Monday, January 31, 2011

Is the Fundraising Cup Half Empty or Half Full?

Predictions about current nonprofit fundraising efforts keep ranging from optimistic to gloomy and back again - even within the same reports. A new survey by The Chronicle of Philanthropy indicates that 62% of those polled raised more in November and December 2010 than at the same time in 2009. Almost 70% said their 2010 numbers would exceed 2009, and over one-third raised more in 2010 than they did before the onset of the global recession.

At the same time, another one-third reported that their contributions decreased, and 10% said giving remained the same. And almost half reported that their donated income for the year was less than the amount they had been able to raise prior to the economic downturn.

In the midst of all this fundraising uncertainty, it is both useful and encouraging to hear some success stories. Here are some of the strategies that helped those nonprofits that were effective in increasing donor contributions:

  • More frequent (but shorter) appeals. The Foundation for Jewish Culture in New York more than doubled its year-end giving by asking more often, setting dollar goals to reach within short timelines.
  • Expanded options for earmarked giving. A Volunteer Center in California found people responded positively to appeals that offered several specific options to choose from for their donation's impact.
  • More email appeals in November and December. Ramapo for Children, a New York camp for young people with special needs, discovered that folks who received three email appeals at the end of the year were more likely to give than those who got just one.
  • Publicizing loss of government income. The Elizabethtown Public Library in Pennsylvania made sure their community knew the extent of state cutbacks for library services. In the current climate, folks are very aware that government funding is being slashed - and they are sympathetic. Making sure your donors and members know that your agency has been directly affected can be an effective strategy.
  • Increasing the number of total donors. The New York Council for the Humanities was able to double the number of donors. People may not be able to give as much as in the past, so a strategic focus on expanding outreach and increasing numbers can really pay off.
  • Coordinating online and direct-mail efforts. The Trust for Public Land in San Francisco focused on making sure their online and direct-mail appeals complemented each other. The result was that their donors increased by 29%. For next year, their goal is a 45% increase.

Effective marketing, strategic use of both conventional and online tools, clear communication about the value of each donation, a diversity of giving options; all of these go hand-in-hand with the most basic tenets of fundraising - stating your case articulately and passionately, working hard to build and sustain donor relationships, and using all the appropriate methods available to ask for people to participate in furthering your mission.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

To Committee or Not to Committee

Are you feeling frustrated about your organization's committees? Are the meetings chaotic, unproductive, or simply non-existent? Do you struggle to find enough volunteers to reach critical mass? Does the fundraising committee fail to raise money, the nomination committee fail to recruit, and the personnel committee fail to effectively evaluate your executive director?

If so, stop wasting time and start streamlining your committee structure:
  • Eliminate most of your standing committees. Maintaining inactive and unproductive committees is foolish, time-consuming, and can lead to staff and volunteer burnout. Use committees only when it is clear the issues are too complex or too numerous to be managed by the full board.
  • Creative specific time-limited task forces and ad hoc committees. Your board members and volunteers will feel much more motivated signing up to work on projects with defined goals and deadlines, rather than on a standing committee with a vague purpose and no end in sight. Tasks can include evaluating programs, reviewing marketing plans, updating personnel policies, and planning special events.
  • Make fundraising a job for the full board. Providing adequate resources is first and foremost a board responsibility; effective fundraising is an important measure of the board's capabilities and commitment. Yet most board members shy away from soliciting donations, and few are willing to join a fundraising committee. The best way to get every board member to fundraise is to make this a core function of the whole board.
  • Recruit skilled volunteers who are not board members. Each committee should have a critical mass of at least five people: two board members, the appropriate staff member - and committed non-board members with relevant expertise.
  • Schedule effectively and efficiently. Use email and online bulletin boards for progress reports; schedule meetings for strategic planning, decision-making, and assignments. Establish a timed agenda, stay focused, and make sure your meetings last no longer than two hours - after that, no one attending will be paying much attention or at their best.
Two permanent committees are essential:
  1. The Finance Committee is charged with ongoing financial oversight. This includes developing projected budgets, tracking actual spending vs. the budget, looking at cash flow, overseeing insurance coverage, assessing salaries and benefits, and reviewing financial policies.
  2. The Governance Committee is responsible for the health and functioning of the board, as well as maintaining a good board/staff relationships. This includes determining what skills are required on the board, recruiting new board and committee members, recommending a slate of officers, orienting new members, reviewing and updating organizational policies, assessing the board's work, organizing board retreats, and conducting an annual executive director performance review.
There is no one correct model for a nonprofit committee structure. What your organization needs to further its mission is dependent on your organizational culture, its size and budget, and how long you've been around. Plus your needs will change as your nonprofit grows and evolves. Be thoughtful and creative as you assess what functions and what doesn't, and establish a committee structure that will truly work for your organization.