“Know Something Important…”: Stewardship for Board Members

A very wise client of ours shared this story with me:  The day he was being inaugurated as the new leader of his school, the retiring, long-time head of school advised him that his most important role from that day forward was to “know something important about every member of this community.”  His advice was not to know everyone…  Or to manage his board…  Or to placate his faculty.  He was to make it his business to know something important about everyone.  This, in one elegant, simple story, guides my thinking today on stewardship – especially board stewardship.

We know that when we stop with “thank you” we haven’t really delivered stewardship.  And we know that when we thank and list donors in an annual report or on a donor wall , we haven’t really delivered stewardship.  AND we know that when we steward thoimagesse “easy” donors who give restricted or designated gifts, we also haven’t delivered stewardship.  (We know this, right?  Of course we do.)  Even the most thoughtful offices and officers can be stymied by board members… They are always THERE, right?  We discuss strategy; they know our organization from the inside out; they give because they believe in all we are doing.

Not so.

Board members who receive great stewardship themselves will share it with others.  We must model the kind of stewardship experience we want them to deliver on our behalf.  That’s important but that’s the smallest reason.

Precisely because they are always there, Board members should receive the best we’ve got in the stewardship category:

  1. Are they being deployed well?  Do they feel their service is being well used?  Are they on the right committees and doing things that are personally satisfying for the organization?
  2. Why does their gift matter?  Sure, board members care about all that you do, but there is probably some aspect of your institution that makes their heart beat a little faster, that they especially love that you all accomplish together…
  3. And that bring us back around to that good advice:  know something important.  What did each member of your board bring to the table – expertise, insight, willingness to take a stand on a tough subject, lead an effort, be diplomatic when diplomacy was difficult?

Great board stewardship rolls together that old adage:  “Time, Talent, and Treasure”.  We are strongest when the board brings all three.  Our relationship is strongest when we steward all three.

Board members:  what is the best stewardship you have received from your organization?  Share here!  To listen in on the best stewardship, we have received – check out this podcast.

Why Not More Peer Learning at Conferences?

IFF2013

Last week I spent the last leg of a two week European business trip “presenting” at the International Fundraising Festival in Prague. I put presenting in quotes because so much of the value of this conference comes from the participants learning from each other. The festival, held every two years by the Czech Fundraising Center over three days at the Villa Gröbe, spends the entire second day in “open” sessions where the participants decide which topics they would like to discuss and facilitate the sessions themsleves with us presenters and experts participating and providing tips and guidance where we can.

At The Osborne Group we are privledged to work with many different types and sizes of NGOs including some very large organizations with affiliate structures that hold their own large scale conferences, both national and international. Interestingly, when surveyed, they all very consistently say that while they get lots out of the more formal sessions, they get equal value out of the conversations that develop in the hall between sessions, at dinner, at the bar, and around the coffee dispenser. Anyone who has attend a conference understands the basic truth in this. The IFF has very successfully created a conference that duplicates this informal experience formally, a conference in the spaces and gaps of a typical conference.

photoSo while I did present on Crowdfunding and Fundraising and Activism during the first and last days of the conference, I think the bulk of the real learning took place during the open sessions where topics were as myriad as dealing with stress in fundraising, running a social enterprise, the nature of and limits of corporate social responsibility, and many others. Overall, at least 16 different topics were discussed.

So, why don’t we consultants and conference organizers employ this technique more? I think we tend to find it hard to loosen the reins when we feel that more basic and fundamental areas need to be addressed. In other words, there’s no way I’m going to let these affiliates decide to talk about the ins and outs of crowd funding when none of them have a table of gifts or can even tell me their year to year donor retention rates! I get it and there is merit to this. The fundamentals must be taught but I also think these fundamentals can come out in a more organic way when suggested and organized by the participants themselves. I had a great session where when ended up talking about many fundamentals including metrics, A/B testing, and discussing impact over just reporting news. The original topic centered around how the an organization might do better prospecting.

Many of us presenters use case studies and audience exercise in our workshops. This is admirable but I would like to take this further and again let participants really have more of a hand in the topics that get covered. This can be done in the format that IFF has done it but it would be fine I think if there was just time and space reserved at a conference for participants to organize themselves and talk about topics of their own choosing. So often at conferences there is almost no unstructured time between the formal workshops, dinner, and other “official” “must attend” events. Let’s build in some time for informal learning.

Moreover, when a group takes reponsibility for its own learning and participation (as opposed to just listening) is understood to be part of the format, participants are much more likely to ensure that their own questions get answered, that they will take practical and implementable advice back to their office with them, and that they’ll actually remember what they’ve learned for a much longer period of time.

We “experts” need to do more to promote this type of learning. I’m hopeful that the next time I encounter peer learning won’t be at the IFF 2015.

Three Steps and Three Tools to Jumpstart Your SEO

Guest Blogger:  Ashley Dortch, Co-Founder, Meridian Interactive

Last week, I had the opportunity to podcast with Neesha Rahim.  We had a great discussion on how nonprofits might use the SEO process to build strategic major donor relationships.  I hope you got to listen!  Neesha said many of you have put incredible effort into building a website.  Some of you have perhaps even installed your Google Analytics and figured out the basic way to use it.  But search-engine-optimizationincreasingly, we hear that some of you are finding that — gulp! —  only a few people were actually visiting those great sites.  Whether you see yourself in those words or not, if you’ve launched a website and have started to look at analytics on how visitors interact with that site, this post is for you.  It’s time to start thinking about increasing traffic and upping your game. There are options out there that can be expensive, like purchasing advertising. However, another option that all website owners should take advantage of is SEO, or Search Engine Optimization.

Search Engine Optimization, by definition, is the process of increasing traffic to your website organically, or within the free (non-paid) results on the search engines. Understanding the process of SEO and educating your organization on what search engines consider when ranking websites will provide the measurable benefits of increased traffic at minimal cost AND this process presents you with an opportunity to build out your major donor relationships.  (More on how exactly how to do that in this podcast…)

Here I want to provide you with three detailed, simple steps utilizing three free tools that I referred to in that podcast on taking your SEO game-plan to the next level:

1) Decipher the Competition and See Where They Stand using “PR Checker”
Understanding your competition and where other organizations in your niche rank is important to your SEO strategy.  Think of search terms that donors, philanthropists, and other potentially interested parties may be looking for – for a youth development organization, say: “Giving to Children’s Education”. Type “Giving to Children’s Education” into Google and make a list of who appears in the search results. These are the players you want to be mindful of, analyze, and eventually appear next to (if you already don’t).  Using the PR Checker, you can see what Google thinks of your competitors as well. This gives a nice gauge as to where they stand and what you should strive for. Google ranks sites on a 0 to 10 basis.
2) Competitive Keyword Research using the “SEO Book Page Analyzer”
Once you decipher the top competitors and high-rankers in your industry, it’s time to see what keywords they are using. Find the exact page that is showing up in the results (for example, www.yourcompetition.com/the-exact-page, as opposed to www.yourcompetition.com).  Next, plug the page into the SEO Book Page Analyzer. This will show you the top keyword strings that appear on that page. Pay more attention to the two and three keyword strings, as opposed to the single-word keywords, as longer strings may produce more exact results. Once you have this list of keywords, start blogging, producing articles, and creating content using these keywords. Putting content out there on the web that is relevant to what your competitors are writing about is a great way to be found amongst them in search results.
3) Link Building using BackLinkWatch
Relevant inbound links from high ranking sites are key for improving your search rank for SEO. Think of it as the credit game.  A teenager starts out with no credit, and her parent decides to help her build credit by adding them to their credit card (with a $250 limit, of course!). Google and the other search engines rank your site in the same way. The goal is to know your page rank, and get sites with higher page ranks to link to you, therefore boosting your ranking.
So how do we go about this? Using your list of competitors (those organizations you admire who are doing work like yours), drop their websites into the BacklinkWatch tool. Now, see who is linking to them, and find creative ways to get those other sites to link to you too! Remember to be mindful of the rank for these sites (use the PR Checker tool above).  If the site who is linking to your competitor has a #1 rank, and you have a #3, it may not be worth your effort.
But why will they link to you? Because you are offering them something of value… Ask to contribute to their articles, see if they will allow you to introduce yourself to their audience, if they have a directory, see what it takes to get listed… it’s that simple. This not only increases your website rank, but it gets you in front of interested eyes and relevant readers. Syndication across the web is key… Think of the web as your “keyword highway” and you want to be on every billboard along the way.
If you would like to reach our guest blogger, Ashley, you can do so at Meridian Interactive (http://www.meridianinteractive.com) Email: info@meridianinteractive.com Phone: (347)268-4089

 

The Four Agreements for Development Officers

4 agreementsYears ago I read the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and was reintroduced to it a couple of weeks ago while watching “Super Soul Sunday” on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). It got me to thinking about how these agreements are helpful not only in our personal lives but also in our lives as professional fundraisers.

In his work, Don Miguel Ruiz describes how implementing these agreements can help us with the relationships we have with ourselves and with one another. When I think of the first agreement, “Be impeccable with your word”, it reminds me of donor stewardship at its best.

Agreement 1 – Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.  –The Four Agreements

When we speak the truth about our work and how our donors have moved our cause forward we are using the power of our words to build a more authentic bond with our donors. When we talk about the true impact our donors’ gifts are having – the lives changed, families transformed, animals saved – we allow it to come from a place of integrity and sincerity about our work and who we are as an organization.  When we use our words both written and verbal, we use them in ways that inspire our donors for continued action while demonstrating gratitude for what they have already done.  By being impeccable with our word, we also speak the truth during times of adversity or when there is an issue with a donor’s gift.

Throughout my career (and honestly, on a daily basis), I have the opportunity to practice the second agreement, “Don’t take anything personally.” As fundraisers, how often do we take it personally (even if for a minute) when a donor says no to a gift request or the donor makes a gift much lower than we asked?

Agreement 2 – Don’t take anything personally.  Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering. – The Four Agreements

Of course, there will be a period of self-reflection when a donor declines our request or a gift comes in at a lower amount. We think about things we could have done differently, such as the timing of our solicitation, or the actual program we thought this donor was passionate about. However, when this self-reflection becomes self-defeating, the concept of not taking anything personally is a tool that can help us move forward and continue to build the relationship with the donor that will manifest into a joyous, inspired gift.

I can recall clearly the day when a donor, whom I thought was ready to make a significant gift, called me “a pest” after months of what I thought was a good relationship. So yes, for a moment… actually several moments, that lasted the rest of the day… I did take her comment personally. Fast-forward three months later, after letting go of that comment and figuring out what she would say yes to, I called the donor. She enthusiastically agreed to meet and she made a joyous, inspired, generous gift of $500,000.  Of course, there was a lot of re-evaluating and strategy that happened between “The Pest Comment” and having this great experience with the donor, but the fact of the matter is, it happened when I let go and resolved to not take it personally.

Along with sometimes taking donor reactions personally, we might also fall victim to making assumptions about the donor’s passion for our organization. The third agreement, “Don’t make assumptions”, speaks directly to this.

Agreement 3 – Don’t make assumptions.  Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life. –The Four Agreements

Our board relationships can often be ones where we make assumptions. For example, one might assume “Of course we are our Board Chair’s top priority. After all he is the Chair.”

But I have experienced both as a fundraiser and witnessed as a consultant, that this is not always the case. When organizations have as a practice to meet with their board members individually with the purpose of engaging and asking questions about the board member’s thoughts, feelings and plans as a volunteer and as a donor, they are able to decrease assumptions and deepen their board relationships.

The Fourth Agreement, “Always do your best”, brings all the above tools together and speaks to the reality that our “Best” varies and gives us the freedom to be our authentic selves.

Agreement 4 – Always do your best.  Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret. –The Four Agreements

It’s the end of the fiscal year and your annual review is right around the corner. While some may use this as a time of reflecting on what didn’t go right or goals that were not made, it can serve you to use this time to reflect on when you truly did your best. About ten years ago, I began collecting examples of when I did my best by keeping a file called “Accolades.” This is where I kept emails and notes from donors, colleagues, bosses, etc. who commented on my work or something I accomplished. I looked at this during those tough times when “to do” lists were long and time was even shorter.  Further, when it was time to do my self-review, I could pull from these examples instead of trying to remember all that I did. This file has served me well as a reminder of doing my best and the value I bring to my organization and the people around me.

I encourage you to take a look at the Four Agreements and experience for yourself how one or all of these agreements can serve as a tool both personally and professionally. You might find that many of these agreements you have already made with yourself and the mission you serve!