Webinar: Employing Metrics for Effective Course Corrections

It’s a great time to asses your development program to make adjustments and course corrections. Osborne Group consultant Laurel McCombs helps you identify key metrics to assess your development operations and walk through how to best put that data to use in developing your plan for the coming year.

Webinar: Building Social Capital to Increase Champions, Advocates & Donors

Join Bob Osborne on December 9th at 2:00 PM EST for an engaging webinar on building social capital.

Authors Shirley Sagawa and Deborah Jospin assert that social capital is our most valuable asset. Those organizations and institutions with a high level of social capital thrive in good and bad times, those that do not, continue to struggle. In this webinar, we define our terms, and learn practical advice for enhancing and maximizing social capital. You will leave the webinar with clear steps for increasing your social capital and strengthening your institution.

Click here to register: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2649097707904065794

Webinar: Ensuring a Successful Year-End Transition

Join Yolanda and Laurel on Monday, November 17th at 2:00pm EST for a one-hour webinar. During this webinar we will share tips and strategies for ending the year strong and getting the new year off to a powerful start.  We will cover topics that will help you, personally and professionally, take on this very hectic, and critical, time of year.  Click here to register now!

A Case for the Fundamentals

About a year ago, I was complaining to my dad that my shoe laces kept coming untied. He told me, as unpatronizingly as possible, that it was because I wasn’t tying them right. You heard me, I wasn’t tying them right…

This got me thinking, how did this happen?shoe laces Did I learn incorrectly? Or, was I taught correctly and over the years my technique got sloppy? Did I start taking shortcuts? Whatever it was, something I considered to be so fundamental and automatic, I was doing wrong, and it was causing me a great deal of irritation.

How many other things is this true for, particularly when we think about the way we run our fund development operations. There are basics that we all learn at some point. These elements seem so fundamental that it almost seems silly asking about them, but over the years, I have seen a number of organizations that don’t have these things in place.
I know that we all want to talk about the latest trends and emerging strategies, but I’ve decided, in this post, to channel your middle school Phys Ed teacher and focus on the fundamentals.

I get it, it feels like a lot of work to stop what you’re doing and work on these things. Your days are busy, your to-do list is long enough. But how much time are you wasting by not having these fundamentals in place? How many missteps are you making? How can you know that you’re optimizing your return on investment or prioritizing your activities effectively? How much time did I waste stopping to retie my shoes? And, who knows what might have tripped me up while they were untied.

So, to help make sure you’re on track for success, here are five key fundamentals to make sure you have in place. Hopefully, you’ll be able to check off each item with confidence, but if you’re missing any of these elements or they are in need of updating, I encourage you to make their development a priority:

  • Vision for the Future: Your big, bold vision expresses what will be different in the world because your organization exists. Everyone in your organization should be able to articulate and share it with passion and conviction. Without a compelling vision you lack the inspiration required to motivate your investors to make transformational gifts.
  • Long-Range Strategic Plan: This plan maps out the next three to five years and how you will achieve your big, bold vision. Every organizations has things they would like to change, in their operations, systems and culture. But, change doesn’t happen just because we want it to, it happens through being intentional and strategic in our actions and your long-range strategic plan ensures that.
  • Annual Fund Development Plan: Your annual operating plan includes specific, actionable goals and objectives with clearly defined roles and deadlines. A strong plan is as critical to guiding your organization in focusing on the most critical strategies as it is in helping to inform decisions about what you won’t do. Make sure that once the plan has been developed you implement strategies for continually checking on progress and make course corrections.
  • Table of Gifts: Probably the key fundamental that is missing the most from development shops, the table of gifts is a powerful management tool. Imagine always knowing exactly how much you have raised to date, how much remains to goal, which gifts have been closed and how many new prospects need to be identified. Now, stop imagining and go put together your table of gifts.
  • Case for Support: Can everyone in your organization – staff, board members, volunteers – effectively convey your organization’s case? Your case for support is a single document that contains information on who you are, why you exist, what you’re trying to accomplish and why a donor should care. A strong, well-written case for support provides the foundation for all of your donor materials and marketing collateral and provides consistency and effectiveness in your messaging.

These elements might not be flashy, they aren’t built on the latest technologies and they aren’t trending on Twitter. However, they are guaranteed to have a significant impact on your development success. So, don’t put them off any further, because otherwise you may end up looking as foolish as, say an adult that doesn’t know how to tie their shoes properly.

High Net Worth Individuals: Your Joyful, Generous & Inspired Donors

This post is reprinted from Karen’s turn as a guest blogger on Blackbaud’s blog site: www.npengage.com on April 14, 2014.

High Net Worth Individuals.

These are very special people.  They are part of the 5% or 10% of the population in terms of wealth, as well as members of giving in America – generous people of every age and financial capacity.  They have the powerful combination of wealth and a giving heart.


Last Summer I participated in a conference held by CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education).  A member of the faculty interviewed five philanthropists representing several age groups.

“How do you decide which organizations or institutions in which to invest?”

The answer from three out of the five began with, “I’m all in.”

They gave the most where they were deeply engaged and used all of their personal capital – human, intellectual, network and financial – for the good of the mission, vision and work.  HNWI give more where they can contribute the most including their ideas, talents and expertise.  In a 2010 study by Indiana University and Bank of America, HNWI donors reported giving on average $35,000 a year when not engaged and $124,000 when engaged.  That amount jumped to $158,000 when the organization tapped into the donors’ professional expertise.  Engaging HNWI in thoughtful, meaningful and productive ways resulting in them being “All In” garners mega gifts.


Engagement, however, is not enough.  In another study, the researchers asked donors who make $150,000 or more about giving motivations.  Everyone, no matter how much they made, reported “wanting to make a difference.”  HNWI, however, emphasized “wanting to solve a societal problem.”  Whereas, those making under $150,000 “wanted to save or touch a life.”  To inspire big gifts from HNWI, we need big ideas that speak to solving a pressing societal problem, fixing or changing something that requires extraordinary investments.  Check out this TED talk by Simon Sinek.  Are you telling your story in a “why” and impact manner?


In the USA and 20 other countries, women are the philanthropic driving force.  In fact, 92% of HNWI men report that their spouses drive the amount given and the charities in which to invest.  Women report deep engagement as a giving motivator along with transparency and proof of impact and societal return on investment.  Forty-eight percent of HNWI women report wanting to share their philanthropic values with their children.  In fact, in the study mentioned earlier, the average gift from HNWI donors jumped to $244,000 when their children were part of philanthropic engagement and decision-maconnecting to impact 742x417 High Net Worth Individuals: Your Joyful, Generous and Inspired Donors king.

“Retention is the New Acquisition and Customer Service is the New Marketing” – Joe Connelly, WSJ

Within the ranks of donors who give small gifts are many HNWI.  They have the capacity to make life-changing gifts but send $25 or $100 contributions.  Twenty-two percent of NGOs don’t send thank you notes.  Thousands send thank you notes well past best practice times of 24 to 72 hours after receipt.  Thousands of NGOs either don’t track donor retention rates or don’t have a plan for turning them around so millions of dollars walk out the door and down the street to the organization that demonstrates care, appreciation and results.


Understanding that they give the most where they are deeply engaged means that it’s important for your organization to truly understand who they are as individuals and as donors.  High Net Worth Individuals are of every age, so their behaviors, preferences, and passions vary based on the generation they represent.

The learn more about generational giving trends, check out the Next Generation of American Giving report and video!

Stewardship Made Simple: Ideas from the Field

Isn’t it great when something you enjoy is also good for you?  This may not be true of the macaroni and cheese I made last night, but it is true of donor stewardship.  We know the impact great stewardship can have – if you need a refresher check out these other great posts:  theosbornegroupblog.com/stewardship/.  

However, most organizations still don’t dedicate adequate time or resources to stewardship.  Maybe we think it’s too good to be true, that something that feels great and is so much fun can also be one of the most effective ways to drive sustainability.

Consider this quote from a donor, “We need three things.  A timely, authentic, personal thank you. Assurance that the money is being managed well.  Connection to the impact of our investments.  Give us that and we will give again.”thank you

So go ahead and treat yourself to a little stewardship, you’ve earned it.  And, to get you started, here are a few ideas we’ve pulled together:

  • Be creative & diverse with your thank you calls.  Utilize clients in your thank-a-thons so donors can hear directly from those impacted by their contributions.  Have your CEO call to thank supporters for ALL they do. Use specifics to speak to their contributions of intellect and wisdom, as well as time, talent, contacts and treasure. 
  • Provide donors with a personalized welcome kit.  NSPCC, an organization in the UK, had a staff member write all new donors a personal message: “Dear… My name is Martha.  I’ve been working here for the past 15 years.  I’m a mother and grandmother.  From time to time, I’ll write you and let you know how we are spending your money, how things are going.  Welcome to our NSPCC family and thank you for joining us.”
  • Hold accountability visits with top donors.  We know how powerful these visits can be, but rarely engage our donors in them.  The focus should be on your financial position and how their investment is being used to create impact.
  • Recognize loved ones. Do you have a volunteer that gives a lot of their time?  Send a token of appreciation to their significant other thanking them for sharing their loved one with you.
  • Hold a family-style recognition dinner and mix the seating so donors, volunteers, program participants and board members all get to interact and hear from one another.  
  • Create a brief video with thanks from clients, staff, and volunteers, along with shots of your mission in action. It doesn’t need to be fancy, thanks to You Tube we have a high tolerance for amateur video.  Just be sure to include different voices and keep it short.  A two-minute video is a great tool for donor visits, bring your tablet and start your visit with a great demonstration of impact or, for those donors you can’t meet in person, email the video with a personal message of thanks.
  • We often remember to celebrate birthdays or major holidays, but find unexpected times to reach out that will set you apart.  How about something for St. Patrick’s Day sharing how lucky your organization is to have such incredible supporters?
  • If you do celebrate birthdays, make it memorable.  At the Alzheimer’s Association, for a donor’s 90th birthday, they put together 90 cards from board members, volunteers, staff and clients. One card stood out that said “because you were born, there is hope for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.” It was personal, meaningful and unexpected. The donor is now 98 and the family still talks about this.
  • When you get a donation from a nice restaurant, use it as a donor thank you.  Arrange for a special album with photos and notes from clients to be waiting at their table to show their gifts in action.
  • Make your stewardship moves relevant and specific.  After a family funded four research projects over ten years, the gift officer reached out to the researchers to gather updates, pictures from the lab and results of their work and packaged this together.  The donor was surprised by this unexpected and personal piece and was touched to see the impact their gifts continued to have. 
  • Recognize loyalty, not just the amount of giving.  Provide special recognition for consecutive giving milestones (i.e. 5, 10, 25 years).  Regardless of the size of their gifts, make sure donors know their loyalty is valued and appreciated.
  • Utilize social media.  Post recognition on Facebook, Linked In or other sites so your donors’ networks can see their contributions and accomplishments.
  • Put systems in place for great stewardship.  Require gift officers to uncover motivation and preferences for donors and use to tailor stewardship. Ensure that stewardship comes from the right people, via the most effective mediums.  Stewardship is a powerful move and should be proactive and strategic.  Track metrics to manage performance and monitor success. 

Creating Board Retreat Opportunities

Spring cleaning, annual physicals, board retreats.  What do these things have in common?  Admit it, your first thought wasn’t completely positive.  On one hand, they can all be viewed as obligatory tasks to be endured once a year.   Some may see them as arduous, tedious, even uncomfortable.

But what if we chose to look at them as opportunities.  bright future aheadOpportunities to evaluate our health, our assets, what’s working well and what’s not – in our homes, our bodies and our organizations.  And, with that assessment we could plan for the future, fix what’s broken, and build upon our successes.

I’ve attended more than 50 board retreats over the years.  I’ve seen good ones, not so good ones, short ones, long ones, retreats focused on training and others built around strategic planning, but most of all I’ve seen missed opportunities.

As you prepare to make this year’s board retreat the best, most productive and inspiring ever, here are a few Dos and Don’ts to keep in mind:

  • Don’t procrastinate.  This is too important to wait until the last minute and throw something together.  This is an opportunity and you’ll only get out of it what you put into it.  Find a special place to hold the retreat, different from where you hold your regular board meetings.  Put together an ad hoc committee of board members, or use your executive committee, to develop the retreat objectives and provide input on the agenda.
  • Do be intentional and strategic.  Avoid the “we always have it the third week of March” mentality.  Your retreat shouldn’t be an obligation.  If the usual timing doesn’t make sense, change it.  The retreat should be held at the most strategic time possible, when it can have the greatest effect on your organization’s priorities.  Your  board members want to feel like their time is being used as effectively as possible.  By being intentional and strategic you ensure that’s the case.
  • Don’t forget the heart.  It’s critical to be productive during your retreat and part of your strategy should be reminding participants what really brought them there.  Invite a recipient of your services or a program staff to share their firsthand experience of your organization’s impact.  Board members join because of their passion for your mission, but we sometimes forget to keep that passion ignited and your retreat is a great place to do that.
  • Do be brave.  Retreats are an opportunity to address challenges that may be holding your organization or your board back.  Don’t shy away from tough discussions.  If participation in fund development or meeting attendance have been issues, make time at the retreat for the board to discuss how to overcome these challenges as a team.  It can be helpful to bring in an impartial facilitator to ensure these discussions are productive.
  • Don’t make Jack a dull boy.  As in all work and no play… Build in down time where board members have a chance just to talk and get to know each other better.  Your board is a team and that team will function better if they feel like they know and trust one another.  Maybe leave lunch open with no agenda or plan a cocktail hour at the end of the day.
  • Don’t lose momentum.  A critical part of the retreat will be creating concrete, actionable follow-up items for the board as a whole and as individuals.  One of the most common frustrations related to board retreats is around the lack of follow-through.  If you have applied the previous dos and don’ts, your board members will most likely leave your retreat feeling enthusiastic and excited for the future.  But without consistent follow-up and a well-developed plan, that enthusiasm will fade overtime.

We know how important boards are to the success of any organization and a board retreat is a critical tool.  If you would like to hear more on how to make your board retreat effective and strategic, join Laura Goodwin and me for a webinar on February 20th.  There are two time slots available, click here to register for the time that works best for you:  https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/rt/6060714057057575425