Tag Archives: Leadership

Strong Leaders Help You Fundraise During a Pandemic

A Tale of Two Case Studies – Part 1*

Strong leaders help you fundraise during a pandemic - Be strong

The pandemic has changed fundraising and development for 2020 (and, perhaps, beyond). Most annual, capital and endowment campaigns have been halted. We have developed a love/hate relationship with Zoom. And, fear has so profoundly infected nonprofits that many may not recover. But what hasn’t changed? Strong leaders are still essential and can help you succeed in almost any circumstance. And, strong leaders help you fundraise during a pandemic.

Want proof? Here are case studies from two very different congregations that are working towards multi-million-dollar campaigns and finding success because of their leadership. Well, here is the first one. Check back next week for number two!

Organization 1 – The Scene: 

A suburb of a small city. A small congregation (fewer than 300 family units). Turnover of the most senior staff – including all clergy within the past two years. Passionate leaders who understood that without a capital and endowment campaign, there would be an annual deficit. And that an annual deficit for the foreseeable future was unacceptable.  

The Questions: 

A feasibility study was done to test interest before the pandemic. Would their members still support the effort? Could their prospects still give at pre-pandemic levels? Were members ready to have the conversations about five- and six-figure donations?  

The Campaign to Date: 

The campaign committee is leading by example. And others are following. Is it easy? No. Is there fear, changing circumstances of prospects, and sometimes people who can no longer give what they would/could have given a year ago? Yes, yes, and yes. But the campaign leadership are moving forward. They are raising money for their endowment and some capital needs, one gift at a time. Three months in, they are more than 20% to their goal. And that doesn’t include the fact that they have increased their annual giving for this year, with additional annual commitments secured for four more years. The simultaneous dual ask, one for endowment/capital and one for annual has proven incredibly successful. 

Bottom Line: 

They are systematically reducing their annual deficit with both increased annual gifts and substantial, five-year endowment commitments. And they are expanding their campaign committee to help broaden their fundraising efforts. Proving, strong leaders help you fundraise during a pandemic. 

*Part 2 has been postponed. Stay tuned….

Can Nonprofits Turn Previous Failures Into Future Success?

Can Nonprofits Turn Previous Failures Into Future Success?Listen to any conference speaker, self-help guru or tech entrepreneur and you are sure to hear about their failures. Of course, they are speaking because they turned their failures into lessons that helped them succeed. Can you imagine going to a funder and telling them that you had to close down your last nonprofit due to lack of money but this time you knew how to handle their 7-figure gift? Can nonprofits turn previous failures into future success? Of course, saying you have changed the way you run your organization is not enough.  You need to “walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”

  • Show that you now have a strong case for giving and are only approaching the right people at the right time.
  • Prove you have learned your lesson by talking about your new and detailed focus on acknowledgements.
  • Demonstrate that you understand stewardship for each and every donor and each and every gift.

What are other areas that nonprofits ignore that can be turned around to prove success?

To some this list may seem overwhelming. To others, it will highlight areas on which to focus or tweak in the coming year. Either way, turning previously missed opportunities into growth and prosperity will sustain your nonprofit. And, it will be something positive to talk about to current and prospective funders. Showing that you are learning and growing is something everyone can get excited about.   Please let us know if we can help you improve your nonprofit by emailing Abigail Harmon.

Lessons Learned While Prepping for a Strategic Planning Board Retreat

Strategic Planning Board Retreat Exercise

I recently offered to help a friend, Jen, plan her nonprofit’s retreat. We met for coffee and she explained that she had decided to start off her term as board president by holding a 3-hour strategic planning board retreat (replacing the second board meeting of the year).  The executive director suggested she wait until the spring (Lesson 1), but she wanted to start her term with board-wide, consistent organizational priorities and had everyone reserve an upcoming Sunday afternoon.

Right away, she wanted to talk about what she wanted to include as content (Lesson 2) and how she should present it. But the more she explained, the more I realized she also had to focus on:

  • How to get people excited about where they were headed – even if they were not convinced this was the right path forward (Lesson 3).
  • The importance of engaging board members without conflicting with committee work (Lesson 4).
  • How to incorporate different learning styles (Lesson 5).

What follows are the six lessons that can help you plan your next Retreat (Lesson 6).

Lessons Learned:

Lesson 1: It is easy to feel like you can take on the world when you are starting a leadership role. But, don’t let the excitement of taking on a new position, trump the reality of a situation. If an executive director suggests you hold off, hold off. They will understand the dynamics from an organizational standpoint, much better than anyone else. For the record, she has told me that she regrets not listening to the ED.

Lesson 2: As it turned out, she didn’t really need help with content. Jen needed help in structuring the retreat. She needed help figuring out how to talk about the topics she had already highlighted. Planning a retreat was not in her wheelhouse, so she didn’t realize what she needed to feel confident was a plan of how to engage and excite the board. And, a few nonprofit board retreat techniques.

Lesson 3: Major decisions – capital campaigns, shifts in focus, new membership strategies will excite some board members and anger others. Your job, as a volunteer leader, is to encourage everyone to find their way past their personal reluctance and back towards helping the organization move forward.

Lesson 4: Committees do not want to feel pointless, and that is what happens when board time is used to rehash committee work. To avoid this, use board time to highlight their decisions and bring recommendations up for a vote. If board members have strong opinions about the committee decisions, encourage them to join the committee.

Lesson 5: The differences among us provide balance on a nonprofit board. So, remember that not everyone will vocalize their opinion in a large group.  Some people are visual thinkers and others auditory ones.  Leadership and good ideas come through many different paths. A retreat is the time to value differences by using alternate strategies to bring out the best, innovative, useful ideas from everyone. Think creatively and strategically about how you can do this.

Lesson 6: Calling this a strategic planning board retreat was a mistake. A strategic planning board retreat is used when you are trying to determine the direction of the organization for the next 3 or 5 years. Every board retreat has a different purpose, so try not to confuse people by picking the wrong name.

Click here to read more about Mersky, Jaffe & Associates’ Strategic Planning

Email me to learn how we can help you with your next Board Retreat

A Guide to Powering Up your Board Member Recruitment

Board Member Recruitment Let me start by saying that before you focus on board member recruitment, you need a standing committee on governance and leadership development. If you don’t, read this or this first.

OK, now we are on the same page and everyone understands the importance of a standing committee on governance and leadership development.  Among the ten basic responsibilities of board members is one that states thatthe board should “replace itself.” But, board member recruitment means that you have to continually generate and explore prospects for leadership roles in the organization as well as for potential board members. Here are 8 ideas for your committee to test out:

  1. Consider your constituents/members. One of the life lessons we are learning from the upcoming mid-term elections is that people seem to want to be represented by people who look and act like themselves. Board member recruitment should include representatives of your work. Members, current/former beneficiaries, or program participants can all be considered.
  2. Think about who has reached out to you. People who are looking to get more involved but first want to peek behind the scenes at a nonprofit will often reach out to you. They will invite the Executive Director or another staff member for coffee or to meet up. It might be after an event, “I will be at pancake breakfast with my kids, can we talk for a few minutes about this idea I had for a wine tasting event.” Whether or not you want to add a wine tasting is irrelevant – that person is thinking about how to help your nonprofit. And that is a good indicator that they may want a deeper involvement.
  3. Look at your committee members. This is a tried and true method of identifying potential board members who are committed to the organization and do what they say they will do.
  4. Read your donor lists. Now focus in on the cumulative giving lists. If your nonprofit means enough to them to give year after year, they have already demonstrated their passion for your mission and vision.
  5. Perform a formal search. This will take time and energy, but if you think you have people who would get more involved, if only they were asked to do more than serve pancakes, offer them the opportunity to raise their hands. Put out calls on social media (LinkedIn could be incredibly valuable here), in newsletters or hand written notes to target specific people. List opportunities to join different committees that could use an infusion of new volunteers (read: all committees). Finance, development, events, governance, programs, marketing, and/or membership are all options.
  6. Ask your current board members who are not on the governance and leadership development committee for suggestions. This may seem obvious, but over time a strong committee might not be soliciting nominations from other board members.
  7. Look outside the box. Contact local organizations that train board members (e.g., United Ways) or look online to nonprofit board recruitment sites.
  8. Talk to your current volunteers. Some volunteers want to help a day here or there with no long-term commitment. But, if you ask your volunteer coordinator who the most reliable volunteers are, there will be obvious answers.

Of course, once you identify candidates, the next step is to research them. But I will save that for another article on board member recruitment.

What Makes a Successful Fundraising Campaign?

Pieces of a successful fundraising campaignRecently, a prospective client asked whether we thought that they had the resources for a successful fundraising campaign. They were questioning whether their staff had time to dedicate to a new fundraising initiative, their current database could manage the new data, and whether they would have enough volunteers to get the work done. Those are important pieces of a successful campaign that help strengthen their results. But, there is one additional consideration that few nonprofits consider:

Will they do what they say they will do. 

Will the volunteers and staff:

  • Show up and/or call into campaign committee meetings? (and participate in the discussions)
  • Take on assignments? (and not only the lowest hanging fruit)
  • Make the appointments? (this can often be the most challenging piece of the solicitation)
  • Follow up after each appointment? (sending a personal thank you note, informing the administrator so they can send out a pledge form, acknowledgment of the gift and thank you note from the organization, inform the board president so he/she can send a letter, etc)
  • Share their experiences with the committee? (the elements of the case statement that excited someone and/or how someone handled a new objection to the case are great learning opportunities)
  • Take on new assignments? (whether you are looking to improve your annual fund or you are working on a capital campaign – there are a lot of prospects to get to)
  • Rinse and repeat? (a campaign takes time – maybe months, maybe years – be prepared for what it will take to achieve your fundraising goals)

A successful fundraising campaign is within your reach – if, before you begin, you understand what it takes to finish.

Email me if if you want to know more about how MJA can help your next campaign be successful.

Would a Staff Member’s Sabbatical Revitalize Your Nonprofit?

Revitalize Your NonprofitI just read an interesting piece in the New York Times, “When Being Unproductive Saves a Career.” It focused on how a sabbatical could revitalize your nonprofit, among the highlights were the twenty years of data to prove:

  • Sabbaticals help retain staff (“One recent study found that 34 percent of the executive directors and half of the development directors at nonprofits anticipated leaving their current jobs in two years or less”)
  • Staff loss is expensive (the article references a study that for a $50,000 employee the cost is approximately 20%
  • Staff loss prevents organizations from achieving their mission and vision
  • Foundations, by offering funding to cover sabbaticals at a nonprofit, have given permission to consider this radical idea
  • This radical idea helps reset leaders from feeling overwhelmed and constantly overworked to excited to work and achieve more (within more clearly defined limits) Read: revitalize your nonprofit

What should you do as a staff member or volunteer leader at a nonprofit?

1.     Take burnout seriously.

Whether an executive stays while feeling consistently tired and overworked or leaves because of those feelings, your nonprofit is the loser. If you are that executive, don’t wait for things to get worse.  Be proactive about changing your work-life balance and consider whether a sabbatical might be necessary.

2.     Remember that turnover is not something that has to happen.

People don’t join nonprofits for the high salaries (although they do need to get paid a reasonable amount to work). If they leave for more money, they might be saying, this much work isn’t worth what you pay me.  If you can’t substantially change the money, change the way your staff works.

3.     Offering more vacation time is not the same as offering a sabbatical.

Offering an extra week or two of vacation is applying a Band-Aid instead of getting rid of an infection.  Most people find it hard to take five weeks of vacation a year without taking multiple weeks together. That can lead to a mini-sabbatical without plans in place on how to deal with an executive’s extended absence. Alternatively, the executive could accrue vacation time year over year (which can make them more resentful because they don’t feel they can responsibly take the time and be effective) and end up with enough time to take a sabbatical or, hope for a lump some payout if they leave – incentivizing turnover while crippling a nonprofit’s bottom line for a year

4.     If you don’t want to offer a sabbatical, there are other ways to change work-life balance for staff.

Assess your employees’ satisfaction and your organization’s structure (Mersky, Jaffe & Associates can help with both).  Determine whether you are under-utilizing some staff members and over-utilizing others. Consider whether you are relying on board or volunteers to do staff jobs. If so, are they being properly supervised and held accountable?

Work-life balance is never easy for those with a passion (like nonprofit employees).  But, consciously, helping a staff member find a little more space in their lives can help revitalize your nonprofit.  And a nonprofit with energy from the top down, can help more people – whatever the mission may be.


Learn more about MJA’s Organizational and Development Assessment by clicking here

Learn more about Employee Assessment by emailing Abigail Harmon


Getting Ready for the New Year

Getting Ready for the New YearOn the first day of the New Year, I found a few things that gave me pause for thought as I clear the decks and begin getting ready for the New Year.

    1. At the end of the year, most organizations judge their success by one question: Did we meet our budget goal?But growing future giving means investing in activities that may not generate revenue now, but will make a difference in the years to come. That’s why it’s important to ask yourself: What things do I want to make sure happen in 2018 as a result of my organization’s fundraising plan, assuming, of course, that you have a written, highly focused plan with clearly measurable objectives? Example Focus Areas:
      • Engage donors early and often to learn about what interests them.
      • Find one more Board member interested in becoming involved in fundraising.
      • Start a monthly giving program.
      • Improve our database practices so that our donor reports are consistently correct
    2. Congress has passed a new tax bill which the president has signed into law.The last year ended with a steady stream of advice from nonprofits, accountants, financial advisors, and the like to increase deductions and defer income. Now, I am not an accountant nor the son of an accountant, to paraphrase the prophet Amos (Amos 7:14). I am not here to give anyone tax advice. Anyway, it is too late as 2017 has passed.However, I think all my friends in nonprofit development shops ought to beware of the law of unintended consequences. As we watched results mount for 2017’s year-end giving because of the “bundling” of gifts or multi-year pledge payments, should we begin to think about what the impact of such riches now will mean for 2018 and beyond. Just sayin’.
    3. I am always thinking about leadership talent—acquisition, management, and transition. Are you or your organization confronting a potential transition in the coming year?Nonprofits require high-impact leaders who are audacious, visionary, bold, and results-oriented. This is the type of leadership we all need, and it’s the type of professional we will help you find or the volunteer whom we will help you develop.
      This past year, we added two outstanding leaders to our firm, Howard Charish and Kerry Olitzky, who are already making a difference.
      We understand that executive search is not just a recruitment activity, but an opportunity to define your organization and the change it will drive for years to come. Our executive search process is collaborative and focused. With your organization’s specific goals in mind, we work in partnership with you to find the best, most qualified executives to lead your mission. We serve both nonprofit executives and the organizations who need them to pave the way to the future. In this coming year, I want to focus on your leadership talent needs.

    Watch this space for a new series on managing transitions and finding the right person to make the change you envision.

  1. For now, all of us at Mersky, Jaffe & Associates wish you the very best for 2018, a year
    • without any unintended consequences
    • in which your focused plans are executed to a tee, and
    • your volunteer and professional leadership exceed your aspirations.

Strengthening Your Board, Staff and Clergy

Strengthening Your Board, Staff and ClergyThis past week I presented at the NATA conference with David A. Mersky and Rachel M. Woda. We knew there were interesting competing sessions, so we were pleasantly surprised with the strong turnout.  I’d like to think this was based on the presenters and the firm’s reputation but I’m sure a lot of people were there for the topic.  The official title was, The Role of the Executive Director in Congregational Governance: Managing relationships among clergy, lay leadership and staff. But, it could have been called, Strengthening Your Board, Staff and Clergy.

I would title it that because there are so many questions that remain about board and staff responsibilities within a nonprofit. In religious organizations, like synagogues, you also have to account for how clergy with their myriad responsibilities fit into the mix.

So, while I can’t provide the presentation in this short blog post, I would like to offer some thoughts. Here is a list of opportunities for you to determine, the $100 million question:

Do you know how to go about strengthening your board, staff and clergy?

We can offer simple recommendations like whether the board should be fundraising (they should be fundraising, starting with themselves), but you also have to have strategies for:

  • Encouraging your board to respect your staff and their opinions
  • Reminding the staff that coaching strategies may change behavior faster than constant reminders
  • Board learning opportunities throughout the year (presenting a P & L– spend 15 minutes explaining how to read the statement –and how it represents the organizational priorities – for those who don’t work with them every day)
  • Creating change with buy in from staff and the board
  • Clergy’s responsibilities, like celebrate and commiserate, are useful when dealing with the board and staff as colleagues in addition to congregant relationships.
  • Knowing that one board president is not always as strong as the last
  • No one person can be in charge of everything (whether that is staff, a Board President or Clergy). Nonprofits are a group effort so spend time determining how to utilize your resources.
  • The size of your board – too large or too small will affect whether you are engaging your board members or leaving them to drift off (among other things)
  • Helping board members or staff see their role in creating the solution to the problems you are facing and that they may be causing
  • Overworking your leadership (volunteer and staff) may help you achieve more in the short term. But, in the long term, staff will leave and volunteers will burn out.
  • Moving forward with a decision when consensus was hard to find
  • Innovating change. Nonprofits can no longer rely on the status quo for support, membership or involvement
  • Engaging everyone in fundraising and development when not everyone is willing to ask others for money

This is not an all-encompassing list, and it is not intended to overwhelm you.  Instead, it is designed to create a new dialogue around the staff table or at a board meeting about what you want to see change.  You may want to initiate a strategic plan or a board retreat to help you focus in on your priorities.  But don’t let another year go by without growing as individuals and as an organization.

If you think your nonprofit would benefit from our facilitating this process, email me today.

If you would like to work on improving your board without counsel, you can purchase one of our books by clicking here

Board Leadership – A Burden or a Blessing?

by Rachel M. Woda

Rachel Woda HeadshotDuring a recent conversation with a friend Sam, he mentioned that he had been asked to join a non-profit board. I began to congratulate him when he started to say “They promised me it would only be a few meetings a year and wouldn’t take too much of my time, so that’s good.”

I kept thinking about Sam’s comment, and I started to wonder, “When did serving in a leadership role for organizations become something to sell as a burden rather than a blessing?” The organization of which we were speaking has a strong mission, one we both agree is worthwhile, serves the community well and has a good reputation. So why would their current board leadership choose to undersell all of those attributes in order to gain a new volunteer?

Last month, The Chronicle of Philanthropy created a checklist – the 10 Things to Consider Before Joining a Board (https://philanthropy.com/resources/checklist/top-10-things-to-consider-befo/5737). I know that Sam was knowledgeable about the mission and governance issues of the organization. But, was he aware of his fiduciary and fundraising responsibilities or even the expected personal gift? It seemed that his experience with the recruitment process didn’t quite measure up.

According to the Chronicle’s checklist – the “recruitment” consideration is, “does the organization have a board commitment form (or job description) that clearly outlines what will be expected of you? Is it clear exactly which skills or expertise the board needs from you? Is there an orientation process for new members to ensure you will have all of the information you need in order to be a knowledgeable and effective board member?”

Upon further reflection, it seems that this recruitment process was short-circuited and that the only factor was to say to Sam, “Hey, it’s no big deal! It won’t take that much of your time.” In a world where we all seek to be in control of our lives and where we strive to be masters of multi-tasking, we look for the latest gadget or app to help us improve our time management. In this case of nonprofit governance and leadership development, the organization that was trying to recruit Sam saw its best chance for success in minimizing the time and commitment it takes to serve as a member of the board.

If our goal is to advance the mission of the nonprofits we care about, either as staff or volunteers, it requires a clear understanding of what those roles entail. More importantly, it is essential that we present those roles to candidates for leadership positions in a manner that engages potential volunteers in the blessing of the work.

Here at Mersky, Jaffe & Associates, one of the many things we can do is help your nonprofit craft a clear and positive recruitment method to cultivate engaged volunteers and steward your board to success. One example of how we can help is the Individual Board Member’s Roles & Responsibilities which can be found in our eBook, How You Can Engage New Board Members. Click here to order your copy.)

Who Is A Better Nonprofit Leader? The Strategic Thinker Or Worker Bee?

Strategic Thinker vs Worker BeeVolunteers come in all shapes and sizes. But at times I think leadership – especially fundraising volunteer leadership comes in two stereotypes so I will pose the question, who is a better nonprofit leader?  The Strategic Thinker or the Worker Bee?

The Worker Bee is always in attendance at meetings, does what she says she is going to do, has 100% follow through on tasks and has run successful fundraisers including raffles, fairs and events. She can manage and organize volunteers and will roll up her sleeves to do whatever needs to get done. She will only take on tasks for which she feels she has the time and energy. A catch for any nonprofit.

The Strategic Thinker works full time as a development professional, sales, finance or similar field which means he has a lot of last minute meetings and trips out of town. In other words, he is not always able to attend meetings but will try to call in when possible because he is dedicated to the cause. One of his greatest strengths is that he is used to looking at donors, not dollars. He considers cultivation, stewardship and retention, instinctively as it is a part of his job. He is a strategic thinker. Also, an ideal board member.

In some ways, it is someone who is looking at an individual fundraising event vs. someone who is considering the long game. (It should be said that few people are that one-sided – a Worker Bee can be a Strategic Thinker in general – but might not have the expertise to be a Strategic Thinker about fundraising. And the Strategic Thinker may be a Worker Bee at the office but does not always have the capacity to do so in their volunteer positions.)

Who helps the organization more?

Over the course of a year, there must be considerations about major donors, but organizations need to expand their reach with small donors who talk with excitement about the raffle prize or share pictures on Facebook of the last event. The donors who only give $25 today may be moved to $5,000 with help of the Strategic Thinker but the Worker Bee will help get those donors through the door the first time.

Which one is a better leader?

While I lean toward the Strategic Thinker as a way to increase donors’ investment and commitment, the Worker Bee will ensure meetings happen and we make progress as a committee. The truth is that the combination may be the essential element for the committee to work at full strength. So choose one based on personality and move on. And make sure you have both people represented in your leadership.