Category Archives: Communications

Please be our next board chair

By Molly Hansen, Vice President, The Alford Group

 

 

“Please be our next board chair. Joe, Sarah, and Ben have all turned us down and Andrew doesn’t want to stay on for another term.”

Has this ever happened to you or in your organization? With thoughtful planning and leadership development you can create a reality where begging for board officers and committee leaders just doesn’t happen.

In a 2015 BoardSource survey, only 49% of nonprofit CEOs agreed that their organizations had an effective process in place for officer succession. CEOs often navigate (survive?) multiple chair transitions, and cited building a board leadership pipeline as being among the most important area for board improvement.

A recent Board Effect blog post cites the report Succession Planning for the Non-profit Board Chair that finds:

“Most organizations can survive the successful election to the Board of an individual or two whose group participation skills and leadership attributes are less than stellar, as other stronger members of the Board will generally neutralize any adverse consequences to the organization. However, placing Board members into the organization’s highest leadership positions is a much higher-stakes proposition. Persons in elected leadership positions with mediocre leadership skills will, at best, do no harm, but might cause the association to miss strategic advantageous opportunities. Persons with poor leadership skills may create organization dysfunctions that may take years from which to recover, if ever.” Continue reading

Making the Most of Volunteers

Are your volunteers worth their weight in gold, or are they simply weighing you down?

By Laura Edman, Vice President, The Alford Group   Read Laura’s Bio

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Why do I bother with volunteers? It would be so much easier if I just do this myself.”

I admit it; over my 30-plus years as a fundraising professional, that thought has crossed my mind more than once. Yet whenever that happens, I think about the many times during my career when volunteers have made the critical difference between success and failure, between reaching that stretch campaign goal and falling short, or between successfully recruiting that key board member and having them turn down the opportunity.

So, how can you make sure that your volunteers really are worth their weight in gold, instead of being too much trouble to bother with? Here are some tips that might help you and some resources for more information. Continue reading

Three Corporate/Social Sector Partnership Conversations I’m Having Right Now

By Diane Knoepke, Vice President, The Alford Group

 

Over just the past few months, we have been the beneficiaries of an absolute embarrassment of riches in terms of high-powered convenings and insight-filled reports related to corporate/social sector collaboration and investment. I dare say we are seeing an unprecedented level of research and conversation about the role of companies in driving social sector outcomes and vice versa. While digesting it all can feel like sipping from a firehose, I’m finding that so many of my partnership conversations right now are coming back to three themes, all of which are supported and driven by these great insights coming from all corners of the corporate social innovation and philanthropic worlds.

#1 Heightened consumer expectations, and how companies are responding

Sixty percent (60%) of Americans now expect companies to play a greater role in society, particularly given the new administration. Tina-Marie Adams, Midwest Managing Director of APCO Worldwide, shared this data point at last month’s Social Innovation Summit, drawn from research her firm had recently completed. This is further borne out by data from Cone Communications’ 2017 CSR Study, which found that “millennials are putting their faith in companies to ignite change,” with 71% of millennials hopeful that business will take the lead (compared to U.S. average of 63%). Continue reading

Optics Matter: Avoiding Red Flags that Undermine Your Fundraising Efforts

By Amy Hines, Senior Vice President, The Alford Group

With the start of an unprecedented intergenerational wealth transfer, not-for-profits have a lot to gain by avoiding any inadvertent pitfalls that deter potential donors from contributing to their efforts. With access to the internet, donors do not have to rely on government scrutiny to avoid unscrupulous charities (Besides, government entities have limited authority as watchdogs). Donors can look for evidence themselves, vetting charities with a tap or a click.

Maintaining integrity is key—but ensuring that an organization’s optics convey that integrity is also essential.

A potential donor’s due diligence before opening her wallet, is likely to take place by heeding to the credo–“follow the money.” While that may in fact be just a line in a movie, it resonates in the philanthropic ether as a sound way to approach investigating an organization’s worthiness.

How do potential donors assess the money trail? There are several logical ways:

  1. Look at the organization’s website to see if financial information is being reported in a transparent way.
  2. Go online to GuideStar, the primary resource for accessing an organization’s IRS 990 and comparing similar organizations.
  3. Go online to Charity Navigator to see how the organization is rated.
  4. Go online to BBB Wise Giving, to check out whether they have been accredited as a trustworthy national organization.

 

It’s important for not-for-profits to manage the optics of their organizations in these four locations. Here’s how. Continue reading

One Key Practice of Today’s Leading Cause Marketers

Feature Image 5 Midway through last week’s Cause Marketing Forum (CMF), during Katrina McGhee’s great talk on personal branding, I noted that a significant number of the CMF presenters—representing both causes and companies—were explicitly emphasizing one key practice. These cause marketing leaders focus on their strengths. They understand their organizational strengths and partner with others to mitigate their organizational weaknesses. In contrast to the trends earlier this decade when it started to feel like major cause marketers were shifting to owning self-made cause platforms over building partnership portfolios, this strengths-based approach is facilitating significant creativity and impact.

Instead of adopting a certain trend in structure or activation, today’s cause marketing leaders are focusing on what will work for them. For some, that is creating an owned national platform with local and agency partners providing support. For others, it is forging one or more partnerships of complementary opposites who each bring what the other needs. Through collaboration, they are then able to achieve the business and social impact results that they could not have achieved on their own.

Four Examples from Cause Marketing Forum 2016:

A few examples (of many, many more) that I found particularly instructive from last week’s event: Continue reading

There are donors and then there are donors!!

This past week I was away from Seattle doing client work for a national organization with many programs around the country and the world.  They are doing incredibly good work for a large number of people and have significant volunteer and donor support.  Over the past four years they have seen a decline in their giving to one particular program and they are attempting to discover why—hence our firm’s involvement.

One of their affiliates arranged for two focus groups.  The first was comprised of people who did not support this particular program, the second was comprised of people who did.  It was a wonderful contrast of communication, style, personality, trust and values.

A common trait was that both groups are generous and both groups significantly give of their resources especially for local programs.  I find it very rewarding to be around generous people: they know who they are; they know what they value; they care about the community, their neighbors and people they may never know.  It was enjoyable to discuss the programs with both groups, who asked specific, well-stated questions.

Here are several things I discovered from these two groups:

  • Some people just need more information than others.  The donor group was trusting and required little information to respond to the need.  The non-donor group needed a lot of data and felt they were not getting it.
  • Some people judge an organization as a whole, while others are selective in their judgment.  The non-donor group had larger issues with the national organization and although those issues did not relate to the program being discussed, it kept them from responding to the financial need.  The donor group had the ability to put aside any issues they may have around other national policies or procedures and respond to this particular need.
  • “Connectivity” is different for different people.  The individuals in the non-donor group felt more connected locally and wondered why a national connection was necessary.  The donor group felt connections both locally and nationally.  They valued being connected nationally because they, as individuals, could do even more and have greater impact on people’s lives, than they ever could as an individual or local group.

After the time spent with both groups, I also discovered the importance of leadership around these three observations.  Leadership (staff and volunteer) needs to take the observations above to heart as they communicate with both donors and non-donors.  Why are these programs important?  Why must we respond to the need the programs are addressing?  What is the impact now?  What will be the impact in the future?  Will you join with me and the many others in our organization who financially support these programs in giving what you can?

As you reflect on the ideas and observations here, let me or the other readers know your thoughts or experiences around donors and non-donors.  I look forward to reading your comments.

All the best,

Tom

Keeping in Touch

Thank you to my colleague, Debbie Marchione, for her post last week on communications.  A simple concept – yet often over looked.  She illustrated that we have many ways to communicate these days and we need to do our best to take advantage of those communication lines.

Communications is an active process, a thoughtful process and even a deliberate process.  It does not come easy and requires work on the part of the communicator and the receiver.  For the most part we are the communicators seeking to give information to the receiver.  The receiver is mostly passive and we may not be sure (unless we take Debbie’s advice) that our message is getting across to them.

Last summer I was at a meeting with other consultants listening to a panel presentation comprised of significant foundation executives.  One of the representatives told a story that the only time he heard from any charity is when it wanted more money.  No one ever talked with him to ask for advice or counsel, to give him updates on the last grant or to provide data or information in a general way on the issues an organization may be addressing by fulfilling its mission.  In other words, communication was very “thin” and did not allow for relationships to be formed in a meaningful way.

About 25 years ago (before the computer age) I was attending a workshop at an AFP Conference and the late John Miltner, who at the time was the Vice Chancellor for University Relations at UC Irvine, was speaking about donor communications and relationship building.  During the course of his talk he opened his briefcase and took out 50 four by six index cards and indicated that these cards represented the 50 most important donors to UC Irvine.  At the time I thought to myself, “Do I know who my 50 most important donors are?”

On each card he had birth dates, anniversary dates, children’s names, addresses, phone numbers, the last contact date with the donor, the next contact date planned and who would be the contact leader from the University.  UC Irvine probably had over 10,000 donors, yet these were the Top 50 and John kept them with him all the time, working the list and utilizing the Chancellor or a Dean to keep the lines of communication open on a one to one basis.  John knew how to “keep in touch” with those who had made or could make significant contributions to his University.

Who are your Top 50 current or potential donors?  How are you “keeping in touch” with them?  Share your ideas and strategies so that others might learn from you.  I look forward to your thoughts.

All the best,

Tom

Finding Your Organization’s Voice By Listening

With non-profits working even harder to do more with less, it becomes even more important to find out if your stakeholders – volunteers, donors, prospects – are actually hearing your messages.   Do you know when, where and how your stakeholders want to hear from you?

The number and variety of communication channels have increased exponentially in the past five years, as have the expectations of our audience.  Prospects, donors, and volunteers expect to be able to engage in a vibrant, multi-pronged conversation about the things they care about.  It’s your responsibility to be part of that conversation.  Not as a megaphone, but as a genuine contributor – listening, asking questions, learning and sharing what you know.

The first step to doing this well is to find out where your stakeholders are, and what they are saying about you.  In a word: listen.

There are many different tools available to help you listen.  The first, and often most overlooked – is to simply ASK people.  Put an article in the newsletter, a feedback form on your website, or create a simple online survey using a tool like SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang.

Determine what keywords people use to search for you, and for the issues you address.  Search those keywords and see where the active conversations are taking place.  Set up Google Alerts to have links to conversations, articles and blog posts based on the top 10-15 keywords sent to your email, or use an RSS Reader such as Google Reader or NetVibes to further organize your listening, and reduce your email clutter.  Identify the most influential people in those conversations, and begin to follow them as well.  Other tools you can use include Technorati, Boardreader, Backtype and Delicious tags.

Start with the keyword searching, and build from there.  You won’t be able to adapt all of these tools overnight, but listening is the most important first step into deepening your capacity to interact with stakeholders in a meaningful way, and help ensure that your communications are shared in a place and way where people can and will listen to you.

For additional ideas and resources, check out Beth Kanter’s Social Media Listening wiki, Mashable.com, or NTEN’s We Are Media wiki as starting points.

– Debbie Marchione,  Senior Consultant, The Alford Group