Fundraising Strategies for 2011


Resolutions for next year’s fundraising and thoughts about this year
I know that this might not be the end of the fiscal year for you, but hopefully the moolah is pouring in, and you are probably taking stock of where you are compared to last year. You’re also -probably setting some goals, even though they may already be written in your strategic plan and in your performance goals, and you may even be showing these goals on a big thermometer or dashboard. Here is my holiday suggestion for celebrating and planning:

IF you made more than last year…
    $    You are a genius
    $    The right person died
    $    Someone isn’t counting correctly
    $    You got board training (maybe from moi!)
    $    You deserve champagne, or the carbohydrate of your choice

IF you brought in the same as last year…
    $    You are working like a dog
    $    You have a great relationship with your donors
    $    You have an engaged board
    $    New sources of funds were explored and mined
    $    You deserve a gin and tonic (will keep you from getting
          malaria and rickets if served with lime) and a tasty dog biscuit

IF you are around 12% below last year…
    $    You are doing the same as the top 400 national charities, and
          are in good company
    $    You are using the same solid methods that worked in the past
    $    Your board might be putting pressure on you, but not on each
    $    New plans are being explored but not yet implemented
    $    It’s time for a white wine spritzer and a bowl of mixed nuts

IF you are off more than 30% from last year…
    $    You might live in one of the many places in the U.S. that have
          been clobbered by the economy; i.e. Detroit, Las Vegas, and
          many parts of the Gulf Coast; your community has more need
          and less money
    $    Your donors are stressed and you may have been asking them
          for more; if you haven’t been getting more, perhaps they don’t
          have it, or you aren’t acknowledging their position
    $    Your board is burned out; they are trying to run a marathon at
          a sprinters speed; they need care, kindness and support when
          you are the most stressed; a job with unlimited free fries is
          staring to look good
    $    All plans feel like they were written in invisible ink and don’t
          make any sense; everyone is second-guessing you
    $    It’s time to cry in your beer, have a pity party, and then get to

Every year, I start with planning on more diet and exercise. I find these two a soothing transition to beginning every new year. For your organization to keep the doors open, serve your clients and prosper, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Celebrate what you did accomplish in 2010. It’s been a rough year for everyone. You are still in business.
  2. Plan an education program for the board and staff. You can’t sell what you don’t know. Start every board meeting with “a mission moment.” Educate the staff on how other groups are accomplishing your mission. Get committees together to work on it and get it off your plate. Build some internal capacity.
  3. As a nonprofit leader, educate yourself. Great books to read, with totally conflicting messages that will leave you scratching your head and mesmerized: The Pollyanna Principle by Hildy Gottlieb and Uncharitable by Dan Pallotta. One is a crunchy granola communitarian approach to our sector, the other is totally Ayn Rand capitalism.
  4. Get a mentor. I have a social media mentor who is a med student. I helped her write her Bats Mitzvah speech years ago. I am mentoring a planned giving officer with marketing her professional speaking business. She is helping me with my estate planning. It doesn’t always have to be reciprocal. Dig in your pocket and pay someone for help. It’s time to get better.
  5. Plan to educate your board in fundraising. If you have the money, bring me or someone else in to train them. Buy copies of “Transforming Ordinary People into Fundraising Superheroes” for every board member and train them yourselves. And remember, I do 12 pro bono gigs a year and there is still space available for 2011. Learn more here
  6. Spend some time with people away from work and relax. You can’t help others if you don’t take care of yourself.

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Exit interviews for board members

Many of you have board members whose terms are ending. As some board members leave, you might feel truly bereft. With others, you might be fighting the urge to run down the street screaming “free at last, free at last.” Regardless of how you feel about the board member who is leaving, an exit interview is invaluable.

Who should do the exit interview? You will want a current board member and the Executive Director/CEO. The board member might be the chair of the board or the chair of the governance/nominating committee. The reason you want two people, one from staff and one from board, is that based on what you learn from the interview, changes might need to be made from the governance or the program side. Also, if promises are made for future contributions, either intellectual or monetary, you will want some depth of institutional memory.

What should you ask in the interview? Here are some sample questions:
What did you enjoy most about your board service?
What did you enjoy least?
Did you feel prepared to be a board member? If not, what could we do better?
Were your talents used effectively?
For the executive director to ask, “How can I do a better job?”
For the board person, “How can I be more effective?”
What would you like your involvement to be in the future with our organization?
If there is only one thing we could call you to do in the future, what would it be?

Ann Mack, the Executive director of Trailnet and I sat down to do an exit interview with a 7 figure donor. He had something of a rough ride with the organization because his enormous donation did not produce the expected results. There was a change of leadership during his board tenure and Ann came on. This gentleman said that he really wanted a rest from Trailnet. I ultimately asked the question, “If there is only one thing we could call you about, what would it be?” He then started to talk about his vision of the future and his passion for our work. He said not to call him for 6 months. Ann told him about a project that might be of interest, and he suggested that he emphatically stated that he would not get involved for 6 weeks. This was several weeks before Christmas, and I said, “So you are saying, we shouldn’t call you on Christmas day?” He said, “Actually, my relatives are coming over. Christmas Day would be fine.”

You will leave, as we did, with a sense of closure and valuable knowledge for both future involvement and better governance practices.

It isn’t too early to plan your board training for 2010. To learn more about scheduling a board retreat with Carol, click here, or call 314 863 4422 or e-mail at

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Sneaky and Insightful Questions for the Boardroom, Retreats and for Generative Thinking

Sneaky and Insightful Boardroom Questions

By Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP

            A number of years ago I was facilitating a retreat with the psycho board from hell. They made the Taliban look like wimps. There were only 13 board members and 15 factions. I was called in to make them play nicely I was clueless how to do it. I was sitting at my desk an hour before the retreat with my head in my hands. Our daughter came in and asked what was wrong. I told her I had no idea what I was going to do. She patted me on the head and said that I would figure it out. Great, a 15-year-old had faith in me. I grabbed my brief case and headed out the door.

            Sure enough, she was right. Five blocks before I reached the retreat venue, I figured it out. We started with the question, “If an abused woman came to your agency for help, how should she expect to be treated.” The board spoke eloquently as I filled 12 pages of flip chart paper with words like “with respect, decency, with an eye towards education and as a child of God.” I then asked, “If a person joined your board, how should your new member expect to be treated?” An elderly gentleman with an accent that was a cross between Bugs Bunny and Henny Youngman accent exclaimed, “We’ve been twicked.”

            We then spent 5 hours talking about how the board could model in the board room the behavior they expected from the staff towards a client.

            I am leaving today to work with another troubled board. We will start with note cards. I will be asking them, “List 3 adjectives describing your organization.” I have a feeling the list won’t be pretty. After many hours of interviews, words like, “shaky, suspicious, unprofessional, unkind, malicious” might top the list. I will then ask them to list three adjectives reflecting how they would like their nonprofit to be described. Our discussion will revolve around how to get from point A to point B.

            Other questions to ask in your board room to get discussion going at your next retreat, generative discussion session or strategic planning meeting:

  1. List 5 reasons to put our organization in your will.
  2. List 5 reasons why someone wouldn’t want to be a donor. As a group, brainstorm how to overcome these objections.
  3. If a donor came to us today with $5 million (you pick the number) what would our first priority be? Our second? Our third?
  4.  If you had unlimited resources, what is the one thing you as a board member would like to do for the population we serve?
  5. Ask the staff to present a wish list from under a dollar to over a million.
  6. Ask the staff for a wish list of gifts of time from highly skilled labor ranging from “done in a day” tasks.
  7. What do we do better than any one else in our field?
  8. What program does another agency do better than we do?
  9. What do we do that is the hardest to fund?

10.  If our largest funder went away tomorrow, how would we make up the difference? (If you are getting more than 50% of your funds from one source, put this question at the top of the list)

11.  Have our clients changed in the last 10 years. If so, how have our services changed to meet those changes?

12.  If you can change one law to help our cause, what would it be?

13.  How has the digital age affected the way we do business? What could we do better and how can we get there?

14.  What 3 numbers best tell the story of what we do? i.e. one out of four girls is sexually abused by age 18, one out of 6 boys.

15.  If you are an agency that works to find a cure for disease, how would you like to celebrate a cure?

16.  Why did you join this board?

17.  If Bill Gates were sitting next to you on a plane and you had a chance to explain what we did, how would you pitch our program?

18.  How do you define “our community” when you talk about those we serve?

19.  How do you define “our community” when you talk about those we go to for funding?

20.  If you could swap jobs with a staff member for a day, what would you want to try and why?

21.  Is there anything you have always wanted to do on behalf of our organization and haven’t been asked? (Understand that you might still not be asked. For instance, if you are an opera company and would like to be asked to stand in for the lead, this still might not happen or if you are a hospital and you have no medical background, you still won’t be invited into the operating room to replace a surgeon.)

22.  If the President of the United States called and invited you to Washington to seek your advice on our issue, what would you tell him we must change and why?

23.  If money were no object, how would you spend the rest of your life?

24.  Knowing that we all die someday and that our eulogy will be written, what would you like to be said about your accomplishments as a member of this board?

25.  Is there a question you’ve always wanted to ask in a board meeting that you either thought you should already know the answer to, or was too complicated or too simple, please ask it now. It can pertain to our history, our future, our procedures or some odd combination of letters we use that everyone seems to understand.

26.  Using only one word, how would you describe your first impression of the name of our organization?

27.  Using only one word, how would you describe your first impression of the mission statement of our organization? Do you know the mission statement of our organization? Do you see it as only a legal description or as a marketing and fundraising tool?

28.  Boy’s Town was the subject of a movie many years ago with Bing Crosby. Who would you like to do a movie about your (change to our) organization and who would star it? Cast the board and the staff.

29.  What keeps the board leadership up at night when thinking about this organization?

30.  What keeps the staff up at night when thinking of this organization?

31.  Given that famous people can quickly become infamous people (think Tiger Woods, Martha Stewart and Ken Lay from Enron), who would you have as our spokesperson if you could have anyone?

32.  What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a great evening out? What would you pay for it?

33.  Tell us about a work of art that has touched your life?

34.  What is the most recent compliment you have received that you smile about in private?

35.  What was the last time you wanted to let loose and go screaming into the night?

36.  What childhood dream has come true for you? Who, if anyone, helped make that happen?

37.  What lasting lesson have you learned from working with our organization or in relation to our mission?

38.  What one new thing have you learned in the last week?

39.  Nietzsche said, “That which will not kill you will make you strong.” What have you done that has made you strong and what has made this organization strong? What is the most entrepreneurial thing you’ve ever done? Would you take a similar risk as a board member for this organization? If so, why? If not, why not?

40.  If you were to start this organization all over again, what would you do differently?

41.  You’ve got a call from the Rose Bowl Parade to design a float for the parade to represent the work you do at our nonprofit. What would be the theme and how would you represent it to the millions watching as you pass by? What music would be playing? Who would be on your float?

42.  If there was one question that never really gets asked that you would like an honest answer to with no recriminations, what would it be?

43.  What does “success” mean to you in terms of your work as a board member?

44.  How can you determine if our organization as a whole is successful?

45.  What is the best way to inspire board members? (see last month’s ezine)

46.  What is the best way to inspire staff?

47.   What is one thing you know for sure about our mission?

48.  When would it be appropriate for the staff to call you in the middle of the night?

49.  What scares you most about the future of our organization?

50.  Is there anything that makes you cry when you think of our organization?

51.  Why are you here?

52.  What would you like to accomplish in the next 12 months as a board member/staff members/volunteer of our organization?

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52 Ways To Motivate Your Board Memebers

You can fire a board member. You can shame a board member. You can ignore a board member. I have never heard of beating a board member. So when it comes down to motivating a board member, you might want to consider the carrot more powerful than the stick. Or in fact, the carrot might really be your only option.

Years ago I worked with a board in Queens, NY. The board chair’s name ended in a vowel, as did the vice president’s. I asked the board what would happen if a board member didn’t honor a commitment. He said, “I’m in the concrete business.” The V.P. said, “I’m in waste management.” I laughed. They didn’t.

In fact, when I got to know these pasta-eating jokers, they rewarded their board members more than any non-profit leaders I had ever met. They would send the family of an event chair a basket a cannolli and other goodies to thank them for all for their help on making the evening a success. They knew how much work a family does when someone chairs an event, whether it is on the event itself or taking up the slack at home. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have a basket of cannolli and wine than a carrot, and forget about the stick, or in their case, concrete.

As you think about how to reward board members, here are 52 ideas to mull around. Appoint your best Martha Steward wannabees (from an entertainment rather than a felonious point of view) and let them decide how to incentivize your achievers.

1. When you have a new board member, send a press release to the local paper, business journal, alumni magazine, church or temple bulletin and/or PR department of his or her corporation.

2. Create a “Member of the Moment” award for your annual meeting for quiet, behind the scenes leaders. Tiaras and crowns from a party store are always an elegant gift.

3. Surprise a particularly industrious board member by having the member’s car washed and detailed during a meeting.

4. Give new board members who have “seen the light” and joined your board, tiny flash lights for purse or pocket.

5. Start your board meetings with sharing celebrations of what is going well in your members’ personal, professional or volunteer lives.

6. Get a funny award, like an old bowling trophy, from a pawn shop, and pass it on to the board member who asks the best question.

7. Provide every board member with business cards for your organization. (To save money, have them printed by the sheet without the specific names and print them on your computer)

8. Create a Hall of Fame wall with photos of your board members.

9. Put your board members’ photos on your website.

10. Link your organization’s website to your board member’s websites and ask them to do the same.

11. Give a creative toy to celebrate great service such as a stuffed roadrunner or the Energizer Bunny.

12. Give all of your board members lottery tickets with the note, “Our clients (or members) don’t have to take a chance on their future with you on our board.”

13. Give your superstar a magnificent box of chocolates with the note, “I’ve gained so much from you, now it’s your turn,” or a heart healthy box of goodies with the note, “From my heart to yours.”

14. When a board member takes on a big committee assignment or agrees to chair a special event, present a folder with an engraved name plate with his or her name, the assignment or event and the year.

15. For your shining stars, present a certificate for one month of shoe-shines or a piece of jewelry with stars.

16. At the end of a long board meeting or retreat, hire a massage therapist to come to do chair massages.

17. Give a “Life Saver Award” for someone who helps out at the last minute. The award should be packs of Life Saver candies.

18. Use a wall chart to note the progress of a project, whether it’s getting new members, raising funds or serving more clients.

19. Send birthday cards to your board members. Better yet, call them and leave a message, even if they aren’t home.

20. Send an e-mail birthday greeting to your board member, reminding other board members to call or e-mail greetings.

21. At the end of a term or a long project or special event, write a thank you note to the board member’s family noting the contribution and acknowledging the time away from the family.

22. On your board roster, list hobbies. This will give other members an opportunity to connect.

23. Provide a special parking space for new board members or board members who have taken on extra responsibilities.

24. Give board members newly released books or videos that are germane to your organization.

25. To build relationships and to become “a learning organization,” create a book or movie club that convenes before your meeting to keep current on issues affecting your clients.

26. Send a meal, pay for a house-cleaning, lawn mowing or snow removal service for a board member’s home during an illness or after a big project.

27. After meeting a goal, if your board meets in the morning, give your members a boutonnière to wear to work. It will serve as a conversation starter.

28. Before talking about fundraising, give every board members a $100,000 Candy Bar or a Payday.

29. Give new volunteers and board members a coffee cup with your website and phone number. (Great also to give to funders and folks who refer clients)

30. Give board members post-it notes with your logo, phone number and website.

31. Create a pin or other logo-wear for multi-generational members of families who have served your organization.

32. Take photos of your volunteers and board members with their kids. Frame the photos as a thank you.

33. Bring a pizza or sandwiches to the staff for a communal lunch with the board. Ask each group to prepare a list of questions for discussion. Learn and enjoy!

34. After a walk or run event, give the chair and his/her committee certificates for pedicures. Have pedicures as part of a Happy Feet Debrief.

35. To celebrate an achievement, send an email message with an appropriate mp3 song as an attachment i.e. “She Works Hard for Her Money,” “Taking Care of Business” or “The Hallelujah Chorus.”

36. Create an on-line “Good News Gazette” where fundraising, membership goals or other victories are shared.

37. Raise the bar. Increase the goals and make specific plans to celebrate. Put your best party person in charge.

38. Give a board member an hourglass, watch or clock as thanks for the gift of his or her time.

39. After an event, have a volunteer of the year. Put a photo of that volunteer in your lobby and send a copy to the newspaper and to the volunteer’s boss, spouse, parent and/or children.

40. Have a “bright idea” award for the board members with the most innovative idea that they have also implemented. You might want to give a lamp or a year’s supply of light bulbs.

41. At the end of a board member’s term, don’t just “whack them and plaque ’em”, give them a final send off at a luncheon or breakfast in their honor. Share plans for future involvement.

42. Remember to celebrate holidays that are relevant to your mission. For instance, if you have a “new American’s program” or deal with other immigrant issues, bring a client to talk about his/her experiences for the 4th of July.

43. For your annual meeting or board retreat, use Photoshop to put your board members photos on a Wheaties box. If you have a member with poor attendance and a really, really fabulous sense of humor, put his or her photo on a milk carton.

44. Provide logo wear that proudly displays your web address. On the back, list what you can do/learn on the site.

45. When beginning the strategic planning process, give everyone involved a calculator, ruler or abacus that says “Everyone counts when it comes to (then state your mission or organization’s name).

46. At your national convention, surprise a board member who has done a particularly fabulous job with a suite.

47. Create a “President’s Award,” which is given yearly by the board president to the member of the board or a volunteer who has done exemplary work.

48. Inaugurate an “ABCD” award (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty) which can be given anytime during the year.

49. Instead of the traditional gavel, give a conductor’s baton, magic wand or magic lamp to rub, to a new board chair.

50. Have a professional photo taken of a board member, get him or her to autograph it, and frame it for your wall of fame or executive’s office.

51. For the board member who is always putting out fires, buy and present him or her with a real fire fighter’s hat. Present several different hats to the board member who wears many hats.

52. Buy a toy sheriff’s badge for the development committee, and deputize them as fundraisers.
If you are interesting in fund raising training for your board, check out or call Carol at 314-863-4422.

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Great Free Way to Keep Up With Donors

You know, some times you just think people know what you know if they are young and smart and a great leader? Welllll, last weekend I was working with just such a CEO, Beth Lloyd at Volunteer Hampton Roads in Norfolk, VA. We were strategising about her board retreat that I was facilitating the next day, and I asked how she was keeping up with current donors, most of whom foundations and corporations. I mentioned, “Of course you are using Google Alerts.” Her pretty brows furrowed and she said, “No.”

It took literally about 2 minutes to set it up with just the words, “Volunteer Hampton Roads.” All you do is go to the home page of, type in “google alerts” and fill in the words or phrases that you want reports about. Then a message is sent to your e-mail address, you confirm that you indeed want this info, and Bob’s your uncle, you are in business.

Ten minutes after setting this up, Beth got an alert. One of her collaborators had thoughtfully posted a job on his website for a position she wanted to hire for, thereby helping her expand the search. I said, “You need to thank him.” Beth said, “Of course I will.”  Now this is where being an older, bossy consultant comes into play. I said, “Pick up the phone this minute and make the call before you touch the computer again.” Beth, being a quick learner and realizing that I outweighed her, picked up the phone and left a very gracious message. Another message came a few minutes later from a colleague touting Volunteer Hampton Road’s programs. Beth picked up the phone, another quick call, leaving a message.

At the board retreat, we suggested that one of the “ask averse” board members take on the role of helping with relationship management of a portfolio of donors so that Beth can continue to go into the community and make the major asks. All this person would need to do is keep a google alert list of current donors and send cards, notes and make the occasional call on what is going on with the individual, foundation or company.

You got to love a free way to keep up with donors. And getting to work with smart boards and leaders who implement immediately compouds the joy.

Mildly tech-savvy Granny, Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP

p.s. Beth, you are no doubt getting an alert about this. Have a great week!!!

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What Great Donor Customer Service Looks Like

Great customer service to donors is almost a nonsequitor, which is why it is so important to celebrate it when it happens. Last weekend, I went on the website of The Missouri Botanical Gardens to make a small donation in memory of a friend’s partner’s parent who died out of town. I had only met my friend’s partner Scott twice and never his parents. It was simple and easy to make the donation. Since I didn’t know Scott’s deceased parent’s name, I filled in the on-line form with “Scott’s Mother.”

First thing Monday morning, I got a call from Ann in the development office of The Missouri Botanical Gardens. She called to alert me that she had looked up the obituary and it was Scott’s Father who had died! She then proceeded  to offer me her name and phone number in case I needed help in the future with a gift.

I am sure Scott would have forgiven me if I had botched the gender of his parent who had passed, but I didn’t have to ask for forgiveness thanks to Ann. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to give a larger donation!

Gender-confused fan of Ann, Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP

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Terrific Father’s Day Gift…The book “The Tender Bar”

Carol and FrankI’ll never forget seeing the father of one of my former clients crying his eyes out for the TV cameras after his 19-year old son was shot and killed by police snippers after his son had gone on a shooting spree, wounding random passers by. This distraught father was the same man I had called for a year straight several years earlier when I was a social worker at Boy’s Town of Missouri. He NEVER returned my calls, and when I came to visit, would not answer the door. In that year, he didn’t see his son once.

As we approach Father’s day, and my son Frank is about to become a father, I marvel at the men I do know who are attentive, active and involved parents. I can’t imagine anyone could have been a better co-parent for me than my own Frank Robbins. He adore toddlers. They drive me insane. He loves to read aloud. I can tolerate it, but certainly don’t enjoy it. He was the intellectual center of the family. I was the practical one. He knew where to find the perfect haiku. I knew how to get us all upgraded to first class for free. A friend of mine described dancing with her husband on the deck of a boat floating down the Nile as paradise. For me, a family dinner with Frank and the guys was sheer heaven.

Our kids thought this was normal. Parents who loved each other and co-parented. “The Tender Bar,” is much closer to reality, I’m afraid. It is the story of a boy, and the a young man, searching for the father in every man he meets and the guys in the bar down the street who give him a sense of community and what it means to be a man. My only real problem with this book was putting it down. On one leg of a trip, they announced that my flight would be delayed at least an hour. I sat with my size 16 butt in a size 8 seat and thought, “oh goodie, I can keep reading a little longer.” That is just how great this book is.

Sooooo, take a little time and thank the great men who have been your role models as men. They are too few and far between not to be admired, thanked and fawned over.

Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP waiting for her Studmuffin hubby to get home


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