Simone’s Buffet of Tips and Tidbits on Fundraising

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Today I have tidbits. Tidbits of things running around in my head and scattered on my desk, so today we eat buffet style! Think of today’s column like a menu. You can choose between appetizers and desserts or whatever.

Here’s a first tidbit: Check out Charles Green’s Trust Matters blog. Read this wonderful book, The Trusted Advisor, co-authored by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford. I really liked a few of the “Blog Picks o’ the Week” in one issue of the Trust Matters blog. For example, “Why Experts Are Bad at Sales.”

By the way, check out Green’s Trust Equation:


Visit the explanation at the Trusted Advisor blog. I use this sometimes when I’m presenting.

And I really liked “Think Like a Buddhist, Sell Like a Rock Star.” Read about these statements:

I hope lots of this sounds familiar. This is your nonprofit’s work: selling tickets to your performance. Selling enrollment to your school. Engaging your customers. And who are your customers? Your clients and your volunteers and your donors and…

Maybe you want to subscribe to Charles Green’s blog. For sure, you want to pay lots of attention to trust. Adrian Sargeant tells us that it’s one of the key drivers of donor loyalty.


Tidbit #2: Sometimes, I wonder if we sufficiently realize that various things are quite different. What happens when we don’t realize that these things are different? I suspect we don’t invest sufficient time and the right resources. I suspect we don’t engage the right people in the right way for the right ends.

For example:

  • Event, program, or movement: Is that thing you are doing a one-off event, a longer-term program…or maybe you’re starting a movement?
  • Program or organization: Is your mission (and very existence) really an organization, or a program that belongs inside another organization? I see too many organizations struggling to be independent nonprofit organizations, when they are really only a program—albeit a great program—that should be part of another organization.
  • Status quo or change: Are you embracing the status quo, unknowingly or intentionally, instead of exploring change? Are you more comfortable with the status quo, or with change?
  • Invite or ask: Is there a difference between “inviting” and “asking?” Is the difference only in my mind? Or is there some subtle but important distinction in the experience you offer me as a donor or volunteer or customer? Are you inviting me…or just asking?
  • Buyers or givers: When I think about fundraising events, my mind goes toward buying. People are buying a product. I just read some research (but don’t remember where) about people attending fundraising events. Many of those purchasers don’t care about the nonprofit, and some don’t even remember which nonprofit it is! Many are buying a ticket to an event because they like the event, or want to hang out with friends, or…. Do you want buyers, or givers?
  • Features and benefits, activities or impact: There is a difference between features and benefits. It’s a fundamental and critically important difference in communication. Another angle is activities or impact. Good fundraising and good sales focus on benefits, not features. Top-notch organizations—nonprofits and for-profits—describe impact and results, not activities.
  • Recognize or understand: Do you want me to recognize why you matter? Or do you want me to understand? Recognition seems more limited, more surface. Understanding? Well, that’s different. With understanding, I might be part of the tribe. With understanding, I could join the fight to make change.


Tidbit #3: I’ve always been curious about the concept of “the annual meeting.”

The primary purpose of an annual meeting is to elect board members. If the board elects its own members (i.e., there are no other “members”), then the annual meeting is just a regular board meeting. The board elects its members and its officers. There is the usual financial report and the usual due diligence that happens at any board meeting.

If you have members other than board members, then maybe the members elect the board members and the board elects officers. So you might have a separate annual meeting. I HATE THAT! I dislike members electing board members. I dislike members having any role in governance.

When I say, “dislike,” I mean my professional opinion based on my work in nonprofits: my expertise in governance and fundraising. “Member” is another term for “donor.” Some organizations and professionals think that “member” sounds more like ownership than “donor.” I think that’s a rather sad testament to our treatment and view of donors. But whatever…

Members are donors are members. So whether I buy a membership or give a gift, I am an investor, and members and donors should get the same “benefits,” e.g., voting for board members.

But honestly, even if you want to have members and call them members, and they are your donors, you do not have to allow them to elect board members. Your member/donors don’t know who would be a good board member. Your member/donors don’t know about what you need in governance.

Furthermore, it’s fairly typical that not very many member/donors attend the annual meeting. Really, how interesting can an annual meeting be—unless you design a really good thing with really interesting speakers.

So, if you want to have an annual gathering of your member/donors—and that’s cool!—talk about your mission; have an interesting speaker; invite a donor and client to speak. Show images of great stuff that member/donors produced. Whatever. Call it an annual meeting to report to our investors (member/donors). Mingle and schmooze and nurture relationships. Talk about the impact of member/donors and the organization’s work.

Those member/donors don’t need a vote. There is no useful purpose. Donor-centrism and relationship building are what build donor/member loyalty, not electing board members. Hell, even the power of electing a president doesn’t motivate U.S. citizens to go vote. The U.S. has one of the lowest voting rates of any democratic nation in the world.

So change your bylaws. Members don’t elect board members. (Oops. Your bylaws can’t be amended without members voting. Gosh. What a mess. Fix it. You can.)

I went to a very interesting annual meeting in June: the 179th Annual Meeting of Children’s Friend. I was there because the agency was honoring a dear friend of mine. I arrived a bit late, so the meeting had already started. But here is what I saw and heard.

First, there were 200+ people in the room sitting at round tables. I asked one of the staff, “How in heaven’s name do you get this many people?” The response: “These are all our employees, all our board members, our policy council, and dear friends.” (I forgot to ask if they invite their donors. But I’m hoping they do!)

Children’s Friend brings together all its employees four times per year. They close the agency and bring together employees for trainings and talking and the annual meeting. I don’t know how many employees Children’s Friend has, but at least 100, I suspect.

The President and CEO made wonderful remarks about the health of the agency, public policy and advocacy work, the impact of the agency’s work. A wonderful slide show presented 2012-2013 highlights. Photos of donors, and the kids and families served, and agency events, and staff doing lots of things, and on and on. The audience laughed and applauded and called out.

Then there were the awards.

  • Employee service awards for 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 years of employment. Everyone came up on stage. Everyone had his/her face on the big screen with a mini bio.
  • A special tribute to a wonderful volunteer who had recently died. His wife and daughter were there.
  • And the annual award for service to the agency. That’s the award my friend received.

What was the ambiance in this room? Happiness. Pride. Respect. Joy. Fun. People were cheering and laughing. People were happy. Smiling faces. Mingling and hanging around.

That was pretty cool.


So, in conclusion: If you don’t mind tidbits instead of one cohesive column, I’ll do so periodically.

Like today.

  • Leila Hill

    I’m the designer responsible for all those slide shows and video montage pieces at the annual meeting. I’m pleased you enjoyed them!

  • Doris Donovan

    Great tidbits. Great description of the Children’s Friend annual meeting..Brought tears to my eyes, and i don’t cry easily.

  • Simone Joyaux

    That’s so cool! You did a nice job.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Thank you, Doris.