Tag Archives: Best Practices

Nonprofit Hiring in the Time of Layoffs, Furloughs and Unpaid Leave

We are living in a brave new world, the world’s largest work-from-home experiment. While remote work is certainly not a new phenomenon, the Coronavirus outbreak has forced nonprofits to transition without preparation. This sudden change has put a strain an organization’s ability to perform the basics of nonprofit hiring and recruit new employees.

What makes the current situation especially daunting and difficult for organizations and executive search firms like ours? Simply, most nonprofit hiring programs have been heavily reliant on face-to-face interactions. How could you get a good read on the personality and motivation of a candidate if you were not sitting directly in front of him or her?

Now, we are all more keenly aware of the importance of agility and digitization of recruitment and onboarding processes. Nonprofit hiring is changing, and we, as a sector, need to catch up.

For all too many organizations, this pandemic has led to layoffs, furloughs, and unpaid leave to stay lean and minimize losses. This creates an advantage to the bold enterprise which seeks new talent.  But full-time remote work has become, and is likely to remain, the new normal.  The question is are you ready and equipped to pivot your recruitment process to go fully virtual?

Best Practices

In a virtual world, candidates encounter their new employers through a process that is regrettably often confusing and disorganized. To make the recruitment process the most effective it can be—both for the organization as well as from the candidate’s point of view, we recommend the following best practices:

  • Engage a search firm, like Mersky, Jaffe & Associates with years of demonstrated experience in recruiting and hiring in a virtual environment.
  • Conduct an Organizational and Development Assessment. Additionally, interview key stakeholders about the job and ask them to help define the characteristics of the successful new hire.
  • Create a clear, results-oriented position description.
  • Identify and train the hiring officer who will screen the initial candidates and select two to advance to the second level.
  • Determine who else from the staff needs to meet the two semi-finalist candidates, one-on-one—members of the team, supervisors, or senior management.
  • Select volunteer leaders for a third round of one-on-one interviews to interact with the potential new hire.
  • Create an on-line feed-back form to gather reactions from all those who have met with the candidates. (Connect with me by clicking here if you would like a sample form for feedback that you can employ.)
  • The hiring officer then collates all the responses from the feedback forms and decides on the finalist.
  • Confirm that the finalist will accept a satisfactory offer if it is made, subject to reference checks and a one-on-one meeting with the CEO and Chair of the Board.
  • Check references,
  • Negotiate final terms and conditions.

If organizations continue to be reactive and employ antiquated nonprofit hiring practices, it will have devastating consequences if the future of work continues as full-time remote work.  Schedule a time to speak with me about your executive search needs in this new world by clicking here.

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MJA Executive Search in the current environment

Last winter, we announced that we would be listing compensation in our job postings to increase transparency and, in our small way, address the issue of gender inequity in salaries in the nonprofit world.  But, as I have noted above, the world of work and recruiting has changed.  In some cases, we are seeking new executives in organizations that are experiencing lay-offs, furloughs, and job elimination.  It is indeed a different world.  As such, we have suspended this practice until we return to a time of greater equilibrium.

See the current Executive Search Opportunities by clicking here

Say Goodbye to a Board Member Without Saying Goodbye

Say Goodbye to a Board MemberA close friend, Alex, told me an all-too-common, disheartening story about a nonprofit board she left a few years ago.

She was a founding member of a small nonprofit’s board of directors. She was an active volunteer, and one of their major donors, for two terms before deciding it was time to step down.  She mentioned her intentions to the president of the board, and he asked her if she would stay on. She agreed to one more term, helping to plan dinners for 3 fellow board members who stepped off during that time.

When her term was up, with her last meeting on the horizon, there was no talk of a dinner. In fact, there was not even an acknowledgement at the meeting for her service to the organization.  She awkwardly walked out wondering if the door was going to hit her on the way out.

This was no way to say goodbye to a board member.

December rolled around, and she began to wonder whether she should continue to donate. She helped found, build and strengthen this nonprofit. She had been invested in the mission, vision and values. But she felt ignored and underappreciated.

If you were in her shoes, what would you do?

Now flip that thinking, and consider, what you can do to prevent this situation with your board members.

  • Treat all current and past board members as loyal, valuable donors. Whether they have been giving $500 a year or $5,000, they are supporters that should be prime candidates for lifelong relationship.
  • Keep in touch. If they have been engaged as volunteers, encourage them to continue giving their time, perhaps, in smaller ways. Use stewardship “moves” to engage them around the calendar – not just write a little note on the bottom of the annual appeal when it is time to ask for a donation to pretend you are personalizing the ask. In other words, say farewell to a board member without saying goodbye to the person.
  • Honor their time and energy during the off-boarding process. Is a dinner necessary? If you have done it for previous board members than it seems like the right thing to do. If you are changing the way you do things, explain that and honor them in a different way. It can be as simple as toasting them at a small event, giving them a special gift at a board meeting and publicly thanking them in a newsletter article. People don’t expect the same treatment year in and year out, but they do expect the same respect.

What happened to Alex and her donations? The first year that she stopped giving to the organization she felt guilty. But, then, she reminded herself that she is not a priority to them. If she was, she would still be giving.  Now, she is just one more statistic contributing to that organization’s low donor retention rates. And she is happily involved in two other nonprofit organizations.

Want to read more about Board Members Relationships with your nonprofit?

Why the Next Note To Your Donor Does Not Have To Be A Highly-crafted, Over-thought, Well-designed Piece Of Perfection

the Next Note To Your Donor In the past couple of weeks, I have written notes to two different people who are going through some medical issues. While I am not particularly close with either, they are people I truly like. And, in both cases, I heard about the issues from a mutual friend who had called to let me know.

In both cases I considered whether I should send something, buy a card, or pick up the phone. With back to school, a conference and the Jewish High Holidays, I realized it was a bit of a crazy time. So, I wrote a few sentences to each in an email, letting them know I was thinking of them. Each one took about 2 minutes to do.

In both cases, I heard from the mutual friend how appreciative the person was that I took the time to write. Not bad for less than five minutes in a crazy, busy week.

I am not writing this to pat myself on the back. I am writing this to say your personal outreach to your friend, your colleague or your donor will make a difference.

The next note to your donor does not have to be a highly-crafted, over-thought, well-designed piece of perfection. It just needs to get out.  And come from the heart.

Today, take the few minutes necessary to write to some donors or prospective donors. Maybe you can send them a funny article that you shared on Facebook because it poked fun at your nonprofit sector or let them know about a great thank you note you just received from a high school student who benefited from your program which they support.

Keep it simple and get it out.  You will be amazed at the results. 

The Key to Successful Fundraising is Stop Thinking About Your Nonprofit

Key to Successful FundraisingI have talked about this topic a bit when opining on annual appeal letters and solicitor training but after a recent conversation, I thought it should be said again. And said in a straightforward, no nonsense way.

The key to successful fundraising is stop thinking about your nonprofit. And start thinking about donor.


Finding out what motivates the donor to give.

Some people like their names on buildings. Others like the warm fuzzy feeling they get when they watch a video that includes the children who attend the community center thanking them for their support. Still others like to dress up and help create an extravagant gala. Very different motivations but all valid and all should be considered when soliciting a gift.

Discovering why the donor likes your organization. 

Is it because they feel that their child is having a good experience at your school? Or, because they think you are the best advocates in the area for animal welfare. Maybe they think their association with you is good for their image.  The key is knowing, what do they think?

Asking for the right gift

Someone who likes galas might not want to give to your annual fund. But, they may be willing to join the gala committee, increase their personal gift, and encourage their friends to join them. Another donor who gives to your annual fund may like to give to the December appeal, or they may be ready to learn how they can fund a new program.  Knowing your donors giving history/patterns, their interests, and how much they give to other organizations can help you craft the right ask.

Knowing the right time to ask

Your fiscal year end will not affect a major donor’s donation timing as much as their year-end bonus or their annual fundraising check writing session in December.  Your calendar is not as important as the donors.  No matter how much you wish it were different.

Thinking about who should make the ask

Your most successful fundraiser is not the best fundraiser for every donor. Consider who the donor knows, or might like to get to know. Create pairs of solicitors so that there is twice as much listening going on.  It is about the donor, and deepening their connection to your nonprofit.


If you want to retain donors and move then from entry level to mid-level, or mid-level to major gifts, stewardship is the key.  A planned approach that incorporates calls, emails, updates, invitations, thank yous, coffees, etc. takes time. But it is the path to a stronger relationship with the donor. Which, in turn, will help with donor retention and raising more money.

Refining your fundraising processes takes time. But if you start to considering fundraising from the donor’s perspective, you will understand it is a marathon, not a sprint. One bit of caution, if you wait another six months or year with excuses as to why you can’t start changing your fundraising yet, you are putting off your growth.  And probably losing quite a few donors along the way. Start considering the donors’ POV ASAP.   

The Tradeoff of Time vs Money in Fundraising – 7 Considerations

Tradeoff of Time vs. Money in Fundraising We all know the adage, time is money. Nonprofits often think volunteer time is better to spend than precious dollars. But is it really?

And in the time of the pandemic, is there more time or less?

The Tradeoff of Time vs Money in Fundraising

Let’s say that you don’t want to spend money on a fundraising consultant for a capital campaign.  You believe you can do it on your own – you have a dedicated group willing to put in the work.

Can you get the same fundraising results without investing the money in a nonprofit consultant like Mersky, Jaffe & Associates? No, time is, literally, money lost. Money lost by not knowing:

  1. How much to ask for. Most clients underestimate the ask amounts of all but the very highest and lowest donors.
  1. How to ask. We train solicitors to ask for seemingly outrageous donations, to overcome any objections to the campaign during a solicitation, and how to be persistent without being pushy during each step of the process. For instance, an untrained ear will hear “no,” and walk away. We teach solicitors to listen to hear if they are really saying “I need more information” or “not yet.”
  1. Marketing materials are a huge distraction. The weeks you spend holding off fundraising while crafting the perfect marketing materials will not improve your outcome. Marketing is within many capital campaign committee members’ comfort zones so it is not surprising that it is deemed essential before you can do anything else.  Truth: Many a failed campaign have had beautiful pieces. When we are called in to help with a stalled or unsuccessful campaign, we are almost always shown interesting, well produced marketing materials. Instead, we help you create a strong case for giving to your worthy organization – in a nice piece that an outside designer can work on while you are moving through your fundraising plan.
  1. How to create a fundraising plan with action items.  You need a campaign fundraising plan that leads you through your prospects in a methodical way. Who do you approach first? Who should be in your second, third or fourth round of solicitations? We help you avoid a scattered approach and focus on those who can make an impactful gift to the campaign.
  1. Who to ask.  Most clients have hidden gems in their donor database. Sometimes they will be low level, long-term donors with high capacity. Other times they will be people giving at a mid-level range that could easily be a major donor. We help you find the best prospects. And, help you determine when is the best time to ask them for a gift to your capital campaign.
  1. The potential for the overall goal.  What would you do if we could discover that you could raise $2,500,000 over your current goal? Our feasibility studies help predict accurate, achievable goals. Potentially, a goal you would not even consider without advice from someone like us.
  1. It just takes longer without counsel.  There is a lot to learn on the internet. In fact, MJA has 118 articles, before this one, that reference a capital campaign. It takes a lot of time to understand best practices, fundraising techniques and capital campaign strategies.  Time that could be spent raising money instead of watching construction costs rise.

If you still think the tradeoff of time vs money in fundraising without counsel is worth it, here is a link to the 118 other articles on capital campaigns. No judgements – this is why we write them.

If you would like to speak with us about your upcoming (or stalled) capital campaign, email me and we can start the process today.

Who, What, How, Why and When to Follow Up After Each Appointment

follow up after each appointmentLast week, I wrote asked, and answered, What Makes a Successful Fundraising Campaign?  In the list of essential tasks for volunteers and staff, I included, “follow up after each appointment.” I didn’t want this to get lost because follow up from volunteers will, literally, make or break a campaign. We can teach someone how to solicit and explain the steps and importance of following up. But, it seems no amount of training, tracking, or even business-level stalking (not to be confused with real stalking) will help a solicitor follow up unless they make it a priority.

What does it mean to “follow up after each appointment?”

  • Understand that following up is an essential part of a solicitation, not the after-thought. If you have a meeting or event and wait a month before connecting with the prospects, you will lose the momentum, and, often, part of the gift. They may have asked for time to think but that does not mean unlimited time.
  • Calendar a follow up in the same way you would calendar solicitations. Even the most well-meaning volunteers get busy with the rest of their lives.
  • Let me repeat that. Put follow up in your calendar before you leave the solicitation. Know how, when, and the goal of your follow up, and on what specific date it will occur. Ideally, that date will be no more than a week away.
  • Consider how you will follow up. Is it:
    • a phone call to complete the solicitation?
    • finding someone else to call to answer additional questions (and ensuring they follow up)?
    • a personal thank you note to the donor?
    • a note to a staff person that sets off a chain of organizational acknowledgements?
    • an additional meeting with a board or staff member? If so, how and when will you schedule that?
    • a snail mail package you can send that will answer questions (and if so, how and when will you follow up the package)?
    • more than one of the above?
  • If you are not sure how to follow up, ask before you leave the meeting. The solicitation is about the donor, the follow up should be too.
  • If they are not ready to make a decision, consider what they need. Do they want more information, to speak with a spouse, or simply time to think about it? Acknowledge what they are asking for and offer to follow up with them the following week – don’t leave it open ended.
  • Respecting the system. Fundraising is about a long term relationship between a prospect/donor and a nonprofit. Your job may be this one ask, but you hope this will be one of many gifts. If you consider that you are one to keep this relationship intact, you will understand why following up is so important.

This is all to say that following up is not optional.  Every person who is invited to join the development committee should be expected to understand that and do what they say they will do. Without that commitment, it’s probably not worth starting a new fundraising campaign.

What Motivates Donors to Give by David A. Mersky

I got an email from a client earlier today.  He wrote:

I saw an article in the Washington Post yesterday. It discusses that, with the new tax law, many people will lose the deductibility of charitable contributions because they will become subject to the standard deduction. For individuals 70.5 and older who are subject to “required minimum distributions” from their retirement accounts, the article describes that charitable deductions can still be taken by directing the brokerage firm to contribute directly to a charitable entity.

I wonder whether we could send a letter to our donors who are 70+ telling them about this strategy, perhaps linking to an article, or providing specific language they can direct to their accountants or investment advisors.

Let me know what you think.

Do tax refunds motivate a donor to give?Well, I think that it is an interesting strategy.  And, you might want to consider sending such a letter, or if you are of an age to take required minimum distributions from ERISA-qualified funds—i.e., retirement accounts like 401 (k), profit-sharing, defined contribution pension plans, IRA Rollovers, and the like—then you might want to think about this for yourself.

But what about all the rest of the population who do not have such a benefit.  How do they “claw back” the value of a charitable gift deduction if they no longer can itemize their deductions?

The media—and most especially the press which reports about the nonprofit world—has been filled with hand-wringing articles about how contributions will go way down because of the unintended consequence of the increase in the standard deduction.

This contrarian is not going to pile on and issue another doom and gloom set of warnings in light of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017.  Instead let me share the data with you that describes the key factors driving donations.  We know that some people give to support the fundraising efforts of a family member, friend, or neighbor.  Others like to create a philanthropic image for themselves or their company.  Still others feel guilty saying no to someone expressing a need.  These reasons for giving often are understated and certainly under-reported in the research.

The 2016 US Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy conducted in partnership with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy looked at factors driving charitable giving among wealthy households.  This biennial study found that donors primary stated motivations for giving were much as they had always been.  They were as follows:

  • Believing in the mission of organizations (54%)
  • Believing that their gift can make a difference (44%)
  • Experiencing personal satisfaction, enjoyment, or fulfillment (39%)
  • Supporting the same causes annually (36%)
  • Giving back to the community (27%)
  • Adhering to religious beliefs (23%)

By the way, 18% of wealthy donors in the same study say they gave because of tax benefits which is a drop form 34% in the 2014 study.

Our firm’s prescription for our clients, particularly those who fear the impact of the new tax law, is to communicate effectively and genuinely with donors, express appreciation and let donors know what heroes they are.

In the weeks and months ahead, we are going to focus our efforts on helping clients consider what motivates donors to give and how to:

  • Acquire new, first time donors who believe in the cause
  • Tell their new donors that they really make a difference
  • Convey joy in the gift to the giver

If you want to be part of our new initiative, send me an email to set up a call.  In a 30 minute no obligation call, we can begin you down a path of growth in your donor community, upgraded gifts from your existing donors, enhanced retention of donors, and increased lifetime value of each one of your contributors.  Write directly to me by clicking here and we will help you focus your efforts on what motivates donors to give.

How Do You Treat Former Board Members?

Treat former board members with loveI have a pet peeve about this.  I do not understand why nonprofits do not treat former board members (FBM) as more than run-of-the-mill donors.  It seems to me that someone who has given their time and energy to your organization for 3, 6, or even 10 years is someone who should be cultivated more, not less, as time progresses. Instead, they are put into the large pool of donors and asked to give in the same annual appeal, with the same, “Thanks for continuing to support us!” that any repeat donor would receive.

I have heard executive directors give many excuses. They usually boil down to two ideas: FBMs don’t need to be treated like major donors because they already understand how important their donation is to our organization or, they are moving onto another board so it’s not surprising their financial support will follow.

Neither are necessarily true. Analyze your own FBM current gifts vs. how much they donated when they were serving on the board and you will see what I mean. The numbers are usually so different, they will not even be in the same time zones.  Unless you don’t ask board members to give financial donations in addition to their time but that is a whole other article.

Let’s flip this around and focus on reasons why fundraisers should be excited to speak to FBMs:

  1. FBMs are willing to talk to you. Easy stewardship opportunities should be grabbed, not ignored.
  2. Donor retention is essential for financial strength. If you have read this (or any other) fundraising blog you will know that it is easier, and much less costly, to keep a donor than find a new one. FBMs have given at a meaningful level for years, why wouldn’t you try to retain the relationship?
  3. FBMs are often left feeling neglected. If someone leaves feeling good about their personal impact on the organization, but then feel ignored, their meaningful gifts, and good will, will be shifted towards other good causes.
  4. They still care about your nonprofit. The FBMs may be former because of term limits, personal time constraints, or it’s just time. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to still have a voice and continue to advocate on your behalf.  Ask for advice, like you would any other major donor, and you will continue to get donations.
  5. FBMs have been in your shoes. They know that you are calling important donors to talk about the organization and solicit gifts. They know that if you are not calling them, you are not considering them a priority. And they will act accordingly.

One caveat.  If you have left your FBMs alone for years, they should not be treated as if they stepped off of your board last year.  You can work to reconnect them (as you would any lapsed donor who you care about) but be careful about what you ask for right away. We all want to believe that are volunteer time is as valuable as our money. Instead of immediately asking for a major gift, treat former board members as valued members of the community who have not been updated in a while. Give them the opportunity to reflect on how things have changed and evolved since their departure. Remind these FBMs of why they got involved with you in the first place.  And hopefully, a meaningful gift will follow.

Taking a Leadership Position? Start with the Right Habits

Leadership Position ChangesQuick question:

If you are starting a new job and you want to start going to the gym again do you:

  1. Wait until you settle in, then figure out how gym time can fit into your schedule
  2. Start hitting the gym the first week of your new job, making both a bit harder (but, you are doing both)
  3. Gym? Why would I go to the gym when I have a new job that I want to focus on.

The answer is B. You may or may not be surprised that, according to Gretchen Rubin (best-selling author who focuses on happiness, habits, productivity and creativity), how you start something is how you will continue.  In other words, use the momentum of one change to move you along to another. Continuing the example, if you don’t start the gym with the job, you are much less likely to be weight training any time in the near future.

At nonprofits, someone taking a new leadership position – whether board members, committee chairs, and/or staff can help create the necessary momentum.  Let’s look at a nonprofit-centered example.

You are about to become the chair of the fundraising committee. You have been a member of the committee for 3 years. What you could implement, from your first day in your new leadership position, that will help you achieve more. Consider your experience and think about:

  • Meeting structure:
    • How closely do you want to follow the suggested time allowed for each topic?
    • How much of the agenda do you want to get through?
    • Do you want to start and end on time?
    • Should there be a time limit for an individual to speak on at topic?
  • Creating assignments and responsibilities for each member. Should someone be charged with:
    • Sending reminders before the meeting?
    • Taking notes? And circulating the notes after the meeting.
    • Ensuring everyone has an assignment and feels they are contributing (whether that is ownership of a sub-committee, participation on a special project, or standard committee work like stewardship )?
  • How you want to encourage others to create new habits like:
    • Rewarding yourself and your team with treats
      • Drinks/snacks
      • Outings (visit a potential venue or a lecture together)
      • Session with a therapy dog (think outside the box)
    • Asking for input on what committee members would like to see changed
    • Creating “buy-in” for shifts so everything is not simply a top down decision
  • Follow through:
    • If you make a change, try not to slip into old habits. Be conscious if your meeting goes over 20 minutes one week and make sure it doesn’t happen the next time.
    • If you are creating substantial changes, it may take time but stay the course. Remember why you are trying to make change
    • Get “buy-in” again. You may have to remind everyone of the benefits of change.

One last idea, Gretchen Rubin also talks about the idea that convenience pays off. That is, at a salad bar, people take less with tongs than spoons because it is just more work. I take that to mean that too much change that causes too much work without obvious reasons for this extra work will find resistance.  Someone in a leadership position has to make impactful changes that have obvious benefits (leaving on-time or not having to listen to one person hijack every meeting). Change for change’s sake is as worthless as a gym membership that is never used.

Prospect Research – Amazingly Informative or Just Too Creepy?

Is prospect research creepy? We offer prospect research screenings to our clients.  We think it is a good way to assess the potential of a nonprofit’s current donor base. But, when we describe the process to a committee, invariably, someone asks something like, “is prospect research to creepy for us to use?” I’m never quite sure if they are implying that it might be okay for others, but not for their social services agency/synagogue/school or they are simply opposed to the idea of collecting this kind of data. Either way, the response is the same, “We are looking at a collection of public data, not their bank accounts and financial planning documents. We are not trying to pry, we are trying to gather information to improve the relationships.

The committee discussion might also include questions like, “are we really going to talk about The Schwartz’ wealth?” or “are we okay with researching our fellow board member’s net worth?”  Empathy is high when talking about finances.  If you want to raise more money for your nonprofit, you have to understand your donors.

Or, “Why don’t we limit our research to our top 50 donors? It will be less intrusive. Your top 50 donors are a good start, but you already know they have capacity and willingness to give.  A full prospect research screening can help you discover hidden gems like the people who are giving $25 annually but, if properly motivated, could give $2,500 or more. It can also help you take stock of total lifetime giving which may change the way you look at your donors. And again, you are trying to help your connection with donors. e.g. This can help you notice that Mr. & Mrs. Woods have been giving $50 for the past 12 years with no contact beyond the mailings and emails.  Now you know that they give $1,000 to other 6 other organizations each year.  Maybe they would be interested in learning how they can make a larger impact on your organization – which they have chosen to voluntarily support through the years.

Of course, this is just one piece of a creating a prospective donor strategy.  Past giving history to the organization, the strength of their connection and how they have been treated by your nonprofit in the past are also essential factors that should be considered.

This is all to say, don’t be afraid of prospect research.  Be afraid of losing money by ignoring the possibilities of using it.


Want to learn more about Prospect Research?

Getting to Know Your Donors: Using & Understanding Prospect Research by David A. Mersky

Prospect Research: A Rundown of the Basics in 5 Steps by Susan Tedesco of DonorSearch

Identifying the Second Round of Capital Campaign Prospects