Tag Archives: Consultants

Can Nonprofits Turn Previous Failures Into Future Success?

Can Nonprofits Turn Previous Failures Into Future Success?Listen to any conference speaker, self-help guru or tech entrepreneur and you are sure to hear about their failures. Of course, they are speaking because they turned their failures into lessons that helped them succeed. Can you imagine going to a funder and telling them that you had to close down your last nonprofit due to lack of money but this time you knew how to handle their 7-figure gift? Can nonprofits turn previous failures into future success? Of course, saying you have changed the way you run your organization is not enough.  You need to “walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”

  • Show that you now have a strong case for giving and are only approaching the right people at the right time.
  • Prove you have learned your lesson by talking about your new and detailed focus on acknowledgements.
  • Demonstrate that you understand stewardship for each and every donor and each and every gift.

What are other areas that nonprofits ignore that can be turned around to prove success?

To some this list may seem overwhelming. To others, it will highlight areas on which to focus or tweak in the coming year. Either way, turning previously missed opportunities into growth and prosperity will sustain your nonprofit. And, it will be something positive to talk about to current and prospective funders. Showing that you are learning and growing is something everyone can get excited about.   Please let us know if we can help you improve your nonprofit by emailing Abigail Harmon.

We Did Not Follow Our Own Advice. We Tried to Go It Alone: A Cautionary Tale

A Cautionary TaleThis is a bit embarrassing, but for the past 17 months, we have been working on a new website. Why 17 months you ask? Because we did not follow our own advice. We tried to go it alone.

It wasn’t a conscious decision or even financially based. We thought we were starting to create our website. And, even though the release date kept slipping, we thought we were moving forward. It took us over a year to acknowledge that we needed to hire a designer and someone to keep us on track with the project.

If you are wondering whether you should hire Mersky, Jaffe & Associates as campaign consultants or to help with an executive search, please

Learn from our cautionary tale:

  1. We didn’t have dedicated staff for this project, but more importantly, we didn’t have someone whose job it was to keep us on track.
  2. Websites, blogs and whitepapers can only take you so far. Sometimes you need to call in the experts
  3. We eventually hired someone because our virtual assistant looked at the site and saw code flaws. What I thought was best practice would have caused visual problems as well as potential security issues. Please see #2.
  4. Have we lost clients because of our delay? We don’t know, but we do know we are still asking site visitors to work harder than is needed in today’s world. Don’t make anyone who wants to give you money work harder.
  5. We are spending money to make money. That is the way of the world. Time is no longer free. What I spent creating the website could have been used on helping clients achieve their visions, marketing our site and/or learning new pieces of the business. Not learning how to design a website which I will never have to do again.

If I were going back 17 months I would hire help from the beginning. And, since I often share what I learn, I am hoping our realization can help you understand why using a consultant for a capital campaign, executive search, or strengthen your board may not be optional. Hiring Mersky, Jaffe & Associates might be. But only might be.

Look for our new site in Spring of 2019.

And if you would like to talk through your questions about hiring a nonprofit consultant, Email Abigail today.

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.

A Passion for What You Do – Nonprofit Edition

A Passion for What You DoLast week I went to a conference where I saw phenomenal speakers. The list included Michelle Obama, Billie Jean King, Selina Tobaccowala, Brit Marling, Issa Rae, Mario Batali and Andy Cohen. The topics ranged from the experience of being the former FLOTUS (or former first spouse as she likes to be called) to encouraging women’s rights, and from believing in your voice to employee retention strategies. There was one common theme throughout – passion for what you do.

If there is one thing people who work at nonprofits understand is a passion for what you do.

People don’t decide to work at a nonprofit with dreams of making millions. Don’t get me wrong, you can create a good living for yourself, but dollar signs are not usually the driving factor.  Passion, fueled by belief in a cause and a desire to make a difference in this world for others, is something most of our clients, friends and colleagues have in common.

After years advertising big name products when I worked at large advertising agencies, I felt the calling of something that fed the soul and felt lucky to be able to shift into the nonprofit sector.  Many people I meet feel the same. But what I also was reminded of during this day of inspired learning was that while we should continue to work hard to achieve our goals, we can do it with grace, confidence and a belief that we can each make a difference.

How does that translate into how we can help you at MJA? We understand your passion and want to help. If you

  • need more funding to expand (or continue current) programming, don’t just complain about what you don’t have, decide what you need to make a change. Do you want to expand your annual fund or grow an endowment? Have you considered whether you should expand your board or shift the makeup of the current members? Is it time to give up a major event or add one?
  • know that you spend valuable volunteer time on menial tasks (because it is “free” labor,) consider what the volunteers could help you achieve if you used them in a more meaningful way. Have you considered whether you are using your staff wisely/do you even know what their true capabilities are? Could they be out having major donor meetings instead of stuffing envelopes for an annual appeal? Should you be hiring an executive search firm (like Mersky, Jaffe & Associates) to sift through the hundreds of resumes and screen the candidates for that open position so you don’t burn out your best volunteers on tasks you can outsource?
  • want to improve your board’s relationship with the staff, stop tip-toeing around and create a path to make a change. Decide if you need a staff assessment, an organization and development assessment, or board training.
  • know you have an amazing mission but don’t know how to get your leadership to solicit donations, start training them differently. And if you don’t know how to train them, hire someone from MJA to show them the ropes and help them feel comfortable in their skills.

Turning your passion into a well-funded reality is not as hard as it seems. Just ask Mario Batali.

To read Mario Batali’s philosphy, here is a 2010 article from Harvard Business Review



Pareto’s Principle is No Longer the Standard in Fundraising

no longer the standard in fundraisingI just read a really interesting article titled, The 80-20 Rule is Dead! on MarketSmart’s blog.  As nonprofit consultants, we have long reported that wealth has shifted and we often find that 10% of donors now provide 90% of the funds to a campaign – especially an endowment or capital campaign. Now there is proof that Pareto’s principle is no longer the standard in fundraising. Of course, anyone listening to the news over the past year won’t be surprised that this is the case. The gap is widening across the country and the data is just starting to catch up.

According to the article, and report that supports it, 10% of the families control 76% of the total wealth in the US.  Wealth is defined as a family’s assets minus debt. The bottom 50% of the population holds just 1% of the $67 trillion.   How does the rest fill out? The 51st-90th percentile had, on average $316,000 in wealth and the 26th-50th percentile had $36,000, and those below the 25th percentile had an average of $13,000 in debt.

If you are looking for $50 donation, anyone in the top 75% (who are properly motivated to give) could probably make it happen.  Even someone on a very limited income will often give a dollar a week—most often to their church, synagogue or mosque.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for a $5,000, $50,000 or $500,000 donation, the top 10% have to be your priority.

These higher-end donors may not be on your board or your committees (although that is a great way to interest and involve these supporters) but they should be on the radar of your board and fundraising committee.  This group should be receiving a disproportionate amount of fundraising and development focus.  They should be the top priority of strategy, solicitation, acknowledgement and stewardship – even at small and mid-sized nonprofits.  Participation is essential for an organization to show that you have a strong case for giving and that you have wide community/member support.  However, it does not, always, pay for scholarships, exciting new programming or even the utilities.

Of course, there are a few exceptions where many smaller donors make a strong annual fund but, in all likelihood, that is not going to be your organization.  Think of the work you would have to do to expand by a hundred donors that could give you $50 vs. the time it would take to find one new $5,000 donor?  Or better still, 5 new $1,000 donors.

This is all to say that you should be aware of how you spend your time. You should not focus only on the top 10% but also you want to make sure that they are going to stay committed to your nonprofit for years to come.  And, if you don’t think you have any donors with the potential for $1,000 – email me to explore screening your donor database.


Want to read more about Major Donors?

Value the Nonprofit Donor More than the Donation

It’s Science: Asking For Donations Will Help You & The Donor Feel Good



Interview Questions Explained by A Nonprofit Executive Search Firm

As a nonprofit executive search firm, we work with many executive directors and board members to find the ideal candidate for their organizations.  We guide them on how to create a process designed to attract the best candidates, review potential candidates, understand best practices for interviews and engagement of applicants, compare and analyze results of contact with prospective employees, negotiate an offer that benefits the nonprofit and the candidate, and develop procedures to on-board new executive leadership.  In each case, we adopt a unique approach driven by the characteristics of the organization and the community it serves.

Mersky, Jaffe & Associates has been providing executive search services for more than twenty-five years, which is why we found the article in Inc., “The 1 Question Every Job Interviewer Should Ask to Hire the Perfect Candidate,” a great aid in our process.  It circulated around the office thanks to my colleague, Larry Sternberg.

Conversation during the interview process is an ideal way to get to know the person who could be a member of your team for years to come. 

Jeff Haden wisely recommends that interviewers move beyond the standard questions, looking for a specific answer.  That is akin to a candidate who tailors a resume to hit the high points of a job description, knowing that the ‘bot scanning the site will give it high marks. Both get results but not necessarily the quality you are looking for.  Instead, you want to find someone with appropriate skills who will fit in with your culture and  environment.

But, the only way to know if someone will fit is to engage them beyond the standard cookie cutter questions. 

When I was first interviewing for jobs (many moons ago), there were questions that were asked to test your critical thinking skills and determine how you would figure something out if you didn’t know the answer.  These seemingly absurd inquiries ranged a bit but included, “how would you find a needle in a haystack?” and “how many gas stations are there in the United States.” I understood why they were asking these types of questions, even if, as a 22-year-old I was completely scared that I would be stumped on the spot.

The Inc. question about how you will impact the bottom line may stop you in your tracks if you are a candidate who is not really interested in that specific nonprofit but simply a nonprofit job. But, if you have done your due diligence and understand the organization, you should be able to talk to the screener at the executive search firm, the interviewer, and your future colleagues about what you bring to the table.  And that will help everyone understand whether this i s a good fit.

To learn more about our Executive Search offerings, click here.

The Return on Investment for a Capital Campaign with Mersky, Jaffe & Associates

return on investment for a capital campaign

When prospective clients, fellow board members, or friends in the nonprofit world ask whether they should consider working with MJA, I often tell them we are very effective, but not inexpensive. I admit that the answer is a bit conceited, but we are a great team with hundreds of combined years of experience. And I see what is achieved through our client work.

What is effective?  What is “not inexpensive?” It was time to offer quantifiable proof.  I asked David to analyze the numbers behind a handful of recent capital campaigns where we served as nonprofit consultants and I can let the numbers speak for themselves.

The return on investment for a capital campaign with MJA ranges from 1,292% and 8,466%.  That is not a typo- 8,466%!

Broken down:

Amount Raised with MJA ROI
$6,200,000 3,067%
$6,700,000 8,466%
$2,300,000 1,292%
$9,750,000 3,148%
$11,000,000 4,302%

I guess I was right – while we are not the lowest priced nonprofit consultants, we get impressive results.  And this chart is the proof.

If you want to know how we can help you experience similar return on investment for a capital campaign, email me today by clicking here

For more articles on capital campaigns consider:

Ten Reasons Ways to Ensure Your Nonprofit Fundraising is Effective

Value the Nonprofit Donor More than the Donation

The Nonprofit Leaders Guide to a Capital Campaign Vol. 1 of 12

For more ariticles on Mersky, Jaffe & Associates consider:

The Habits of Highly Successful Fundraising

What Nonprofit Consultants Don’t Tell You





The Habits of Highly Successful Fundraising

I want successful fundraising

What follows are the nineteen habits of highly successful fundraising. In this way, you can work to introduce these habits into your daily routines so that your next encounter with a major gift prospect will have the best possible outcome, a meaningful gift to your campaign.

Habit #1: Communicating that it is Sound “Business” to Trust You

Don’t cut corners at the expense of your own credibility–it’s one of your most powerful weapons. You’re not in the business of attracting suckers and “getting the gift”; you are in the business of building mutually beneficial long-term partnerships on behalf of the nonprofit.

Habit #2: Asking the Right Questions

Ease in with simple questions that get the prospect talking about him or herself, and then move on. You must take the responsibility of keeping the conversation moving forward.

Habit #3: Taking the Lead

Tell the prospect where you are in the process. Don’t be afraid to steer the conversation in the direction you want it to go. If there are questions or problems, you’ll hear about them–and that’s what you want! Take the initiative in a calm, professional manner.

Habit #4: Engaging the Prospect

Guide the conversation from the unique set of verbal and nonverbal cues your prospect will supply. Discuss that with which you are comfortable and familiar. Discuss the surroundings. “Lean in” when the prospect begins to talk about him or herself. Show care by really caring.

Habit #5: Pretending You’re a Consultant (Because You Are)

Don’t improvise. If you need to take time out to come up with a workable solution, do so. Solving problems is the name of the game–and you have to listen before you can come up with a solution. The prospect will respect your candidness.

Habit #6: Asking for the Next Appointment on the First Visit

Perhaps the simplest, easiest-to-follow piece of advice. You and the prospect(s) live busy lives, neither of you have the time to get in touch again by phone to see each other again.

Habit #7: Taking Notes

Taking notes during your meeting with the prospect helps you listen, puts you in a position of authority, encourages your prospect to open up, and sends positive signals that you are really interested in what he or she is saying.

Habit #8: Creating a Plan with Each New Prospect

It may be routine for you, but the prospect has never gone through this development process with you before. Produce and share a customized, written plan based on your notes from early meetings.

Habit #9: Asking for Referrals

Don’t be shy–you can’t afford it. Referrals are the life blood of a successful fundraising program. Before you leave, make sure to say, “I’m willing to bet there are people you know who could benefit from my talking to them. Do you know five people I could talk to?”

Habit #10: Showing Enthusiasm

Talk up your nonprofit–and remember that there is a difference between enthusiasm and poorly disguised panic. Enthusiasm builds bridges; panic tears them down.

Habit #11: Giving Yourself Appropriate Credit

Talk about yourself–but be humble. (No, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.) Convey success, confidence and flexibility. Highlight past successes, but don’t try to one-up the prospect. Try to exhibit the characteristics of a person who makes things happen.

Habit #12: Telling the Truth (It’s Easier to Remember)

We tell on average, 200 lies every day! Well, social conventions and pleasantries are one thing–misleading the prospect about your ability to meet a deadline is quite another. Remember, your credibility is a precious asset; defend it!

Habit #13: Selling Yourself on Yourself

Motivate yourself! Avoid the radio during your morning commute; listen to something motivational instead. Be specific with your goals–and your rewards. Get positive reinforcement. Leave yourself notes. Keep things in perspective.

Habit #14: Starting Early

There is a world before 9:00 AM! You can ease your commute, reduce your aggravation, and improve your attitude by making it in an hour or so before everyone else does. It may sound tough–try it anyway. You’ll be a convert before you know it.

Want to know more? Email Abigail Harmon to find out how Mersky, Jaffe & Associates can help you make your fundraising program a complete success.

Why Nonprofit Executive Search is Not as Easy as One Would Think

David A, Mersky ImageOften our clients believe that they can undertake a search on their own—deploying their resources to understand the opportunity and describe it in a fashion that is appealing.  Then all they need do is list it on any of a dozen or more web sites and social networking services and wait for the ideal candidates to knock down their door.

The dirty secret is that it is not quite so simple and further it is a misuse of significantly limited human resource to devote time to do the kind of assessment, define the position, create the marketing plan to attract the right applicants, screen them, interview them in a way that sells the opportunity as well as gets to know the candidate well enough to extend and negotiate an offer that will be accepted. We are hired when they realize that the most efficient and effective way to find the right candidate is to outsource the nonprofit executive search to a firm that understands the field.

There are many obstacles that most clients—whether volunteer lead and managed or professionally directed—can avoid, particularly when you are seeking a “C” level hire.

For instance, through the obvious methods of listing a job, you may get many to apply.  But, it is likely that most will lack the sought-after qualifications, experience, or education.  We tell clients that if they receive even five truly qualified applicants, they should consider themselves fortunate.

Another challenge is the inflated position description—the agency that is seeking someone who can “walk on water.”  That person does not exist.  Particularly, when searching for a successor, the pattern is often to replace—and, in some cases, replicate—the former, much beloved leader. And then add in any additional skills you wish he or she had.

It is better to look at the tasks and responsibilities and determine if the organization should be realigned by repurposing current staff and then, assessing what you need in a candidate.  And, when you have selected the person who has the right chemistry to fit into the culture and work with the staff and board of the agency, be honest about that person’s strengths and figure out how to accomplish the things that need doing but are not in the new hire’s wheel house. Do they need additional training or can someone else take on some responsibilities? Our nonprofit executive search includes regular meetings with the new hire to ensure they can succeed. No one is going to be perfect, but you can set your nonprofit up for success.

Finally, when you are contemplating a search you should be able to articulate a set of strategic priorities based upon a vision for the next five years.  The process of creating a shared vision and the goals and tactics to achieve them will inform the search and provide a tentative roadmap for your new leader.  Not to do this—and depend upon the new leader to figure out what your expectations are is a path fraught with peril.

When you understand the needed skill set, and have the accurate position description and the strategic priorities in hand, you are ready to begin a search that will end with the ideal candidate for your nonprofit.  We can even predict that if you are prepared, you will then know for whom you are looking and recognize him or her, often within minutes of the beginning of the first encounter.  Moreover, it will provide a path to success.

Let me know if we can help you with your next search…it will save you both money and time.  And it comes with a guarantee of success.



Behavioral Interview Questions for a Nonprofit Executive Search

We have been doing nonprofit executive searches for more than a quarter of a century.  Over the years, we have learned how vital selecting the right candidate is…in fact, employee turnover is the single largest expense that any organization is likely to experience.

Screening candidates for key skills is often the toughest part of an interview. You usually have less than an hour to figure out if the person has the qualities you are looking for in your next hire.

The good news is that behavioral interview questions are a proven way to reveal a person’s ability to collaborate, adapt, and more. When integrated into a nonprofit executive search, we provide candidates who are more likely to succeed far beyond our year-long guarantee.

The 6 behavioral skills to screen for in a nonprofit executive search

  1. Adaptability
  2. Culture fit
  3. Collaboration
  4. Leadership
  5. Growth potential
  6. Prioritization

Below is a brief description with one question we always include in our conversations with candidates during a nonprofit executive search.

  1. Adaptability
    69% of hiring managers say adaptability is the most important soft skill they screen for. You need employees who can adapt to a changing economy and organizational needs.
    What we ask:
    Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you had never done before.  How did you react? What did you learn?
  2. Culture fit
    89% of hiring failures are due to poor culture fit, so screening for this quality is key.  Research shows that employees who are a good culture fit had greater job satisfaction, superior job performance, and were more likely to stay with the company.
    What we ask:
    What are the three things that are most important to you in a job?
  3. Collaboration
    97% of employees and executives believe that a lack of team alignment directly impacts the outcome of a task or project. Clearly, hiring people who can work well with others is essential to having a productive – not to mention happy – team.
    What we ask:
    Give an example of when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with. How did you handle interactions with that person?
  4. Leadership
    Research shows that organizations with high quality leaders are 13 times more likely to outperform their competition. So, finding people who will be able to inspire, motivate, and influence others will be essential to your company’s success.
    What we ask:
    Tell me about the last time something significant didn’t go according to plan at work. What was your role? What was the outcome?
  5. Growth potential
    If an employee leaves, it can cost your company .multiple times that employee’s salary to replace him or her.  That means that hiring people who have the potential to grow with your company not only saves you the pain of replacing them, but also saves you money.
    What we ask:
    Recall a time when your manager was unavailable when a problem arose. How did you handle the situation? With whom did you consult?
  6. Prioritization
    When juggling multiple tasks, we should be able to decide which ones need to be tackled immediately, and which ones can wait. Hiring someone who can’t get this right means that key due dates and project timelines can fall through the cracks, ultimately hurting your business.
    What we ask:
    Tell me about a time when you had to juggle several projects at the same time. How did you organize your time? What was the result?

If you would like to receive at least four more questions for each of the six sections, please write me at david@merskyjaffe.com.  I would be pleased to send them to you and discuss your talent management needs.