Announcing CULTIVATE – An Incubator for Emerging Nonprofits

Charlotte, NC (October 4, 2017) — Next Stage Consulting today announced the launch of CULTIVATE, an incubator for 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations designed to provide expert strategic and relational supports to emerging social cause organizations based in Mecklenburg County.  The incubator will focus on increasing capacity for emerging nonprofits to sustain operations and building social capital toward achieving their missions and visions.

CULTIVATE launches in January 2018 with four (4) participating nonprofits selected by a panel of community leaders, who will consider applications based on an in-depth RFP process.  Organizations selected to participate must demonstrate a unique approach to addressing a challenge facing Charlotte and commit to a 12-month program designed by Next Stage.  The online application can be accessed here. The deadline for submitting an application is November 10, 2017.

Next Stage is able to provide this incubator at no cost to deserving nonprofits with generous support from funders like the Reemprise Fund.  While Next Stage continues seeking funds to undergird the effort, the firm is committed to making this resource available with its inaugural class in 2018.

The curriculum for CULTIVATE includes one-on-one work and personalized coaching with the Next Stage Consulting team, assignments managed through an online learning management system, small group workshops for the four participating organizations and community engagement activities designed to increase social capital.

Core monthly topics covered by the incubator will include:

  • Aligning Mission, Vision & Values
  • Building Program Fidelity
  • Strengthening the Board of Directors
  • Sourcing Volunteers and Staff
  • Seeking Partnerships That Make Sense
  • Building a Pipeline of Individual Donors
  • Mastering Grantsmanship
  • Leveraging for Sponsorship
  • Onboarding Earned Revenue
  • Designing Online Communications
  • Appealing to the Media/PR
  • Refining the Strategic Business Plan

In addition to best-in-class training and strategic supports, Next Stage anticipates making available an opportunity fund for organizations that successfully complete the incubator program.  This funding will help support the organizations as they work to implement the strategic business plans they will have developed throughout the year as a part of CULTIVATE.

“The launch of this incubator is the next stage for our firm, pardon the pun,” Josh Jacobson, Managing Director of Next Stage Consulting said.  “We believe strongly in the ability of emerging nonprofit founders to bring new ways of serving our community to the table, and we want to help them build solid business plans that ensure their long-term success.”

In addition to Josh Jacobson’s leadership of the incubator, Next Stage’s Project Development Manager Caylin Viales will serve as its project manager.  Next Stage is also engaging a team of practitioners in the fields represented by the topics above to augment the program as co-facilitators.

The selection panel for CULTIVATE includes Dianne Bailey (Robinson Bradshaw), Jennifer Dewitt (Duke Energy), Charlie Elberson (Reemprise Fund), Blair Primis (OrthoCarolina) and Charles Thomas (Knight Foundation).  The panel will meet in late November 2017 to consider applications and make recommendations for participating organizations.

Next Stage is pleased to have SHARE Charlotte and the Children and Family Services Center serve as partners on CULTIVATE.  SHARE Charlotte will help Next Stage get the word out about CULTIVATE, and opportunities to share learnings from the incubator and its curriculum will be made available to SHARE Charlotte partners throughout 2018.  Next Stage is particularly thankful to the Children and Family Services Center for serving as a fiscal sponsor for support from area grantmakers.

More about CULTIVATE can be found here.

“We Already Have Full-Time Jobs” & Other Lame Things Board Members Say

Next Stage Consulting hits the road this week with two presentations on the same topic – Managing Up: Understanding Board Profiles. I’ll be in Columbia, South Carolina on Thursday 5/14 to present to the AFP Central Carolinas Chapter, and on Friday 5/15 presenting to the AFP Greater Augusta Chapter in Georgia.

Ever heard a nonprofit board member say something like:

“I’d ask him to help but he’s already so busy with work and family…”

“I really don’t know that many people…”

“I’m just not comfortable approaching my customers for financial support…”

Encouraging volunteer board members to engage in development activities is rarely an easy task. Boards are comprised of many different types of volunteers, all motivated differently and with a diversity of resources available to them.

In this session, I will be discussing ways to change the “one size fits all” board fundraising strategies to be more segmented, looking at five classic board member profiles and ways to encourage involvement in donor development activities. This session will include practical suggestions for motivating board members that they can take back to their offices.

It’s a slightly irreverent session for sure that I hope will elicit some laughs as well as thoughtful contemplation. I hope you can make it, and if you have interest in the content, let me know!

Bridging the Gap: The Future Is Now

On July 21, Next Stage Consulting’s Josh Jacobson will lead a presentation at the North Carolina Theatre Conference’s Producing Gathering in Charlotte, NC. Entitled Bridging the Gap: The Future Is Now, this session will explore staff and volunteer retention, and the challenge of succession planning for theatres.

Based on U.S. Census Bureau estimates, more than 4 million people each year will reach age 65 by 2020, a trend that has been dubbed the “Silver Tsunami” by leading thinkers.  As the baby boom generation retires, finding qualified leaders to fill their executive positions presents a problem, particularly in the nonprofit sector. Complicating matters, Millennials will be the largest percentage of the workforce in a few years – a generation known for job-hopping.

In the performing arts sector, the challenge is even more pronounced. Lower salaries and diminished professional development opportunities force many arts managers and boards to choose between individuals strong in artistic development or organizational administration, but less frequently both.

In this engaging session geared toward current and emerging theatre leaders, Josh will explore the challenges and opportunities of bridging the talent gap and ways to restructure your theatre for success in the following ways:

  • Staff/Volunteer Retention – The revolving door in key staff roles is frustrating, and though many are quick to blame the restless employees who depart, the fact is that poor retention is 0ne of the biggest challenges to theatres. Josh will identify the key reasons most employees leave and provide tips for improving the retention of talented professionals.
  • Succession Planning – Pretending succession isn’t an issue is not a smart way to approach organizational sustainability.  Josh will challenge participants to begin developing a succession plan for their theatres, and will suggest ways to make professional development a strategic strength.

The NCTC Producing Gathering is an annual event, this year taking place at Spirit Square in Charlotte. Theatrical producers from professional theatres, community theatres and educational institutions come together for three days of professional development and networking. Each year, 100+ theatre leaders from more than 50 companies come to this essential event.

Cultivation: Step Two to Stronger Grant Submissions

In the second entry in the firm’s five part series on creating stronger grant submissions, Next Stage Consulting explores the do’s and don’ts of grantmaker cultivation, investigating what works and what doesn’t, and how to walk the fine line between forthright and pushy.

No Matter What, Don’t Break Her Heart

“Am I on a blind date?”

The thought occurred to me as I was handed a glass of wine by the daughter of a trustee of my organization’s largest foundation donor. Perhaps it was in the way she handed it to me, or the way her family was watching us out of the corner of their eyes, but it suddenly occurred to me that I was sweating profusely.

I had accepted the invitation to the private party with excitement – a chance to spend time at an intimate party seemed like a great opportunity for donor cultivation.  I had come to know the family fairly well and I truly enjoyed their company. This was also a chance to meet other members of the extended family, who I learned had their own donor advised funds as well. I’d arrived fashionably late only to find myself the lone non-family member . It wasn’t long until my Spidey sense began to tingle.

On the surface, it made good sense. I was single at the time, and the young lady was perfectly lovely. But rather than “just go with it,” the advice I received from my colleagues later on, I felt the weight of an ethical quandary – what if this turns into something romantic only to end sourly? Am I risking my organization’s relationship with this very important donor? Further, what if I am completely reading this the wrong way and I end up offending her?

The stress was too much to bear – I politely thanked my hosts and exited stage right at the first available moment, very likely offending everyone in the process anyway.

“I Just Sent Grant Requests to 27 Foundations”

One of the biggest misconceptions about grant development is that it is all about writing grant proposals, developing tomes of wordy material and sending it off to people you’ve never met who will pass judgment on the merits of your mission. The fact is, sending in the grant proposal or application is typically the last step in a much longer process that begins with identification and leads to cultivation. If you fill out grant applications and send them in unannounced to a laundry list of potential donors, success is very unlikely.

Unlike communication, which is typically one-way directional, cultivation is two-way directional. Sending newsletters and other material to a prospective donor is not cultivation – it’s communication. For real cultivation to take place, two or more people need to be speaking to each other either by phone, written communication via mail or e-mail, or face-to-face.

The tricky part of grantmaker cultivation is that each funder has different rules of engagement. Some do not want you to contact them at all, while others require a letter of inquiry be submitted before first voice contact.  Some will follow you on your social media and save every newsletter you send, while others throw away any correspondence that appears to be marketing in nature. Some want to be very hands on, while others prefer to be slightly aloof.

In this way, it is hard to create hard and fast rules. Still, after years of doing this work, it is clear there are some unwritten rules of the road that are universal in nature.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Grantmaker Cultivation

  • DO follow the rules on the grantmaker’s website regarding the process for communication and requests. If it states that you shouldn’t call or contact staff, be sure to follow that advice!
  • DON’T miss an opportunity to leverage a personal relationship with a stakeholder or gatekeeper, even if the public communication discourages direct contact. But before you do anything, do some digging to make sure that it won’t damage your relationship with the staff of the funder.
  • DO invite the staff and trustees of prospective grant sources to tour your facility, meet your staff and volunteers, and learn more about the impact of your organization’s mission.
  • DON’T put a grantmaker who doesn’t know you on a mailing list to receive every invitation and piece of marketing material you will produce in the next year – it is more likely to injure than help your potential relationship.
  • DO attend public seminars hosted by grantmakers to provide insight into the application process, but be sure to sit near the front of the room so when it is over you are close enough to be first in line to ask follow-up questions.
  • DON’T raise your hand and ask very technical questions that apply only to your organization in a room full of your peers – it wastes everyone’s time, and makes a poor impression on the staff of the grantmaker.
  • DO remain vigilant in your pursuit of a meeting or phone discussion, particularly with the staff of a grantmaking institution. These are often extremely busy people who need to be reminded several times, and may even acknowledge your persistence positively.
  • DON’T make a nuisance of yourself, hectoring the staff of a grantmaker where the mission isn’t a very good fit anyways. It is a fine line, and while it is important to push, tact is incredibly important.
  • DO engage gatekeepers and decision makers should you see them informally out in the world. They are people, just like you, and a friendly hello with a brief conversation to follow is acceptable.
  • DON’T stalk someone, follow them to the parking garage, or otherwise create an awkward scenario where you ask repeatedly for a determination on your recent grant submission. This may seem obvious, but I’ve heard some real horror stories.
  • DO accept invitations to meet informally with the staff and trustees of grantmakers, have a glass of wine (one glass only!) and engage in conversation about topics that have nothing to do with your organization. Relationships with grantmakers are not much different than other types of donors – they are people and they have lives. Be more than a walking grant proposal.
  • DON’T break anyone’s heart, or otherwise compromise your organization’s current or prospective relationship with a grantmaker. Your organization is likely to exist for a long time after you are no longer around, and job one is to leave it stronger than it was when you started.

At some point, I’ll share my tips for sitting shiva with the trustees of your other most important foundation grantmaker. But for now, please check out #GrantChat on Twitter at Noon EST on Tuesday April 29, when I will serve as guest for a lively discussion of this very topic of grantmaker cultivation!

The Downside of Social Media

I have empathy for people who make bad professional decisions and must suffer the consequences of their actions. I just do.

Back in February, the online shame police went into overdrive when it became known that Kelly Blazek, a marketing executive who ran a LinkedIn job bank for professionals in Cleveland in her spare time, wasn’t particularly nice to people who don’t follow the rules.  When a nasty declination e-mail she wrote to a job-seeker went viral, other folks came out of the woodwork with stories of receiving similar missives from her.  Before too long, Cleveland’s IABC “Communicator of the Year” for 2013 was getting national media attention, issuing multiple mea culpas and being forced to return her award.

If you read her e-mails to these job seekers, while a particularly mean streak becomes evident, it is also clear that job seekers can come across as a bit entitled. When Wendie Forman reached out to join the list in pursuit of “project management” positions, Blazek denied her access saying that the job bank “isn’t a fit for your background or the types of jobs you seek,” adding: “Good luck in your search.” Hardly an awful response. But Forman wasn’t satisfied: “I must say I was surprised by the tone of your emails and by your quick denial of my request. I will certainly discuss this with (the colleague) who referred me to you.”

Online communication, whether via e-mail or social media, empowers people to be very different than they would be in live communication. E-mails meant to come across as “professional” sound snippy and overly formal. A Facebook post meant to provide background for one’s point of view instead sounds preachy and elitist. A blog post describing your philosophy of engagement sounds like an attack on your former colleagues. Because online, we’re all six feet tall with “how good it sounds in our heads” driving us forward.

It has taken me a while, including an awful exchange with a colleague years ago when I mistakenly sent her a snarky e-mail intended for someone else, but I’ve come to embrace the following rules for online communication:

  • Bite Your Tongue – It’s simple: if you see a Facebook post that gets you angry, or receive an e-mail that makes you steamed, close the application and walk away. Go get a glass of water, look outside the window for a while, take a few deep breaths and make sure you don’t let emotion guide your words.
  • Put It In A Memo – This one took me a while, but I realize now that a ten page long e-mail is a bad move. If you need to communicate a lot of content, put it in a memo and send as an attachment to a brief e-mail. This comes across as much more thoughtful and planned than a 10,000-word e-mail at 3:30am.
  • Don’t Respond – I typically dislike when business communication goes without a response, which is often used as a delay tactic or as a means to shirk a conversation. But I would much rather someone not respond at all than send something that person might someday regret.

Are these things easier said than done? Of course. But these days, when the holier-than-thou social media mob mentality can ruin your career, it is important you don’t make a misstep just because you had a long day.

Photo Credit: Zoran Zivkovic (123-RF)

Too Risk-Adverse To Fail (Nonprofit Edition)

by Josh Jacobson

“Eight out of 10 businesses fail. Are you sure you want to do this?”

Not exactly the sort of thing you want to hear when you’re contemplating launching a new business.  Now almost three months into my own new consulting venture (76 days to be exact, but who’s counting?), the knowledge that it is far more likely that Next Stage Consulting will fail than succeed is actually a tremendous motivator.  I’m a guy who likes to know my odds, long as they may be.

upsideAs a rule, no one sets out to fail, but a new book suggests that falling on your face may not be as bad as one might think. In her book, The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success, author Megan McArdle suggests that failing, and even being encouraged to fail, is a critical component of future success.  In fact, McArdle suggests that what sets America apart is an underlying tolerance for failure, with a lenient bankruptcy policy that allows for forgiveness and growth.

For everyone but the nonprofit sector, that is.  In a country that prizes entrepreneurs as champions of innovation and change that in turn drives our economy, Americans are reluctant to give the same leeway to community-serving nonprofits.

If “failure is how businesses learn,” as McArdle suggests, what does it mean that we refuse to let our social good organizations take similar risks?

A few causes of risk-aversion are below, and thankfully, the news isn’t all bad:

  • Over-Reliance on Government Support
    As noted seven years ago in a study by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “government is by far the most important source of funding for the high-growth nonprofits in our study.” The Urban Institute reported that “in 2009, governments contracted with human service nonprofits for over $100-billion worth of contracts and grants. For organizations with government contracts and grants, government funding amounts to 65 percent of total revenue.”

While there is no doubt that government sources of support are critical to sustainability for many nonprofits, the increased accountability standards and outcome measurements expected post-Recession effectively overwhelm nonprofits, swallowing up the time and energy of leaders.  It is a system badly in needed of reform.

There are some signs that governments are thinking outside the box.  Depending on whom you ask, Social Impact Bonds may be some of the most important/exciting/unexpected tools created to inspire new ways of tackling social issues. By encouraging private investment, Social Impact Bonds create a market where one did not exist previously and keeps the focus where it should be – on rewarding positive outcomes.

  • Vilification of Overhead
    By now, I hope you’ve had a chance to watch Dan Pallotta’s game-changing TED talk about the double standard that penalizes nonprofits for how much they spend on supposedly non-mission serving expenses. The dreaded 15% overhead ratio expectation, which states that no more than 15% of a nonprofit’s budget should be spent on administrative costs, is a huge drag.  It is an expectation utterly unique in the business world – no other industry is held to such a standard, laughable in for-profit enterprise, and hardly the expectation of our own government.  And yet it is something that continually comes up in conversation with would-be donors to local nonprofit clients, as if such costs were evil and to be largely avoided.

Thankfully, there is a move afoot to refocus donors on demonstrated success over fiscal conservatism.  In an unprecedented move, the leadership of Guidestar, Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau released a joint statement in 2013 denouncing the overhead ratio as imprecise and inaccurate.  Further, the trio acknowledged that “organizations that build robust infrastructure—which includes sturdy information technology systems, financial systems, skills training, fundraising processes, and other essential overhead—are more likely to succeed than those that do not.”

I mean, duh, right? But the fact remains that as long as organizations feel squeezed by their donors to demonstrate extreme frugality, the likelihood of nonprofits embracing risk-taking opportunities remains low.  Accountability standards like these were meant to protect us from fraud, but have also taken all the wind out of the sails of social entrepreneurs.

  • Reluctant Volunteer Boards
    I am personally a big fan of local leaders who believe so strongly in a nonprofit’s mission that they are willing to take on a role that pays nothing and yet is likely to take up a big chunk of their time.  As a board member of the Charlotte Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, I know from experience.  Volunteer board members are mostly deserving our praise.

Note that I said mostly.  That’s because the system of serving as a board member for a nonprofit is wholly different from serving in the same role for a for-profit corporation.  Without a profit motive, nonprofit board members are identified based on their own passion and interest in the cause.  And that isn’t always so reliable.  “Let’s all remember that we already have full-time jobs,” is typically not the preface to a board member signing-up for risk-taking opportunities.

For some volunteer leaders, it is enough to simply steward the nonprofit to ensure no crises arise on their watch.  When it comes time to consider high-risk, high-reward opportunities to advance mission, some board members use a different set of priorities in assessment than the population that organization is called to serve.  Not all, but some. Thankfully, board training has never been more plentiful, and offerings like the Arts & Science Council’s Cultural Leadership Training Program are helping nonprofits secure volunteer leaders who understand their roles well.

McArdle suggests that the key failing well is to recognize mistakes early enough to allow one to channel setbacks into future success.  But if we never let our nonprofits have that same opportunity, we’re apt to see the entire system fail as organizations cling to doing things the way they’ve always done them.  

Three Questions to Consider This Week:

  1. What do you consider your biggest professional failure?  What did you learn from it?
  2. If you’re a manager, do you encourage your employees to take risks?  If so, how do you handle potential failures?
  3. What is the one thing you wish your organization or department would try that leadership has been reluctant to embrace?  How might you mitigate the negative impacts of failing?

Image credits: Featured Image (123RF – tomwang), Book (goodreads.com)

Spring Forward? No Thanks, I’m Good.

by Josh Jacobson

Ah, daylight saving time. That inane tradition Americans are told to blindly follow and the purpose for which no one can quite explain.  For everyone except those in Arizona and Hawaii, that is.  I’m not a huge fan of Arizona’s lawmakers these days, but I’m on board with their anti-DST stance.  This appears to be something that could go away forever, and few outside of owners of golf courses and amusement parks would complain. Spring forward, indeed.

No one likes losing an hour, especially on the weekend.  The busier you are, the more it seems like you’re losing an hour every week, whenever traffic is bad or a meeting goes long.  You look up and it’s 3pm.  Where did the day go?  Time is truly the only resource that is absolutely fixed.

CalendarIt took me a while to figure it out, but one of the most important activities I engage in each day is the management of my time.  I may own my own business, but I obey the big boss – my Outlook calendar.  That is a snapshot of my calendar to the right, with color coded entries and a special system of symbols that are meaningful to only me. It is a security blanket like no other, and my best accountability system.  Nothing that gets added to the calendar can be deleted, only moved forward until I get it done. It’s a rule.

I believe a well-established computerized system of time tracking is extraordinarily important, and something every nonprofit development department should mandate for all employees.  There are a number of good reasons:

  • Getting it Right the First Time – Be committed to never making scheduling errors.  No double-booking, or forgetting that after-work beer with colleagues, or neglecting an important donor’s birthday or anniversary.  With a system of time management, you are far less likely to embarrass yourself.  We could stop right now, as that’s important enough.  No collection of post-its and hand-written planners can hope to compete with a cloud-based calendaring system.
  • Assessing Return On Investment (ROI) – How long does it take you to perform various tasks? It is a question I often ask of employees in development departments and find that they are not quite sure.  Everything that happens in a development department can and should be tied directly to revenue-generating activity.  Calculating ROI is important when considering how to do more with less, increase revenue without adding expense, or double-down on a strategy that is working well.
  • Integrating New Processes – At times, I feel like I am in the business of figuring out how to help nonprofit professionals add to their plates.  For many, the fact remains that they must squeeze more into an already hectic week, and the only way to do that is to set weekly calendar goals.  When I know it will be a challenge to get to a new activity, I will create an anchor in my calendar – an activity that cannot be moved and must be completed no matter what. As a function of willpower, a calendar can be a best friend.

The term “accountability” has gotten a bum rap, taking on a negative connotation it doesn’t deserve.  A synonym of accountability is responsibility, something we all take on as nonprofit professionals, not only to our supervisors, but to the people who fund our nonprofits with their charitable support.  We owe it to our donors to be as effective and efficient as possible, and I know of no better way to do that than through effective time management.

I hate to keep this short, but I lost an hour this weekend and I’m a bit behind.

Three Questions to Consider This Week:

  1. Does your organization have an established system of time management? Is it optional? Why or why not?
  2. If you do utilize a system of time management, how often do you export data and analyze it?  What might you look for toward effectiveness and efficiency?
  3. How would you cluster your daily activities into four or five categories? If you needed to expand your focus on one, where might you look to trim?

Ten Things Every Early Career Fundraiser Should Know

by Josh Jacobson

Early in my career as a development professional, I must have made hundreds of mistakes. Some were fairly minor, others somewhat more substantial, and some… well, let’s not go stirring up things better left in the past, shall we?

I certainly learned from my mistakes, but that is just the sort of revisionist thinking you tell yourself in retrospect.  In truth, I wish I hadn’t made most of those mistakes.  Looking back, I wish I could have had a heart-to-heart conversation with my older self, to have been counseled by a wiser, more centered version of me.  I may have been too pig-headed to take advice from anyone else back then, but I’d like to think I would have been able to get through to… well, myself.

If I did, the following is a list of things I would have told that wet-behind-the-ears go-getter I once was, in no particular order:

  • 10548684_sRead the Newspaper – Daily newspaper reading was not something that resonated with me in the early days.  And if I did pick up a newspaper (or log on to the newspaper’s website), I was probably looking up sports scores or the movie theater listings.  It took a while for me to realize that the newspaper was the single greatest prospecting tool available to me, providing a wealth of insight into my local donor base.

Beyond being a great platform for research, it also made me a more intuitive thinker, allowing me to make connections between seemingly unrelated items I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do.  And if nothing else, it is vital for donor relations – if subjects come up in conversation and it is assumed you read the day’s front page news or an important Op-Ed, the embarrassment of not being in the know is something you’ll want to remedy.

  • Follow the Stock Market – I remember it like it was yesterday, calling a prospective family foundation donor to discuss making a gift the day after the market had taken a huge drop.  There are few things more mortifying than to have a longtime donor chastise you for being unaware of the current financial environment, hanging up the phone in your ear.

I’ve found that fundraising professionals are often former liberal arts majors, and as such may not have as firm of a grasp on the intricacies of financial management.  But that is hardly an excuse for not paying attention to the stock market and timing your solicitations accordingly.  Further, if you work with a number of foundations, I suggest modeling the holdings of your top five or six foundations based on their 990 filings.

  • Know Thy Sector – It stands to reason that not every fundraiser is an expert on the organization and its mission when the position is accepted, but most immediately become students of that nonprofit’s programs and finances.  It is difficult to raise money for something you don’t understand well.

So, too, should a fundraiser study the broader sector in which the nonprofit operates.  What differentiates your programming from another organization’s offerings?  How are you complementary to each other? Your donors are likely supportive of other nonprofits in your sector and will expect you to have a working understanding of how they all fit together.

  • Know Other Sectors, Too – When I worked in theatre development in New York City, I spoke with my funders about plays and playwrights roughly half of the time.  The other 50% I was expected to understand what was happening with the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and a whole host of other cultural and non-cultural topics. Had I been to MOMA in Queens? Did I have an opinion of whether the museum had an obligation to the neighborhood to maintain a Queens presence after so many businesses had opened due to its temporary relocation? Speaking of borough revitalization, what were my thoughts on creating an Industrial Business Zone in Long Island City? And so on…

Really successful fundraisers are typically those who are plugged in to what is happening everywhere, and donors gravitate to them as much for their sense of connectedness as their knowledge of the nonprofit they serve.  Someone told me once in passing that studying the recreational options of Jackson Hole, Wyoming would make me a better conversationalist with donors who had vacation homes there.  And it was true.

  • 12143436_sScrub Your Online Profile – Having conducted a number of development searches both as a staff member of nonprofits and as a consultant, I can tell you that young professionals are foolish when it comes to social media. If you are actively seeking a job, posting pictures of a keg stand on your publicly-accessible Twitter account is not wise.

It seems teenagers growing up today are smarter than the bubble of young people who graduated college in the 1990s and early 2000s and began using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media as adults.  Perhaps children today better understand the legacy of poor choices as captured forever on the Internet, the way things can haunt you for years.   I continue to encounter individuals who must have never googled themselves, or assume that no one is smart enough to enter their name into a search engine.

That DUI mugshot of you from college that shows up on the first page of Google?  You should probably try to do something about that (if you can).  Because it may not be that your future employer wants to penalize you for your prior mistakes, but more likely that they fear a donor finding that information and having it tarnish the brand of your nonprofit.  Your personal brand is just as important.  

  • Get Rid of Your Bumper Stickers – Speaking of personal brand, it’s probably time that you ditched the 10+ bumper stickers on the back of your car.  The word play of “visualize whirled peas” coupled with the emphatic advocacy of “drink craft beer, dammit” is probably not the statement you want to be making.  That said, this advice is less about the content of those messages and more about presenting yourself professionally.

It may be controversial, but the one rule I would make about content relates to political bumper stickers – avoid them, particularly if you are a major gift officer who meets donors off-site and uses that car to transport yourself.  One of the great things about fundraising for nonprofits is how it brings together both sides of the political aisle.  As a representative of your organization, your job is to be a conduit of philanthropy for people of all political beliefs.

  • Stop Your Road Rage – Do you drive fast, honking your horn at people who get in your way?  Do you gesticulate with various fingers, yell at people as if they can hear you, and turn to scowl at the person as you pass?

Imagine passing that person and realizing it is your single biggest donor. Your eyes meet. You know she saw you, and a look of disappointment crosses her eyes in that split second.  And look at that, you were speeding to a stoplight, and pulling up next to you is the person you have spent countless hours creating strategy to approach for a sizable, multi-year gift. How will you explain the situation to your organization’s board chair?

  • 7823729_sStick to One Glass of Wine – Depending on your nonprofit, this may not be a big deal.  However, some fundraisers may find themselves in situations where the imbibing of alcohol on the job is not only accepted, but encouraged.  At your organization’s gala, or grand opening, or donor cultivation event, or even just the company Christmas party, one should always drink in moderation.

I suggest sticking to one glass of wine, and more or less carrying that glass around all night long if you have to.  This is the one rule I’ve broken too many times, and find I regret having broken it the morning after.

  • Be a VolunteerSome very early advice I did receive was that I should get out of my sector and feed my soul through other interests.  It may be difficult for you to find volunteer opportunities in your own sector that don’t feel somehow like spying, but engaging in unrelated nonprofit sectors is encouraged. 

If you need a selfish reason to volunteer for another nonprofit, consider it a study of best practices – a chance to learn other techniques and meet new people.  But mainly you should volunteer because it feels good, and can renew your inner self as the pressure of deadlines increase your stress level.

  • Find a Mentor – If you’re lucky, your future mentor may be in the office down the hall.  I was fortunate to have someone like Amy Crane during my time at the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, who thought enough to provide counsel and encouragement to a 20-something who was badly in need of both.  

But for many early-career professionals I’ve met during my time as Chair of the AFP-Charlotte Mentoring Committee, an in-office mentor is not to be found.  Organizations like AFP make formal mentoring opportunities available, and I believe everyone can benefit from it.  However seeking informal mentors is a skill worth developing.  I would tell the younger version of myself that it is okay to admit that I don’t know everything, and that there is much to learn from others who have been down this road before me.

Stuff that just missed the list: Don’t date a co-worker, don’t then break up with that co-worker and have it get weird, never ask if someone is expecting, fully understand your organization’s audited financials, buy Girl Scout cookies from the Executive Director’s daughter, use an office-appropriate ringtone on your cell phone, don’t crack jokes that are in questionable taste, use mouthwash, stop biting your nails, keep your very impressive rapping skills to yourself, lock up your valuables, start contributing to your 403B as soon as possible, and remember birthdays and anniversaries.

Are there items that I missed? Add them below in the comment section!

Image Credits: Featured Image (123RF – Visions Of America), Newspaper (123RF – Noppasin Kortungsap), Facebook ((123RF – Igor Kovalchuk), Wine Glass (123RF – chr1)