One of Those Days

poutLast week, I had one of those days. You know the ones. You do your best to get things done, reach for creative heights, and refrain from yelling at your family or snapping at the mom who just ran over your foot with her giant stroller. And nothing quite seems to work out. I sometimes have a hard time keeping days like that in perspective. Rationally, I know that some days are just like that. But I often turn my frustration inward, sure that if I could just buckle down, I could move forward on that big project/be a more patient parent/write the heck out of that fundraising letter.

But last week, I had a bit of a breakthrough. I was complaining to my husband about my lack of forward momentum, and he reminded me that we'd had a sick child, strange school hours/off days, and an addition to our already crowded weekly schedule. From his perspective, it was no wonder I was off my game.

And that is when I realized that "those days" almost always happen when I'm out of my routine. My work may be creative, but that creativity relies on my devotion to my daily rhythms. And when those rhythms get thrown off, so does my ability to do my most effective work.

Of course, disruptions to routines are inevitable. Not only that, I'm starting to think they're valuable.

"Those days" often can be precursors to a different kind of day: the days when everything I work on comes together almost magically.

My regular path might be narrow, but sometimes you see more by stepping off for a time.

By stepping off my usual path, I give myself the chance to look at the things I'm trying to accomplish from a new perspective. And I'm able to be fresh and more creative when I get back on track.

So next time I have one of "those days," I'm going to try to look at it as a gift, rather than a curse.

Although I still might snap at the lady who runs over my foot with her giant stroller.


People don't remember me. That's me, though I have shorter hair now.

It sounds like an insecurity complex, but I swear that it's true. One example (of many): the wife of a former colleague of my husband's spent two evenings sitting across from me at a restaurant, conversed with me at an office party and even invited me to her wedding. My husband and I later attended a party at her home, and when I saw her I walked right up and said, "Thanks so much for inviting us!"

She smiled, held out her hand and said, "Hi, I'm Tahnee. What's your name?"

My neighbor -- a really lovely woman -- and I were talking the other day, and she mentioned that she suffers from the same forget-ability. It's hard for me to understand how anyone could forget her, and I don't think I'm flattering myself when I say that she seemed surprised that people would forget me. But it's true. It happens more often than I'd like.

Not that I let it get to me, not too much, anyway. I really think it's Tahnee's loss that she can't remember the very nice conversations we shared. But I'll admit that her indifference made me loathe to spend any more time with her and her husband.

Now, imagine how your donor feels when you misspell her name…when you reference a gift amount he never gave…when you call, email or send mail when he expressly asked you not to…when you show that you have no idea who they are or why they gave to you in the first place.

Frankly, it's insulting. And no one wants to spend time or money with someone who insults them.

Know your donors. Show them that you know who they are, that you understand why they give and that you share their passion for solving the problem your organization is trying to solve. Let them know that you rely on and appreciate their commitment to your cause.

Never let them feel forgettable.

How are you making your donors feel like you know who they are? How do you show them they're valued? Share your ideas in the comment section!

Is Your Board Engaged?

smaller-crowd-rdc-color-mdOne of the most common refrains I hear from my friends and colleagues in the nonprofit arena is "I'm just not sure how to make my Board understand fundraising!" One executive director friend dreads his quarterly report to his Board -- not because his organization isn't meeting its fundraising goals, but because he feels like his Board holds him to impossibly high standards and is always disappointed. I think every nonprofit should endeavor to recruit at least one fundraising professional onto their Board. Having that insider who can bridge the gap between the staff and the Board is so beneficial to both groups that I've always been surprised it isn't standard practice.

But until that happens, there are several key ways you can engage your Board in fundraising and help them understand how to strengthen your organization and its fundraising efforts.

First, you need to understand where your Board Members are coming from. Who are they? What is their background? Why are they involved with your organization? What activities spark their interests and passion? What stories do they tell about their involvement with your nonprofit? Understanding your audience is key to persuading people to give to your organization, and it's key to persuading your Board members to engage, as well.

Once you understand broadly and deeply who your Board is, then you can start to use their language, tap into their concerns and hopes, and create a culture of fundraising throughout your organization.

Cultivate that culture is by communicating openly and often with your Board members.

  • Use Storytelling to tell them about the impact they're having in your community.
  • Set clear expectations -- in other words, tell them what needs to be done and give them the tools to do that work.
  • Set aside time for one-on-one meetings with Board Members, and use that time to listen to their stories. Ask them what first excited them about your organization, and what their goals are for the next year.
  • Thank them often -- and personally -- for their commitment and participation. And ask them to personally thank your donors. This circle of gratitude makes everyone feel valued, needed and appreciated -- and makes your mission possible.

I also love this handy info-graphic on increasing Board engagement, which outlines practical, achievable steps for both smaller and larger nonprofit organizations.shaking hands

Above all, it's critical to remember that you're all on the same side. You may come at the problem you're trying to solve from different perspectives -- and that's great because it means you'll cover all the bases -- but you are all working for a common goal: the mission of your organization.

The 20-year-old Thank You

As you move forward on your path, don't forget to thank those who helped you get there. This week, I sent a thank you note that I should have written 20+ years ago.

When I was applying to colleges, I asked one of my English teachers for a letter of recommendation. He wrote it, I'm certain I at least said "Thank you" when he handed it to me, and I included it in my applications.

A few months later, I blew out of that suburb and didn't look back. a couple of decades. Picture me in my sweats, sitting on the living room floor surrounded by dusty boxes from the attic. I pulled out a file and found the original letter of recommendation from my English teacher.

It was quite a letter -- one tight-margined page filled with praise for me as a student and as a person. It was clear as I read it that Mr. Lewis hadn't relied on boilerplate recommendation language, replacing another student's name with mine. He'd put thought and effort into that letter. And I am sure I was one of dozens of kids who had asked for his recommendation. 

As I read the letter, I knew I hadn't fully appreciated what he'd done for me back when I was in high school, and my verbal "thank you" felt entirely inadequate.

I wanted to thank him properly. But what were the chances he'd remember me out of thousands of kids he's taught over the years? What difference would a heartfelt thank you note mean now?

I decided it didn't matter if he remembered me or not. (To be perfectly honest, I probably wouldn't be able to pick him out of a line-up either!) I knew from years of working with nonprofits that sending a thank you is always the right thing to do.

So I did it. And he responded with a kind note of his own. I don't think he does remember me, but that doesn't matter.

The important thing to me is that I was able to acknowledge his generosity.

Now, clearly, I should have written that note many years ago. I blew it then...just like so many nonprofits blow it each and every day when they fail to acknowledge their donors' generosity.

But it really is better late than never. So if you are still sitting on a stack of thank you notes from your year-end giving drive, for pete's sake, send them out! Better yet, take a few minutes out of each day to telephone those donors and thank them profusely for their support.

They don't have to give to you. They don't owe you anything, just like Mr. Lewis didn't owe me such a stellar recommendation letter.

But you do owe them something: a sincere and timely thank you.

Celebrating Milestones

A funny thing happened to me last week. My oldest child turned 10. I know, really it happened to her. But it's strange for me to think about the changes the last ten years have brought to my life as a direct result of her presence. In a very real way, I owe her much of my progress as a writer and creative consultant to nonprofits. Having her was an earth-shattering, highly focusing experience.

So after the dust settled from her sleepover party and all-around over-the-top birthday celebrations with family and friends subsided, I decided to take a few minutes to celebrate my own journey over the last ten years, reflect on what I've achieved, and plan for the next decade.

The process is ongoing for me, but it also made me think about my clients and their upcoming milestones. So much excitement and opportunity -- so how can we take advantage of it?

Does your nonprofit have a big anniversary coming up?

Anniversaries are a good time to reflect on the past and set new goals for the future -- individually and for nonprofit organizations. Sometimes you find you simply need a course-correct. Other times, a full-on reinvention is required. And while much of this work will be internal, there are ways to celebrate publicly...and perhaps induce your donors to give even more to commemorate your milestone.

Here are my key suggestions, cautions and ideas for celebrating your nonprofit's anniversary with your donors:

  • First up, you have to remember that donors generally don't care as much about the anniversary as you at the organization do. With a few exceptions, they're not going to give solely because you've suddenly reached 25 years (or whatever anniversary it happens to be). It doesn't mean you can't celebrate it with your donors, but I would caution against making huge projections based on it being an anniversary year.
  • See if you can get a challenge grant from a major donor in celebration of the anniversary. You know that a good Challenge Grant will spur other donors to give, and pinning that challenge to a big, sentimental anniversary might give it a bit extra oomph.
  • Can you segment out charter/founding donors? If so, give them special treatment for their longevity. These are your most loyal donors and the ones most likely to be invested in your anniversary, so make sure they know they are the reason you reached such a monumental milestone.
  • You might consider designing a special anniversary edition of your logo, to be used just for that one year. Using that in all donor communication will help remind them that it's a special year/exciting time for the organization. Maybe even try using a retro look -- old fonts/logos that were used/popular the year you were founded. Anything you can do to make your donors feel sentimental (read: emotional) about your organization will inspire more giving.
  • Consider revisiting some of your early success stories. Tell donors again about the people you've helped, the battles you've won, the previous milestones you've celebrated. Can you profile someone whose life you touched early on, give a "where-are-they-now" update? Even better! Remind your donors why they gave to you in the first place, and they'll be more inclined to give again and keep giving.
  • Above all, try to use the anniversary as a way to remind donors of all the great work they've accomplished over the last xx years and then tell them your plan for this year (and the next xx years). As always, keep it simple and compelling. Remind them that they made this anniversary possible.

Anniversaries are a great opportunity for your organization as a whole, and they can also be a good hook for fundraising as long as you always remember this key: it's all about your donor. Stick to what your donors care about in fundraising, avoid showing them the internal details of your reflection, and make them feel like a part of your organization's past, present and future.

Thanksgiving Thankfulness

This fall has been a whirlwind of activity -- from kids' school and soccer, to a husband in grad school, and a work load that threatened to bury me in direct mail. There were more than a few moments I wasn't sure how much longer I could keep up the pace.

A friend of mine once told me that if you work for a nonprofit, you will always have work on your desk and exhaustion in your bones.

And these days, when more organizations are trying to meet increased need with decreased resources, I think that's more true than ever. If you don't find a few moments during the year to remember why you do what you do, you'll go bonkers...or worse, burn out completely.

So now that I have a light, short week in which to take a breath and reflect, I want to jot down a few of the things I'm thankful for...things I haven't been able to see amidst the deluge of responsibilities this past few months.

  • Clients who consistently surprise and delight me. It is so much easier to endure crunch time with people who appreciate what we're trying to accomplish and who collaborate fully and openly. What a treat!
  • Family support. Even my four-year-old knows when Mama needs a break, and my husband and three children are my biggest caretakers...and biggest fans.
  • Friends and neighbors who step up, no questions asked. Whether it's providing emergency child care, donating a hot meal, helping me network, or volunteering to proofread my latest letter, these people have my back!
  • Work that I believe in. One of the best things about my job is being able to channel my creativity into efforts that make the world a better place to live.
  • Connectivity. I'm old enough to remember how cumbersome working at home used to be, and I'm thankful every single day for the tools that allow me to work with people all over the world from a corner of my kitchen.

There are, of course, many other things I'm thankful for -- my home, my town, my good health, the bottle of wine on my counter, peppermint jojos from Trader Joe's, and more. But those are the biggies.

Try to take a moment this week to think about what makes you thankful in your job and in your life. Colleagues? Donors? Small successes or huge triumphs?

Nonprofits are busy places at year's end, and sometimes the only way to make it to the other side is to remember what keeps you going. So, what are you thankful for this year?