The Golden Rule of Board Engagement

“Our board is so engaged in fundraising, we can’t imagine how they could possibly do more.” Wa...

“Our board is so engaged in fundraising, we can’t imagine how they could possibly do more.”

Wait … what? Why is it so rare to hear nonprofit leaders making this kind of statement? Well, it’s because very few people think their board members are doing enough to attract, retain, and deepen the commitment of major donors. According to the oft-quoted Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, depending on organizational budget, only 18-35% of respondents said board members were “sufficiently” engaged, while 0-7% said they were “very sufficiently” engaged. One development director likely speaks for many peers when she said:

"It is really, really difficult to motivate the board and get them to see the value of what we do. We have people who renew their term, but these are the very same people who will not pick up the phone, will not attend board meetings, will not come to a donor meeting or partner with the executive director, which is a huge, huge obstacle."

Whenever I hear comments like these, my first question is to ask about board giving – and not just if they give, but how their gifts are solicited. Because there’s one simple rule that, when applied well, can dramatically increase board involvement in fundraising:

If you want board members to engage with major donors, engage them as major donors.

Think of it as the Golden Rule, Fundraising Edition. No matter how many trainings, tools, and resources you provide, board members will not fully understand the value of donor-centered conversations and other touches until they experience them firsthand. This is not a trait unique to board members; it’s how all humans learn. Consider showing, not telling board members why their participation in the work of major gifts promises such a strong return on investment.

Is making a gift one of the very first things you ask a new board member to do? While it’s true that 100% board giving should be a built-in expectation, if you treat their donations as a “given,” you’re missing out on a huge chance to show them how to reach for that personal, meaningful stretch gift. Take the time to ask new members why they chose to serve, what excites them about your program, and what more they want to know. In turn, they’ll understand that fundraising is a journey that leads up to, rather than begins and ends with, “the ask.”

Are your board members handed pledge forms and envelopes at a meeting, and told to return them as soon as possible? Or maybe they just get a letter in the mail? While collective board giving matters to other donors, remember that your board’s commitment is deeply personal. Have face-to-face meetings with each board member, assign solicitation teams, and determine request amounts with the care and strategy you would use for your top donors. They’ll grow to understand that donor conversations are much more about shared values, hopes, and dreams for the community, and much less about dollars and cents.

Are your board members regularly thanked for their specific contributions of time and money? While they may be close to the organization, every board member will still be grateful to hear about the impact of their giving. Consider developing a stewardship plan that includes quarterly touches from your senior executive, development director, board chair, and the Development Committee chair if you have one. A board member who has received a thoughtful note is more likely to understand the significance of signing or sending one.

So that’s the secret: treat board members like you’d like them to treat major donors. The results will be “golden!”

The Golden Rule of Board Engagement, September 3, 2014, eJP, by Barbara Maduell


Can an Established Nonprofit Still Be Innovative?

Can an established nonprofit still be innovative? It's a question that any "blue chip" company has to b...

Can an established nonprofit still be innovative? It's a question that any "blue chip" company has to be ready to respond "yes" to in order to ensure continued growth. So if being innovative is viewed as being critical to a for-profit company's success, why wouldn't such a standard also apply to nonprofits?

Today's philanthropic environment encourages nonprofits to be more innovative than ever before, especially as there is increased focus on measuring impact. This push to stimulate the development of creative solutions to addressing the needs of the community helps to challenge nonprofit organizations to constantly reconsider their program models. In this way, nonprofits move beyond their comfort zone to embrace new and innovative strategies for realizing the impact of their mission. Being "innovative" does not mean deserting an organization's history, but rather leveraging what's been done to achieve new and greater impact. Like "blue chip" companies, established nonprofit organizations often have the staff and resources to take risks and pilot new programs or approaches for achieving impact.

How can a nonprofit take the leap toward being innovative? Here are some initial steps that even the risk averse may feel comfortable taking:

1. Establish a culture of innovation: Leadership needs to let staff, clients, and external constituents know that they value the agency being innovative. It's this creation of a culture of innovation that will empower individuals to think critically and creatively about the agency and its programs.

2. Define the need: Development staff should work with program staff, the organization's leadership, clients, and external constituents to identify pressing needs and service gaps within the agency's scope. During this phase, nonprofits should be willing to question the effectiveness of their existing program models while also considering potential complementary areas of impact.

3. Brainstorm: Once the needs have been identified and leadership is on board, the development staff should work collaboratively with program staff to host a series of brainstorming sessions to ascertain potential solutions to the identified issue(s). Often an organization is already home to innovative thinkers who just need to be given the freedom to exercise their entrepreneurial spirit.

4. Draft the concept: Drawing on institutional knowledge, research, contemporary literature, and other sources, the "innovation team" should put together a concept paper that captures the proposed innovation's activities, goals, and objectives. It's this initial document that development staff can then share with external stakeholders who may be interested in supporting the project.

5. Pilot the innovation: Once the nonprofit has developed a proposed model, and if resources allow, it should test that model. In many cases, this test will help to provide potential funders with the early impact data they need to ascertain whether the project is a viable investment.

To some, questioning what's been done may be difficult and adding new innovative projects to an organization's programming could be viewed as unnecessary; however, this culture of innovation is necessary to constantly pushing an organization forward. Once the culture has been established, staff will be able to move through the process from developing innovative approaches to achieving impact knowing that they are supported by their organization's leadership.

Just as new innovations are viewed as being critical to a for-profit's bottom line, so too should it be a valued aspect of a nonprofit's business plan. For-profit companies recognize the need to remain relevant by updating their products and services while also developing new ones, in much the same way nonprofits need to be laboratories for piloting new and creative approaches to living out their missions and serving their communities.

Can An Established Nonprofit Still be Innovative? September 2, 2014, The Huffington Post, by Joseph Amodeo

Transforming Jewish Communities Through Legacy Giving

Maintaining the vibrancy and strength of Jewish communities across the country continues to be a concern for those of...

Maintaining the vibrancy and strength of Jewish communities across the country continues to be a concern for those of us involved, whether professionally or as lay leaders, in the Jewish communal enterprise. How do we ensure that the variety of Jewish organizations that make up the fabric of our communities continue to exist for future generations and are financially stable to meet current and emerging needs?

Endowments, once a luxury, are now an essential element of every Jewish organization’s financial stability strategy. How do we build and grow these endowments so they provide the level of funding needed to compensate for declining annual giving? While at the same time converting our Jewish communal organizations from competitors to collaborators and encouraging our most loyal and committed donors to support these valued institutions at a level many never thought possible.

Legacy giving initiatives are transforming Jewish communities across the country by addressing all of these issues. Not only are they taking advantage of the tremendous transfer of wealth provided by the baby boomer generation, but these efforts engage younger generations in changing the language and landscape of giving.

In just two years, through partnerships with Jewish federations and Jewish community foundations in 12 communities across the country, the LIFE & LEGACY ™ program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation has assisted 183 Jewish organizations in locals, as small as Omaha and as large as Chicago, to secure more than 2,000 legacy commitments with an estimated valued of over $70 million in future gifts. More importantly, these communities are actively engaged in integrating legacy giving into their philanthropic culture, fostering camaraderie and respect among Jewish organizations and providing generous and forward-thinking members with the opportunity to express their passion, purpose, and commitment to sustaining vital programs and services.

One of the hallmarks of Harold Grinspoon’s philanthropic strategy is to inspire other donors. To encourage them, he offers incentive grants to spark conversations which ultimately support Jewish institutions of all kinds. It’s a method that he very successfully integrated into his Jewish camping program to help endow camps across North America. With LIFE & LEGACY, a two-year-old program, he is also realizing gains. His $3 million investment has already resulted in $70 million in future gifts.

So here is what we have found to be the key elements of a successful legacy initiative: a comprehensive training curriculum, ongoing support, a structure which prioritizes organizational collaboration, establishing goals, tracking efforts and most importantly monetary incentives which motivate organizations to make legacy giving a priority and donors to take action during a limited timeframe.

LIFE & LEGACY partner communities are provided matching grants to support the implementation of the program as well as funds to incentivize their local organizations to be successful. Legacy commitment goals are established for each organization and the community as a whole. Matching grants are paid on an annual basis upon achievement of the community goal. Organizational incentives are granted each year as institutions achieve, or in many cases, exceed their individual goals. The receiving organizations have the discretion to use these funds as they see fit. With a return on investment that is more than 20 fold, it’s a formula that works.

Just as matching grants encourage donors to increase annual giving, incentive grants motivate donors to take the necessary action today that will result in after-lifetime contributions to organizational endowments that are critical to future operations. Additionally, as a result of the collaborative structure of the program, we have found that on average donors are making legacy commitments to multiple organizations.

Because each commitment counts toward organizational goals one Jewish professional told me that her greatest joy was calling the professional of another organization to advise them that a legacy commitment was secured. And this cooperative spirit is extending beyond the boundaries of individual communities as evidenced by the development of a network of Jewish professionals who are sharing best practices, brainstorming around challenges, supporting each other’s efforts, and thinking strategically about encouraging legacy commitments to Jewish institutions throughout North America.

Through the mobilization of communities, both big and small, to integrate legacy giving into their philanthropic culture in an incentivized, systematic and collaborative way, we will provide our most loyal donors with an opportunity to support vital Jewish organizations in a way they previously thought impossible, strengthen and maintain dynamic Jewish communities, and assure a strong Jewish future.

Transforming Jewish Communities Through Legacy Giving, September 8, 2014, eJP, by Arlene D. Schiff