Monday, December 28, 2015

Board Giving and the Generosity Circle

My last two blogs this month have addressed “10 Fundraising Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix.” In addition to a little venting, I’ve challenged board members to address the board policy issues that impact a ministry’s fundraising program. (Example: Who evaluates fundraising effectiveness?)

Let me now turn the discussion in your direction. Hopefully, you’re not just a “donor of record” (as some lame board policies require), but you’re a generous giver to the ministry where you serve as a board member.

In the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members, the “Board Member Read-and-Engage Viewing Guide” lists six criteria for board nominees:
   The 6 Ds:
   1. Discerning Decision-Maker
   2. Demonstrated Passion
   3. Documented Team Player
   4. Diligent and Faithful Participant
   5. Doer (“Walks the talk!)
   6. Donor

Here’s the commentary on the 6th D: “Because Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,’ this nominee is already a generous giver to our ministry. (Note: Many organizations define ‘generous’ as prioritizing your organization in the Top-3 of a person’s annual giving. Board members at all income levels can be generous.)”

So, while your ministry can easily fix the 10 fundraising mistakes, only you can discern if your giving is in the “Generous Giving” circle or just the “Donor of Record” circle. While a generosity expectation may not have been communicated to you when you were recruited to the board, this week would be a good time to self-assess your passion and commitment (and generosity level) for the board(s) you serve on.

Fred Smith, Jr., president of The Gathering, has noted that there are at least seven models of giving in the Bible—and his insights will help you think biblically about your giving.

He writes, “A few years ago I heard an earnest, well-intentioned speaker present a message on the topic of the Biblical model of giving. It was the story of the widow’s mite and, as you might guess, the conclusion was we should be willing to give everything we have.

“I started thinking about that because I had heard almost my whole life that this story was the Biblical model for giving and, ideally, the gold standard. However, as I started looking at the different stories about giving in Scripture I realized there is a wide diversity of giving styles in Scripture—not just one.”

Smith lists seven examples: David (a leadership gift), Solomon (the extravagant giver), Elisha (gift of an opportunity), The Wise Men (team givers), Zacchaeus (exuberance and precision), The Widow (giving even to a flawed institution!), and Barnabas (powerful return on investment).

So how would you respond to Fred Smith’s Question? “I hope you ask yourself which of these individuals would be most like your own style of giving, and in doing so, you begin to recognize how your giving is a part of God’s workmanship in your life.”

My Question: Why should I give to your ministry if your board members are giving more generously to other ministries?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

10 Fundraising Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix (Part 2)

In my last blog I listed five of the 10 fundraising mistakes that are easy to fix.
Again, I’m not suggesting you put these on the board agenda (it’s staff work, not board work)—but from a board policy perspective, who owns the annual evaluation of your fundraising program?

Here are the other five mistakes:

MISTAKE #6: Asking major givers for minor gifts.  One size doesn’t fit all. In fact, Mark Dillion believes most ministries have four distinct segments of donors. If so, each segment should be challenged to give at an appropriate, but differing level:
   • The Gifted Giver (2-5% of givers) 
   • The Thoughtful Giver (15-25% of givers) 
   • The Casual Giver (35-50% of givers) 
   • The Reluctant Giver (perhaps 33% of givers)

MISTAKE #7: One-way communication.  Think telephone, not megaphone. Ask your givers (here’s a thought!) why they give. It’s the third question in Peter Drucker’s classic five questions that every organization must ask: “What does our [donor] value?”  Ask: What do you appreciate about our ministry? What would you change? What do you value about our donor appeals, newsletters, website, special events, etc.?

MISTAKE #8: “This is a return envelope!” Vince Lombardi, the celebrated coach of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, would start each season’s first practice session with this line “Gentlemen, this is a football!” Trust me, if Coach Lombardi was a fundraising consultant, he would begin each session with the four fundamentals that are often missing in direct mail pieces. Don’t let inexperienced staff (or board members) move you off the fundamentals:
   1. The outer envelope (Interest me! My opinion: mailing labels cheapen the message.)
   2. The letter (Inform and inspire me!)
   3. The response device (Direct me! What do you want me to do?)
   4. The return envelope (Make it easy for me. Even if I give online, maybe this time I won’t. Please give me a return envelope.)

MISTAKE #9: Short letter? Long letter? Wrong question! Roger Ebert, the movie critic, famously said, “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.” Ditto board meetings and donor letters. My wife reads every donor letter from one of her favorite organizations—because the letter is well-written, inspiring, interesting and packed with Kingdom impact. While focused on human crises, the letter never manipulates. She will frequently insist I read the letter.  Most other letters (short or long) are tragically boring. Those have a short path: mailbox to waste basket.

MISTAKE #10: Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask.  Hey! Take a breath and report back on how my gift helped introduce a person to eternity, or changed a marriage, or gave hope and healing in Jesus’ name. I understand you need more money—but I need more information. As I pray, discern and sort through competing requests, I always tilt toward the ministry that sees me as a partner, not a feedbag. Try this: Ask. Thank. Report. Inquire. Ask again.

QUESTION: When is the last time your board asked for an evaluation of your fundraising program and practices?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

10 Fundraising Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix

There is a wide continuum of beliefs concerning the board member’s role in fundraising. Policy Governance® zealots warn against board committees that replicate staff work. According to John Carver, “Board committees are to help get the board’s job done, not to help with the staff’s job.” You may disagree—and that’s OK. 

Whether you’re discussing fundraising in your board meeting, or wearing your volunteer hat to suggest improvements, it’s 100 percent certain you’ll be talking about fundraising when your year-end results are in. (Was it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down year?)

So…for what it’s worth, here’s my list of 10 fundraising mistakes I notice frequently. The good news—all 10 are fairly easy to fix. I’m not suggesting you put these on the board agenda (it’s staff work, not board work)—but from a board policy perspective, who owns the annual evaluation of your fundraising program?

Here are the first five mistakes:

MISTAKE #1: Donor letters that thank every person for their faithful giving—when, in fact, the letter is also sent to non-donors! (Easy Fix: segment your list into donors and non-donors.)

MISTAKE #2: A donor gives a gift to the ABC program, but the president’s generic thank you letter highlights the XYZ program. (Easy Fix: segment your thank you letters to appropriately report on progress for the specific gift given.)

MISTAKE #3: When a donor gives online, the emailed receipt is inappropriately designed for product purchases with a “shipping and handling” line, etc. (Easy Fix: use online giving software. Using a "one-size fits all" software program only communicates to donors that you don’t have your act together. Board members: give an online gift today--and assess the quality of the giving experience, and the receipting process.)

MISTAKE #4: When Mary Smith receives an appeal letter, or a thank you letter, addressed to “Dear Mrs. Smith,” but the CEO calls her by her first name, “Mary,” it’s one more indication that there is a sloppy, undisciplined development approach. (Easy Fix: customize every donor record. Good software will help you do this.)

MISTAKE #5: Focusing on the year-end tax benefits of giving versus the importance of the ministry’s work and results. When we appeal to tax-saving versus soul-saving, we miss the opportunity to disciple donors in what Wes Willmer calls the “Revolution in Generosity.”

Watch for the other five mistakes in the next blog.

QUESTION: When is the last time your board asked for an evaluation of your fundraising program and practices?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Board Chair Best Practices #4: The Meeting Before the Meeting

Last month I began a blog series on board chair best practices. Here’s Board Chair Best Practice #4: 

#4. The Meeting Before the Meeting

You’ve heard this one: “As the board goes, so goes the organization. And as the board chair goes, so goes the board.”

The board chair’s role in thoughtfully and prayerfully leading the board—especially during board meetings—is critical to a healthy board. And a common best practice is for the board chair and the CEO to have a meeting before the meeting. 

John Maxwell’s helpful book, Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading, includes an insightful chapter, “The Secret to a Good Meeting Is the Meeting Before the Meeting.” Maxwell credits his meeting management wisdom to Olan Hendrix, one of his mentors (and the first president of ECFA).  

In 10 quick-reading pages, Maxwell builds the case for turning routine meetings into productive action-oriented gatherings. It’s excellent advice for board chairs and CEOs to meet (at least by phone) prior to every board and committee meeting. Following the counsel of Hendrix, Maxwell writes that the meeting before the meeting: 
   1) helps you receive buy-in
   2) helps followers to gain perspective
   3) increases your influence
   4) helps you develop trust
   5) avoids your being blindsided.

The “no surprises” rule is critical for the key people in each meeting—and typically, that means you must meet with them in advance.   

Maxwell preaches: “If you can’t have the meeting before the meeting, don’t have the meeting. If you do have the meeting before the meeting, but it doesn’t go well, don’t have the meeting. If you have the meeting before the meeting and it goes as well as you hoped, then have the meeting!”

You’re probably not going to cancel a pre-scheduled quarterly board meeting—so that puts even more importance on ensuring that “the meeting before the meeting” is effectively conducted.

Proverbs is filled with leadership wisdom on seeking counsel; and challenges to inspire--not manipulate--people (and board members).  Proverbs 24:5-6 (The Message):
“It’s better to be wise than strong;
intelligence outranks muscle any day.
Strategic planning is the key to warfare;
to win, you need a lot of good counsel.”

QUESTION: Think back to a meeting that went south. Would a meeting before the meeting have helped?