Making Connections

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Making Connections

My client’s fundraising “event” became an online “funding activity” this year. No, it was not a sophisticated Zoom event with program remarks, but instead we used a mail appeal that was supported by follow up calls, an online video (pieced together by a talented volunteer) and a couple of supporting eblasts. Honestly, it was nothing fancy.

But one thing I did differently, was contact our major donors using my cell phone. First, I gathered my thoughts and wrote down what I wanted to say.  Then I recorded individualized “selfie” videos to my phone and sent them off one by one. Yes, this required lots of “do-overs” and ridiculous outtakes, but despite the added effort, I felt more authentic sending messages this way. It was the closest thing to human contact I could muster.

My message was simple.

To the people who hadn’t given yet, I greeted them by name, and told them (in one sentence how their past support helped this agency) and then asked for their continued support, if they were able to do so.

For those who had already donated, I also used their name in the greeting, and asked them to help spread the word about the online auction to their friends, family members, and work colleagues.

It turns out the donors found it more meaningful than a typical voice mail. Many of them texted back to say so – and honestly, I felt more connected to them too.

One pleasant surprise is that many donors made second gifts. Another is that we got donations from new people (thank you donors who helped to spread the word!)  All in all, we raised more money than ever before for this nonprofit.

Another client’s Executive Director did something similar. He used his computer (Windows’ native camera application) and uploaded the video to his personal YouTube account. Then, he sent links of the video through a clickable hyperlink.

However, we approach contacting our donors, it is evident that we need to reinvent ourselves, and find new meaningful ways.  As we try them out, we promise to pass these ideas on to you. After all, we are all in this together.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Lifelong Learning and the Art of Fundraising

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I’ve got more than a few years behind me in my career, but I continue to learn how to emulate best practices in fundraising.  You should too.

Start by acknowledging that fundraising is always evolving.  Think about how fundraising has changed since you first started practicing.  Not all of us will remember what it was like before computers, multi media presentations, and PowerPoint slides.  But even in recent years, there have been dramatic changes in technology that make it possible to immediately fulfill gifts at events, in online cohorts and affinity groups that build community, and in Board portals that save trees and make vast amounts of information accessible anytime and anywhere to our most important supporters.

These are just a few examples.  Make sure you have people on your team who constantly scan for new, cutting edge, best practices.  You may not be the tech wiz yourself, but make sure your most accomplished technology practitioners are empowered to look outside the organization to find new solutions that will maximize your fundraising potential and make it easier for your donors to support your organization.

Remember, too, that fundraising is more art than science.  Be creative.  Resist putting everything on automatic pilot, or just doing what was done last year.  Look for the opportunity to give your donors a delightful surprise.  Make them smile when they encounter the next communication from you.  Touch their hearts with stories from the people who are helped by the generosity of your donors.  Let the beauty of the work your organization does shine through in your communications.  And don’t forget to step back occasionally and admire the results you are getting!

Finally, savor the fact that fundraising broadens our understanding of the world and its people.  Learn to see the world through the eyes of those whom you serve.  Understanding perspectives different from our own makes us better fundraisers.  The work we do is multicultural, multi-generational, and populated by a range of abilities, intellects, and aspirations.  It is humbling to know that the more effective we are as fundraisers, the more good can be done by our organization.

No matter where you are in your fundraising career, make it a habit to assess what you learned this week that can make you a more effective fundraiser next week!

by: Steven Murphy, Ed.D., Senior Advisor, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Nonprofit Tech Talk: Project Management

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Today’s guest post is by Zachary Stombaugh, MS, Just Write Solutions Consultant.

Previously, we discussed project management as a component of grants activities. In today’s Nonprofit Tech Talk, we’ll dive into some general guidelines for the different ways to manage projects, as well as a few tools you and your organization can use.

So, what is project management (PM)? PM refers to the processes you (or your organization) have in place to ensure you meet the different milestones of any given project. I like to think of PM in four primary stages:

  1. What is the project, what needs to be accomplished, and vague idea of when it needs to be completed.
  2. Who is going to do what, when are they going to do it, and what steps will we take to make sure we are doing what we need to do when we need to do it.
  3. Getting the planned work done and modifying the plan as needed.
  4. Having all work done when it needs to be done.

In a perfect world, each step would occur consecutively without issue. But, the reality is that projects can and will run into problems at some stage. A vital part of PM is including an expectation of issues in the planning stage (sounds easy enough, right?). In doing so, it is important to recognize the different roles your team members will have. The most common roles include:

  • Project Champion. This is the person who may not be directly involved with the project execution, but has a vested interest in making sure the project is completed well, on time, and according to specifications.
  • Project Manager. As the name implies, the Project Manager is most often the person responsible for direct oversight of the project. This individual will coordinate with the various team members (and any other relevant parties) to ensure specific milestones are met. The Project Manager will have a plan in place to accommodate any changes to the project, and will play a key role in ensuring a smooth project time.
  • Project Team Member. These individuals are those responsible for the groundwork in meeting milestones. They are the ones doing the work that needs to be done, and are responsible for communicating with the Project Manager and Champion as to the status of that work.

Now, this outline does not fit all organizations; often, one person may fill several or even all these roles. While an organization grows, it is important to provide these avenues for delegation to not only grow your team but also to keep a structured PM scheme. As the size and scope of your organization’s efforts get larger, having individuals focus on fulfilling any single aspect of a project can lead to efficiency increases and less stress for the team. Further, a well-defined PM schema can help keep expectations clear across projects.

Once you have an idea of how your PM will be setup, you should identify which tools you will use. Today, there are many online and offline tools for project management. To understand which tool is best for you, it may be best to think of your organization’s projects—once again—in terms of size and scope:

  • Basic paper or electronic TO DO lists (like Todoist, a paper notepad, or even a spreadsheet) are simple, straightforward ways to track your project goals. Because of their simplicity, these tools are best on an individual basis, where the roles mentioned above have significant overlap. Even in larger projects, they may prove useful for individual manager or team members. But, for larger projects, they lack the means for continued oversight.
  • Collaborative platforms, such as BasecampFreedcampAsana, or Trello, are the next step up in terms of managing projects. Platforms like these typically include the basic TO DO list, in addition to much more powerful tracking tools (Gantt charts, project templates, member reporting, etc.). I find these tools most effective in small groups that require regular interaction with one another. Typically, the Manager and Champion will be a single person who may also be involved partially in the team’s work. While these platforms are useful for most teams, even they lack organization-wide PM integrations.
  • Enterprise platforms are at the top of the PM hierarchy, both in terms of capability and complexity (and cost!). This level includes the likes of Microsoft Project and smartsheet. The main draws of an enterprise-level platform include information and portfolio management, scheduling, engagement, and software integration / continuum (connecting to your other software tools). In addition, these tools are often installed and operated on-site, managed by a dedicated IT team.

While we hope this blog is useful for you and your organization, we understand that it is not easy to achieve a working PM plan. Even harder is to develop a PM plan that is sustainable and cost-effective. The most common causes of project failure are poor planning and poor communication. Taking steps to outline your PM strategy will not only reduce the stress your personally endure, but also contribute considerably in your organization’s ability to fulfill its mission.

Does your organization use a project management tool, and if so, what tool(s) do you use?

What steps could you or your organization use to improve its current project management plan?