All Posts By

Beth Markley

Confessions of a Control Freak

By | Teamwork, Uncategorized | No Comments

Not every fundraising effort is a smashing success. There can be any number of reasons an initiative or campaign doesn’t meet its goal; from a message that isn’t compelling enough, to unfocused leadership, to poor management. One major handicap for any fundraising effort is having too few members on the team.

Edward was not a fan, but that shouldn't stop you.

I’ll admit, when I was a Development Director on staff for a mid-size regional nonprofit, I was frequently caught trying to do everything myself. I wanted to deliver the right message and the right materials to the right prospective donor at the right time. The prospect of managing a big group meant that anyone could be out there saying something that was slightly wrong, requiring follow up I didn’t have time for. I didn’t want to delegate.

There’s a problem with this kind of approach within the context of almost any fundraising effort, and it’s more than just the truth behind the old standard: “many hands make light work.” There are many reasons to work with a team:

  1. The larger the group, the more legitimate the cause in the eyes of some of your prospective donors. More people want to back a winning horse, be part of the “in” crowd, than want to be the early adopters with all the risks that come with that.
  2. The bigger the mass the larger the pull of gravity, and the bigger the pool of people, the more you’ll garner enthusiasm, social media “buzz” and people wanting to get in on the action.
  3. A dream that belongs to just one or a small group lacks opportunities for buy in. A dream that encourages feedback and the exchange of ideas encourages action, and ownership.  Engaged members of your campaign team are some of your first and most enthusiastic donors.
  4. Each member of a team brings a different skill set to the project, and each can be of some help at some time or another.  Think about how much your board treasure likes explaining a P&L report, or how well your fundraising chair can get in to see almost anyone when the need arises.  A diverse team of volunteers can accomplish more when each is given a set of tasks appropriate to their skills.

The word “campaign” means a series of operations undertaken with one objective in mind.  I have come to realize that one can more readily predict the likely success of a nonprofit marketing or fundraising campaign or project based upon the amount of focused activity that is going on.  If only one or two people are making calls on prospective donors, very few calls will be made and donations will be few and far between. Momentum won’t build. Ripples won’t spread.

If you are a control freak, gathering a cadre of excited volunteers is a terrifying prospect.  What if someone says the wrong thing, or talks to a reporter? What if more than one person approaches a prospective donor? What if things get out of control?

But the result of only one person or a small group of people working on a project is that multiple tasks will wait for someone’s attention, missing important deadlines or windows of opportunity.

If you share my control-freak tendencies, consider:

  1. Remember the KISS principle and keep it simple. Create job descriptions for all volunteers that include five or fewer bullet points. Then work with the individual to carve out specific additional duties and tasks appropriate to that person.
  2. Let go, a little bit, of the message.  Everyone has a slightly different way of telling the story of why your organization is important. You can’t control everything they’re going to say when they’re in public, just make sure they know one or two key points to hit while they’re telling their story.
  3. Keep in touch, or enlist a committee to do so. Have them call and or email volunteers regularly. If someone is not accomplishing what they’ve told you they would, gently suggest going another route.  Keep short intervals between check in times, and meet with your core group often to keep tabs on the momentum.

Remember that ultimately there is very little to be gained – except possibly a significant therapy bill – by trying to manage everything yourself to the tiniest detail. Share, delegate and collaborate and you’ll ultimately be more likely to celebrate success.

A Journey of a Thousand Miles

By | training | No Comments

Out of all of the groups I’ve worked with, not one has characterized their group as adept at fundraising. Not one. Many have been particularly down on their group’s ability and/or willingness to engage in development. Some have told me they think members of their group are actually going to be hostile when the subject comes up.

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Celebrating the “No”

By | training | No Comments

Mike and I kvetched at the kitchen table this morning before work about the difficulties involved in fundraising. After listening to me go on about my job for twenty years, he knows quite a lot about what’s involved in asking someone for money. Still, he considers himself a newbie.

Recently he’s made a conscious decision to be more active in fundraising on behalf of two organizations. He got involved with our local YMCA Strong Kids Campaign. He’s coordinating a board fundraising training for another group and has volunteered the two of us to launch a series of house parties to set a good example.

He set out on some initial fundraising tasks with a great deal of enthusiasm. He made a commitment of his own gift, familiarized himself with the mission and message of the organization, scoped out some good prospective donors, strategized his approach, set up his meetings and asked for support. Twice.

He received two polite but definite declines.

He, like any rational adult, sees this as rejection. Fear of rejection is the primary reason people don’t launch themselves confidently into the world of fundraising. In his mind, his fear has just been substantiated.

But to me, these two asks were successes. Although he’s discouraged with the result, he’s proved to himself that he can weather rejection. If the organizations working with him are smart enough to realize his potential, they’ll make sure he knows just how valuable it is to them that he put himself out there at all, and work with him to do it again.

The only sure “no” in fundraising is in response to the request that’s never made. Even a “no” in response to a direct ask isn’t necessarily a “no” forever. In my husband’s case, one denial came from a company that really has no philanthropic history. The headquarters isn’t based here. They don’t sell their product here, and the connection between successful recruitment and ongoing employee satisfaction and the work of the organization was not as compelling to them as it should be. But it may be that he started some gears turning, somewhere, and the next time someone asks, they’ll be more open to the possibility of charitable giving.

In the second case, he missed the company’s budget cycle, but learned more about their criteria for giving (nonprofits with heavy company involvement get first dibs), their visibility and marketing objectives. I’ll bet if he times his ask better, and brings information about direct employee involvement in the organization next year, he’ll have a shot.

In both cases, he made his case. After that a “yes” or a “no” can hinge on so many variables that have nothing to do with the person making the request. The important thing is reaching out in the first place. We can research, develop our case, strategize and go back to the drawing board any number of times and never get anywhere because we don’t actually ever pull the trigger. We have no hope of hitting the target otherwise, but statistically speaking, even when we do fire, we’re still going to miss once in a while. We might as well start somewhere.

I had a great assistant at one point who could work the phones like a boss. She got me in front of more potential donors than I ever could do on my own. Her background was in telemarketing, and she said the only way to avoid letting that job crush her soul, was to turn it into a mental game of averages. She knew she would be successful about one in 20 times, so she started to celebrate a little for every “no” she got, knowing she was closing in on a “yes” eventually.

The work we’re asking of our volunteer board members and other fundraisers isn’t soul crushing. It isn’t scrounging or begging or scrambling for money. It is noble and it is worthwhile and it is something they should hold their chins up about. But that doesn’t mean that even the best fundraisers are going to get a positive response every time they ask.

Encourage your volunteers to celebrate the “nos,” rather than grieve or retreat. With each one, they’re that much closer to a “yes.”

What’s my mild-mannered persona going to do?

By | The Fundraising Coach | No Comments

When I’m talking to nonprofit board members and executives about the work I do as a fundraiser, I like to make clear at the outset that I’m not a superhero. I’m not the person who is going to swoop in and make sure everything is hunky-dory, then leave with a “my work here is done.”

It’s a tempting thought: “we hired a fundraising consultant, and suddenly cash started rolling in,” Kind of like: “who was that caped crusader? I don’t know, but we owe her a debt of gratitude.” Fact is, I have never seen a person single-handedly turn an organization into a fundraising machine without the enthusiastic cooperation and participation of those who were already there. For that reason, I would be reluctant to take credit for the successes I have been privileged to lead, witness or participate in, in any capacity.

Whether it’s professional staff, development committee chair or outside consultant, it’s important to realize the role of the fundraiser is that of a personal trainer rather than the cosmetic surgeon. With either one, you’re going to look different in the end, but with a trainer, you’ll sweat more and may hate her later, but your successes will be yours to keep, sustainable over time, and a direct return of the effort you put into them.

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Just ordering the crème brûlée, not saying “I do”

By | Donor Cultivation | No Comments

More than a decade ago, I was leading the charge in a campaign to solicit annual gifts from our staff. A colleague of mine, Sherry, told me she found the concept of a staff campaign offensive. She held up one of the women in our support staff as an example.

Consuela was a young, single mother. After years of saving she had just purchased a modest home. Sherry thought it shocking that we would be so bold as to ask Consuela to consider a gift to the organization she worked for on top of all of her other burdens.

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