Author Archives: Abigail Harmon

Why You Can’t Hire Staff

Are you not able to hire staff because you can’t…

Find the right candidate? 

Searching for the ideal employee is like selling a house — you don’t need hundreds of people to come through, you just need the right person to walk in and get interested.

Are you attracting the right people? Do you really know (and does everyone agree) what you are looking for? Are you paralyzed by a previous hire that didn’t work out? 

In this competitive market, months can go by without a hire. Which means you are spending more time and resources than you expected. 

Solutions include changing your process, getting better buy-in from those involved, or hiring an Executive Search firm to clarify process and help determine who would be successful in your organization.

Afford to take on a full-time employee? 

Would you consider a part-time employee, an interim staff member, or a consultant? Temporary staffing can help increase funding so you can afford to staff up permanently. 

Get your favorite candidates to accept the job offer? 

If this happens, think about if it is based on:

  • The reputation of your nonprofit’s workplace environment.

    Given a choice, employees are not going to choose the job where everyone is overworked, there are micro-managers, and no one stays for more than a year. In other words, the high rate of nonprofit turnover is not only happening because there is more money at another organization. It’s also because employees want to like showing up at work every day while still having a life.
  • Your compensation package.

    With the trend/requirements to list salary ranges, saying that you can’t afford the current rate will eliminate many people whom you might like. You can list something like one recent Netflix posting for $90,000-$900,000. Or you can consider other ways to compensate employees, like bonus vacation time or paid education stipends.
  • Your nonprofit’s cause doesn’t make enough of a difference.

    Sure, your cause matters to a job candidate, but not as much as you may think. An employee can help increase cancer research, enhance education, or improve youth programming at many different organizations (not just yours). And that is true of most markets. Especially if you include jobs that are 100% remote.

Join us next month when we tackle Part 2 of this topic, with a focus on preventing employee burnout. In the meantime, if you have ideas for what I should include, please email me and let me know!

Emailing donors? Think About Celebrating These End of Year Holidays

Every nonprofit is emailing donors in December. How could they not when a third to a half of all annual donations come in November and December. But when you are creating your email calendar (if you have not already) there are so many options.

Creativity can help you stand out. 

Consider all the holidays you have yet to celebrate — there are some extremely random ones that could be fun and engaging when emailing donors and prospects.

And the good news is there is at least one (if not more) for every day of the year like:

December 4 is “Santa’s List Day” — don’t forget to add a donation to Waltham Boys & Girls Club to your list!

 December 8 is:

  • “Pretend to Be a Time Traveler Day” — See what this region looked like 50 years ago – You can help support the re-foresting of our area by donating $XXX today.
  • “National Brownie Day” — Chewy, corner piece, or extra chocolatey are only options if you can buy the ingredients or a box mix. But this year, with costs rising on everything, that box of Brownies might not make it into the cart. But our food bank can provide a sweet treat thanks to your support. Will you consider a gift of $XXX? 
  • “National Christmas Tree Day” — As you pick up your tree this year, consider the number of people who don’t have a place to put a tree. You can help families find stable housing and end the cycle of childhood homelessness. Your gift of $X,XXX will help transitioning families find a place to celebrate their holidays —this year and next.

December 18 is “Bake Cookies Day” — Even if you don’t bake, and don’t make holiday cookies, you can get into the giving spirit by donating to Camp Tel Noar. And if you do bake, feel free to drop some off at the Cohen Camps’ offices — we would love to say hi in the off season!

December 22 is “Fifth Night” —My colleague, Rachel Glazer, started an organization to help those celebrating Hanukkah use the 5th night as donation night — when instead of giving gifts to one another, families support the community. I’m trying to spread the word!

December 30 is “It’s Not Too Late to Donate Day” to Daily Table.

Ok, I made that last one up, but I do think you could be emailing donors to support it. And really, is it any more random than, “National Chocolate Covered Anything Day?” That is, of course, December 16th. If you were wondering. 


Should you Include Stories in Your Case for Support?

Should you Include Stories in Your Case for Support?

Recently, while writing a case for support for a client, I interviewed 3 board members. When I asked why they got involved, they each gave vastly different answers. One was passionate for the work, one had lifelong family connections, and the third thought the nonprofit was essential for the community.

And this is true of most nonprofits. Everyone gets involved for a different reason, but they all understand the importance of supporting the organization.

Then the question is, how do you write a case for support that is compelling but  speaks to different people with various motivations? Over the years, we have found that there are many different ways to go about it. Here are two options.

Option 1: Reasons to Support Temple Sinai

Temple Sinai has been a part of our community for 71 years. We have had hundreds of bar and bat mitzvahs, education from 2-year-olds to senior adults, and more simchas and funerals than one can count. We are here for you through every life stage, life cycle, and life event. We are a community, thanks to you.

Options 2: 3 Stories in Your Case For Support

Andrew went to the Bar Mitzvah on Saturday morning with his family. As he looked around the room, he realized he had created an amazing community through the congregation. And, he was so thankful he and his wife chose Temple Sinai’s preschool.

As Michelle presented the Kiddush cup and certificates to Adam, the boy who had just become Bar Mitzvah, she was incredibly proud to serve on the board. It had been fifteen years since her own children went through the religious school. But she still remembered the unbelievable feeling of being surrounded by friends and family during this momentous rite of passage. Through the years, Temple Sinai has continued to provide her with a spiritual center, a place to gather to play mahjong with the Sisterhood, and education for everyone from her 2-year-old neighbor to her own Torah study. She sees the benefits of a strong congregation every day.

Rick came to the Bar Mitzvah because his wife takes a class with the Bar Mitzvah Boy’s Grandmother. And his wife wanted him to go. He thought about the last time he was in the sanctuary with a mask for Yom Kippur (don’t get him started on the sermon). But then he looked back at the many b’nai mitzvah he’d attended through the years – including his own children’s many years ago. He remembered his friend’s funeral and his daughter and son-in-law’s Auf Ruf. He remembered why it is so essential to keep the congregation strong. His own generation depends on it, but so do the people he will never know in the future.

In case you haven’t guessed, we have started to include stories in our case for support – and our end-of-year letters.

People will strongly identify with one story and understand the other two. Which is what we think the beginning of the case for support is all about – to create the emotional response which will open minds to the facts. Emotions, like feeling you are a part of the community, that you are passionate, and that the nonprofit is essential, are how you will encourage giving.

Now you just have to explain what the outcome and benefits will be from the fundraising that the case justifies. 

The Donor As The Hero

Donor as hero - Photo by Pixabay @Pexels

In my 22+ years in development, I have seen a lot of “new ideas” in solicitations:

  • Send the same letter to everyone, some people will give
  • Buy mailing lists!
  • Send the same letter to everyone along with an incentive piece like a notebook, return address sticker, or even a coin!
  • Every letter should be personalized
  • Letters should be personalized and have a specific ask
  • Offer a gift with certain donation levels
  • Not only personalize letters, but include a specific ask and list the previous year’s gift
  • Every letter should be personalized, have an ask, list the previous year’s gift, and tell a story.
  • Did you forget to include a cute animal or child? Every letter has to be personalized, have an ask, list the previous year’s gift, tell a story, and include cute pictures
  • Only send emails to people who contact you by emails
  • Forget letters, send everyone emails!
  • Don’t send too many emails
  • Send a combination of letters and emails
  • What do you mean you haven’t been using Instagram for solicitations?
  • Send letters, no one sends them anymore so you will stand out
  • Send postcards, no one even has to open an envelope to give!
  • Use twice as many “you” references than “we”, “me”, “our”, etc. in your letter

I could go on but, you get the idea. Maybe you’ve lived through many of these ideas. And they weren’t wrong for their time and the world lived in. So, what’s the latest?

The Donor As The Hero

How has the donor helped your beneficiaries?

“Your gift helped provide 3,248 meals for our community in the past year”

“Your $5,000 gift helped create 198 after school job opportunities for disadvantaged teenagers

“Your gift of $1,000, along with your fellow donors in the Foundation Society, created a mental health space for every one of the 12,838 people who walked through our doors last year. We hope you will help us continue to develop our safe space with a gift of $1,500 this year.”

Using the donor as the hero can highlight your best statistics while making the donor feel great. A win-win.

Now, just sit back and wait for donations. And the next big fundraising idea.

Or, if you would like help with your annual appeal and annual campaign, click here to set up a 30-minute free consultation

Making stewardship, gratitude, or solicitation calls this fall? Read this first.

If you are like many nonprofits, you are thinking about making phone calls this fall. I know I have been asked to make calls this month as a volunteer. It is a great way to connect with your members, donors, and volunteers. 

Your nonprofit may decide to call:

making nonprofit calls
  • Your entire membership to thank them for being involved (stewardship calls)
  • Previous donor calls (donation encouragement calls)
  • Previous donor calls (solicitation calls)
  • Recent donations (gratitude calls)
  • Volunteers (gratitude calls)

But, as one client reminded me, asking board members to make the calls is easy. Ensuring that someone is systematically following up on the information, questions, and comments gathered from the calls is the hard part.

In other words, how you handle the information you gain during the next few months will impact donations and retention for years to come.

The easiest way to anger a donor is ask a question, get an answer, do nothing with it, and never provide feedback to the donor.

Consider these 3 different scenarios that require 3 different responses:

  • One person asks what happened to their book donation from last year (not about how their DAF distribution for $5,000 was spent – only the book valued around $54)
  • Another asks why their favorite program isn’t running now that people are back in the buildings
  • A third person asks whether they can start volunteering in the next couple of months but not for the gala

Obviously, we can’t know what the answers are or who should answer them.

Phone Calls will be made to ___(group)___ by ___(group/individual names) ___ during ___(start date)___ to __(end date)___

  1. Assignments
    • Who is assigning the calls (and providing the call information and sample script)?
    • Who is tracking that the calls are made?
    • When should reminders be sent?
  2. Tracking the questions
    • Who will track that a comment was made or a question was asked?
    • Is there a contact report that should be filled out?
    • How will you track that a contact report was filled out? i.e. is there a central document like a Google Doc, is it entered into the CRM, or is every report sent to one person to track?
    • Will development staff be told each time a response is necessary with any comments that might be helpful? How will they be notified? Or do they need to check the tracking document? How often?
    • Who will let the appropriate person at the organization know there is a question or comment that needs to be addressed?
  3. Who can be assigned to respond? Who decides who should respond? Responders could include:
    • Fundraising Staff
    • Executive Director
    • Programming Coordinator
    • Volunteer Coordinator
    • Admin
  4. Who will check that the person was contacted a second time? Follow up. Follow up. Follow up. It is stewardship. It is logical. It is also the only way you will retain a donor. Someone needs to know that they oversee this.
  5. Who will collect and track contact reports? Each interaction with a donor provides valuable information. Don’t assume the volunteer – or even staff member – will be there to remind you of the facts in a week, a year or 3 years. Turnover is high. And memories are short.
  6. Analyzing the results
    • Did the people called have a higher donation level or retention rate after receiving a call?
    • How much time did volunteers actually spend on the calling process?
    • Did everyone make their calls?

Create a formal process from start to finish. Keep it simple. But make it an essential part of calling. 5 minutes to make the call. 5 minutes to write the call report. Or one minute and one minute if you just leave a message.

This seems to be a lot of work for a few phone calls, doesn’t it? The good news is once you create your system you may only need to revise it from time to time. So start assigning those calls.

We can’t guarantee the calls will make a difference. But, we are so confident in this follow-up process that we encourage you to use it anyway. Try it. You will raise more money and retain more donors. You’ll see.

Want to read more about End-of-year strategies? Here are a few from our archive:

Five End-of-year Segmentation Strategies

Which is Easier? Getting a Teenager into College or Getting New Donors in December?

Want to Learn a New Fundraising Trick?

Is Executive Coaching A Good Investment?

Fundraisers talk a lot about donor retention. But, what about employee retention and how it impacts donors? Many nonprofits have a revolving door of development professionals. The average tenure of a fundraiser is less than 2 years. And the donor pays the price.

Consider a new development professional who starts a new job. Immediately, she wants to build relationships with major donors! But the donors have seen this cycle too often. They don’t want to spend the time gearing up to befriend another new development person. It shifts the work to the donor who has to meet more often so the development person feels comfortable. Which, let’s face it, is not why donors give to your nonprofit.

The new development person is set up for failure. Making it more likely they will leave sooner. Keeping the revolving door moving.

Then the question is, how do you get an employee to stay? One way is by helping them grow and feel successful with Executive Coaching.

Investing in your staff will help employee retention, which will help donor retention, which will help your bottom line.

Is Executive Coaching A Good Investment?

Executive coaching means different things to different people. 

  • A sounding board to enhance self-assurance
  • Short term strategy partner for new initiatives
  • Developing new skills like
    • Volunteer or board management
    • Governance oversight
    • Annual fund growth
    • Capital campaign planning
    • Prepping for a Strategic Plan
  • Building confidence so they are ready for the next challenge around the corner
  • Learning the skills to move up in the organization

If you, or someone you know is thinking about Executive Coaching and how it could help provide professional and personal development, send me an email. Or sign up for a free consultation on my calendar.

The Difference Between Fundraisers and Pickpockets

Fundraisers and Pickpockets

I can’t imagine there is a fundraiser anywhere in the world who has not heard someone say, “I could never do that.” Often feels as if they are implying you are doing something illegal or immoral.

While it’s true that I have never been described as shy, I can train anyone to solicit gifts. I could never train anyone to be a pickpocket.

Have you ever been pickpocketed? I have. My story is at the bottom of this blog. 

Pickpockets grab money when someone isn’t looking. Fundraisers make a clear ask.

Pickpockets will take anything from anyone. Ethical fundraisers won’t accept a gift larger than the person wants to give.

Pickpockets are distracting you so they can take what they want. Fundraisers are providing information and data points so donors can give what they want.

Pickpockets leave the person feeling uncomfortable after the interaction. Fundraisers want to leave every conversation with a donor or prospect feeling better than when they started.

Pickpockets try to get away with something. Fundraisers provide transparency.

Pickpockets are out to steal for personal benefit. Fundraisers benefit a nonprofit and those receiving services from the nonprofit.

Pickpockets don’t give a person a choice. Fundraisers offer multiple opportunities to support a nonprofit.

Pickpockets are looking for a quick interaction. Fundraisers are looking for a life-long relationship with a donor.

Pickpockets are thieves. Fundraisers benefit the world, or some portion of it.

If you need help training fundraisers or just want sympathy because you have been pickpocketed, click here to schedule a free consultation.

On the other hand, if you want to learn how to pick pockets, I can’t help. Sorry.

My story

When was I pickpocketed? It was many years ago in London. I walked into the Tube and saw the sign that said, “Watch your wallet!” I followed my natural instinct to feel for my wallet and make sure it was still there. Turns out, thieves stand by these signs to see where you feel. And then ask for directions. Or something else benign while their “friend” takes your wallet. Remember, mind the gap!

The Pros and Cons of an Executive Committee

Executive Commitee

When we work with nonprofits on their governance structure, we have found that the Executive Committee is often a point of contention. Term limits, board manuals, and the size of a board are the first heated discussions. But, a conversation about the pros and cons of having this committee seems to trigger the strongest opinions.

What are the Pros?

  1. The Executive Director and Staff have a strong, well-informed group of volunteers to go to for advice, help, etc.
  2. This committee can supervise and perform annual reviews for the Executive Director as well as hiring and handling transitions.
  3. A specific topic is easier to discuss in a smaller committee.
  4. Board members can look to grow into roles in this leadership group.
  5. Often there is an expectation or path within the Committee to move through one more role, leading to the Board Chair/President position.
  6. If you are having trouble with board attendance, you have a core group of people who will show up at the Committee meetings to help make decisions.
  7. They can make decisions on some smaller items that might not need the whole board’s time or consensus.
  8. It creates a group (instead of an individual) who can be responsible for problems within the board.

Seems great, doesn’t it? Let’s look at the cons to having an Executive Committee:

  1. It is a vicious circle, or a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you prefer. A nonprofit organization feels they need an Executive Committee to “get things done.” Executive Committees cause the board then to feel like they are only a rubber stamp. The board, then, is less invested in coming to meetings and getting involved. And that makes it impossible to get anything done with the board. Which is why you need the Executive Committee.
  2. It creates an insider vs. outsider mindset in a board that needs to work together.
  3. Executive Committee members get frustrated at board meetings if the board wants to dive into the same topics they have already discussed.
  4. It’s easy to rely on the Executive Committee for items that should be processed within the full board. Let’s face it, a smaller, more homogeneous group is easier to manage for staff– especially as the staff is more likely to know where the Executive Committee stands on certain topics.
  5. A strong Executive Committee can hide a weak board and/or weak Executive Director.
  6.  While it empowers the small group, it disempowers the full board if major decisions are made prior to their meetings.

So should you have an Executive Committee?

In general, we are not fans of this method of leadership.

But there are cases of nonprofits with which we work that have made a strong case for why they need an Executive Committee. For instance, one nonprofit found themselves in crisis –especially over the past few years – and really appreciated the nimbleness of a smaller group.  Another was working to strengthen its board and governance process. But they needed a high functioning group during the time the new governance structure was developed and implemented.. A third found they had confidential issues where – for privacy and protection – the Executive Committee was the best way to keep the circle of knowledge small.

In other words, it is up to you. There are ways to address and prevent potential complications. However, most Executive Committees are too busy doing the work of the board to focus on that.

Want a free 30-minute consultation to talk about your Executive Committee? Click here to schedule time with me.

Why Capacity Doesn’t Always = A Major Gift

Capacity Doesn’t Always = A Major Gift

There was an article in the Advice from Donors column in Chronicle of Philanthropy that popped up in an email. It is behind a paywall so for those of you don’t have a subscription, I will give you the gist.

  1. Tell a simple story
  2. Don’t treat donors like an ATM
  3. Donors want to be partners
  4. Big capacity doesn’t always = a major gift
  5. Be appreciative of whatever you receive

This struck a chord with me because I had a similar conversation during a recent feasibility study interview.

The donor said, “I could give easily give a million dollars. But I won’t. The last time I gave $250,000 the Executive Director looked at me as if ‘that’s all?’ And I have never felt the same way about Organization ABC.” Maybe that’s not an exact quote. The name of the nonprofit is not Organization ABC. But the story is true.

This donor is not alone in feeling like their capacity doesn’t always = a major gift. Even to organizations with which they are close.

The reasons they might not give a major gift can include:

  • Other current priorities
  • Seeing how the nonprofit responded to a previous gift
  • They don’t support the current project or vision
  • They are not as close to the organization as you think they are
  • The story was too complicated, and they didn’t understand what they were giving to at this point (Read: the case for giving wasn’t clear)
  • They felt like they were treated like an ATM
  • They were told how they should feel about the organization and then asked for the donation
  • No real research was done beyond cursory prospect screening and so the ask was not focused on what really interests the donor currently

And this is just the start of where things can go wrong. There are just as many reasons that capacity doesn’t = a major gift as there are donors who didn’t give what was expected. Because each donor is unique. And wants to be treated that way.

By following the basic guidelines to understand and retain your major donors will start you in the right direction. What are some of the basics?

  • Treat people like people, not ATMs.
  • Be in touch throughout the year – not just when you want money.
  • Thank them many times for each gift.
  • And acknowledge them in ways that they appreciate.

If you would like to talk about how we can help you deepen your connection to your major donors, give me a call 800.361.8689 x3 or email me by clicking here.


Want to Learn a New Fundraising Trick?

It’s true. I am about to reveal the best new fundraising trick for your organization. Read on, it’s in Step 2.

Step 1: Start here:

  1. Have a strong case for support – Why is your organization is worthy of the donor’s philanthropy?
  2. Be creative. You are not the only nonprofit in your space – Know and share what makes you unique.
  3. Determine institutional priorities – what you want your donors to fund.
  4. Research your donors – understand your current trends (increased donor retention or decreased first time donor lapses).
  5. Decide which segment you want to focus your energy on this year.
  6. Research why this donor segment funds your nonprofit
    1. do they have a persona?
    1. what are their priorities?
    1. how they want to be reached? email vs mail vs social media.
  7. Thank them. Again and again and again and again and again and again and again.
  8. Keep in touch with them throughout the year – more than just solicitations

Step 2: Use the best new fundraising trick:

Dedicate time to do each one of the steps listed above.

Before you dismiss this (or think this is an old trick) consider:

Many of you know what needs to be done. But something else always takes priority. For example, there is something that you need to send out this week or there is one major donor who takes a lot of your time.

Just as you need to schedule vacation time, or doctors’ appointments, you need to schedule time to do the work—the right work. And don’t let other work—the urgent but unimportant– become a priority.  

The real trick knowing what is your priority, what provides the greatest return on your invested time. Know what you want and stay with it for the long haul so you get the expected and best new results.

If you, or anyone in your organization, would like to talk to us about how we can help you with the proven methods and the best fundraising trick this month, email me.