about how to make their limited advertising dollars count?

Plenty, it turns out.

The following condenses down five 8 x 11 pages of notes from today’s one-hour presentation with experts J. Clifford Curley, Jane Bennett, Rue Ann Porter, Carrie Rasmussen and Gayle Williams during the 2010 Nonprofit PR and Marketing Forum.

In your ads and marketing materials:
• J. Clifford Curley suggests we use donor centric communications or “people talk.”
• Jane Bennett gave four rules of thumb for preparing winning ads: attention (draw eye), interest (you have seconds), desire (I want to be involved) and action (call for response). Knowing your vision, mission, strategy, business goals, marketing plan, target audience, etc., comes before designing ads or other materials.
• Gayle Williams shares that social media is a game changer—yes, but it also not a game changer. Social media is another tool or tactic for your nonprofit but it needs to fit within your overall strategy (not a game changer). Yes, social media is a game changer. It provides platforms that allow you to speak directly to your audience.
• Rue Ann Porter reminds us that PR and paid ads can work very well together. She suggests you consider your key prospect in both quantitative and personal aspects. What is their age and demographics about them? But, also what is their day like?
• When you look for media partners, Carrie Rasmussen recommends that you know what you want and what you want to achieve. She encourages you to be aware of the benefits you offer to the community and to your media partner. Collaboration is a powerful tool to help you “stand out.”

Overall, how can you take advantage of limited advertising dollars? Much planning and some work. Find your content in a quality strategic plan. Develop a PR and Marketing plan that includes the messages you want to share in the next few months. Then, work the plan.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Tray of Reading Glasses

At the front desk of the restaurant --fifth day of travel, thirteenth meal-on-the-road —sat a small tray with six pairs of colorful readers. This small gesture, aimed at helping 40+ patrons see the menu in the candlelight, was like a lighthouse at dusk. It indicated more. It promised that in the next hours, Newport’s Bouchard Restaurant & Inn was going to provide more than calories to satisfy hunger. And indeed it did.

You care about the people who come to your sites. What simple gestures can you make to let them know this? Traditionally, banks offer children lollipops and waiting areas have magazines. Can you offer something distinctive—that people need but often forget—that communicates your care for them?

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Feasibility Study - Take the Guesswork out of your Capital Campaign

Your non profit organization decides it needs to raise a significant amount of money for various projects and you want to run a capital campaign (also known as a comprehensive campaign). The cost of all the projects becomes your campaign goal. But how do you know if your goal is realistic?

One way of gauging your goal is to conduct a feasibility study. You can test various things in the study, including your case for support, your organization's reputation and recognition in the community and your campaign components and goal as well as your campaign readiness. The results of the study may surprise you.

One post-secondary institution was convinced they were ready to launch a major campaign for various projects on campus. They wisely decided to invest in a feasibility study to be as confident as possible in their decision to launch the campaign. They polled 50 prominent citizens who were top prospects and were astonished at the results.

The respondents felt they were not ready to launch a campaign, for many reasons:
- their reputation in the community was not as favourable as they assumed
- they would have had difficulty recruiting a campaign cabinet because of their community image - few wanted to be associated with their brand
- they felt their goal was 10 times too ambitious
- only 20% of respondents said they would donate to the institution.

Once the reality set in, they regrouped and spent the next 5 years turning things around. They built relationships, improved their image by investing in the community and recruited board members from leading corporations and institutions. The result? They were able to launch a highly successful multi-million dollar campaign to build new campus infrastructure and fund research, scholarships and bursaries. They continue to receive community support for their initiatives - their efforts made everyone sit up and take notice. All because they invested in a feasibility study!

Laura Mikuska
Fund Development & Event Specialists

Monday, September 13, 2010

Summer Reading: The House That Love Built

Yesterday one of my emails included this quote from Jean Monnet, “Nothing is possible without individuals; nothing is lasting without institutions.” The need for individuals and institutions and the potential conflict between them recapitulates one of the themes in The House That Love Built--the story of Millard and Linda Fuller and Habitat for Humanity.

Does it really take individuals? When Fuller was asked about how much money you needed to form a Habitat chapter, he said, “You have to have at least a dollar. It would be fiscally irresponsible to start a project with less than a dollar. But if you have dollar and you’ve got committed folks you can start and God will bless your meager resources…” Today worldwide Habitat for Humanity and The Fuller Center for Housing, which the Fuller’s began in 2005, have over 1,500 affiliates and partners—while it takes a more than a dollar to sustain them, single dollars created the initial foundations for over 350,000 homes these two organizations have built.

While the book is often a treatise in defense of Fullers, the book’s value for the nonprofit leader is the questions it raises about founders and the institutions they create. Might it have been possible for Habitat and Fuller to reach an accord without the public conflict that took place when the board fired Fuller? What might the Fuller have done differently? The Board? When might those efforts have started? How can an organization continue to benefit from the gifts of dynamic founders if and when they come into conflict with organization building? From this example, if you are a board member, what changes will you make at your organization? If you are a founder, how can you help your legacy to continue?