Top 10 Points for Board Leadership in Unprecedented Times

COVID-19 has ushered in unprecedented times, and unprecedented times call for unprecedented leadership. Yet no board has successfully led an organization through a global pandemic. To that end, our Compass experts share these best practices based on the current situation and knowledge gleaned from working with boards over the past 30 years. Our team envisions these points as beneficial not just for board members, but for executives and development staff working with boards in these times. 

Create a New or Adapted Plan for the Near Future

While you may know your organizational goals during times of “normalcy,” do you know what they are in the wake of COVID-19? Identify a new – or adapt existing – plans to help lead in these times. The current landscape is changing daily, if not hourly, so immediacy and efficiency in these plans is key. Unlike a long-term strategic plan, perfection is not the goal but rather a blueprint for effective operations in the near future that answers critical questions.

How can you help the organization to ask – and answer – the most important questions? What specific programs and outreach will be executed that are beneficial to society’s current needs? How will the organization adapt to virtual and additional modes of operations? What is the communication plan, both internally and externally?

Communicate Frequently

As a board member, take a proactive stance by seeking out and regularly disseminating news and updates about the organization amongst the leadership. It is critical to stay up-to-speed in such quickly changing times. By answering your phone, replying to emails, and supporting the organization’s communication channels, you are demonstrating your commitment and leading by involvement. 

Support External Communications

Mission-based organizations must engage, cultivate, and steward their audiences and donors now more than ever. Support these efforts by personally updating and connecting with donors through phone calls, virtual meetings, handwritten notes, and additional means of communication. Share your positive stories that lend themselves to strong and uplifting editorial for member magazines, digital newsletters, and other communication platforms that help promote the mission of your organization.

Think Creatively about Resources

Many organizations’ needs have changed in these unprecedented times. Resources, including partnerships, can aide immediately. Conceptualizing new ways to provide resources, forging creative partnerships, and drawing on your circle of influences can connect your organization with changing needs now.

Give First

Leaders, especially board members, are often asked to give the most but sometimes it’s about giving first. Making the first gift towards unrestricted or emergency funds not only immediately supports the organization which you care enough about to lead, but provides credibility to the greater audience. An initial gift in these times can leverage support at-large and philanthropic gifts – especially unrestricted – will carry organizations through this time.

Spot Check Your Relevancy

Are you relevant at this moment? Consider how your needs in these unprecedented times create an urgent and compelling case for support. Assess and update the verbiage in use for sensitivity to the moment. Focus on the short-term and actions taken immediately to benefit others while still connecting to your mission.

Review Your Investment Policy

Wise investment of your organization’s assets is a fundamental fiscal responsibility of the board. Investment policies are a necessary discipline in both good and challenging times. If your organization does not have an investment policy, create one that makes sense for the size and type of your organization. If you have a current investment policy, review it to be sure that it is still appropriate.

Remember that flexibility is key, as we have seen in the face of COVID-19. Emergency funds, unrestricted opportunities, and additional open-ended allocations allow an organization to be nimble in times that we have perhaps not yet even considered.

Engage Diverse Perspectives Across Your Board

Your board members are smart, and they are managing and leading other organizations also navigating this pandemic. They are also there to help and to be a full partner. This is the time to fully engage, listen, and learn from their diverse perspectives to make the best and most sound decisions for your organization.

Say “Thank You” Quickly

When donors make the quick decision to support your organization in this unprecedented time of need, we must match their speediness in our acknowledgement and follow-up. Engage by writing very timely thank you letters, making a phone call, sending a video, and additional means of virtually expressing the appreciation of not only the organization, but the board for the contributions received. Let donors know that their quick response was noticed and greatly appreciated and that their dollars are making a difference – especially at this critical time.

Remain Positive

This is hard! Yet we need to find a place to demonstrate positive leadership. Focus on how your organization can be positioned to be stronger, more resilient, and more relevant. Keep morale strong and keep doing your “good work” well.

 

About Frank Pisch

Frank Pisch is founder of The Compass Group, advancing the mission of hundreds of organizations through capital campaigns, major gift fundraising, strategic planning, and fundraising counsel. In his more than 40-year career, Frank has secured more than $4 billion in philanthropic gifts for diverse organizations including colleges and universities, independent schools, hospitals and medical centers, human service and environmental agencies, youth groups, arts organizations, and trade associations.

Frank is an Industry Advisory Council Member for the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE); a Certified Board Consultant through BoardSource; and a frequent presenter at national conferences including CASE, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB).

Frank holds a Master of Arts degree in Organization and Management from Antioch New England Graduate School and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Connecticut School of Education.

 

Top 10 Points for Successful Virtual Donor Meetings

Thanks to travel restrictions and social distancing mandates, we are in a state of virtual affairs. Many Compass clients see this as advantageous as organizational leaders and gift officers can connect with more donors, more readily. While the phone is a familiar tried-and-true mode of communication, virtual meetings present a more authentic and more engaging donor experience.

Compass shares these tips for successful virtual meetings with your donors:

Know your audience.

Before you move forward with a virtual meeting, pause to assess the donor. Even if you are attempting to replace an in-person meeting, or this one of your top prospects in your portfolio, a virtual meeting might not be ideal. This could prove true for a variety of reasons including lifestyle, accessibility, disabilities, and location. The first step is to assess if a virtual meeting is the best channel of communications. If not, strategize to identify a different way to successfully connect with the donor, and reserve the time and effort of a virtual meeting for those whom you deem a better fit. As most things in fundraising, there is no “one size fits all” and this rings true for virtual meetings.

Provide options.

Send an invitation for an hour-long meeting and include connection options. Not all of your donors will be savvy or comfortable with virtual meetings and the various formats. To help plan and avoid a series of emails that may delay a “yes” to a virtual meeting request, provide a finite amount of time and connection options up-front. Options vary depending on your own resources, but may include FaceTime if using a smartphone and Zoom or Skype if the donor has access to a laptop with a built-in camera or a desktop with a webcam. Understanding the donors’ resources and preferences from the onset will help to create a successful virtual meeting experience from start to finish.

Confirm.

Provide a confirmation communication with only the meeting time and connection instructions included. Once you and the donor have agreed on date, time, length (again, we recommend no more than an hour), and mode of virtual meeting, send an email (separate from the planning thread) or a calendar invite. This provides a simple resource for the donor to review as the meeting nears.

Be ready.

Prepare as thoroughly as you would for an in-person meeting. Just because you are not traveling to meet with a donor does not make this meeting any less important.

Draft speaking points that touch on the topics you want to cover. In our current climate, these most likely include an update on the organization and the long-term plans for sustainability. Know exactly what impression you want to leave and what information you want the donor to intake during your meeting and focus on achieving these.

Additionally, present your best self during the meeting. Even though you may be connecting across screens, dress and act as formally as you would for an in-person meeting. Depending on the dimensions and settings of your donor’s screen, you may also appear larger and closer than usual so pay attention to details that may prove distracting such as stray hairs and chewing gum. Silence your cell phone or place it on Do Not Disturb, as you would for an in-person meeting. Consider using an out of office message or closing out your email, to avoid distractions for both you and your donor. The buzz of a cell phone or the ding of an incoming email can be heard through the video call’s audio, so think about the best ways to create a quiet and comfortable environment for you and your guest.

Prepare a back-up plan.

Develop outlets for stalled communications. Virtual meetings might not be as seamless as in-person meetings and the conversation may go quiet in some moments without the rapport that face-to-face affords. To ensure a productive conversation and a positive experience for the donor, develop a list of questions that you can pose at any point. These should be both general enough to weave into whatever moment you find yourself in the conversation and tailored enough to feel specific to the donor with whom you are meeting.

Another option when using Zoom or Skype is to ready a limited number of visuals to share via the screen share mode. Two to three PowerPoint slides (not an entire deck) with engaging graphics or visuals often proves successful in moving through a stalled conversation while staying focused on the message and topics at-hand. You can share video or audio clips, key organizational documents or invite in a subject-matter expert to join the call to provide some additional content. Virtual meetings are a great way to bring multiple people from different areas together.

Consider your surroundings.

If you are in a location with background noise, use a headset to help eliminate the sounds of children playing in the other room or dogs barking. Select an appropriate background. If your own setting will be visible, ensure it is professional and uncluttered. You want the donor to remain focused on you and your message (not your child’s drawing on the wall or your magnet-covered refrigerator behind you).

 

Some virtual meeting applications provide background options, and a quick google search can provide a plethora of additional options, which should be chosen with the lens of professionalism, as well as authenticity to your mission. For example, a library option is a better fit for a cultural organization than a beach scene in the background. 

Complete a dry run.

Learn the basics for the virtual platform you plan to use. If you have yet to speak with a donor in a virtual setting, practice with a colleague or a friend. Schedule a time, ensure your connection works, talk through your introduction and prepared notes, and monitor your own comfort level with the technology and communication style. If things do not go as planned, practice once again to help ensure the actual donor meeting is a success.

Show up on time.

For your scheduled meeting, call-in right-on time (if using FaceTime) or early (if using ZOOM or another app with links). Just as you wouldn’t want your donor sitting and waiting for you in-person, don’t keep the donor waiting virtually. A “waiting for the host to launch” message is not a welcoming approach for your donor.

Be flexible.

Just as you may for a telephone call or an in-person meeting, set flexible expectations at the beginning of the virtual meeting. “This might not take the whole hour” or “I’m flexible as to our length” provides both you and the donor an option to not fill the entire booked time slot or, alternatively, to continue longer than planned if the conversation is natural and flowing during the virtual meeting.

Follow-Up.

Follow-up for a virtual meeting may seem unnecessary, but just as with an in-person meeting, a donor has given time to you and your organization by way of this meeting. Send a handwritten follow-up note (or email, if you think more appropriate) thanking the donor for sharing this time with you.

 

About Beth Heikkila

Beth Heikkila joined The Compass Group in 2019 as chief operating officer and a strategic member of the leadership team. Prior to this position, Beth gained unparalleled operations and fundraising expertise through her roles with The Nature Conservancy, The Salvation Army, and March of Dimes. She brings this experience from complex, national nonprofit organizations to The Compass Group, enhancing the firm’s operations through her dedication to best practices and effective problem solving. In her role of chief operating officer, Beth oversees the infrastructure to advance corporate sustainability, maximizes business development, and ensures the highest quality of service for Compass’s growing client base.

Beth has successfully worked in a virtual environment for more than ten years for both Compass and The Nature Conservancy.

Recommendations for Philanthropy in the COVID-19-Affected Economy

The coronavirus (COVID-19) and its widespread impact continues to be the subject of intense interest, extending into the economic and philanthropic markets. We have diligently tracked the economy and philanthropy for the past 50 years and witnessed the steady increase in philanthropy in every year barring few exceptions.

This economic situation differs from those of previous economic downturns in that it is driven by health concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. Yet the end results are similar. We are faced with unique marketplace realities that have resulted in a loss of money and a loss of confidence in the ability of international production of marketable goods – and the cascade that follows. A level of discomfort permeates among organizations’ key constituents including staff, volunteers, board members, donors, and prospects.

The playing field, however, is the same as it was before. Every organization in the nonprofit arena is met with an equivalent landscape and there will be some economic Darwinism at work. Those that compete the best and with the most assertiveness will find the most success.

Compass’ recommendations for times such as this include:

Refining and Reiterating the Case for Giving

  • Do not ignore the economy and the pandemic conversations. This year, donors will understand organizational challenges. Include in your narrative that you are taking measures to ensure their dollars are spent wisely.
  • Be worthy, not needy. Demonstrate that while being prudent in preparation for a year that is very uncertain, you are staying the course because of the importance of your mission.
  • Do not panic. Every other nonprofit organization is navigating the same issues. Crisis fundraising is rarely successful.
  • Appeal to emotion. Even in tough economic times, gifts are generated from the “heart” and justified by the “head”. There is a societal need for what you do and a result that benefits the entire community. Your mission is worthy and has value so do not be shy. Being fiscally responsible strengthens that message.

Focusing on Annual Fund Appeals

  • The Annual Fund is not about big plans for expansion or acquisition, it is about today. Keep focused on the basic mission and operation of your organization and how your donors can help.
  • Focus on executing the basics well. Your environment is much more competitive, so focus on doing the right things and doing them as professionally as possible.
  • Stay within your philanthropic culture. Do not be too fancy or too austere–just be you.
  • Continue with your regular cadence of annual fund appeals. Your donors are used to it and will expect it, no matter the economic climate.
  • Put your immediate needs out front right now. Adhere to your institutional integrity and understand that the economy might have an impact.
  • Plan for slower returns and, possibly smaller gifts. Many are predicting that annual funds may not take a big hit because they are based on discretionary income and not appreciated assets.
  • Ask. Action in the marketplace is infinitely better than inaction in times like these.
  • Engage some of your loyal major donors to create a challenge to inspire others to give.
  • Stress participation – keep your donors close and involved as much as possible while respecting travel regulations and social distancing mandates.

Continuing Capital Campaign Planning

  • While the economy and current climate has a huge impact on the psychological state of your donors, your organization still has needs and plans. You must continue with your planning–and with the implementation of those plans. Stagnation is damaging and difficult to overcome.
  • Spend time reviewing your prospect pool. Identify potential prospects, conduct prospect research, and identify influential relationships to ensure your pipeline is sufficient for future success.
  • Cultivate your prospect pool and current donors. This is an ideal time to keep them close, get them involved, and let them know how important they are to you.
  • Refine your message and build an urgent and compelling case for support. Spend time instilling confidence in your volunteers and ensuring they are speaking with the same voice.
  • Train your solicitation teams. Use this time to prepare your volunteers for handling major gift asks in this environment.
  • Be prudent, be cautious, and continue to move forward.
  • Continue to cultivate and involve your best supporters. Some organizations will forego talking to their best donors in tough times–and this may be especially tempting given the current interaction limitations – do not make that mistake.

Soliciting for A Capital Campaign

  • Acknowledge that your campaign may take longer, gifts may be smaller, in-person visits will be fewer, and fundraising may be harder.
  • Assess your campaign timeline. You may need to adjust plans and timelines to account for solicitations that may take longer and volunteers more reluctant to solicit in times of discomfort.
  • Strive to increase your prospect pool and re-validate your ask amounts.
  • Train your solicitation teams to be more empathetic and flexible with their prospects and to continue to connect with prospects despite travel restrictions limiting in-person visits.
  • Create opportunities to build stronger relationships with your prospects through phone and video calls, personalized notes, and additional means of connection during a time of mandated social distancing.
  • Continue to ask.
  • Utilize “Letters of Intent” for those prospects who feel uncomfortable about pledging over a 5-year pledge period.
  • In a difficult solicitation, consider receiving 20 percent of your proposed ask amount now–this year–and asking to come back next year for a four-year pledge.
  • Maintain your team. Your main job during times like this is to keep people working. It may not be along the original plan (everyone may need new campaign plans, timetables, and visitation metrics) but they need to know that there is a strategy in place.
  • Be patient, be persistent, and be respectful to your prospects and donors.

Strengthening Stewardship

  • Remember that those donors with whom strong, confident relationships exist will continue to support you even in difficult times.
  • Invest in those donors who understand and see their value to you as they will continue to give. Those donors who have experienced your productivity and understand your “value add” will not only stay with you, but will also set a leadership example for others to follow.

 

About The Compass Group

The Compass Group headquartered in Alexandria, VA, provides strategy, education, and coaching to organizations that must be successful in fundraising. In a working partnership with your staff, volunteers, and board, Compass will help you to enhance and develop the philanthropic culture of your nonprofit organization and achieve fundraising success. Our specialty areas include Arts & Culture, Environmental, Health Care, Higher Education, Human Services, and Independent Schools.

About Frank Pisch

Frank Pisch is founder of The Compass Group, advancing the mission of hundreds of organizations through capital campaigns, major gift fundraising, strategic planning, and fundraising counsel. In his more than 40-year career, Frank has secured more than $4 billion in philanthropic gifts for diverse organizations including colleges and universities, independent schools, hospitals and medical centers, human service and environmental agencies, youth groups, arts organizations, and trade associations.

Frank is an Industry Advisory Council Member for the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE); a Certified Board Consultant through BoardSource; and a frequent presenter at national conferences including CASE, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB).

Frank holds a Master of Arts degree in Organization and Management from Antioch New England Graduate School and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Connecticut School of Education.

Common Sense Tips on Board Leadership in Competitive Times 

There is much written about the responsibilities inherent in board leadership. BoardSource and the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities (AGB) provide the best information and guidance on these issues. Through hands-on experience over the past 30 years, there are several “common sense” principles that I have seen effective boards utilize to deal with the day-to-day reality of board leadership in competitive times. The following “tips” reflect that experience.

1. No Margin…No Mission

Healthy nonprofits succeed in competitive times when they employ sound fiscal policies. It is important to take the necessary steps to balance your budget in the context of your mission, purpose, and long-range plans; and to ensure the steps that are taken have a positive impact on your service delivery.

Solid service delivery practices include: examining strategies to enhance revenue as well as manage expenses; partnering with your organization’s Chief Executive to find ways to increase net revenue; and finding opportunities to become stronger and more balanced.

2. Review Your Investment Policy

Wise investment of your organization’s assets is a fundamental fiscal responsibility for the board. Investment policies are a necessary discipline in both good and challenging times. If your organization does not have an investment policy, create one that makes sense for the size and type of your organization. If you have a current investment policy, now is the time to review it to be sure that it is still appropriate.

With the status of current investment returns, you may also need to review your organization’s spending policies in relation to your strategic plans, and the goals and objectives of your organization. Ensure that your decisions about the current and future operation of your organization are data-driven—avoid conjecture and speculation.

3. Your Competitive Advantage

Review your Case for Support and be specific about how and why you raise money, and why you do what you do. Talk about the programs you execute that are the best. Where are you the leader? Where are you first? What makes you unique in the philanthropic landscape?

4. Invoke the Common-Sense Rule

Act with prudence in competitive times. There are very smart people on your board—people who manage and lead other organizations. This is the time to act with a cool head and with thoughtful advice. Avoid reacting quickly to problems or opportunities, and partner with your Chief Executive and staff leadership to make the best decisions.

Do your decisions—as difficult as they may be—make sense for your organization, given its mission, purpose, goals and objectives?

5. Act with Courage – Don’t wait for tough times to make tough decisions.

Demonstrate positive leadership and focus on how your organization can be positioned to be stronger, more resilient, and more relevant in competitive times. Can your organization learn to “take a punch”—or rebound positively—from a punch that it has taken? Can you work more productively as a team? Can you keep morale strong and keep doing your “good work” well?

6. Be Worthy, Not Needy

Conduct a mission check. Are you relevant? Do you do what you say you do? Are you an organization that is worthy of external support or are you an organization that is constantly in need of help to keep its budget balanced to stay afloat? Which type of organization are you? Which do you want to be?

Think of your organization as an investment – are you worthy of investment?

7. Partner with Your Donors

Your organization’s ability to attract more resources and support—both in good times and bad—relies on the positive relationships you have established with your constituents. If you want prospects to make a first-time investment in your organization, and your donors to repeat or increase their support, you must have a strong and positive relationship with them. Be deliberate and intentional about strengthening those relationships. Spend time cultivating prospects and donors. Find ways to get your donors more involved in what you are doing so they can see both the reasons for giving, and the need for your organization to do what it does. Competitive times mean that many—if not all—of your major donors are being asked to support other organizations as well. They may be in arrangements where they are paying off current pledges to those other organizations. Make it easy for your donors to say “yes” by making them part of the “family;” acknowledge other obligations they may have and be flexible with strategies they can use to support your organization.

8. Communicate

Take a proactive stance by regularly disseminating the good news about your organization to your constituency. Increase the frequency and content of your messages. Utilize all existing methods to keep people informed of your mission, purpose, plans, and relevancy; and explore new opportunities to communicate more often at lower cost.

Employ strategies to segment your market and sharpen your messaging. Create separate communication strategies for each of your constituent segments: foundations, corporations, and individuals (annual, major and potential planned gift donors, current donors, lapsed donors, non-donors). If you can keep them informed, you can get them involved. If you get them involved, you will get them inspired to invest.

9. Say “Thank You” — and Mean It.

Enhance gift acknowledgement efforts to ensure every donor is clear about how much their support is appreciated. Participate in the acknowledgement process by writing thank you letters and notes, and picking up the phone when appropriate, to express the appreciation of not only the organization, but the board for the contributions received. Let donors know that you appreciate their support and that their dollars are making a difference.

10. Ensure the Strength of the Board

Take some time to review the composition of your board in relation to your mission, purpose, and the goals and objectives of your strategic plan. Do you have the kind of board you need to fulfill the objectives of your strategic plan? Create a profile of the skill sets represented on your current board. Compare those skill sets to what you feel is needed to move your organization forward. Form a Governance Committee as opposed to a Nominating Committee to monitor identification, enlistment, training, utilization, evaluation, and stewardship of board members.

 

About The Compass Group

The Compass Group headquartered in Alexandria, VA, provides strategy, education, and coaching to organizations that must be successful in fundraising. In a working partnership with your staff, volunteers, and board, Compass will help you to enhance and develop the philanthropic culture of your nonprofit organization and achieve fundraising success. Our specialty areas include Arts & Culture, Environmental, Health Care, Higher Education, Human Services, and Independent Schools.

About Frank Pisch

Frank S. Pisch is a senior fundraising executive and nonprofit leader with more than 40 years of successful experience. His strengths include board and staff training, campaign design and management, board and staff development, effective utilization of volunteers and all other aspects of fundraising, including creation of effective fundraising teams.

Mr. Pisch has consulted on capital campaigns and major gift fundraising and strategic planning for a wide spectrum of nonprofit organizations, private and four-year colleges, public universities, community colleges, university foundation boards, independent schools, hospitals and medical centers, human service and environmental agencies, youth groups, arts organizations, and trade associations.

Mr. Pisch has helped his clients raise more than $4 billion, and as a major gifts specialist he has been involved in the successful solicitation of more than 200 gifts of $1 million or more.

S-O-A-R with Your Board

S-O-A-R is an acronym for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. The SOAR process results in a strategic vision for organizations that is focused, positive, and uplifting. Replace the traditional SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis with an inspirational and engaging activity that energizes your board, identifies the “big ideas,” and creates an exciting vision for your organization.

A fundamental requirement for any major fundraising campaign is a carefully crafted strategic plan. Potential donors and volunteer leaders need to know that the objectives you are funding through your campaign are part of a broader strategic plan designed to advance a bold and exciting vision for the future of your organization. Traditional strategic planning methods tend to focus on the weaknesses of an organization and often get mired in the details of tactics and execution. In order to engage the board and use their time and talent most productively, their role in the strategic planning process should focus on establishing the larger vision and aspirations of your organization. SOAR, introduced by Jacqueline Stavros and Gina Hinrichs, is a method of strategic visioning that will ensure the board is appropriately focused.

The Compass Group believes that strategic planning should be an inclusive process whereby the board and senior staff collaborate on developing a strategic direction or vision, and the staff has responsibility for creating a plan to achieve that vision.  To promote this process, The Compass Group has adapted SOAR for nonprofit organizations with an emphasis on engaging the board and senior staff in creating an overarching vision that enhances your mission and drives the establishment and attainment of your goals. Vision inspires your strategic plan, which informs the creation of a Case for Support, ultimately providing the rationale and urgency for your fundraising campaign.

SOAR is implemented as follows:

S – Using a retreat format, attended by board members and senior staff leadership, the strategic visioning process begins by exploring your organization’s strengths. Strengths are identified, discussed, and evaluated in small groups and shared with the larger planning group. This positive engagement and discussion sets the tone for the entire process.

O – Using the strengths identified in the first step, the planning group focuses on opportunities for advancing your mission that your organization can consider. Participants continue to work in small groups, and “out of the box” thinking is encouraged in aligning your strengths with your opportunities. Again, the small group work is shared with the larger planning group, and trends are identified and commonalities discussed.

A – The identified strengths and opportunities now allow your planning group to be aspirational; to think about the “big ideas” that will position your organization to have a significant impact in the future; and to identify ideas, concepts, and directions that can be truly called transformational. This sharing of big ideas, declaring the “what ifs,” is exciting for your board! Consensus around the top 2-3 big ideas results in identifying a true overarching vision for your organization. It is a great discussion that promotes active involvement and demonstration of passion and commitment—and it’s fun for everyone involved.

R – The group is finally tasked to focus on the results—to create a picture of what success in achieving the vision would look like. It answers the question, “If we do our work well, what will we be able to say about our organization?” During this step, the group will define the results of this new focus and vision for the organization. This step also includes a discussion of what will be needed by the organization to successfully realize the vision.

Takeaways

Through this exercise, the board and leadership staff will participate in a decision-making process that will ultimately:

  • unite them as a group,
  • enable them to focus on the real priorities for your organization,
  • reinforce your organization’s core values,
  • establish general benchmarks for future success; and,
  • inspire them to action.

Follow-up to this exercise is critical to its success. Staff will be tasked with creating the strategic plan that will make the vision a reality. The board will review and ratify the strategic plan—a plan they inspired through their collective efforts.

Before embarking on any fundraising effort, it is critical to establish unanimity of focus and conduct a realistic assessment of resources to be directed toward the attainment of an aspirational vision. The SOAR process achieves these goals, builds the esprit de corps between the board and staff leadership, and inspires positive action.

For more details on how you can conduct this process with your board, refer to The Thin Book of SOAR : Building Strengths-Based Strategy, by Jacqueline M. Stavros & Gina Hinrichs; then call Compass to help you put it into action.

 

About The Compass Group

The Compass Group headquartered in Alexandria, VA, provides strategy, education, and coaching to organizations that must be successful in fundraising. In a working partnership with your staff, volunteers, and board, Compass will help you to enhance and develop the philanthropic culture of your nonprofit organization and achieve fundraising success. Our specialty areas include Arts & Culture, Environmental, Health Care, Higher Education, Human Services, and Independent Schools.

About Frank Pisch

Frank S. Pisch is a senior fundraising executive and nonprofit leader with more than 40 years of successful experience. His strengths include board and staff training, campaign design and management, board and staff development, effective utilization of volunteers and all other aspects of fundraising, including creation of effective fundraising teams.

Mr. Pisch has consulted on capital campaigns and major gift fundraising and strategic planning for a wide spectrum of nonprofit organizations, private and four-year colleges, public universities, community colleges, university foundation boards, independent schools, hospitals and medical centers, human service and environmental agencies, youth groups, arts organizations, and trade associations.

Mr. Pisch has helped his clients raise more than $4 billion, and as a major gifts specialist he has been involved in the successful solicitation of more than 200 gifts of $1 million or more.

The Seven I’s of Fundraising

Fundraising can be daunting when you attempt to tackle everything at once. Successful fundraising involves a series of specific steps that when followed diligently, create a higher comfort level with the entire process. These steps—presented here as the Seven I’s of Fundraising—will aid in promoting significant philanthropic support for your mission and vision. Fundraising success results from this structured process, not from cutting corners or taking shortcuts. Implementing each step—from identifying potential prospects, to asking them to invest in your mission and vision—will help you build a successful fundraising program.

1. Identification

The first step is prospect identification. Ideally your staff, board, donors, and other stakeholders will aid in prospect identification. Begin by identifying the “usual suspects;” individuals, corporations and foundations providing significant funding to other nonprofits in the community. Expand on these efforts by engaging one-on-one with board members, donors and other stakeholders to ask them about their own networks and spheres of influence.

As you seek to expand your prospect pool, focus your efforts accordingly. Individuals provide the largest proportion of charitable contributions annually. In 2017, while over $400 billion was contributed in the United States, individual donors contributed 81% of that total, directly and through their estates. Foundations, including private and family foundations, were responsible for only 14% of donations, and corporate donations made up the smallest percentage—only 5%.

2. Introduction

Introductions can be critical—having the right person introduce you to the right prospect can set the stage for a mutually beneficial long-term relationship. First impressions are also important. A positive first impression will provide a solid foundation for building a strong donor relationship. Being introduced to a prospective donor by a mutual contact is ideal. Look to board members, volunteers, stakeholders, current donors, and others who are willing to introduce you to the prospects you identified in the previous step. Don’t rely on cold calls. Take the time to identify personal relationships and introductions that will provide instant credibility.

3. Information

Once an introduction has been arranged, it’s time to provide the prospects with concrete information about your organization. People want to know their dollars will make a difference. Present measurable metrics and achievements and show solid examples of how past giving has allowed your organization to achieve its goals. Show what future funding will give you the ability to accomplish. Sharing specific projects or programs that are directly funded by contributions showcases how people can support your organization’s missions and vision. Clearly define what your organization does, why the mission and vision are important, and what makes it worthy of the prospect’s investment. If possible, reinforce these points with testimonials from people who are positively impacted by your organization. Give the prospect the information they need to understand your organization and the impact it is having.

4. Interest

Interest is the “deciding I.” Your efforts to provide a prospect with information regarding your organization will provide a level of insight regarding their interest in your mission and vision. The goal is to gain clarity about the level and focus of that interest. This clarity can be gained by listening carefully during one-on-one conversations; and tracking specific questions a prospect asks and topics that seem to evoke greater attention. Keep in mind that while a prospect may have been identified for a specific funding initiative, most nonprofits are not singularly focused. Multiple opportunities should be presented in an effort to align with prospect interests. If interest is clearly demonstrated, you will want to advance opportunities for meaningful involvement with your organization.

5. Invitation

Now that you’ve identified interest, invite the prospect to one or more events that will provide access to your leadership, staff, and other donors who can passionately express their own enthusiasm for the mission and vision of the organization. The goal is to engage the prospect, bring them closer to the organization, and get them excited!

6. Involvement

People donate more to organizations with which they are involved. Focus on building prospect involvement with volunteer or advisory opportunities. Allowing people to become part of the planning and execution of projects helps develop a sense of ownership and commitment to the organization and its success. Strengthen prospect involvement by matching opportunities to the prospect’s strengths and interests. The more involved prospects become, the more likely they are to invest in you.

7. Investment

When these steps above have been followed, investment is the natural next step. The difference between a good nonprofit and a great nonprofit is private support that can come in many forms including cash, securities, real estate, art, personal property, and/or life insurance policies. When you follow the Seven I’s, the chances of securing gifts are considerably greater. An involved prospect will ask, “What can I do to help?” and it is at this point that you should ask for a gift. Remember to ask.

Conclusion

Following the Seven I’s of Fundraising is vital. The step-by-step process maximizes real relationship building and ultimate fundraising success. For many reasons, skipping from identification (step one) to investment (step seven) is not recommended. Applying adequate time and attention to this process will result in sustainable philanthropic support from donors who are invested in the mission and vision of your organization. Start today!

 

About The Compass Group

The Compass Group headquartered in Alexandria, VA, provides strategy, education, and coaching to organizations that must be successful in fundraising. In a working partnership with your staff, volunteers, and board, Compass will help you to enhance and develop the philanthropic culture of your nonprofit organization and achieve fundraising success. Our specialty areas include Arts & Culture, Environmental, Health Care, Higher Education, Human Services, and Independent Schools.

About Nick Scully

Nicholas Scully has more than 35 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. His areas of expertise include campaign management and implementation, prospect engagement and cultivation, board training, planned giving, major gift solicitation, donor stewardship and enrollment management.

Prior to joining The Compass Group, he was the vice president for institutional advancement and athletics at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. He formerly served Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal School in Memphis in several leadership roles including chief development officer.

His clients have included major universities, private colleges, conservation groups, independent, charter and public schools, social service providers, health care facilities and national fraternities.

A Case to Remember

A Case to Remember…

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King stood in front of millions of people and said, “I have a dream.”

He did not say, “I have an interim strategic plan and a couple of overheads.” He had a vision for what he thought the world could be and he declared it boldly.

This kind of thinking should guide the development of your Case for Support. Your ability to envision a bold future for your organization and to articulate that future in a Case for Support will be the key to attracting the resources necessary to make that future possible.

The strength of a Case for Support is directly proportional to its ability to relate to the personal interests and concerns of the reader. It should motivate the reader and convince them that their contribution is absolutely critical to success, while reassuring them that making a significant commitment will be as rewarding for them as it is for your organization.

A convincing, documented Case is not a shopping list of needs. It correlates opportunities to improve or expand programs, and/or solve problems, to the vision for the future. A quality and effective Case has simplicity, good taste, and a logical order.

The Effective Case for Support

An effective Case will benefit your organization in the following ways:

  • Demonstrate agreement among leadership on the projects to be funded in relation to a strategic/ long-term plan—scope, relevance, and priority
  • Aid in enlisting influential volunteer leadership for the campaign
  • Provide the content basis for all printed materials related to the campaign
  • Serve as a conversation piece for effective cultivation and solicitation

Characteristics of a Convincing Case for Support

As the Case is being crafted, keep in mind the reader’s concerns and questions, because the ultimate goal is to engage and involve the reader. Common questions that readers will have that should be addressed in the Case are:

  • What is the vision for the future and/or the problem to be solved by your organization?
  • What is being done to achieve that vision/address that problem?
  • What still needs to be done?
  • Why does it need to be done now? What is the urgency?
  • What does your organization propose to do and what impact will it have?
  • Why is your organization the right organization to do this?
  • What will it cost?
  • What action should the reader take?

Other important characteristics of a convincing Case for Support are:

It is bigger than the organization…

Your vision must reflect value to society, not just to your organization. How will quality of life be improved long-term, rather than short-term? Emphasize the ability of your organization to seize an opportunity and/or solve a problem in the world today.

Be “worthy” not “needy”…

Remember, crisis fundraising based on a needy narrative tends to be transactional and has limited potential. Significant philanthropy is developed through demonstrating the worth of your organization. Focus on opportunities, not needs. Present your organization and your vision for the future as worthy of investment.

It has broad appeal…

Your readers may be varied and diverse, but can be united on the vision presented. Remember, your organization is seizing an opportunity or addressing a problem to benefit the greater community.

It is supportable…

You must provide evidence that your organization is capable of advancing a plan to achieve the vision reflected in the Case for Support and that the people involved are capable of achieving the objectives.

It is centered on matters of current interest…

Focus on the future rather than the past. Focus on what must be done now to seize tomorrow’s opportunities/solve tomorrow’s problems, rather than what was done yesterday to meet today’s needs.

It is both rational and emotional…

Write logically to engage the intellect and passionately to evoke an emotional response—the head and heart work together. The reader should feel pride in the organization, high hopes for the future, and a sense of moral purpose which leads to a desire to become part of making the future possible.

Be brief…

Write it simply and clearly. Can you do this in 6 to 8 pages?

Be optimistic…

Express confidence in your ability to accomplish your goals and objectives, “We will be successful—this is too important.” Philanthropy and altruism flourish in an atmosphere of optimism. Do not resort to statements like “We will fail if you do not help.” Instead, focus on the outcome, “With your support we will be able to achieve these worthy objectives.” Your goal is to convince your readers that their gift, at this time, will bring them the rewards they desire by helping to further an outstanding cause.

Effective fundraisers do not talk about hospitals, emergency rooms, or outpatient clinics—they talk about health. They do not talk about schools, colleges, and endowments—they talk about education and the search for truth. They do not talk about galleries, theatres, books, symphony halls, or hangings—but the enrichment of life.

It is imperative to create an effective and convincing Case for Support to be successful in meeting your organizational goals. What your organization does contributes to the improvement of the quality of life. Express that. Because of what you do, the world is a better place.

 

About The Compass Group

The Compass Group headquartered in Alexandria, VA, provides strategy, education, and coaching to organizations that must be successful in fundraising. In a working partnership with your staff, volunteers, and board, Compass will help you to enhance and develop the philanthropic culture of your nonprofit organization and achieve fundraising success. Our specialty areas include Arts & Culture, Environmental, Health Care, Higher Education, Human Services, and Independent Schools.

About Frank Pisch

Frank S. Pisch is a senior fundraising executive and nonprofit leader with more than 40 years of successful experience. His strengths include board and staff training, campaign design and management, board and staff development, effective utilization of volunteers and all other aspects of fundraising, including creation of effective fundraising teams.

Mr. Pisch has consulted on capital campaigns and major gift fundraising and strategic planning for a wide spectrum of nonprofit organizations, private and four-year colleges, public universities, community colleges, university foundation boards, independent schools, hospitals and medical centers, human service and environmental agencies, youth groups, arts organizations, and trade associations.

Mr. Pisch has helped his clients raise more than $4 billion, and as a major gifts specialist he has been involved in the successful solicitation of more than 200 gifts of $1 million or more.

Building a Better Funddraising Board

Building a Better Fundraising Board

In today’s fundraising environment, competition for philanthropic dollars is greater than ever before. Nonprofit organizations that can compete successfully in the philanthropic market will be able to attain their goals and fulfill their mission. To establish and maintain a competitive edge in fundraising, an organization must have:

  • A compelling case for support
  • Active engagement of staff and volunteer leadership
  • Adequate philanthropic prospects
  • Effective operations to support the fundraising process

Ensuring these prerequisites are hard-wired organizationally requires focused leadership and action by the CEO, development staff, and the board. This white paper defines the role of the board in fundraising and provides insights on how to build a better board in three steps:

  1. Attract the Right People
  2. Train Effectively
  3. Evaluate Performance

The Board

An effective board plays a variety of critical roles for an organization from hiring and evaluating the CEO to ensuring fiscal accountability. However, the role the board plays in fundraising can have the greatest influence on an organization’s impact. To fulfill this role, the board should prioritize the following:

Mission & Vision—Collectively and individually the board must passionately embrace the mission of the organization and actively participate in developing a vision for the future that is bold and inspiring. This vision will inform the case for philanthropic support.

Advocate & Engage—The board is an external advocate for the organization. Board members must be resourceful in engaging individuals, corporations, and foundations that have the ability to philanthropically support the organization’s mission and vision.

Support— The board must financially support the organization through their own philanthropy. Each board member must make a gift that is commensurate with their interest and ability. A board member should make the organization they serve one of their top three philanthropic priorities. The board must also make certain appropriate resources are allocated to ensure the vision for the future can be achieved.

So how is it possible to build a board that appropriately commits itself to the priorities identified above? The following steps can help…

Attract the Right People

Building a more effective and stronger fundraising board starts with attracting the right people to the organization.

For most organizations, the board has created a nominating or governance committee that is charged with establishing and implementing a process by which current and potential board members are identified, qualified, cultivated, enlisted, trained, evaluated, and stewarded. The CEO and development staff should actively support this effort in the following ways:

  • Ensure clarity around the mission and vision of the organization.
  • Collaboratively develop a board profile that identifies desired characteristics, skill sets, and/or abilities that are needed for the organization. This profile should evolve with the organization.
  • Assist in identifying potential board candidates, with a goal of creating a multi-year list of individuals who have already demonstrated some or all of the characteristics identified in the board profile.
  • Facilitate the evaluation of board candidates in the context of the board profile.
  • Collaboratively create a written job description for board members with clearly stated expectations, such as:
    • Attendance
    • Committee Participation
    • Time Requirement
    • Philanthropic Support
    • Philosophical Support
  • Support each step of the enlistment process to ensure board candidates are clear on what service means to the organization.

Once board members are selected, they must be provided with the necessary information to make good decisions, fulfill expectations, further the organization’s mission, and be a productive member of the leadership team. This information should be delivered through an effective training program.

Train Effectively

There are three main components of an effective training program for board members:

  1. Information—A general orientation session must be set up to familiarize board members with your organization. This session will include in-depth explanations of the organization’s history, mission, philosophy, and long-range plans.
  2. Operations—Each board member must understand how the organization functions in relation to its mission. This includes staff roles and responsibilities, organizational structure, budget, planning, and policies.
  3. Development—Board members must understand how the fundraising process works within the organization. They need to know how donors are acquired, renewed, upgraded, and stewarded. They need to know what it takes to raise a dollar, as well as their role as a team member in that process.

Board training is an on-going process. Conducting effective and productive board meetings and maintaining contact with board members is essential. Once the trained board members have had ample time to find their niche on your leadership team, it is essential that their performance be evaluated on a regular basis.

Evaluate Performance

The most effective board evaluations are developed and implemented by the board itself. These self-evaluations encourage ownership of defined roles and responsibilities and a willingness to take action to improve functionality and productivity. Board self-evaluations should include:

  • Annual conversations with each board member to determine commitment, productivity, and effectiveness
  • Establishing specific criteria for evaluating board effectiveness including meeting attendance, committee participation, advocacy, philanthropic support, and/or involvement in the fundraising process
  • Personal goal development by each board member to demonstrate their value to the board and the organization
  • Annual review of personal goals

Below is a sample of self-evaluation statements that can be sent to board members prior to these discussions.

  • I know why I was recruited to be a board member and I understand what is expected of me.
  • I have a clear picture of the mission, priorities, and funding as they relate to the long-range plan.
  • I believe in the mission.
  • I understand the reason we raise money and why others should support my organization.
  • I see this organization as my charitable priority.
  • I am willing to philanthropically support this organization annually in proportion to my interest in its success and my financial ability.
  • I readily suggest new potential donors.
  • I assist in identifying and evaluating prospects.
  • I participate in cultivating prospects, donors, and potential leadership.
  • I use my affluence and influence to benefit the organization.
  • I am comfortable sharing my personal reasons for giving to the organization with others.
  • I am willing to ask others to make a gift to this organization.
  • I write personal thank you, acknowledgement, and follow-up letters.

Conclusion

Implementing an effective process for building a better board for fundraising will allow a nonprofit organization to maximize the potential of the board in advancing the mission and vision of the organization. Successful fundraising boards:

  • Plan appropriately
  • Establish realistic goals for your organization
  • Actively participate in the fundraising process
  • Allocate sufficient resources to achieve the organization’s goals
  • Insist on accountability

The Compass Group can assist you with building a better fundraising board through in-depth training, workshops, and seminars customized to the age, size and mission of your organization.

 

About The Compass Group

The Compass Group headquartered in Alexandria, VA, provides strategy, education, and coaching to organizations that must be successful in fundraising. In a working partnership with your staff, volunteers, and board, Compass will help you to enhance and develop the philanthropic culture of your nonprofit organization and achieve fundraising success. Our specialty areas include Arts & Culture, Environmental, Health Care, Higher Education, Human Services, and Independent Schools.

About Frank Pisch

Frank S. Pisch is a senior fundraising executive and nonprofit leader with more than 40 years of successful experience. His strengths include board and staff training, campaign design and management, board and staff development, effective utilization of volunteers and all other aspects of fundraising, including creation of effective fundraising teams.

Mr. Pisch has consulted on capital campaigns and major gift fundraising and strategic planning for a wide spectrum of nonprofit organizations, private and four-year colleges, public universities, community colleges, university foundation boards, independent schools, hospitals and medical centers, human service and environmental agencies, youth groups, arts organizations, and trade associations.

Mr. Pisch has  helped his clients raise more than $4 billion for his clients, and as a major gifts specialist he has been involved in the successful solicitation of more than 200 gifts of $1 million or more.