Tag Archives: Doing more with less

Creating a Meaningful Volunteer Experience – From HS to Retirement

Make A Difference with a meaningful volunteer experienceLast week there was an article in the New York Times (an Op-Ed by Frank Bruni) titled, “To Get to Harvard, Go to Haiti?”  Through a conversation with a 17 year-old, followed up by interviews with admission officers, Bruni questions the impact of these week-long ‘mission trips’ to Central America and Africa. Or, maybe, the interviewees are questioning the meaningful volunteer experience (and the new genre of college-application essays they inspire).

Do they help the student learn more about volunteering than he or she could by working with underserved youth at a local Boys & Girls Club?

The article implies no, and I would agree.  Those of us who work with nonprofits understand the problem.  Volunteering for twenty hours on a big, flashy nonprofit gala will not connect anyone to a homeless shelter in the same way that working in the soup kitchen would. At the same time, both may profess a strong connection to the organization and, ideally, enjoy their volunteer experience. And both help the organization in their own way.

It begs the question, how do you create a meaningful volunteer experience whether the person is 17, 77, or anywhere in between?  Each nonprofit should consider:

  • Is the work interesting to the volunteer? Interest may be based on the type of work, alongside whom they are volunteering , or where it is located. Are you in need of help stuffing envelopes, organizing a high profile event or helping the board with a particular skill.
  • Will the volunteer feel like he or she made an impact? Seeing a broken down playground transform over a week-long trip shows how she or he made a difference.  But, the same can be said about a fabulous event. Or reading a letter from a parent thanking a volunteer for their role in his child’s life. Or seeing the barometer move up on a fundraising campaign in which a person has been working as a volunteer solicitor.
  • How many volunteers can the nonprofit supervise? Training, a direct connection with staff and supervisors, and a clear understanding of what is expected for each volunteer helps form the experience. The more complicated the opportunity (think of a docent), the more the nonprofit will gain from volunteerism.  But, more involvement will require more involvement from staff (or an even more experienced volunteer).
  • How many hours do you need each volunteer to commit to? Do you need a week-long intensive volunteer to build a house or two hours a week on a consistent basis mentoring someone to enhance their literacy?  Maybe you require a lot of different people to help collect and organize food during a two-hour shift once a year?  Be honest about your needs and ask volunteers to be as honest as they can be about the time they can offer.

While they may initionally be using a trip as a way to fulfill required volunteer hours, students who go around the world to volunteer may realize they love working with youth.  Or they may just love helping others.  For many, it may be the first time the spirit of voluntarism was introduced into their lives that is not orchestrated by parents.  And, that will spark a new generation of volunteers for all kinds of nonprofits.

Temporarily Fixing Fiscal Year-End Deadlines at Nonprofits

I ran into a friend this morning who works at a development department for one of the local universities. When I asked her how she was, she said, “Stressed. I have until June 30th to reach out to 1,700 donors. I guess I won’t be sleeping much.” Whether the lack of sleep will be caused by working around the clock or the stress of the overwhelming job in front of her, is irrelevant. And the truth is, she is not alone.

End of fiscal year-end deadlines at nonprofits bring stress to many development shops. Any meeting that had been pushed off in recent months is now essential during this time crunch. And donors who have said they weren’t quite ready earlier in the year are now being nudged harder than either party would like. What’s a nonprofit to do? Think temporary.

Even if you could work 24 hours a day, you still won’t be able to track, meet, email, thank, and answer the questions of 1,700 prospective donors for your annual fund in three weeks. Create a list of tasks that are repetitive and time-consuming so that temporary employees will have to question less and be able to succeed more.

Hire temp workers to help do the paperwork. There is no time to interview, no time to train and no time to think too hard about how to get it all done. But is there really any way you could achieve your goal with your current staff?   Temp agencies have highly qualified people who are not currently working full time. Be specific in your skill requirements and see what you might be able to offload for the next few weeks.

Not sure about an agency? Call a former employee who left on good terms. Maybe he/she became a stay-at-home parent or wanted a change of scenery. Many people will jump at the chance to earn extra money doing something they know without the long-term commitment.

Re-divide and conquer
If there are 1,700 donors to be contacted, it is probably not one person’s sole responsibility. But it can feel that way. Other people in the office are probably feeling the same way you are. Have a brief meeting (who has time for a long one?) to see if you can pool resources and temporarily redistribute tasks. Consider whether less multitasking may offer better results. Perhaps two junior people can focus on follow up calls to donors below a certain level, the three assistants can handle all of the documentation once a gift has been made including emails and notes that are often handled by the others, and one person can focus on scheduling for the whole office.

This is not a long-term strategy. Nonprofits should want to help employees learn and grow within their positions and this would cause boredom and unhappiness in short order. But, as they say, desperate times require desperate measures.

What else can you do?
At a place as large as a university, not everyone is focused on the annual fund or fiscal year. Consider calling human resources and see if they have any suggestions. You don’t want to spend too much time tracking down help, but more people to help the nonprofit may be the key to your success. And human resources may be able to reallocate staff. Allowing you to achieve your goals.

And, what about next year at this time
Is there a way to avoid this annual crunch at the end of the fiscal year? Probably not, as it is the donor who decides when he or she is ready to commit. But, maybe preparations for crunch-time can be made in the quiet days of summer so that the stress is relieved and productivity is achieved.

Don’t worry! The end is in sight—only 20 days to go as I write these words.

Nonprofit Model Fund Development

Creating A Culture of Asking Series

If leadership is the conditio sine qua non for success in the nonprofit enterprise—as it is in any endeavor—then that leadership has to be committed to a program that is a model of best practice in fund development.  Only in this way will you be able to exceed your fundraising goals.

There are six elements to nonprofit model fund development.

  1. First, development must be understood to be a community-building initiative.  Each and every donor is cherished as a valued contributor who in collaboration with others enables the organization to fulfill its mission and achieve its vision—all in keeping with the core values.
  2. Development is the means by which any organization maintains the relationships with all of its stakeholders.  And through those relationships, the programs and services of the agency serve as the fulfillment of the individual and collective aspirations of the community of funders and donors, clients and vendors, staff and volunteer leadership, who make-up this unique community.
  3. Even as a program of model fund development creates and strengthens community, it does so based upon respect for the diversity and individuality of each donor and prospect.  Whether writing an email solicitation or crafting an invitation to a special event, the organization is best served by envisioning the individual for whom the communication—in whatever form—is intended.  In that way, a positive response from repeat donors or first-time contributors is more likely to be assured.
  4. Through donor cultivation, individuals form bonds with the mission, vision and values of the enterprise—and with each other.  People are drawn closer and closer to a better world of which they are the architects as well as the builders.
  5. At every level possible, a program of model fund development aspires to engage with people through face-to-face encounter.  In a world in which we communicate in 140 character bursts and spend our time looking at screens small and large, development is committed to high touch, deeply personal connections.  How else can we validate one another’s worth to a more civil society?
  6. Finally, the outcome of model fund development is to instill in every donor—and those who engage with them, donors themselves—the joy of giving and living.  No one said it better than Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

NEXT MONTH: The Development Cycle

What Donations Are You Missing?

what donations are you missing?Mid-sized and small organizations often say they want, no – they need – to raise more money. Any consultant worth her salt could probably find two or three lost opportunities. What Donations Are You Missing? Here are a few examples.

Prospect Research

Most nonprofits understand the significance of researching a new donor to uncover giving history, gift size and areas of interest. From time to time, consideration may be given to a bulk screening, but do you use research to examine existing or potential, new donors?

Let’s face it, expanding your donor base is always attractive. What organization wouldn’t want to focus all their efforts here?

Smart ones.

Always start by looking at existing donors. Prospect research will help you know who has potential to give a larger gift – much easier to achieve and less time consuming than finding a new donor. Even if some of these donors had been screened when they first donated, many of your donors may have not been reviewed in years. What has changed? Who has sold a company, inherited wealth or changed giving habits?

Another bonus is that your prospect research will cost you less with a higher rate of return since you will be looking into a pre-determined, finite set of names with philanthropic connections to the organization instead of casting a huge net and hoping for a few fish to find your bait attractive.

Potential donors left waiting

A board member introduces an older man to the E.D. with a whisper, “He is a potential volunteer with real deep pockets and a great network.” What are your next steps? If you can’t answer right away, you have probably missed quite a few opportunities—people lost by a lack of immediate engagement (good volunteers with money don’t stay unattached for long).

You need a plan in place that tells you what you should be doing to engage any new potential donor or volunteer. The name will then be handed to _________ (Development Staff, President of the Board, Nominations Committee Chair, Volunteer coordinator, or other relevant person). A call is to be placed within x number of days with an invitation to an ________(an upcoming event)_________.

A simple pre-established process will also make sure that the board member won’t feel like they are constantly hearing the whine about how many new donors the organization needs, while knowing full well that there was this huge, missed opportunity. And, it eliminates any procrastination that may occur because you don’t know if there really is any potential or not and you have too many things to do that week as it is. We have been there, but the best way to meet the requirement to raise more money is not to leave any potential on the table.

Overwork your board

Does your board have enough members or are you hesitant to ask the board to take on any new business (as they are already working over capacity)?

Your board is filled with the volunteers who care most about your organization. If you have a small, over-worked board, they really, really care about your organization – otherwise they would not be as involved as they are. But that is not sustainable – from either the staff or board perspective. Instead, work with the board to expand itself – not out of desperation but out of unseen promise that you would like to realize before the organization is overstrained.

Happy board members give more- willingly, and more often. Expand that pool and you are increasing your base for now and into the future.

Let us know if we can help you increase your capacity, establish donor plans or help you expand your board by contacting David A. Mersky


Green Nonprofit Tip: Getting Ready For Summer: Green BBQs

What’s better than an outdoor summer BBQ? Go Green by following these tips to reduce the chemical use, CO2 emissions, and trash associated with BBQs.

Time For Dessert: You can reheat baked goods like pies on the barbeque rack after the barbeque is turned off. Close the lid and by the time you are ready for desert they will be warm.

A Friendly Way To Prep The Grill: Instead of dousing the grill with chemical spray, prepare the grill by rubbing it with an onion. This way the food has more flavor and is friendlier to the atmosphere.

Make A Plan: Tally up the guest list before going to the grocery store to avoid overbuying or being stuck with leftovers that will go to waste.

Less Paper And Carbon Prints: Send invitations via phone or email, rather than sending paper invites.

Be Creative: Instead of relying on prepackaged chips and bottled sauces, make your own. You’ll cut down on packaging waste and have tastier, healthier food.

Choose Your Grill Carefully:
From a carbon standpoint, gas grills win out because naturalgas and propane burn cleaner and leave behind less waste than charcoal grills.

Get your Grill On: Grilling with the hood of the barbeque down not only increases energy efficiency, but also ensures the heat will be distributed more evenly throughout the grill.

Maintain Your Grill: Taking care of your grill properly means it will last for many delicious barbecues. Instead of petro-based cleaners you can clean your grill with a barbecue brush and a paste made with baking soda and water.

Using Friendlier Charcoal: Lump Charcoal or ‘natural charcoal’ contains no additives and is significantly preferable to charcoal briquettes.

What An Eco-friendly Barbecue Looks Like: The picnic table is primed with recycled-plastic durable, reusable dishware,fresh salads are made with seasonal, locally-raised ingredients, and at the end, the near-empty garbage can sits close to a full recycling bin.

Tip provided by Greencare at Jewish Home Lifecare: Working together to create greener and healthier communities.

How to Raise More Money in Economically Challenging Times

If you are an executive or volunteer leader of a nonprofit agency, you know that you are approaching that season of the year when you expect to receive maybe as much as 70% of your annual philanthropic revenue.  For some nonprofits, the last six weeks of the year brings in virtually all of their income.

If you are a donor, then you can expect your mailbox—and, increasingly, your email inbox—to be inundated with solicitations to support every worthy cause imaginable.

Regardless on which side of the envelope you sit, this will be a very interesting year.  If you are on the receiving end, you have to be filled with anxiety.  According to conventional wisdom, this is the worst economy since the Great Depression.  You have to wonder will you be able to rely upon the renewed and increased support from those who have contributed to your enterprise faithfully in the past.

What can you expect if you are seeking funds in this season of giving and sharing?

Charitable giving historically decreases less than 1% for every 100 points the Standard & Poor’s 500 index drops, according to a study by the Center on Philanthropy.  And while the S&P has gained more than 350 points from its low point of March 2009, it still is more than 500 points lower than its high in October 2007.  As a result, you should probably expect a decline in first-time donors even while loyal donors hopefully continue to give.

Current consumer research indicates that 70% of Americans planned to spend less, but more than half say they are likely to give to charity.  So, what can you do in your fundraising efforts this year and beyond to assure the continued support of those upon whom you have come to rely?

  • Be sensitive to donors’ challenges. Slow down the cultivation cycle for major donors; be aware of their specific economic situation.
  • Ask, but, especially this year, with these four things in mind:
  • Empathy is appropriate. Acknowledge times are hard – for everyone – right now. If a donor can’t give now, they will appreciate that you understand this.
  • Show you are tightening your belt. Describe every step your organization has taken to reduce your expenses and operate as efficiently as possible this year.
  • Demonstrate that all donations count. Because you are stretching every dollar, make the point that every donation helps more than ever this year – whatever the amount of the donation.
  • Show impact. Thank your donors profusely for their past help and explain in tangible, vivid terms how their donations have made a big difference. And then do it again and again and again. Donors usually don’t stop giving because they don’t have money. They usually stop giving because of a surfeit of appeals and a shortage of thanks. Show donors that they are making good things happen – and give them credit for every piece of good news you have about your programs.
  • Because outright gifts may decline, consider moving into Charitable Gift Annuities marketed through direct mail and online as 55-70 year old investors are looking for a safe harbor for their money.
  • Continue reminding people about bequest giving as a way to support your agency in the future when times are less uncertain.
  • Communicate more often for less through e-mail than by postal mail and make it easier for donors to give on-line through your web site.
  • Focus on annual appeals that “matter.”  Sharpen your message, focus demonstrated and specific needs and limit requests that ask donors to fill the “black hole” of unrestricted operations.
  • Transparency.  Be honest about your financial challenges, and share your plans to deal with them.  Keep donors informed via your web site and e-mail as to how you are managing your resources and meeting urgent needs.
  • Steward your loyal donors. Call or visit to thank them for their loyalty.  Hold a donor briefing—in person or by conference call—to help them feel like insiders
  • Keep the connections because people will give to those that love them the most.  And, if some of your donors do not give, ask yourself, “Is is because we failed somehow?  Do they no longer feel connected?”

Q: How can one person cultivate, solicit and steward prospects and donors as well as run a series of major fundraising events?

juggling cultivation, solicitation and stewardshipA. We have received quite a few questions in our annual survey on this topic. Let’s face it, there are fewer people having to do more and more every day. The simple answer is time management and prioritization. The more complicated answer is that there is no way to meet, let alone exceed, all expectations with half of the staff, few volunteers and a daily focus that cannot move past putting out fires. Let’s reexamine these shortages, and show you how to move forward.

Learn a lesson from President Obama. When your challenges seem to be overwhelming, don’t hide them in hopes no one will notice until you have moved on. Instead, take charge. Remind the staff, board, community stakeholders, members and any other relevant person, that you understand the challenges and that they are substantial. But, let everyone know that you have a plan in place to move forward. Manage people’s expectations and but be sure you have a solid plan to exceed them.

Allocating Resources
Let’s examine the shortages mentioned in the first paragraph. If you are short of staff, the most common reasons are: 1- you are looking to hire someone and have yet to find the ideal candidate, 2- you have always been short-staffed and have to find a way to overcome that challenge, or 3- you have had to have layoffs but the same work still has to be accomplished with fewer people.

If you are looking to hire someone, consider downloading our article Winning The War For Talent.

If you wish you could hire someone but cannot afford someone, consider the new and improved volunteer. In this economy, if you can offer a regular schedule, office space and part-time work to volunteers, you can often expect high-qualified respondents. Being out of work is tough in so many ways, but not having a reason and place to get up and go on a regular basis takes a toll. The offer of stability alongside flexibility and a place to go can be very appealing, even if you can’t offer a salary.

It Is Essential To Make A Plan
It may seem impossible to take time out to focus on an overview of the situation when you have fifteen balls up in the air. Consider this – if some external counsel (like, for instance, Mersky, Jaffe & Associates) were to offer you a day in which we helped you assess your organization to determine your priorities and strategies would you figure out how to clear a day? Probably.

Perhaps you do not feel like you can allocate financial resources to hire outside counsel. Some would argue that you really can’t afford not to hire someone. But, assuming that you do not have funds, why not plan a day in which your voice mail and email say that you are out of your office. Close your office door, grab a large coffee and focus on long-term strategy for the day rather than on putting out short-term fires?

To get back to the original question – one person cannot cultivate, solicit and steward prospects and donors and run a series of major fundraising events. Use your strategy “day” to determine whether you are a more valuable resource to the events, or to your major gifts program. Is your time better spent examining the annual appeal plan for the coming year with concrete benchmarks and contingency plans or do you need to revise budgets for each program because someone else needs them right away.

Determine exactly what you feel you need to do and what someone else could do and then you search for help from the board, other staff or a new volunteer “hired” specifically for a certain group of tasks.

Not all of the choices are easy, and not everything will go smoothly, but this way, you gain control rather than the work controlling you.

Q. Is It Possible To Have A Successful Fundraising Program With A Small Or Non-existent Budget?

A. Successful fundraising is not based on a ratio of money spent to money raised. Seeking experienced, long-term volunteers and enabling them to take charge of fundraising may cost you nothing more than the time it takes to train and supervise them. Unfortunately, even with a host of baby boomers searching for meaningful work in retirement, few organizations will offer their volunteers this type of opportunity. Instead, valuable skills will be wasted stuffing envelopes.

Many organizations seeking lower development costs choose to train current staff to take on additional responsibilities. Of course, overworked employees will not provide the results you seek. You may be better served to reorganize the responsibilities of staff to redirect these human resources to your fundraising program. This has an added benefit of providing staff with growth opportunities. And, a happy staff often produces better results.