For many nonprofits leaders, today is a challenging time. How do they fund their activities, share their message and decide where to invest their time and resources? For many, it seems like every day brings a new decision or challenge. How do you decide what to do and, just as importantly, what not to do?
For my clients, I recommend a simple process once a year to help them focus on what’s important to their organizations. I’ve learned that organizations that succeed and excel have a strong understanding of their mission. For these leaders and their teams they are connected through a strong mission.
I thought it might be helpful to walk through this process. I recommend it for leaders who may have lost their way or are being overwhelmed by daily challenges and fail to see the bigger picture.
These questions come from my early work with Dr. Deming and my later work with Dr. Drucker. It was one of the areas they both seemed to agree on. They just chose different methods to accomplish their goals.
The first series of questions helps you decide what your organization’s mission is and how well it is understood across the organization. What is your current understanding of the organization’s mission? Why does your organization exist? What are you trying to achieve? Why do you do what you do? What circumstances help create your current organization’s focus? For what do you want your organization to be remembered? As a leader, you must not only be able to answer these questions for your organization, but also for yourself.
Today an organization must know what results they want to achieve if they want to be successful. For many of my nonprofits, this is the most challenging part of defining their mission. They achieve so many things but it is very hard for them to define the results they hope to get. Because many leaders of nonprofits are attracted to their organizations cause, they never fully explore the idea of measurable results. Without a clear view of the results they hope to achieve, they lack a cohesive understanding of what is needed to achieve them. The other challenge I’ve discovered, is that many people consider looking at their cause in terms of the results achieved somehow lessens it by assigning a number to the process and removes the passion that drew them to the cause.
Many entrepreneurs are very focused on the results they want to achieve. This can create a gap between potential partners. These donors want to know what specific results you are hoping to achieve. Are you getting good results for the time invested? How good are you at allocating your funds and resources to get the desired results? Why do you do things the way you do? How effective are you at leading projects to get the desired results?
The third series of questions revolves around your organization’s strengths and weaknesses. Do you understand your organization’s strengths? How have these strengths evolved over time? How do they match to the results you hope to achieve? What are your own weaknesses? How do they impact your organization’s competence? Are you aware of them and have you developed a team of leaders around you who can complement your weakness? One of the largest disconnects I have found between boards and the managing directors is how they look at dealing with an organization’s weaknesses. For many corporate board members, they have learned to build teams to offset their own weaknesses. Many resource-strapped nonprofit leaders try to manage to their weaknesses. This can create significant stress between a leader and her team. Until both sides understand their differing worldview, both remain frustrated within their current situation. In a future blog, I’ll discuss in greater detail this challenge but for today understanding how we handle our organizations’ strengths and weaknesses will be a large contributor to our mission’s success.
The final questions revolve around how relevant our mission is in today’s world. For many founders of nonprofits, this is an extremely sensitive issue. Men and women who have committed to a cause often time have the biggest challenge in letting go of their organizations’ initial mission. Times or society may require a change in direction for their organization. Their last duty as founder may be to help recreate an organization that is more in touch with the needs of their key stakeholders. They may be unwilling to consider a change or may be challenged by an environment that is less forgiving of their inactivity. The increasing development rate of new nonprofits has created a condition where many new organizations may be more connected to your evolving mission than your organization is. What problems are you solving for your stakeholders and how might your mission be evolving? This leads to the question, who is your organization’s customer? I’ve written a blog that will be published on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at The Market Leadership Journal that discusses this key question for your organization. If you’re interested in you can find the blog at http://www.marketleadership.net
How do you attract the best donors to your nonprofit organization? The right donor can help an organization change the world. The wrong donor can cost you valuable time, resources, and reputation. Here’s why I’m qualified to share a key donor development system. I’ve spent the last 25 years working with senior leaders and entrepreneurs around the globe. I’ve interviewed over 16,000 leaders of businesses and nonprofits over this time. Of this number, over 8,000 are millionaires and at least 50 have a net worth in excess of $100,000,000. Several appear on the Forbes 400 list on a regular basis. I’d like to share my system in hopes of helping you find your next big donor.
I will share system that helps you successfully recruit the right donors to your organization. I have seen this system help turn organizations around and provide significant value to the development process.
The first step is to do your research. I’m always amazed at how little time is invested in better understanding the people my nonprofits are approaching. I might spend several hours researching a potential donor before I approach them. I don’t do this for every donor but on any gift request over $25,000 I do, and so should you. The more you do this the better you get at it. Today, my research tool of choice is Google. I tend to Google almost everyone I meet. It’s fascinating what you can learn from a simple Google search. I look at the first several entries but I then go several pages deep to uncover more about the leaders. I find several interesting facts on the later listings that might reveal more about who they are than their resumes or corporate bios. The later entries also provide me with more facts about who they know and what their hobbies and interests might be. I also try to uncover potential connections we share that might be able to warm up my call.
The second step is to learn more about how the person has acquired their current position. I look for clues to the person’s drives and ambition. I review their educational background or the lack of said background. I look to uncover articles the person may have written. I try to understand how they see the world. How much of their success comes from hard work and competitiveness? How is their industry set up and how long have they been in the field. During this phase I look to better understand the organizations they work for. I have discovered most leading organizations have a corporate culture and by unlocking this key I’m able to understand how this person works with others. If the person founded the business they work for it will provide me a significant understanding of what this person values and how they see the world. There are many great resources to help you build a better understanding of the people we are going to talk with. Few people have the ability to truly understand someone without spending time on researching who that person is and what they’ve accomplished.
Come back on Thursday to learn the last step in the process, approaching the potential big donor.
Tripp Braden is a Funding Strategist, working with nonprofits to increase their funding options and optimize their revenues by building on their strengths. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The recent success of The Avengers has got me thinking about what elements we might use to help our writing get and keep our stakeholders engaged in our causes and, ultimately, our organizations. I will share what Stan Lee’s been doing to engage his readers and viewers for over 50 years. I will also provide tips on how you can use these tools to build long term lasting relationships with your key stakeholders. Now, “Avengers Assemble,” and let see how our team of superwriters can defeat the forces of boredom in our weekly blog.
Tip #1 – Keep your story fresh. How did you get involved in your organization? I bet there is a good reason that you feel so passionately about your nonprofit. For many of us, we’ve been involved for so long we may have forgotten our origin story and how it affects the way we introduce our stories to others. For others, you might even have a finely honed story that shares how you got involved. Has it been updated or are you still using references from the 1970’s? Stan Lee has proven even legends need to be rewritten occasionally if they fall out of context. It doesn’t mean a complete rewrite but updating helps you connect with new people. One of Stan Lee biggest secrets is how he updates the story but maintains the core concept. He has a fascinating writing trick of giving kudos to the people who have been involved in the character for a long time by including small clues only the long term fan would understand, but the new fan will ask about. It’s a great bonding time for the different generations and it provides the glue to engage future generations in discussions. If you’re looking for a great example consider how the Ironman story origin has evolved. Rent the two disk set and watch the movie first. This is a great example of Stan Lee at his best. Then check out the added bonus DVD material to see how this wonderful story has evolved.
Tip #2 – Create a story I can see myself in. The second tip is he creates stories that we can be involved in. His stories could happen in our neighborhood. We can see ourselves in his story lines. He uses emotions to move people through his stories and you should too. He’s very careful to not overdo the emotions. Today, we see much of the advertising yank on emotions. We see so much death and destruction, we almost become immune to the emotions we should be feeling. I see this in many of my client’s most powerful stories. The gifted storyteller uses both positive and negative emotions in the right proportion. If your story becomes a sermon, you risk putting off the readers who really care about your cause. No one wants to be lectured 24/7. Since many of our messages are shared through the social media universe for days, it can be very easy to overdo the negative and forget to include the positive. People don’t mind a rollercoaster, but they need to feel good at the end or they won’t return. You have to set the expectation for return.
Tip #3 – Keep it simple. The final secret of Stan Lee’s stories is their simplicity. I know you’re thinking, “How challenging can it be write a comic or a graphic novel?” I’m not sure if it’s that simple. How do you transition your story quickly, keep people engaged, go viral and then make sure they return for the next installment? When you think about these challenges, you need to make your transitions quick and powerful. Stan and his team do this by using easy transitions and easy to remember lines. Who doesn’t remember “Hulk will smash!!”, “ Avengers Assemble!!”, and “ It’s clobbering time!!” These simple transitions take the reader into the action but also make great tee-shirts. It allows readers to pick sides and easily to relate to their favorite characters or stories. It seems so easy, but it not. It takes planning and repetition, but the payoff is huge.
So what do you take away from today’s blog? Hopefully some new tools and ideas that will make your writing more powerful. It’s critical to understand the three tips we talked about to make your writing easy to enjoy. You have to create drama in your writing and share characters people can relate too. Don’t be afraid to use emotions to help make your points, but be careful not to lean too far in using negative feelings to sell positive change. Finally, simplify your message so that it fits on a tee-shirt or bumper sticker and can be shared easily with others.
Next week, I’ll start writing about one of my favorite parts of our jobs as leaders of nonprofits, how to raise money and awareness for our causes in challenging times. As Stan Lee would say, “Nuff Said!!”