Tag Archives: leadership

The Power of Women Fundraisers

 Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art. Fundraising Role Model.

Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. Fundraising Role Model.

Women are role models in so many sectors of our economy, and the nonprofit sector is no exception. In honor of women’s history month we salute women who step up to the challenge of raising money for nonprofit organizations and institutions they believe in. Their leadership and vision impact the lives of individuals, families, communities, regions and our nation as a whole.

We want to encourage more women to become fundraisers, and to grow their fund development capabilities. We want women to seek fundraising positions at the highest levels, and to inspire their peers to join them.

We share with you the characteristics we have observed amongst successful women fundraisers. The following are by no means definitive, or exclusive: they are simply based on our observations over the years.

First and foremost successful women fundraisers are not afraid to ask. They are fearless in asking for money, resources, guidance, help and time. They are confident in who they are as a person, and are not intimidated by people of power, wealth and influence. They are risk takers who are not afraid to fail. At the same time they always have a “plan b” and a “plan c” in case their original plan falters.

Speaking of plans, they are big on planning. They pay attention to detail, and they excel at follow-through. They are well prepared, and don’t “wing it.” They are collaborators who look for opportunities that will advance their donors, board members and volunteers.

They truly like people and seek to bring people together to advance organizations they believe in. When they bring people together they know how to manage them, how to bring out their best talents and abilities. Their passion is real: it’s not something they are paid to project. Rather, their leadership springs from their belief in the mission and vision of the organizations they are involved with.

Talented fundraisers we have known are listeners. They are willing – and able – to listen more than they talk. On the whole, they live a balanced lifestyle and are energized: they exude an energy you can feel. They attend to their physical and emotional health knowing that doing so gives them an edge. They are big on professional development and growth for themselves and the teams they manage. They are not satisfied with current success.

They have no problem sharing the limelight. They are willing to take a back seat and let others enjoy the limelight, for they know that their success lies in donors and volunteers giving and giving generously. They love the challenges of fundraising, and have no issues talking about money. They understand that they are facilitators and not the focal point. Successful fundraisers are valued and in high demand. They orchestrate leadership teams who secure the money and resources that bring the visions of nonprofits to life. We salute you!

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.”  They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them @saadshaw.

Shine a light on your fundraising

Team building – a secret to fundraisings success

Part two of a two-part series

TeamworkIt’s all about leadership and team building. You’ve heard the refrain, but what does it mean? In terms of nonprofit fundraising there can be no greater mandate than leadership and teamwork. Scarce funding for staff positions, stiff competition for the philanthropic dollar, and an abundance of wishful thinking leaves nonprofits at risk of not meeting their fundraising goals. Building and supporting a volunteer-led fundraising team is one way out of the vicious cycle imperiling too many organizations.

Your fundraising team should be comprised of leaders who are committed to ensuring your nonprofit has the money and resources it needs to deliver on its mission. It should include your volunteers, staff, executive leadership and board members. All members should work from a fundraising plan. You can have a simple plan or a complex plan. The most important thing is to work from a plan with agreed upon financial goals, timeframes, and defined roles and responsibilities. For a team to function, everyone has to know their role, and be qualified to fill it. Invite people to join your leadership team based on their understanding of what you are trying to achieve and how well they can help implement your plan.

Your team will set the tone, policy, and direction of your fundraising and monitor its progress. The committee should be led by a fundraising chair or co-chairs. These volunteers should be supported by the institution’s chief development officer and executive director. If you don’t have a fundraising chair, you need one. Take the time to review your fundraising plan, identify who could best help you meet your goals, and then find the right person to talk with your potential chair, inviting him to provide leadership. Be sure to show him your fundraising plan: people are more likely to say yes when they see you have a plan in place to meet your goal.

Other potential members for this committee include board members, current major donors, community and business leaders, key stakeholders, your finance director, executive director, development director and program staff.

Your fundraising chairs should convene and lead your monthly meetings. Team members should report on specific actions they have taken, solicitations, proposal submissions, and new potential donors and funders who have been identified. Staff should provide reports showing progress against goal, number of gifts received, average size of gift, largest gift, and specific information that allows the team to make proactive fundraising management decisions.

Team meetings shine a light on what people are doing and not doing. It holds board members, staff and volunteers accountable to each other. It takes away excuses and when things are going well it creates an excitement and momentum that is contagious.

Raising money is too important to go alone. Build and nurture your team.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.”  They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them @saadshaw.

Fundraising Starting Point: Commitment


Commitment is at the heart of all successful nonprofit fundraising. It needs to be developed and sustained. It starts with the organization’s leadership – the executive director or CEO, board members, as well as leadership level employees and volunteers. The purpose and vision for proposed fundraising needs to be carefully discussed by these parties, ideally through one-on-one conversations with time for challenging questions and clear answers.

After individual conversations have occurred, dedicate time during board meetings for group discussion. Invite grappling with the proposed fundraising initiative, the asking of questions, and the raising of doubts. Encourage new ideas along with expressions of enthusiasm or caution. Allocate enough time for a full discussion. As appropriate, schedule a retreat focused on fundraising. Many organizations host such retreats annually. Others will host a retreat when planning for a capital campaign or other fundraising initiative of special significance. Always leave enough time for all parties to fully understand and commit to a proposed fundraising goal. This is the most important fundraising prerequisite — without full commitment, there is greater potential for fundraising challenges.

We also suggest the executive director set aside time for similar discussions with senior staff. Employees often have insights and suggestions that can positively transform fundraising – ideas that may not be accessible to the organization if they are not invited into the fundraising conversation. A staff retreat may be a good investment of time and resources.

You will also want to gain the support of your organization’s informal leadership — those stakeholders who have supported your organization over the years with their time, money, and talent. Ideally you will talk with major donors, your most consistent donors, and volunteers, consultants, and staff as you develop a fundraising initiative. Remember, fundraising requires more than money. Talking with your extended leadership will help engage the best thinking, involvement, creativity, and networks of those closest to your organization. These individuals can provide ideas and resources that extend beyond those you thought of originally.

Another thing to remember is that prospective donors and funders always ask about the involvement of key stakeholders, particularly board members. In fact, many will shy away from initiatives that do not have demonstrated internal commitment and engagement. For example, many foundations explicitly ask about board giving. They want to know the percentage of board members who give, total dollars contributed, and funds raised through the efforts of board members. The feeling is, “If those closest to you don’t support the project, why should we?” For educational institutions, there is a focus on the rate of alumni giving, the retention of alumni donors, and total funds contributed by alumni.

Are you engaging the leadership within your nonprofit before approaching people outside the organization? How will you ask your fellow leaders for financial gifts and in-kind resources? Do you have a goal for board participation? Let us know.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.”  They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow then @saadshaw.

No Subsitute for Commitment


Successful fundraising for a nonprofit requires the full commitment of board members, the executive director, staff, and volunteer leadership. Without this commitment, it is very difficult to meet fundraising goals. People may say they are committed and that is good. What is more important is the extent to which people embody that commitment.

Consider the following. Do all leaders understand how much money the organization wants to raise, and what the funds will be used for? Can each articulate the impact the organization makes, and how it is unique? What about the strategic plan – do leaders understand the plan and how proposed fundraising ties to it? Does each believe the fundraising goal is achievable? Do leaders understand where the projected revenue will come from, and what plans are in place if initial solicitations are not successful?

What about their actions? Do your leaders embody integrity? Are they accountable? Do they encourage transparency? Do they come prepared to meetings and remain in contact with other members of the organization’s leadership between meetings? In the area of fundraising, do they make their own financial gift and ask others to do so? Do they generate enthusiasm for fundraising? Do they help secure in-kind resources that can offset organizational or fundraising costs? Do they share their creativity, resources, and problem solving skills to help advance fundraising? Most importantly, do they follow through on agreements?

While it takes time to cultivate and secure full commitment, this step cannot be pushed aside. If a fundraising initiative is executive director’s vision she should take time to meet individually with board members and share her vision and commitment. She will need to let board members know what it will take to make the vision a reality and ask for their support. She should be prepared to answer questions and overcome objections.

Likewise, if a project is the vision of the board of directors, the board chair should take the time to meet personally with the executive director to share the board’s vision and explain how the project will advance the organization’s mission and strategic plan. The board should be prepared to answer the executive director’s questions, and to provide her with the resources, support, and leadership that the proposed fundraising initiative will require.

The questions and objections raised by board members or the executive director may not be different from those that will need to be overcome when talking with prospective donors and partners. These comments, questions, and/or objectives can be most helpful in developing a strong case for support.

Regardless of where it originates, all leaders need to be engaged in the process of defining a fundraising project and its financial goals. What are you doing to engage the leadership at your nonprofit? What actions will you take to inspire commitment and engagement that will help secure funds, involvement, partnerships, and in-kind resources? Let us know.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.”  They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow then @saadshaw.

Memphis acts while others dream

While headlines focus on a growing division of Democrats vs Republicans, and business vs. government, Memphis is proving that a shared vision for a positive future unites a city – and its nonprofits – across stereotypical divides. The power of collective impact is evident as business, government, nonprofits, the faith community and local residents partner and collaborate on strategic initiatives designed to move Memphis and the mid-South forward. Safety, economic development, health, housing, education, workforce development, and government efficiency have all improved over the past five years, and plans are in motion to build on the momentum.

A few weeks ago Memphis Fast Forward, a city-wide collaboration, reported out on the progress made against their five year strategic plan. Take a look at a few of their results. Major violent crime down by 22.8%; major property crime down by 25.5%; Family Safety Center established for victims of domestic violence; new minority business receipts of $576 million generated; number of students in pre-K increased by 50%; City and county government efficiency strategies save $75 million; and more than 15,000 new jobs created.

As consultants who work with non-profits across the country we are impressed. With so many communities seeking to improve the conditions of life for their residents – and seeking to improve their economies – Memphis is an example of how to move forward together as a community. No one agency, organization, business or sector can do it alone. Collaboration, deep commitment, resources, planning and will are required.

When Memphis combines all these – with funding, oversight, and accountability – things happen.

The key is bringing everyone to the table. Memphis Fast Forward brought together literally hundreds of individuals and organizations. And this is only one example of partnerships that cross sectors. Memphis HOPE is another. In this case it was the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis who took the lead in bringing together business leaders and philanthropists to fund services for public housing residents who were moving into new homes and communities. They raised $7.3 million in private funds to help the city secure $44.2 million in federal HOPE VI grants to transform the city’s public housing. And, as a collaborative, Memphis HOPE is now a nationally recognized model in how to provide case management services. What’s their secret? They listen to residents needs and help connect them with nonprofits – and government agencies – who can help.

Memphis Fast Forward and Memphis HOPE are only two examples of local collaborations focused on positive social, educational and economic change. One thing they share in common is the engagement and leadership of nonprofits. Memphis knows these organizations are rich with relationships, local knowledge, and talent. They have experience testing and refining solutions to many of the issues confronting individuals, families and our community.

The willingness of leaders to collaborate, try new approaches and engage nonprofits is one more reason why we love Memphis.

Who Owns the Vision?

This column is directed to executive directors and CEOs of non-profit organizations, presidents and chancellors colleges and universities.

Is your vision statement long and flowery? Or does it have more of a business tone? Can someone differentiate your organization or institution from those with a similar mission? Is your vision the same as the executive or president who served before you? Have you taken the time to craft your vision, or have you delegated that to a committee?

Here’s what we believe. It is up the executive leader to craft the vision statement. It has to come from you. You were hired to lead. You were hired for your experience. And you were hired for your vision. As a leader you need to articulate that vision – write it down, share it with your board, senior staff, major donors, and ultimately all of your staff. Ask for their input. Modify it based on the feedback you receive. It will become the institution’s vision – everyone needs to buy into it – but it has to start with you.

As you craft your vision statement think about all you know about the institution. Reflect on the conversations you have had with board members, donors, community members, students, families, volunteers and others. Think about their visions – whether they have stated them explicitly or not. Which do you agree with? Can these be integrated into your vision statement? Consider organizations similar to yours, and define the ways in which the organization you lead is unique – or will be unique. Think about the people you serve or represent and their circumstances; consider the political and economic landscape.

Sometimes a major funder will want to influence your vision. They may be looking for an organization to pursue certain programs and want yours to do so. These may be well intentioned requests, but is their vision in line with your vision?

If you are an interim leader, step up and assert your vision. You may have been asked to serve in a “care taker” capacity until the next leader is selected, or you may be charged with being a “change agent.” In either case, exert your leadership by communicating your vision.

Regardless of your tenure, your vision may conflict with that of your board chair, or that of a major funder. If that’s the case, take time to share why you hold the vision you do. It may mean you are not the right leader, or that the board member is not a right fit for the organization, or that your institution is not a right fit for a certain funder. Don’t worry – that’s life. There will be others with whom you or your organization are a fit. Don’t let fear stand in your way. Clearly communicate your vision for your institution – it will influence everything, so be explicit. That way everyone knows what you are trying to achieve.

Thoughts on Sustainability

Sustainability is a current buzzword. And an important concept for each of us to integrate into our work, our communities, and our personal lives. They are all connected, especially for those of us who work or volunteer in the nonprofit sector. Questions and concerns related to sustainability are often unasked and unanswered. How can we sustain our work in light of growing demand and contracting funds? How long can we continue to operate like this? And, on a personal note, how can I get through today?

The economic challenges of the past five years have pushed these questions to the forefront for many organizations and institutions. Some have closed their doors, others have cut services. Yet others are expanding, collaborating, investing and growing. Both are, in part, responses to the environment. Some are reactive and others proactive.

Our regular readers know we advocate for engaged, committed volunteer leadership and organizational integrity. These are key to sustainability or, more simply, organizational health. Here are some questions and ideas to consider in the area of sustainability.

Are our expectations of ourselves and our organizations reasonable? Are they in line with what is possible or do they push us beyond what we are capable of? When we face our limits – real or perceived – how do we respond?

What are the structures we as leaders put in place to sustain our institutions and our most important resources – our people. For example, are sabbaticals offered to staff at all levels after a set number of years of service? If not, is this possible? If not sabbaticals, how does the institution retain its talent? Are staff provided with opportunities to engage in professional development and networking? How is the executive leadership supported? Does the board partner with the executive in attracting resources, building relationships, and planning for the future?

How are new ideas vetted, accepted or rejected? What about succession planning? How are you cultivating the next generation of leadership? Most importantly, are your programs, advocacy and mission in sync with the current needs of the marketplace? For example, if your institution provides job training or employment preparation services, are these tied to specific needs of this region’s current employers? Valuable resources such as curriculum, teachers and instructors, and students’ time should be allocated most effectively with the end goal in mind – helping prepare residents secure living wage employment and perform well on the job.

Business processes such as payroll, purchasing, record maintenance and decision making should be evaluated. Are these in line with current best practices? Same with technology. Does your institution deploy technology (hardware and applications) that support business processes, data collection, reporting, evaluation and decision making?

We ask these questions not to stress you out, but to encourage you and other members of your leadership team to begin asking critical questions and making strategic investments that can help your organization sustain over time.

Volunteers: The Key to Nonprofit Success

Fundraising: Nonprofit board roles and responsibilitiesPart 5

Volunteers are at the heart of fundraising. They make all the difference in the world. They are passionate, connected, creative, and talented. And they need to be managed. Ask anyone who has served as a fundraising volunteer and you will quickly learn what made their experience great and what fueled disappointment. Perhaps you, as a volunteer, have experienced the joys and the pitfalls.

Here are some things to keep in mind. As an organization, make sure you know exactly what you want people to do before seeking volunteers. Create a one-page document outlining “roles and responsibilities” for each type of volunteer you need. Outline expectations for event volunteers, members of the phone-a-thon committee, or the corporate sponsorship committee. It may sound like a lot of work, but if people don’t know what you are asking them to do, it is hard for them to hit the mark.

If you are asked to help with fundraising, ask questions before saying “yes.” If you are not provided with written roles and responsibilities, request them. Here’s how to say “yes” while setting boundaries around your involvement:  “That sounds like something I can do. Would you write up your expectations, and any dates I should be aware of? I will review and confirm.”

When you say “yes,” treat your volunteer commitments as seriously as you treat your personal and professional commitments. Apply your talents and creativity, ask questions, engage your network.  You can provide valuable resources and leadership that are beyond the scope of staff.

As a volunteer you can make a difference by providing printing, web design services, meeting facilitation, a reduced or no-cost lease, food, legal services, transportation or products/services directly related to the organization’s mission. You can host a gathering at your office introducing the organization to your peers and encouraging them to give money and pro-bono services.

As a staff member, you need to be prepared to manage volunteers and respond to their requests and ideas. Allocate time for this. Be prepared to change how you do business. Volunteers may make requests that stretch your resources and your thinking. You may feel frustrated. That’s natural, but unhelpful. Be prepared to partner and to change.

Volunteers can take you to new levels; they can open doors that staff only dream of. Be prepared. Clearly communicating roles and responsibilities sets a framework for accountability. From there you can negotiate as volunteers bring new ideas to the table. You can choose to think of volunteers as “prima donnas” who take up your time. Or you can consider their requests and ideas as reasonable responses that arise out of their desire to help you. If your organization allocates adequate time to managing and supporting volunteers all parties can benefit.

© Copyright Saad & Shaw.  Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727.

Where Does the Buck Start?

Fundraising: Nonprofit CEO roles and responsibilities – Part Three

It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as a non-profit executive. And a lot of work! You are the CEO and the chief development officer. That means fundraising. Even if you have a vice president for advancement, or a development director. At the end of the day the proverbial “buck” stops with you.

The fundraising expectations are real, whether the board tells you explicitly or not. Major responsibilities include articulating the organization’s vision, and working with the board and development team to create a case for support that will drive fundraising. You also have to work with the development office to ensure the organization works from an agreed-upon fundraising plan. That’s the beginning.

You need to work closely with the board, development staff and fundraising volunteers providing motivation and asking hard questions. Examples include “how many prospective major donors have we identified, and how many are we cultivating?” “Who is researching prospective grant opportunities?” “How is the board progressing with its goal of hosting ten friend-raisers this year?” “Who should I meet with when I am in Washington next month?”

In most cases you are the face and voice of the organization. That means scheduling time to meet with community leaders, as well as current and prospective donors/funders, to develop and sustain relationships, and share the organization’s fundraising goals and priorities. And, to solicit gifts.

As the executive, you are truly the chief development officer, regardless of how many development employees there are. At the end of the day donors, funders and partners want to meet the executive director. And when it comes to major donors, many want to meet with you before making a meaningful gift. Many major donors expect you to “make the ask.” They will not write a check because you send a direct-mail letter. Most will not make a major gift online. They expect you to ask.

In addition to asking you have to manage your development staff. You are responsible for ensuring they work from a development/fundraising plan, that they have the resources they need (people, funding, software, marketing materials), and that they are making progress. You have to know how to guide and support your development team. And how to provide them with measurements they are held accountable to. Quick tip: those measurements have to be more than “meet annual fundraising goal.”

One of your most important responsibilities is to partner with the board chair in the recruitment and retention of board members and volunteers who are committed to fundraising. This is one of the most important “resources” the organization needs to be successful. People truly give to people. And volunteers – board members and others – can help transform your organization in meaningful ways, if you engage them. Be open, accessible, prepared and unafraid to ask. You will do well. Your organization believes in you.

© Copyright Saad & Shaw.  Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727.

Are You on Board?

Fundraising: Nonprofit board roles and responsibilities – Part 2

You’ve said “yes,” and now are serving on the board. What is expected of you? How do you demonstrate leadership? While we don’t have a crystal ball, we can provide guidance regarding your fundraising-related roles and responsibilities.

For many nonprofits fundraising is often the major method for securing funds and resources. As a board member, your leadership in this area makes a difference. Your roles and responsibilities fall into two general categories: policy and oversight, and giving and securing funds.

As a board member you will be asked to set fundraising policy. This includes items such as approving plans for a special fundraising campaign, and setting gift acceptance policies. For example, when the university you serve decides to launch a $150 million fundraising campaign, that will come before the board for approval.  You will want to ask informed questions such as, “What do the results of the feasibility study indicate?”Or “How many lead donors have been identified?” In the area of gift acceptance policies you may be asked to determine whether the organization will accept gifts of land, or cash gifts from gun manufacturers or tobacco companies.

You will also want to promote accountability and transparency. Support the adoption and implementation of policies related to conflict of interest and whistle-blower protection. Produce and distribute an annual report that shows how the organization uses the funds it receives. File your federal 990 on time. Communicate how the organization meets public needs and be willing to modify programs to help ensure best use of resources.

On a day-to-day level you will be responsible for understanding the institution’s fund development plan and in helping to bring it to life. For example, if the current focus is strengthening individual giving you will want to participate in house or office parties your organization hosts so you can meet new potential donors and supporters, and share with them the important work of the institution. As a board member your hospitality and words carry meaning and influence.

You should know the executive director’s or president’s vision for the institution. Talk with her. Ask questions. Then share that vision with other board members and most importantly with those who can provide funding and resources. Join your executive when she meets with leaders of local foundations or corporations. Meet with her in advance to understand the purpose of each meeting and then participate, showing support for her leadership and answering questions as appropriate.

Most importantly, make your own gift. Make a meaningful gift every year. Ask the company you work for to make a gift or sponsor an event. You have to give and advocate. Set an example. Stretch a little. Your community needs you!

© Copyright Saad & Shaw.  Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727.