Leverage the Learning

Kudos to those who pay for staff and board members to go to professional development trainings and conferences or provide in-house continuing learning opportunities. Investing in your people can pay handsome dividends including retention, instilling greater confidence and excitement, developing new skills, obtaining knowledge of current trends and best practices, hearing “big ideas” from leaders in your field and networking.

How do you get the most bang for the buck and really bring the learning home? Here are 5 suggestions:

  1. Ask your staff to present key take-a-ways and share priority implementation ideas at the next staff meeting. There is a lot of information at conferences and seminars. Help staff boil down all the ideas and make concrete next steps. What do they think should be implemented or used in the short term? What items should be put on an intermediate timing list? What longer-term ideas warrant further consideration or investigation?
  2. Ask board members to give an update at the next board meeting and share their most relevant learning and any materials they received that may be of use to the entire board. For my trainings, I often give worksheets or practice scenarios that can be used at home. Can you ask your board member to do a mini-training or workshop? Practice “See one, do one, teach one.”
  3.  Create a learning library with copies of all training materials and be sure to note the conference, date and instructor.
  4. Ask attendees of external conferences for an overall evaluation of the experience and who else in the organization might benefit from attending in the future.
  5. For internal training, make sure to do an evaluation of the curriculum and presenter and ask people what other topics they would like training on.

Get the most out of continuing education and professional development opportunities by evaluating the experiences, bringing the learning home and sharing it!

Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is founder and principal of Fridman Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching for nonprofits. She is a frequent trainer, workshop presenter, speaker and facilitator. Nanette is the author of “On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service.”

Connecting the Dots Looking Back

Two unlikely threads converged this week for me, and I had a flashback. I was delighted to read that Steven Rakitt has been named the President of the Genesis Prize Foundation. Later the same day I was talking to a friend about State Senator Cindy Creem’s bill to require automatic voter registration for eligible voters in Massachusetts.  And just like that a memory was triggered.

What do these two things have to do with each other? You see when I was an teenager in Providence, Steve Rakitt was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island (now the Jewish Alliance of Rhode Island). I lived around the corner from the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island (JFRI). It was housed in the same building as the JCC where I was a camp counselor and as the Bureau of Jewish Education where I interned for one summer and frequently visited its Israel Desk to see one of my favorite people, Duffy Page.

Struck early by the political bug,  I had the idea that we should set up voter information and registration sites in all the agencies housed in the Jewish community building and in all the synagogues in RI. Remember this was pre-internet so you had to request by phone and mail in your voter registration forms to the board of elections or fill them out at the DMV. My thought was to make it easier for people to register and thus increase voter participation.  I was in shock then in the late 80’s and early 90’s about how low voter turnout was. Today I remain dismayed, but that is the subject for another post.

For some reason, I had the chutzpah to ask for a meeting with Steve Rakitt and pitch him my proposal to present this voter registration idea to all the agencies and synagogues, to offer training on what the voter registration rules were, to get forms to hand out from the board of elections to be kept at each organization with signs “Register to Vote Here” and to publicize our efforts.  I remember how Steve listened to me intently and how encouraging he was. I remember how important he made this project seem. I remember the meeting we had with the people from the agencies and synagogues in the board room on Sessions Street. I still have the article that the Jewish Federation Voice wrote about this voter registration drive somewhere in my attic.

Here is what I know to be true at 43. All these years later I can tell you that this undertaking was one of the positive experiences that made me want to more deeply engage in the organized Jewish community and empowered me as a teenager to see myself as a leader who could have an impact. Without a doubt, my love for the Jewish community today and my desire to both serve as a lay leader and to work professionally with many Jewish organizations were largely shaped by this and the other positive experiences I had in my youth (notable others were Alexander Muss High School in Israel and interning at AIPAC).

As Steve Jobs famously said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” This memory is a reminder that each interaction we have, especially with young people and emerging leaders, represents a potentially significant dot in their stories. If we can listen intently, be encouraging and look to provide meaningful opportunities for engagement, maybe more people’s dots will connect them to the community. Thank you Steve.

Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is founder and principal of Fridman Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching for nonprofits. She is the author of “On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service.”

 

What’s Next? Beyond Annual Dinners

Earlier this week I wrote a blog post entitled The Courage to Kill It that asked if organizations really are getting the ROI on their annual events to warrant continuing to host them yearly. Annual dinners are notoriously draining of organizational time and transactional, rather than relational, in nature.  I think that I touched on a nerve. Many wrote back, commented or messaged me something to the equivalent of “amen” and others lamented that they feel they have to keep having their gala because there is no other option.

I want to suggest some ideas about what a post-annual dinner world may look like for your organization. You could . . .

  1. Organize a series of smaller events that allow for substantive conversation to be held at board members’ or donors’ homes or offices. Consider hot topic panels and discussions, Jeffersonian dinners or special briefings by experts.
  2. Have a listening tour that brings an important question to your stakeholders and donors and report back to your entire community on the findings at a gathering.
  3. Organize a day of volunteering for your donors and their guests across your organization with a celebration with your staff at the end.
  4. Mix it up and have smaller experiential outings instead of a dinner.  Do something together whether it is golfing, bowling, cooking, seeing a play, or going to a concert or a comedy show. Shared experiences build relationships more than sitting in seats and listening to speeches.  They are also often – not always – more fun!
  5. Organize a participatory “Your Organization’s Got Talent”, art exhibit or fashion show depending on your crowd.
  6. Get creative! You know your people and you know your organization. How can you create less stressful (for all those involved), more meaningful opportunities for people to get to know each other better, learn more about your organization and raise money?  I would love to hear your ideas.

Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is founder and principal of Fridman Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching for nonprofits. She is the author of On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service. She can be reached at fridmanstrategies@gmail.com

 

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The Courage to Kill It

 

We are in the height of fundraising season. Every week is packed with events between now and mid-June.

Your annual dinner is the focal point of the spring. You host it every April or May. From January on, it feels like all hands on deck for your event, getting the invites out, soliciting sponsors and ads, and ensuring every logistic is set. Even before January, you work hard to secure honorees and event chairs and to form a strong host committee. Immediately after last year’s event, you booked the venue and caterer. Events are a lot of work that is spread out over a long period of time.  They are exhausting and consuming. For smaller organizations, events often usurp most of the staff’s time.

So why do the collective “we” still have annual dinners or galas? Because we raise money at them. We bring our community together. We increase our brand.

We have them because we were trained to practice a transactional form of development, and we are scared to let them go. We might not raise the same amount. We might not get to see the donors who only come to the event and make their gift then. We won’t be able to get in front of 300 or 500 people.

We need to ask if the dinner or gala are worth all the effort and costs to raise the funds. Experts estimate an event costs $.50 for every dollar raised (as compared to $.05-$.10 for every dollar raised through major gifts). If you are really hitting it out of the park and getting a big return on your investment with your event, by all means, keep doing it.

However, if you are spending all your time on a transactional event for average or less than stellar dollars raised, then stop the insanity. Kill your annual event (or put it on hiatus) and save holding big galas or dinners for anniversaries or special occasions only. Instead, devote your time to truly relational fundraising.

What if you committed to having conversations with every one of your donors instead? What would happened if you spent the same number of professional and volunteer hours meeting with, engaging and stewarding your donors and prospects? Maybe you would raise the same or more money. You certainly would have a better understanding of whom your donors are, their interests and motivations. If some people need an event, ask a connector to host a small gathering that allows for real conversation, a two-way sharing of ideas and relationship building.

I promise that your donors won’t miss rushing after work to get to your event, having to find a babysitter mid-week or the delicious chicken or salmon dinner. They may even thank you.

But what about the people who buy tickets and come but aren’t donors?  The argument goes you will lose their support and miss the chance to convert them from event ticket buyers to donors.  Ask yourself how many event only goers you actually are converting to donors. You can create other opportunities for would be table captains to invite their contacts to and see your organization in action and interact with your community.

According to Raymond Lindquist, “Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.” Be courageous. Let go of the familiar. Try new things and be creative.  Stop filling seats and instead invest in nurturing relationships.

Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is founder and principal of Fridman Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching for nonprofits. She is the author of On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service. She can be reached at fridmanstrategies@gmail.com

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Craft Cultivation and Artisanal Stewardship

We live in the age of craft beer, craft iced tea and craft coffee. Stores sell artisanal bread, cheese, wine and other products.  Why are “craft” and “artisanal” all the rage?

Because they require expertise and care. They are more thoughtful and special than mass-produced drinks and food. The names indicate they took time and effort. They are higher quality and more distinctive. These goods were made by hand with love.

Fundraisers need to practice craft cultivation and artisanal stewardship. There is no one size fits all. To successfully educate and engage your prospective donors and to retain your current donors requires your effort, expertise, care and creativity. It takes tremendous time. The more distinctive, individualized and thoughtful the “touches” are the more warmly you will be received.

Consumers may love craft drinks and artisanal food but donors love those who love them most and best. Be the development professional that delivers craft cultivation and artisanal stewardship and watch your fundraising goals rise faster than Whole Foods’ prices.