G. J. Hart’s Six Steps of Leadership Translated For Fundraisers

GJ-Hart-1G. J. Hart is the CEO of California Pizza Kitchen.  In an interview reported in New York Times he discusses each of his steps – fabulous steps that we can all use to lead with courage and effectiveness.

  1. He starts by saying we should all be the best we can be.  But what does that really mean? “You have to be honest with yourself.” This I definitely believe.  We have to start personal assessment which means seeking feedback from others.  My mother-in-law has a great expression.  “I talked it over with myself and decided I was right.”  If we only listen to ourselves, we’ll miss a lot. Take a management and leadership assessment.  Email Karen@theosbornegroup.com and I’ll send you one.  Then ask trusted others to fill it out for you as well.  Find a way to get a 360 degree review from above, peers, and those who report to you.  Then choose those areas you want to improve and set achievable timed goals.
  2. Dream big.  Love this one.  As leaders, we need big ideas.  We need to be ambitious for our missions, for our departments, for our teams.  Our job is to inspire action, loyalty, and advocacy.
  3. Lead with your heart.  Don Gray, major gift guru, identifies courage and consideration as top qualities for major gift officers.  In a study reported in The Harvard Business Review, empathy and professional will were cited as the top two competencies of outstanding salespeople.  Jim Collins in “Good to Great” found humility and professional will as the top qualities needed in leaders.  Empathy, humility, and consideration. Heart.
  4. Trust the people you lead.  Stephen M. R. Covey in “The Speed of Trust” points out how important it is to extend trust to others if you want to be trusted.  Leading by allowing others to try their own ideas, let them “fail forward,” as David Bornstein describes it.  This all sounds right to me.
  5. Do the right thing.  Sure.  We all think we do, but how do we know what is right?  Hart’s example is about giving people a second chance. Yes. But I also think, in our business, it’s about the grey areas we find ourselves in, or members of our team stumble into.  Conflicts connected to good donors, or powerful trustees, or presidents who make missteps.  One of the smartest things I did as a new VP was to form a small group of trusted other VPs.  We used each other as a sounding board, sought advice, shared.  Doing the right thing was a lot easier when I had smart people to weigh the issues with.
  6. Serve the people you lead.  This one is really important for us.  We are donor-focused, outward looking.  But as leaders, must also serve our teams.  They need us to fight for them, secure the resources needed to be successful, invest and believe in them.  As Mr. Hart says, “Create an environment where people can grow and prosper.”

by Karen Osborne



We Can Create Our Own Best Fundraising Leadership

Jerry Faces 11_10_2005_nonamesI admit it. As a fundraising professional, I am probably a mix of Pollyanna and Sherlock Holmes. My inner Pollyanna made me believe we could achieve even the most audacious of fundraising goals while my inner Sherlock Holmes propelled me into action for the desired results.  I think all in fundraising leadership need to blend these two characters to be successful.

Once again my Pollyanna and Sherlock personas emerge after reading the recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Half of Fundraisers in the Top Job Would Like to Quit and the report from which the article is based:  Under Developed: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising.pollyanna

We’ve all heard it time and time again that fundraising is a revolving door: it’s hard to find good people and that fundraising goals and expectations are nearly impossible to achieve.   This is not news to many of us; but it should be a wake up call and one that drives us to immediate action.

The study’s authors suggest ten actions to address this issue including setting realistic goals for development; sharing accountability for fundraising results, and elevating the perception of fundraising as a worthwhile and rewarding career.

I offer some additional actions specific to fundraisers as they approach a new work situation.

  1. Be sincerely passionate about your organization’s mission.  The test I use is if the organization and cause doesn’t personally inspire me to give then it’s not the place for me to give of my time and talent. Being internally committed to your cause can help you get through those tough days when the nights are long and the to do list is even longer.
  2. Get a feel for the organization beyond the interview visit.  When I looked for a new home, I visited the neighborhood day and night and also the weekends to get a feel for the area and to see the people. It’s the same when looking for a new workplace. Take the time to walk around before and after the interview, visit their website and social media pages; learn what their clients and donors are saying about the organization.
  3. Ask the tough questions.  Inquire about your predecessor and the history of the fund development program.  Ask for examples of how leadership and the board is involved in fundraising.  Ask about resources and support for the fund development program, and before making your decision spend some time with your potential boss both inside and outside of the office.

Even the PollyAnna in me knows that this shift won’t happen overnight and my inner Sherlock Holmes is committed to help in the national effort to figure this out.

By Yolanda Rahman, CFRE

Glaring At Each Other Over the Divider: Fundraising Leadership in Crisis?

This one dropped like a ton of bricks, didn’t it?  When you saw that headline in the Chronicle of Philanthropy this week that half of the top fundraisers in a survey of 2,700 (!) organizations are actively contemplating leaving their post, did you think: “Yup, that’s me.”?  Or did you think, “Geez, I wish ours would…”?  This story and the survey results themselves paint a pretty bleak picture about the state of fundraising leadership nationwide.

Before even getting to the introduction to the survey results themselves, one of the underlying issues emerges.  In her preamble, Linda Wood, representing the study underwriter – The Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund – says, “While familiar to fundraising professionals, the term culture of philanthropy is not yet well understood nor commonly used across the sector.”  Amen to that, Linda Wood.  If we’re being honest with ourselves, I’m not sure we would all say that the term “culture of philanthropy” is well understood and commonly used within the fundraising profession.


So why are we glaring at each other?  Why are organizational leaders so dissatisfied with their fundraising leader – and vice versa?  (And why is this mutual disregard even stronger among organizations with budgets under $1 million?)  More importantly, what can we do to fix this crisis in fundraising leadership?

Solution?  We need to get over the idea that one staff member makes a fundraising shop.  Maybe, but not in the way that both this survey and the Chronicle’s coverage seem to be suggesting.  It is folly to expect that a highly-skilled, externally facing fundraiser who is passionate about being out with donors will be good at – or satisfied with – database maintenance and the detailed planning of special events.  A gut check on performance metrics is in order.  However, the additional reality is that many, many organizations are going to have one or maybe 1.5 team members to devote to development.  Simply hiring a bigger, more specialized shop isn’t the answer if it is years from reality for many.

Three other results from the survey suggest the resolution:

  • 75% of executives say that they don’t have a board meaningfully engaged in fund development
  • 25% of these executives will admit that they aren’t very good at fundraising
  • And 20% will cop to not enjoying this task very much.

There’s a whole lot of finger pointing in the headline of this survey, but there’s the heart of the matter:  nurturing a culture of philanthropy is everyone’s job, not just the chief development officer, not just the CEO, not just the board… And, not just these three entities working together.  A real culture of philanthropy exists when EVERYONE on the staff, among the volunteers, among the donors understands the role that philanthropy plays in the organization and what role they must play in creating resources.  

One of the CEOs at a Big Brothers Big Sisters agency with whom we worked puts it this way,  “When I interview anyone – from a match support specialist, to a member of the finance team, to a member of the partnership development team – I say to them ‘We are all fund developers here at Big Brothers Big Sisters. So what role do you see yourself playing in that?'”  He asks that during the interview process and sets a powerful tone for anyone coming aboard.  If this happens at all staff levels, imagine how much more intensive the expectations setting is for board members!

(Bob and I talked more about the process of setting expectations in the podcast called, “Take this Job and Shove it“… a podcast with more positive recommendations than the title betrays!)

Solution?  We just need to become “donor-centric”.  Again, maybe.  I certainly believe that donor-centric organizations are stronger than those who view and treat their donor base as a “mass of revenue to be acquired”.  (That’s a fun meeting to take: “Hello, revenue generator.  What transaction might we offer you to most quickly and efficiently get you to cough up more bucks?”)  Just as “culture of philanthropy” means as many things as the number of people you ask, “donor centric” is in danger of being a term in search of a definition.

This survey by CompassPoint is excellent – it really is.  But I think it misses one critical point:  being donor-centric and focusing on building a sophisticated, investment-minded, collaborative approach to philanthropy doesn’t solve the underlying crisis:  lack of shared bold vision.

  • A culture of philanthropy exists not when everyone can recite the case for support, but when everyone embraces the vision for what this organization is doing in the world.
  • A culture of philanthropy that encourages fundraisers to stay happens not when everyone is involved in relationship-building (though that’s really nice too!) but when everyone building relationships is guided by a desire to find others are are inspired by the ability to transform the world.
  • A true culture of philanthropy exists when everyone attached to the organization shares in boldly – but not rashly – staking a claim about “Here is the problem; here’s the role we play in creating a solution; here’s what happens when we make a mistake; here are the outcomes we’re aiming at achieving in the world.”

We are passionate about moving the needle on this challenge – creating a practical, “lived” approach to creating a culture of philanthropy – and helping solve this fundraising leadership crisis.  Here’s resource from our “Most Requested Tools” to help you get started.

MLK Day Of Service

MLK Day of Service

It’s been decades since Congress designated MLK Day as a National Day of Service. In spite of the fact that I’ve worked in the non profit sector for most of that time, it only popped up on my radar a few years back.  Maybe that’s because it took that long for philanthropy and volunteerism to “be cool” as Nicholas Kristof puts it here.

Whatever the reasoning, the MLK Day of Service is a great opportunity to involve children in the work of your organization, something I’ve written about before here. Besides the reasons I discussed then, here’s a few more reasons to try this approach:

  1. Three words:  Search Engine Optimization.  While more and more parents and schools are searching for ways to introduce their children to philanthropy and volunteerism (to build character but many think of it as a resume builder too), not many non profits are presenting these kinds of opportunities.  What happens?  A mom like me types in the words “volunteering with children on MLK Day of Service” and hardly anything pops up outside of a few large organizations.  Create the opportunity, get the word out and YOU will pop up.  There’s really no significant competition.
  2. You’ll get meaningful traffic to your site and hopefully convert these new visitors into volunteers.  And you know what?  Studies show that volunteers tend to give more than non volunteering donors.
  3. Media outlets searching for the feel good story on MLK Day will have a reason to highlight your work.  Again, the competition here is limited.
  4. Best of all, you’ll be doing something good for the community you are in by offering meaningful volunteer opportunities to your constituents and at the same time hopefully getting some good work done that you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do.

I found a range of family volunteer opportunities that are happening in my neck of the woods (Greenwich, CT), but the one I’d like to highlight is this one:

The Clay Center, a nearby arts organization is hosting a free clay bowl making workshop to raise awareness for local hunger organizations.  They anticipate making 200 bowls which they will donate locally and also use at their upcoming fundraiser called, “Empty Bowls”.

There is just so much goodness in that! Riff off of this idea and create your own opportunities.

You might be thinking, great idea, but it’s too late for this MLK Day. Start planning now for next year, but also be aware that there are plenty of other “Days of Service” that you might consider launching a special volunteer effort around.

Follow me @NeeshaR


Balance Your Act with People Who Complement Your Competencies

I once worked for a charismatic and highly successful major gift fundraiser.  His most outstanding competencies included ego strength, intelligence, a driving force to succeed, quick decision-making, and verbal agility.  He liked being in front of the crowd rather than being a team member.  On the down-side, he tended to bulldoze rather than finesse. A quick-silver temper could leave the team reeling and a lack of good listening skills made it hard for the team to recover.  When it came time to hire leaders under him, he picked people who “looked” like him — same competencies and skills and many if not most from very similar backgrounds.

It’s natural to want surround oneself with people who share our strengths and point of view.  But it’s often not the right path for sustainable fundraising success.

  • Know your strengths, weaknesses, communication and leadership style.  Figure out your “blind spots” – those areas that trip you up but you don’t see coming.  Seek honest feedback. As your peers, team members and supervisor about your strengths and weaknesses.  Listen! We recommend taking a personality profile like DiSC or Myers Briggs.  Email us for a free copy of our Management and Leadership IQ™ assessment tool at Karen@theosbornegroup.com
  • Then, when it is time to hire or form a working group, look for people who complement your skills, experiences, competencies and style rather than have the same set.  If you are an idea person, for example, like I am, you have a new “great” idea at least once a day.  If everyone around you is an enthusiastic follower, or focused on the how to get the idea implemented, you need someone nearby who will ask, “And why is that such a good idea?” “Is that the right thing for us to do at this time?”
  • Diversity makes us all better.  Seek diversity in backgrounds, experiences, ethnicity, geography, worldview, and communication styles.
  • Strengths overused often become weaknesses.  A hard driver often needs someone on the team who has the courage to say “whoa.” A quick decision-maker often needs a thoughtful investigator as a partner.

Ask strategic questions that help you uncover the qualities of the possible team member, board member, volunteer, or new hire. Remember to “balance your act” for greater fundraising success.

By Karen Osborne

Crowdfunding: When and How to Use It

Picture 3One of the hot new topics around fundraising in 2012 was the idea of crowdfunding.  Over a billion dollars was raised worldwide through crowdfunding in 2011 and those numbers were expected to nearly double in 2012, with nearly half the total going to nonprofits.  That’s a huge amount of money, making it hard to deny the fact that crowdfunding has become an important fundraising channel.

So, should your nonprofit use crowdfunding?  Well, maybe.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of crowdfunding.  Its online and viral nature make it a potentially very effective way to fundraise raise in our social media driven world.  But it’s no silver bullet as I’ve discovered myself through crowdfunding campaigns that I personally have been involved with and those of people I know and work with.  Below are some quick tips on how and when to use crowdfunding effectively.

  1. If you build it they will NOT come –  I find that there is always the temptation and belief in the online world that if you start a blog, a website, podcast, etc. that subscribers will appear all on their own.  I think most of us realize by now that this is not the case and the same holds true for a crowdfunding campaign.  Simply starting a campaign and hoping it will magically go viral is the recipe for failure.  Like everything in fundraising, you must get the campaign in front of the right people.
  2. The normal rules apply –  It feels like every year in fundraising there is a “new” way of doing things.  But I find that fundraising is based on some firm rules that rarely change.  As in all fundraising, crowdfunding is most effective when your volunteers have active involvement and ownership of your campaign.  The most successful crowdfunding campaigns start with friends, family and colleagues donating and spreading the word; it goes viral from there.
  3. Clear impact and outcomes matter – The most effective campaigns pick a clear project and clearly express the difference it will make.  Campaigns that focus on general support have a much harder time of being successful.  Many campaigns have giveaways based on a donation level; it’s more important to communicate the impact that donations will have.
  4. Big money is hard to raise – Yes, there are many stories out there of very successful crowdfunding campaigns that raise into six figures, the most famous of which is probably Mathew Inman’s (of the Oatmeal fame) campaign for a Tesla Museum.  But this the exception.  A quick scan of charitable projects will show you that $25,000 or less is far more common and realistic.

So, given the above facts, when should you use crowdfunding?

  • When you have a clear and specific project
  • When you have volunteers that are willing to support it through email, social media, etc.
  • When you have the time and resources to regularly post progress updates, video, etc.
  • When you only need a modest amount of money

OK, lets say you meet the above criteria.  Which platform should you use for your campaign.  Here are a few to consider:

  • Kickstarter – The most famous; more geared toward tech and project start ups than nonprofits but certainly charitable causes can be done.  You must reach your goal or the money is returned to investors.
  • Indiegogo – My personal favorite, this site is well set up for charitable causes and well integrated into social media.  You have an option of whether to make the project “all or nothing” or if you can keep the money even if you don’t hit your goal.
  • StartSomeGood – uses a “tipping point” model where your project can be partially funded if it reaches a threshold where you can minimally proceed.
  • Crowdrise – Volunteers can fundraising on their own for any charity already registered on the site.
  • GlobalGiving – worldwide crowdfunding.

Once you’ve selected a site, here are some tips to make your campaign successful:

  1.  Get volunteers – Before you launch, make sure that you have a number of volunteers that are willing to personally give and promote the campaign via face to face and their own social media.  Volunteers will get your campaign out there and give it some momentum.
  2. Pick a clear project and a realistic goal – Pick a project that is concrete with easy to understand outcomes and pick a goal that is realistic.  Remember, people aren’t going to give you $1,000 (probably) because of an email request.  Crowdfunding is mostly “small ball” with two and three figure donations, so plan accordingly.
  3. Give Personally – I always check to see if the campaign sponsors have personally given.  If you haven’t, why should I?
  4. Communicate – Communicate to your donors and potential donors on a regular basis.  Update them on the progress of the campaign and demonstrate impact through words, pictures and videos.

We are sure to see a lot about crowdfunding in the coming year.  Experiment and see how your nonprofit might use this new channel for fundraising effectively.

You can follow me on twitter @bobosborne17

What A “Logo Bag” Taught Me About Donor Engagement.

157906_187585961371380_1407222229_nJoanie will tell you – insist, profess, and swear – that she is only just learning the most basic things about raising money.  Joanie also raised more than $50,000 for the organization where she serves on the board last year.  How did this happen?  Yes, Joanie is way more humble about what she knows than she needs to be, but Joanie is also, innately, masterful at donor engagement… whether she knows to call it that or not.


Joanie carries her “Logo Bag” everywhere.  No, not a designer logo, Joanie carries her organization’s bag with their giant, easy to read logo on the front everywhere and she flashes it around – on the train, in line, at meetings.  And of course, she gets asked, “Oh, what’s that?”  Here’s where the important part comes in:  Joanie has a story – her own, easy-to-tell story about what her organization does and why she thinks that’s so important.  She doesn’t recite statistics; she doesn’t fumble for a business card with the FAQs she’s supposed to share on it.  She tells her story about why she got involved and why she invests.

Would you trust the friend who says, “I love this product; you should get one too…” and then recited a bunch of facts to you?  “This toothpaste makes my teeth 20% whiter than the leading brand!”  Geez, no.  That friend is a nut.  You trust the friend who says, “I really like my new toothpaste; it solved the pain I was having in my teeth.  You should try it…”

Joanie has options.  Once she tells her story (and it’s really a story, with characters and funny parts, emotional parts, personal reflections), she can pull out a bunch of options that we would call “deepening donor engagement and motivation”.   Joanie just calls it “options”:

“Come with me to see our program in action – we have a great program coming up on Friday.”  (Or, “Give me your card; I’ll email you with the best times to come see us in action!”)

“I’d love to bring our Executive Director (…or board chair… or program leader…) to tell you more.  Would you take a meeting?”

“Here – you can read this about us and the work we do.  And, would you also pass one along to someone else you know who might be interested in this?”

Joanie uses her team.  The culture on this board promotes each member having a personal fundraising goal that they raise WITH each other, not FOR the organization.  (Though, of course, it’s for the organization…)  Joanie is fearless about involving others in the act of donor engagement; she’s more successful because her Executive Director and Director of Development (and fellow board members) are all ready to go on meetings, get introduced, help her close these gifts.  So often, we’ll meet folks from great organizations who are struggling to get their board “activated in fundraising” but have set the tone where every board member (or volunteer) is on their own… “Here’s the tools, here’s the rules, go raise some money.”, but don’t really approach this as a team sport, where everyone has a role to play in developing passion in others or demonstrating the difference that giving makes.  And that – no surprise – is important!

Earlier last fall, Blackbaud published a study that focused on the modes of giving preferred by different donors.  Embedded in this study was quantitative confirmation that Joanie’s approach has been right all along (and could even take it on the road to the UK or Australia):

Top Three Reasons Cited by Donors (in the United States, the U.K. and Australia) Who Become Regular Contributors to A Favorite Organization:

  1. They achieved an improvement in their personal financial situation
  2. They find passion about an organization’s mission
  3. They gain access to information that proved the impact of their

Joanie can’t do much to change the fortune of others… but she does a lot to kindle passion and provide information (herself and through her team) on the impact that giving has on an organization.


  1. Think about how you are using your “promotional products”: use them to inspire specific action.  Do you treat your as “gifts”, that you gift in thanks for generosity?  That’s nice, but you know what?  I have enough mugs, stickers, magnets, whatever else you’ve got with your logo on it to last a lifetime and a half.  However, give me a mug – or one of Joanie’s “logo bag”s – and ask me to carry it where others will see it and talk about my involvement… now we’re getting somewhere.  A client recently asked everyone attending a gala to use the stack of note cards in the goody bag they were receiving on the way out the door to write to three people they knew who would have loved to have heard what they did at that event, that night.  And, they took the added step of dropping in some suggested language that could be used to write those cards…  Website traffic spiked from first time visitors.
  2. …which leads to… Don’t be afraid to prompt action.  Think about Facebook and the insidious “hey, your friend likes this product, service, page…”  or the unceasing  advertisements you see, all prompting you to take action.  This Christmas, Santa gave me a gift to DonorsChoose and when I helped Mrs. Hranzanek get e-readers for her Kindergarten, DonorsChoose prompted me to share that on my own Facebook page.  THEN, they sent me an email I could forward to others.  THEN, Mrs. Hranzanek sent me a personal (two lines!) thank you note… and prompted me to post this to Facebook and/or forward it to my friends via email.
  3. … and then… Redefine engagement.  Engagement isn’t board service (though board service had better be engaging.)  Engagement isn’t volunteering in a formal way (necessarily).  Engagement needs to be a lot of different things… Joanie’s “options”, but all of them needed and all resulting making a difference.  Sometimes it’s signing a petition… sometimes it’s making snowflakes to decorate school hallways as kids in Newtown, CT return to class… sometimes it’s judging a competition of young entrepreneurs… sometimes it’s just asking someone to join you in giving too.

Having that kind of relationship with an organization keeps donors happy and giving…

Three New Year’s Resolutions That Will Pay Off in More Major Gifts (and a happier you)!

Picture 4

We do this: the annual New Year’s Resolutions to do more, be better.  We make a list of things we want to accomplish and hope sheer will power will overcome all the reasons we didn’t get there before. This list is different.

  • The payoff for each one is huge
  • You can start small and still win big
  • You can make each one fun, collaborative and personally rewarding
  1. Make February Donor Appreciation Month – 20 days, 20 personal “Thank You” calls.
    • If you’re in a small not-for-profit, get everyone involved.  If you’re in a large, complex institution get a small group from each school or division to participate.  Definitely enroll the mission staff (i.e. program, physicians, or faculty) and senior staff.
    • In January, identify your most important donors as well as your most loyal donors at each leadership and major gift level ($500+ for small shops; higher in bigger shops with more robust fundraising).  Put together a very short, quick brief on each — name, address, phone number, relationship (i.e. donor for x years, parent, trustee, alumnus, volunteer).  That’s all.  No research.  It’s just an appreciation call. 
    • Recruit your team.  Make it a contest, something fun.  Big announcement. Start with a few champions and go from there.
    • Assign 20 to each participating team member.  All they have to do is call and say, “Thank you again for all you do for our organization” – one person each day.
    • For the fund development staff, make 25% or more of them personal visits.
    • The results – happier donors, more leadership and major gifts, more staff members participating in fund development.

    2.   Make March Staff Appreciation Month

    • Say “Thank You” to every member of the “Thank You Calls Team,” to everyone who helped in fund development in any way.  “Thank you for your help.  Your contributions helped us serve and transform the lives of more people.  We appreciate you.”
    • The results – more collaboration, therefore more staff members participating in fund development resulting in more leadership and major gifts.

3.  Make 2013 Your Year to Say “Yes” to You (and therefore “No” to some other folks)

    • You know you should make more visits to more major gift donors and prospective donors.  Or maybe you have a hard time getting those contact reports written.  Perhaps you work too late in the office and therefore can’t workout, or date your spouse, or read to your children, or go to a movie with a friend.
    • What are you saying yes to that is neither “Important and Urgent,”* nor “Important but not Urgent?”* (*Stephen M. Covey). Is it a priority of someone else, a constant interrupter, meetings that drag on without clear outcomes, emails that are not important?  Pick one thing each day that falls into Covey’s “Not Important but Urgent”* box and just say “No.
    • The results – you will get more done, have better work/life balance, feel better, and, yes, therefore, raise more leadership and major gifts.  Guaranteed!

By Karen E. Osborne, President