The Ties That Bind: Strong Stewardship

A plunge in small donor giving is worrying nonprofit organizations (see this recent article). While COVID giving was fairly robust, the economic impact of a near-recession seems to be causing a measurable drag on small donor donations. Are you concerned about the giving of your small donors this season?

There are many strategies to attract and retain these donors, such as offering a “set it and forget it” monthly donation option. But while small donor support is important, ensuring strong donor relationships overall will strengthen the financial health of your organization. The time is always right to beef up stewardship efforts for donors, with some tailoring based on whether they are large or small.

It doesn’t necessarily require grand gestures. Success is about making your supporters feel valued and acknowledged so they keep giving.

Here are some ideas from the Capacity Partners consultant team.

For donors, both small and large:

  • Create low-cost, high-engagement events – tours of programs or “open house” visits (depending on the nature of your mission or service delivery)
  • Hold a town hall as a state-of-the-organization/get to know us (zoom or in person) session; share compelling stories and provide lots of time for questions
  • Initiate a handwritten thank you note/phone call campaign
  • Send out a thank you mailing with a sticker or other low-cost promo/swag
  • Send out short and sweet regular update emails/newsletters. Feature a donor thank you component (perhaps once a year, list all small donors)

 

Maintaining a personal connection — and not just when a donation shows up – can make a huge difference. It can be low-budget while still making a positive impact. Be in touch all the time.

Have your board reach out to donors around holidays, with messaging that connects to the day or season (gratitude at Thanksgiving; around Valentine’s Day, send cards with related sentiments, such as “You are the heart of our organization”).

Send fun musical ecards for special occasions.

Touch base with donors periodically and consistently for no particular reason and don’t ask for anything; record good notes about their relatives, interests, and pets so that your future conversations can sincerely focus on them.

Be a connector – a resource who links people with common interests or needs – because you’ve gotten to know someone so well. Use your connections to share with other people. People appreciate it.

* * * *

For many nonprofits, in the end a significant percent of total giving comes from large donors. So be sure to keep them at the top of your priority list. Here are some tactics:

  1. Create a newsletter for “insiders” that provides insights from your leader, a special story about the impact donors have made on an individual client, or shares organization good news such as special recognition or a new partnership, that will be shared with a more general audience later.
  2. Schedule coffee visits with your top donors. Ask them if they feel comfortable with an in-person meeting or schedule a virtual coffee. The purpose is to learn why they give, which could be turned into an on-line campaign (see #4) or a profile piece in the newsletter.
  3. Single out long-term donors (designating them as Champions/Advocates or some other named distinction) at your next event with an inexpensive pin and recognition from the stage. Be sure to let this group know in advance they will be recognized.
  4. Create an on-line campaign to profile donors weekly or twice monthly. Have a quick interview on why they support the organization (and consider short videos as an option).

 

Nonprofits that don’t have a Development Director sometimes think that a donor interaction is speaking with a donor at a program or seeing someone at a program and waving to them across a room. Yes, you should note in your database all donor (and nondonor) participation in your programs.

But more importantly, seek out regular attendees and those you suspect may have special interest in your work for more personal attention when you chat about their interests in your work and what’s on tap going forward. These are the interactions that lead to larger gifts.


Reevaluate your year-end campaign and get the details right

As we swing into year-end campaign season, be sure not to stick with "same-old same-old."

Capacity Partners engineered a hugely successful end-of-year campaign for a food pantry in the Dc area several years ago by restructuring their approach and attending to important details. The result was double what the organization had raised the prior year.

Here are some keys:

Segment your donor list. Use tools like wealth screening, giving history, and personal knowledge to structure your approach. For this campaign, the categories were:

  • Visionary, meaning major donors ($1,000+), who were asked to make a larger contribution;
  • Monthly Ask, donors who gave more than once annually but were unpredictable, who were asked to become monthly contributors;
  • Additional Gift, donors who already made an annual contribution and were asked to make an additional gift; and
  • Lapsed donors, who had not given in more than a year and were asked t once again support the organization.

Tailor your communications and try to keep it personal so you stand out in a crowd. The organization sent a different letter for each segment. The executive director hand-signed each one. The letters were hand-stamped with first-class postage.

Don't be afraid to increase the frequency of your solicitations. People are busy especially during the holidays. Getting a reminder about your organization's campaign may be just the nudge they need to commit. Send at least three communications between the week before Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.

Use multiple platforms (email, social media, website content, mailed hard-copy letter) to advance your campaign, but be sure they all deploy a consistent look that emphasizes the theme and message at the heart of your year-end campaign. For example, the successful campaign designed by Capacity Partners was built around brief, emotional testimonials.

Remember that you've got lots of suupporters out there who care about what you do. Don't let the woes of the economy or the late date slow you down. Get going! You are needed.


Attending to Retention

While the worst impacts of the pandemic may be subsiding, the so-called Great Resignation seems to be going strong. Nonprofits are feeling this at least as much as any other employer. Your people are your greatest asset in delivering on the promise of your organization. How can you keep them?

For many nonprofits, retention via better compensation is not an option. One key may be to better connect the mission of your organization to the people who work there. Working for a nonprofit often is a choice partially motivated by an individual’s identification with what your organization stands for and accomplishes. If you can’t pay people more, aim to build a culture that makes it easy for them to take personal pride in the work and your value proposition because they are part of something that is making a social impact.

Building culture and connection have become even more important with many workplaces operating in hybrid on-site/remote fashion permanently, naturally heightening a sense of disconnection.

Here are some tactics to strengthen your organizational connective tissue:

COLLABORATE

The hybrid workplace for many organizations is here to stay. This brings with it a natural tension – and potential resentment – regarding being in the office setting. But this also can be leveraged as an asset. Consider being intentional in terms of expectations about when your team must be in the office, so that those times primarily are dedicated to collaboration that works best in person.

Collaboration certainly is possible via Zoom. But different dynamics are in play when people are together in person which can spark deeper interactions. Rather than requiring someone to go into the office mostly for the sake of showing up to sit at a desk, make sure that those in-person times for your team are planful and include productive collaborative time together to exchange ideas and move projects forward.

Collaboration also is stronger through inclusion. A Capacity Partners client who is in the middle of a strategic planning exercise realized the pandemic and hybrid work environment produced a morale issue: those required to come into the office felt it was an unreasonable obligation to fill in for those who are working from home. The Executive Director decided to involve all the senior staff in the strategic planning process, who then in turn involved the rest of the staff. What began as a discovery of low morale actually became a strategy for inclusive collaboration. Together, they realized there is much work to be done in order to build a positive, forward-reaching organization. The outlook brightened for a renewed, transformed organization.

COMMUNICATE

Are changes coming up in your organization? Make sure those are communicated early and well. You want to give your team the sense that changes are happening with and perhaps even because of them (see previous bullet point on inclusive collaboration), rather than happening to them.

ELEVATE

Your team can help tell your organization’s story. In addition to validating their work, you will be emphasizing their importance in delivering on your organization’s mission. Consider featuring staff members and their mission-driven successes in fundraising pieces and general communications (social media, newsletters, short video interviews shared on social platforms).

ACKNOWLEDGE

The documented reality is that different generations view work and their relationship with it very differently. Recognize that a one-approach-fits-all is unlikely to satisfy a workforce that is diverse in terms of age, and adapt. Here are some ideas from LinkedIn on tailored approaches for Millennial employees. Acknowledgment also means recognizing people are dealing with many types of stress that can affect their commitment level and productivity. Show your colleagues your humanity by checking in with empathy and grace. During the pandemic, an Executive Director of one of the organizations that CP serves became a father. He readily acknowledged how his new role in the family dramatically transformed his ability to show empathy for his staff’s personal lives and commitments.

CP Vice President Michael Feinstein led a large nonprofit organization in the Washington, DC, area for more than a decade. When COVID hit and remote work became the norm, “I changed the cadence of my one-on-one, team, and staff meetings to check in more frequently and focus on how they were feeling in addition to what they were doing.” He notes that a key to being available to others “was managing my own stress, which meant regular exercise for me.”

EMPOWER

If you’ve hired the right people, give them the freedom to do their jobs. Let them know they have your trust to get the job done even when they aren’t sitting in the same place you are.

BUILD CONNECTION

In a hybrid environment, managers must be far more intentional about creating a sense of connection and belonging. Tactics can be simple but meaningful, such as every Monday morning sending out a message to your team asking how their weekend went and sharing a bit about yours. Intrusive? Perhaps. But people can share as much or as little as they like, and it will help them connect with each other too, especially at a time when they may no longer be bumping into each other in the breakroom. Make it easier for them to feel like they belong to a team.


We welcome new VP Michael Feinstein

I am delighted to announce that Michael Feinstein has joined CP as Vice President. He will make our very strong team even stronger. I’m particularly thrilled because Michael’s expertise in both the nonprofit and commercial worlds will deepen our capabilities in serving small and large nonprofits, both locally and nationally. He brings a business mindset to mission-driven organizations. His wealth of experience in strategic planning and board governance will strengthen the services CP has to offer. I also am excited he will be introducing business planning services to meet the varied needs of our clients. On a personal level, I have known Michael for a decade and have been mightily impressed by his creativity and leadership at Bender JCC. We are very lucky he is bringing his talents to CP as we mark 20 years of providing full-service consulting to nonprofits.

You can learn more about Michael here.


How Dynamic Planning Can Help you Chart a Course During this Unprecedented Time

Dynamic PlanningBefore coronavirus, a strategic plan was enough to navigate the future, but now that we’re dealing with a pandemic and recession (or even a depression), nonprofit leaders need a different way to think about planning that builds in the agility and creativity required during these extraordinary times. And that different way is the fast-paced, flexible Capacity Partners® Framework for Dynamic Planning.

Dynamic Planning sets up a process of regular reassessment during a time of significant change; COVID-19 now, but it could also be unexpected leadership turnover, security breaches, or a sudden major drop in funding. It may seem like two steps forward, one step back for a time, but through an iterative process, boards of directors and staff can use Dynamic Planning to lead their organizations through a rapidly-changing environment and onto the “next normal.”

We’ve identified four stages in Dynamic Planning. In Stage One, you quickly develop a Response Plan that enables your organization to react to a crisis in a purely tactical fashion. While Mission, Vision, and Values still ground your organization, this is the “oh no, what is happening?” stage. During the current COVID-19 crisis, organizations transitioned to telework, assessed cash flows, and set up a response team to keep the organization functioning.

Some organizations are now in Stage Two, or Monitoring. During this stage, you remain flexible to manage ongoing change and adjust your response plan quickly. Focus tends to be operational, and board leadership is critical as your organization figures out funding and strategic direction. You may need to make hard choices about staffing and delivery of your services. Don’t forget to keep your funders and key stakeholders in the loop—communication remains vital to relationships, especially as you continue to pivot.

While adjusting operations and serving the immediate needs of your stakeholders can be all-consuming, at some point you must focus on your future—your “next normal.”  This is what we call Stage Three – Planning Ahead. For some, planning ahead will involve moderate changes to an existing strategic direction; others will need to reinvent their business models significantly.

Your board and key staff will create a series of scenarios based on hypotheticals about what the future holds and different courses of action. You will lay out plans for multiple options since projections in this unprecedented time will often be wrong. Will we have a winter spike or a quick vaccine? When will people be comfortable attending in-person programs and meetings?  Will the financial impact of one scenario vs. another be so great that we will need to revise our services, consider a merger, or dramatically reimagine our future?

The end result of this strategic thinking will be a Dynamic Plan lasting six to twelve months. Those organizations that think strategically and are open to reinventing themselves as necessary will be the ones that not only recover but rebound.

Finally, in Stage Four, Transition, you are ready implement the Dynamic Plan you created in Stage Three. Since the path of COVID-19 and the economic recovery remain so uncertain, you will likely unfold your Dynamic Plan in stages, staying flexible and prepared to pivot as the world continually changes.

Organizational VitalityAs you work your way through the four stages, it is critical that you examine the impact on all facets of your organization, including your culture, stakeholders (board, staff, donors, volunteers, and clients), fundraising, finances, marketing, communications, programs, and technology. As part of our Dynamic Planning Framework, Capacity Partners has created pragmatic worksheets for every stage of the process.

Through Dynamic Planning, your transition will be based on clear thinking, and like a sailboat, tacking to your ultimate destination, you will arrive at a future that advances your mission and enhances your organization.

Capacity Partners’ expert consultants can help your organization use Dynamic Planning to ensure your continued success during these unparalleled times. For a copy of our worksheet or more information on our services, please contact us at info@capacitypartners.com or (240) 462-5151

 

(And click here if you'd like to listen to a short, informative webinar on Dynamic Planning in the Time of Covid-19 and Beyond.)


Strategic Direction: The Heart of the Matter

Capacity Partners has a unique and successful approach to strategic planning with four key phases:

  • FOUNDATION:  Mission, Vision, Values
  • CURRENT SITUATION:  External trends, opportunities and threats; internal strengths and weaknesses; understanding of constituent needs
  • STRATEGIC DIRECTION:  Short-term vision, goals, strategies and timeframe
  • IMPLEMENTATION:  Annual objectives, budget, work plan

The heart of strategic planning is strategic direction, but what is strategic direction? More than just another planning term, it paints a compelling vision of the future and addresses the key questions “where are we going and how are we going to get there?” Incorporating your mission, vision, and culture, ideology and values, it is an essential part of reaching your grand and important goals.

Strategic direction includes:

  1. A one to two-year strategic plan statement (i.e., strategic vision) that describes where the organization wants to go and what it will look like at the end of the plan period and how stakeholders will be affected. It is a word picture that energizes your stakeholders and describes what you expect to achieve.
  2. Five to seven broad goals that articulates the top critical priorities and what needs to be accomplished to realize the vision.
  3. Strategies, to explain how the organization will achieve each goal.

Together, these components form the strategic direction that will guide your organization for the upcoming 3 years.

For example, in its recent strategic plan, the Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MCAEL) set a bold goal of “21,000 by 2021” with this strategic vision statement: “While the coalition of adult ESOL providers remains committed to maintain the quality of programs and instruction and the number of adult learners it serves has increased over the past 6 years, there continue to be tens of thousands of learners who are limited in their English proficiency. By 2021, MCAEL will increase the number of learners who are on a pathway to proficiency from 15,000 to 21,000.”

This ambitious three-year vision drove goals related to increasing numbers of new highly-trained instructors, training new staff, expanding partnerships to enable access to a range of new workplace programs, and enhancing other types of instructional opportunities for English learners.

MCAEL Executive Director Kathy Stevens said, “Capacity Partners is key to our planning and implementation process since the expert help we receive helps us translate the big strategic direction into tangible action steps.”


Preparing for a Capital Campaign: Why You Need a Feasibility Study

A feasibility study, or assessment, is the optimal way to measure the amount of money an organization can raise, at a specific point in time, for a specific project.  It is also an excellent opportunity to explore different issues that affect the ultimate outcome of your capital campaign.  With a campaign assessment in hand, you can proceed with a campaign in confidence, knowing the goal will be both ambitious and achievable.

The Capacity Partners® Feasibility Study is designed to answer these fundamental questions:

  • Likelihood of achieving a specific campaign goal and/or identification of a realistic yet ambitious goal;
  • Capacity and inclination of potential or current major donors;
  • Appeal of the case for support;
  • Identification of campaign leaders;
  • Strength and commitment of campaign leaders and volunteers;
  • Manageability of important issues or concerns.

It is essential to measure the following set of criteria before you launch your campaign so you can achieve success by becoming aware of the potential challenges and areas of strength of your capital campaign.

STRONG INSTITUTION

  • INSTITUTIONAL IMAGE:  Does the organization command the respect and support of potential donors?  How well is it perceived to be serving the needs of primary and secondary stakeholders?  Are there perceptions that might stand in the way of successful fundraising, and can the Executive Leadership and Board overcome any such negative perceptions?
  • SOUND PLAN FOR FUTURE:  Is there a compelling vision and strategic plan guiding the organization and accepted by the community? Is the plan supported by solid financial analysis?
  • PROJECT VALIDATION:  Do potential donors consider the campaign’s objectives to be important?   Would the community be receptive to a capital campaign for these purposes?
  • EFFECTIVE INSTITUTIONAL LEADERSHIP:  Is the Board prepared to offer philanthropic leadership?  Can the Executive Leadership devote sufficient time to her/his leadership role in the campaign?

PREPARED CONSTITUENCY

  • INFORMED STAKEHOLDERS:  Are the key stakeholders and other constituents communicated with regularly and informed about the organization’s plans? Do they feel connected to the organization?
  • MOTIVATED VOLUNTEERS:  Is there a sufficient pool of willing volunteers, within or outside the Board, to build a campaign organization of highly motivated and influential volunteer leaders? Has an individual of sufficient stature and visibility been identified to provide volunteer leadership for the campaign?
  • CULTIVATED PROSPECTS:  Have those individuals most capable of support been cultivated?

   QUANTIFIABLE FINANCIAL SUPPORT

  • IMMEDIATE POTENTIAL:  Are sufficient funds available through donors capable and ready to make pledges of capital gifts totaling the campaign goal over three to five years?  Is there a history of giving, or committed donors, to support such a goal?
  • LEAD GIFTS:  Is there a lead gift of 10% of the campaign goal?  Do the top 10 gifts equal 30-50% of the goal?  Are there likely to be sufficient numbers of major gifts?  Is the current proportion of at least 3 qualified prospects for every gift observed in planning?
  • LONG-TERM CAPACITY:  Does the organization have the potential giving capacity to meet the campaign goals over time, if that potential is cultivated appropriately?

CAMPAIGN INFRASTRUCTURE

  • STAFF:  Does development staff have the range of skills and breadth of experience to lead and support a campaign, with or without the guidance of a consultant?  Have plans been made to add staff based upon the new demands of the campaign?
  • STRUCTURE:  Have preliminary plans for prospect development and research been put in place?
  • SYSTEMS:  Are the appropriate record-keeping systems in place?  Does the software include a prospect management system?  Are databases thorough and up to date?

With a carefully designed and implemented feasibility study, you can prepare your nonprofit organization for a successful, transformative capital campaign. If you'd like to talk to Capacity Partners about a feasibility study or your capital campaign, please don't hesitate to email Mary Robinson mary@capacitypartners.com.


How do you know when you’re ready to do a strategic plan?

Perhaps you and your board have decided your organization needs a new strategic plan. But how do you know if you’re ready to embark on the strategic plan process?  Before you hire that consultant to help you develop a bold yet achievable strategic plan, make sure your key stakeholders – board, staff, and volunteers – have answered these questions.

  1. Is your organization in a state of crisis?  If so, you must deal with the crisis before developing your strategic plan so you have the required mental space and staff time to allow all of you to consider the deeper issues of where it is heading.
  2. Are key board leaders relatively stable?  If your board officers are in transition, it might be wise to wait until they are comfortable in their new roles.
  3. Is the executive director planning to stay?  Are there minimal issues with your CEO? While an organization can do strategic planning without an executive director – and sometimes does, to assess direction and determine the right CEO to hire–for a complete strategic planning process, it is best to have on board the person who will lead the execution of the plan, which is nearly always the executive director.
  4. Do board and staff have time to plan?  While no one has enough time these days, meaningful strategic planning requires a time commitment of at least a half to full day a month for three to six months. The chair of the strategic planning committee and the executive director must dedicate even more time.  Many small nonprofits hope do the impossible – complete a strategic plan in a single half-day planning session, something that’s generally neither wise nor useful.
  5. Do you have someone willing to make the time and energy commitment to chair the strategic planning committee?  It is too much to expect board chair to lead this process while handling their other responsibilities.
  6. Do you want a board or staff-drive process, or some combination of the two? Very small nonprofits tend to choose a board-driven strategic planning process while large organizations with staff members who bring special expertise are often staff-driven. Either way, the board still owns the responsibility for setting the strategic direction, so the board must take the lead on the foundational elements of developing your mission/vision and values as well as setting the strategic direction and goals. Staff can help tremendously with the current situation analysis and creating strategy and implementation plans.
  7. What kind of consultant do you want – a partner to guide you through the entire process, or a facilitator with your team doing most of the work? It is important to interview different consultants and so that your needs match with the consultant’s style.

If you’d like to learn if your organization is ready for a strategic plan, or if you’re ready to start the planning process, call Capacity Partners at 240-462-5151 to learn if our team of experts can help you decide if you are ready to proceed and then discuss next steps with you.


Are You and Your Nonprofit Ready for a Change?

Upon engaging our services — whether it’s for strategic planning, board development or fundraising — most nonprofit staff and board leaders eagerly tell us what they hope we will accomplish for them and how anxious they are to receive our recommendations.

Sometimes they share confidential information about another person or group who needs to improve in some way — by thinking more strategically, working more efficiently, and so forth. Working collaboratively, we do our very best to create the plan or process that will lead nonprofit leaders to their goal.

Inevitably, our strategic planning process or development plan calls for every person involved in the organizational initiative to change in some way, large or small. Some people jump on the opportunity to grow, but for most, change is tough. “Not me,” says the board member with an iPhone full of contacts, “I cannot ask people for money. I volunteer my time.” “Not me,” says the executive director, “I was hired because I have X skills – don’t ask me to do Y.” And so on.

Whether an organization is forging a new strategic direction or raising sights for fundraising, the hardest and most important thing to learn and put into action is the simple truth we all know: change begins with me.

I experienced the challenge of change when it came to creating the new website for Capacity Partners. I solicited professional advice about my decision to launch a simple e-newsletter — and was told by many experts that I needed a new website. Yikes! It took me months to agree. Next I was told I needed new colors. Ouch! Then I was told we really needed a new logo. That was the hardest to stomach.

But more was coming: our messaging needed to improve, our photos needed to be changed, our font was wrong — etc. etc. After resisting every step of the way, I finally decided – THEY ARE RIGHT! And in that moment I opened myself to change and to the creation of our beautiful new logo and website. Many thanks to all those who pushed me to be my better self!

The point of resistance is where one most needs to grow. For me, that point was recognizing that Capacity Partners had outgrown my valiant attempts to do it all myself, and was calling for a more professional approach — and that it is time for me to focus on that which I do best.

Thanks for visiting our new blog! In future posts, the Capacity Partners team and I will be sharing stories of what we do best in nonprofit strategy and development, and what we’ve learned in working with fantastic clients over the past 15 years.


Nonprofit Success Starts with a Clear, Compelling Vision

Recently, a development director for a community-based nonprofit approached me for help. Her boss was pressuring her to come up with a clever, cutting-edge way to raise money – some trick they hadn’t tried. She asked me for a “new” idea.

My first question was this: “Does your nonprofit have a clear vision of what your community will look like when you achieve your goals?”

Her answer was no. They know their mission. They have great activities. They offer innovative programs. They have a dynamic team that can talk eloquently about what their organization does.

However, they cannot describe to others – at least not those beyond their passionate inner circle – how their nonprofit is making a difference for everyone in the community. They aren’t effectively communicating to potential donors why the organization’s work really matters and thus merits support.

I suggested that they start by creating a clear and compelling vision of a better future for the community that their nonprofit supports – a vision that is easy to explain and that immediately resonates with those outside the organization.

At Capacity Partners, we specialize in helping nonprofit leaders move their organizations from vision to action. For us, vision is at the very heart of effective strategic planning and fundraising. In our experience, it’s nearly impossible for nonprofits to achieve sustained success without a vision for the future that motivates and inspires.

Yes, I also ran through some basic development strategies with the development director. For instance, her nonprofit might benefit from a leadership club or a membership program.

However, fundraising tactics like these will fall flat unless they are linked to vision that makes people say, “Yes! – this is the kind of world I want, I believe in your capacity to make it happen, and I want to invest in you.”

People invest in people – and in their vision.