Tag Archives: Priorities

What Were Your Nonprofit’s Goals for the Past Year?

Making Your Nonprofit's GoalsIt’s approaching year-end. I hope by now your annual appeal plan is in place and your initial letters and emails are seeing results. Now is a good time to review the past year. You will not have all your data yet and know whether you reached all of your goals. That can be assessed in January. Now is the time to consider the larger picture, like what were your nonprofit’s goals for the past year?


What were your priorities? Were you working to increase the total number of donors or working on upgrading the $50 and under gifts? Did you have a plan to increase the number of members or make more stewardship touches each month? Was there a plan to have more board members involved in your fundraising effort or to reassess your board manual? Each nonprofit has a unique set of circumstances, but no nonprofit organization (or even for-profit) can afford to stand still year after year.

****If none of this applies to you because you didn’t set out goals for this year, don’t worry. Well, maybe you should worry a bit, but only to use that worry to push you into action. Next year is another opportunity to make an impact through a detailed, goal-oriented development plan.


Did you have a plan to achieve your goals? Did you make it through all the steps in your plan?
• If you did, what were the results? Be honest. Did you really contact 10 additional donors each month? Did those additional touches impact their giving? Or strengthen their feelings about the organization? Did they start to come to new events? In other words, qualitatively or quantitatively, what were the results?
• If you did not have a plan or did not make it through enough steps to make an impact, what prevented your success. Did you lack financial resources, time, staff/board buy-in, or even that you never made it your priority. Be brutally honest.
• If you don’t know how to assess your results, your plan was not well defined. While some efforts don’t show direct ROI, there should be measurements of success in every aspect of your plan.


Now it’s time to consider next year’s priorities. Pick a new goal or two (or revise an old one) and create a detailed plan. How can you achieve these goals? Who will you need to help you succeed? How will you assess your results next year? How will you overcome the anticipated, or unanticipated, resistance?

If you are not sure where to start, consider an organizational assessment. We offer an Organization and Development Assessment where we review and offer suggestions (click here for details).

Of course, you can assess your own organization. Just make sure you don’t avoid what makes you, the board or the staff uncomfortable. Accuracy and honesty will be essential in developing a usable plan. And a solid, usable plan will help your nonprofit raise more money, strengthen its board, or reorganize your staffing structure.

Just make sure there is a plan, so you are not looking back on 2018 and wondering why you didn’t achieve your goals.

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



Award Season for Philanthropy and Fundraising

With the announcement of the 2017 Tony Award nominations at the beginning of this week—and, aren’t all you Tolstoy fans excited about the 12 nominations for Natasha, Pierre, and the Comet of 1812—I began to think about these “seasons” which every industry seems to experience.

From the Golden Globes to the Oscars, it is Hollywood’s time.  In the late spring with the previously mentioned Tonys, it is Broadway’s turn.

In the nonprofit world, late spring brings fewer grand scale awards, yet still brings the sector together with the releases of major annual reports that encourage us all to rethink our current standing and future direction.  From the Fundraising Effectiveness Project report to the Annual Report of Giving USA, those in philanthropy and fundraising, focus on these data and how they affect the industry and our place in it.

We would like you to ask one question when you examine these new resources, “How do we move from data to action?”

For instance, the latest Individual Donor Benchmark Report was issued this week.  The data in this report was compiled from “small, and mighty” organizations with budgets under $2,000,000.  In the report, we learned that on average

  • organizations retain about 60% of their donors from year to year;
  • 4 of 10 board members are active in fundraising in any significant way;
  • 1 out of every 5 individual donor dollars is given online;
  • these organizations raise 34% of their revenue from individuals;
  • about ½ of individual revenue comes from donors giving less than $1,000; and
  • the best way to ensure fundraising success is to have a plan.

How can you turn this data into action?

Celebrate your philanthropy and fundraising strengths

Find areas where you are doing well—better than the average noted above—and build on those strengths. Be sure to share your successes with your colleagues and board!

Identify your challenges

This data is your opportunity to check-in on how you are faring against the average and where you might want to strengthen your fundraising program.

Find markers that motivate your team

If your staff and board are obsessed with increasing online donations, focus there, and use the averages in this report as a guide. We recommend picking one or two markers of success for your organization and work on those smaller goals.

Above all, create a strategic development plan

Focus your entire enterprise on the one or two goals you have chosen so that next year you will have even more to celebrate.  Call me at 1 (800) 361 8689 if you would like to learn how we can help you collect the data, measure your achievements, and guide you in a plan for even greater success.


What Would Help Your Nonprofit Raise More Money This Year?

With resolutions and calendaring on everyone’s mind, I would like you to stop and think about the coming year.  What would help your nonprofit raise more money in 2017? The list might include:

This year, in this column, I will cover these topics, help you find the necessary resources and reduce your excuses.

Excuses are always plentiful with some people but it is often perspective.  A shoestring budget can be a deterrent or an inspiration to get creative.  Staff and volunteers who want to learn and grow will achieve more than some seasoned professionals.  And, systems, even the most expensive ones, will only work when they are created or tailored with a specific organization  – and how they will use it – in mind.

To start the exercise, write down your top three priorities from the list above.  If you email them to me by replying to this blog or sharing them on twitter @merskyjaffe, I will collect the results to use as a guide for calendaring the year of articles.  Of course, if you would prefer specificities to help your nonprofit raise more money, email or call me (617.285.2557) today.








Sending Tweens On Their Own Path of Philanthropy

torah scrollMy twin daughters are 10 months away from becoming b’not (the plural of bat) mitzvah, which means, among other things, they are planning for their mitzvah project. For those of you unfamiliar with the practice I will quote our congregation’s guidebook, “our children are asked to dedicate 18 hours to making a difference in the lives of others.”

I’ve seen these projects range from collecting sports gear for developing nations to weekly tutoring sessions, Shabbat dinners at an senior citizen residential facility to baking, packaging and selling dog biscuits to raise more than $1,000 for an animal shelter. All with the intention of exhibiting the behavior that adult Jews (and non-Jews) should exhibit throughout their lives.

Anyone who has witnessed this practice knows that some projects are truly meaningful, but many are thrown together or mostly performed by the parents (self-admittedly). As someone who works with nonprofits, how could we make sure their project is something that reflects their interests and that it will be meaningful to the organization.

But then it occurred to me that I was putting too much weight on this project.

If the point of this community service is to ensure that children have a lifelong love of philanthropy – including volunteering and donating money – than, this is neither the starting mark or the final destination. This is simply one step on the path and this one does not have to be the biggest, the best or the most impactful. This one has to be influenced by where they each are right now. And since most 12-year-olds girls are not thinking like a 44-year-old mother, their projects might not seem impactful to me. But so what? They are on the path.

My daughters, among other volunteer opportunities, have baked cupcakes for Birthday Wishes—a program that provided birthday parties for children who live—often with their mother—in a homeless shelter, pulled weeds on a community farm, visited the local senior home and brought holiday cheer to the elderly, and volunteered at their pre-school on days off. What do all of these things have in common? Adults guided them and made it easy and accessible. If they are taking the lead on their Mitzvah project – that is a huge change in the process that shifts the path in a different direction—one of increasing responsibility and self-reliance. And, it keeps them on the lifelong path of being concerned, contributing citizens of the community.

I am encouraging them to be creative, trying to let them explore their interests and see what comes out of it. Maybe it will be life changing. And maybe it won’t be. But, if we are raising our children to be good citizens – no matter their religion – at some point, we have to let them take the lead. And if I need to step in to help them fulfill their vision – I will hope that the next time they will need a little less help so that by the time they are living on their own – they know what they like about volunteering and donating. And how to follow their own path to philanthropic endeavor.

Should You Be Following Fundraising Trends?

Wok stir fryOver the weekend I listened to a podcast on Chinese cooking from America’s Test Kitchen Radio (this may seem off topic but stick around and I will make the connection). After I heard from Fuchsia Dunlop, author of “Every Grain of Rice,” I decided I should go out and purchase this almost vegetarian Chinese cookbook. But, before I could get my keys, I realized the next segment of the podcast would focus on “fads” in cooking. I have been known to get caught up in the foodie hype from time to time so I was curious about the potential connection between kale, bottled water, Greek yogurt, and specialized crystal salt. It turns out that “they all have a good health rap,” have a “highly individual, specific taste,” and coincide with other trends in fashion. Think areas of the world that are en vogue or what Jennifer Anniston uses to get that glow.

It made me wonder if “fads” in fundraising were the same. Were they intended to be good for us and that is why they make such a splash? Do they require the unique aspect that allows for specialists to become experts in the field? Do they reflect popular culture? I think, on the whole, the answers are yes, yes and yes.

What are recent popular fundraising trends?
Most everyone in the philanthropic community is in the midst of trying to keep up with social media. Are you promoting yourself on Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Some percentage of the (fundraising) population truly understands what they are, how best to use these media for a specific nonprofit.   The rest are trying to muddle through and keep and their bosses/board happy (and, hopefully their donors, as well.). To continue the comparison, it is like kale. Some people will keep using it in innovative and productive ways for years after the media shifts focus. The others, should consider using it enough so that they can decide if it is right for them.

What about the post-2008 Presidential election? We all learned that we should be asking many more donors for less money more often to raise more in the aggregate. I’m sure it works for some organizations but the 80/20 rule – 80% of the money is raised from 20% of the people has gone the other way and is now often referred to as the 90/10 rule.   I am going to liken it more to bottled, designer water. It was all the rage, but now we see that there are consequences that we had not previously considered.

Then, there was the rubber bracelet phase. It worked for Livestrong. Couldn’t we all raise millions by buying a few hundred dollars worth of branded accessories? I’m not sure how this compares to food trends, but the success rates were great if you were looking to profit a few hundred dollars or if you were hoping to create awareness. But, unless you were already marketing on a Livestrong scale, with a celebrity face, and were able to have distribution across the country, the bracelets were nothing more than costly marketing giveaways and not the answer to your organization’s financial problems.

What I see as a connection between these fundraising fads is actually that people think these ideas will be get rich quick schemes for their organizations. And for a very few, they may well be. But before you divert valuable resources, decide what you think the impact will be for you – not for the others who made the news. And, then ask, what are you not doing when you jump on the latest bandwagon.

Social media is not going away anytime soon. It has changed from a “fad” to a fact of life. But as for the rest? You don’t have to slavishly follow every fundraising fad. Step back and strategize about what you want to achieve. Then, you will know whether the next “big innovation” is the right move for you and your nonprofit.

You Have a New Mission and Vision – Now What?

? signThere are many reasons to ensure your mission and vision are still relevant and supported within your organization. Here are a few:

  • You are about to start a strategic planning process
  • You have had a major change in staff or board leadership
  • You are considering a capital campaign
  • You want to provide the organization with shared focus
  • You have founders’ syndrome
  • You are revamping your annual fund
  • You are about to work with a consultant for a feasibility study
  • ________________________.

We work with many organizations to help them work through the creation of new mission and vision statements.   And, like so many things in life, the new documents are only as good as what you do with them.  If you have the documents, now what?

  • Provide it to everyone involved in the organization;
  • Make sure that the staff and board can all articulate the mission statement verbatim and are able to paraphrase accurately the vision statement, with believable passion;
  • Each new initiative should be questioned as to whether or not it is in concert with your mission and gets you closer to the vision;
  • Each committee should consider what they can do to help further the new mission and vision;
  • New budgeting and the allocation of resources should be considered with the mission and vision in mind; and
  • Staff should determine their own priorities based on the mission and vision.

In other words, the mission and vision statements should be the driving forces for your organization.  Use them well, employ them wisely but most of all proudly broadcast them for all to see and hear.

10 Tips For Getting Organized In Your Office This Fall

Getting organized - Your ducks in a rowAs I was looking at a recent school supply list, I saw the word organizer. It occurred to me that this fall, my 3rd grade twins are not the only ones who should be considering some additional organization.

I have been in my new home for two years and I now have a better idea of how I work in my home office but in those two years I have only modified my space to work decently, but never fully re-vamped it to help myself become more productive.

Here are my top 10 tips for getting organized this fall:

  1. Remember that you are not trying to boil the ocean. I recently heard that phrase for the first time and was struck by the thought of how many times a person looks at a project and makes it seem so large that he or she doesn’t know where to start.  Take an hour this week and see what you can do to make yourself feel more organized. Did that make a dent or do you need to make it two hours next week to feel that you have made a difference. What ever you choose – mark it in your calendar as an important meeting that must be rescheduled immediately.
  2. Continue spending the time on organizing after you achieve your goal. After you congratulate yourself on cleaning up your office, consider the fact that maintenance of a system is the only way to keep papers out of piles in the long term. But, just like in other aspects of your life, a little slip up doesn’t mean you need to give up.  Sometimes you need to do it again and again to get yourself into the habit.
  3. Establish a “To Do” System for getting organized. I divide paperwork into priorities
    1. “To Do” (the pieces I want to go through everyday,
    2. “Soon” (which I try to look at every other week or whenever things slow a bit),
    3. “For ___(fill in the blank of the person who you often have documents for but get lost in the piles)___,”
    4. “To File (everything that doesn’t fall into one of the original categories usually can be filed away for future reference or placed in the recycling bin).

Different people use different systems but there is no one who is truly ready to be focused on getting organized who doesn’t use a system that is personalized to their needs.

  1. Recycle or shred documents on a regular basis. Hard copies of documents are becoming obsolete. Computers help you store and access documents as easily as any file room so consider what does and does not have to be kept on a regular basis. Sometimes, it can be as simple as considering whether or not you are the only person in charge of this information. For instance, if you are a committee member, do you need to keep copies of the agendas from each meeting?  Probably not. If someone needs a copy of something they will go to the committee chair not an individual member for the official record. If you are keeping it for your own reference, consider what is useful and what is extraneous and how the useful pieces should be stored.
  2. Don’t go out to buy new storage items until you know exactly how you will use them. It is easy to get seduced by the clean pictures in a catalog or online site but that doesn’t mean you will use any of it in your office. Use old folders to start your systems and then count how many fun colored packs you need. Sit at your desk each day and determine whether you would prefer to lay your folders down on the desk, see them vertical in an open holder or hidden away in a file drawer. Each person’s way of getting organized looks different.
  3. Consider your time in the same way you consider your paperwork. If you know you often get an hour of “unexpected” phone calls each day – plan for that as much as you can. Perhaps it is as simple as allowing for four 15-minute breaks throughout the day that can be used for what ever comes up.
  4. Create a calendar system that works for you. Does your smart phone work as a reminder for you or do you need to look at a spiral bound calendar? Do you respond to your own notes on dry-erase wall calendar or do you constantly look at the exotic bird calendar from the bookstore? You may have to try out a few different systems to see what works, but if two weeks go by and you have missed a meeting – try a different method of reminding yourself.
  5. This is one you might not like, but avoid taking personal calls on business hours. Yes, we all need to blow off a bit of steam, but an hour call to a sister or friend can easily suck up an hour of time that will leave you behind schedule and feeling frantic and disorganized.
  6. Take Control. No matter which system you use, remember that you are in charge, not the paperwork, phone calls, or general clutter.  You have to choose to make yourself more organized. If hiring a professional organizer will help you through the process, go ahead but he/she is not going to be able to go through the paper on your desk. You are still going to have to look at it and decide what to do with it. So set the time and just do it.
  7. Remember the pay off. Feeling organized will save you time and make you happier. And is there really a better pay off than that?

In My Opinion… There Are Too Many Nonprofits

For some time, I have had the notion that there are, simply put, too many nonprofits. This may seem like a strange statement to be made from a consultant whose income is derived from nonprofits searching for funding and new executive leadership, but I will stand by my guns and repeat – there are too many nonprofits.

The Statistics
Between 1996 and 2006 the number of registered 501(c)(3) Public Charities increased by 68.7%. This does not include the estimated 350,000 or so congregations that are not registered with the IRS. And while income levels and generosity have increased in the past 10 years, there is no doubt that they have not increased enough to support the 368,000 new charities.

The Beneficiaries

The more people you know who work or donate their time to nonprofits, the more diverse a list of beneficiaries you will learn about. In fact, just this morning I had a conversation with someone who was helping a friend craft a proposal for medical funding in Romania and I was finishing up an annual appeal letter for the Brattle Theatre – both of which fall into that enormous number of charities created in the past ten years.

Of course, there is a need that many of these organizations fulfill, but I question whether each individual organization is necessary. Instead, perhaps we need a series of consolidations or mergers to ensure that the society’s needs are met.

The Cause of the Surge
I believe — with absolutely no facts but a bit of logic — that the great increase in nonprofits is being caused by relatively few factors:
1- the baby boomer population that has worked hard and now wants to make a difference.
2- our society’s encouragement of each individual’s value to the society as a whole.

Oh sure, others may state that there is a new need for nonprofits due to decreases in government funding as well as general economic and environmental factors, but do we need 350,000+ new organizations to create the solutions? I would like to propose that the proliferation of all these new nonprofits is a result of the American view that each one of us has a unique perspective in the world. Add that to the elemental American idea that if we want it done our way, we have to do it ourselves, and we have nearly 100 new nonprofits created each and every single day.

In other words, having two congregations with similar affiliations within a small or diminishing community is essential for the congregants who love their physical space or their clergy and leadership. But, that ignores that a joint community could pool resources – both human and financial – and establish a stronger individual organization. Some programs may be forced to ”sunset”, some members disappointed, and some funding lost but that element of compromise will ensure a less-stressful, long-term survival of the community as a whole.

A Few More Recommendations
As an Associate of a firm that specializes in ensuring the long-term survival of organizations, here are a few other tips:

Consider compromise before you become one of the charities that is forced to close its doors due to lack of funding.

When you or someone you know considers starting a new charity, do due diligence to see if you could aid an existing organization in achieving parallel goals.

If you have time and energy to give and are looking for a way to make a difference, consider making an impact within an exiting organization through friends, families or even websites like boardnetusa.org or idealist.org.

While I do not recommend starting a charity for every new need, I do recommend volunteering. Each of us must give what we can in order to achieve a more perfect world for ourselves and our children – as well as the goals we wish to accomplish.

Q. How do we do fundraising without too much exertion?

No effort fundraising imageA. At first look, this question is the epitome of stereotypical American culture. So much so, that I almost took it as a joke and deleted it. And then, I decided that if it was intended to be heard with a bit of sarcasm, it was too common a question and deserved an answer. Sometimes it is stated slightly differently, “do you think we can raise money without doing anything?” or “can I raise money without having to ask anyone for it?” but in the end, the answer is pretty much the same.

If your closest friends have millions of dollars in disposable income of which they are more than happy to donate to your organization – talk to them. If you do not have said friends or any similar personal funding…it is impossible.

Fundraising takes effort. And not the hard work of one executive director and a couple of staff members. Success is dependent on the collective effort of the staff, board members, volunteers and community. There must be a critical mass of people that believe there is a need that the organization fills, a clearly defined way to communicate the need and a community willing to fund the need. In other words, there are no short cuts. As far as I know, no one has ever put up a sign in the lobby asking for millions of dollars and built a new wing as a result of the piles of money that were deposited in the drop box.

The moral? If you want to do it, do it right. And do it with the knowledge that your hard work will reap rewards.