The Nonprofit Sector’s Most Pressing Issues: The C-Level Exec’s Point of View, Part 2
Here are more insights that Angel Aloma, executive director of Food For The Poor; Danny McGregor, chief operating officer at Greenpeace; Atul Tandon, executive director of the International Network and executive vice president of investor relations at United Way Worldwide; and Tom Harrison, president and CEO of Russ Reid, shared during their session, “Cracking the Shell: Open Dialogue & Discussion With America’s Top Nonprofit C-Level Executives on the Sector’s Most Pressing Issues.”
Short term vs. long term
An audience member asked the panel how to balance short-term and long-term impact, saying her organization “struggles with short-term vs. long-term goals.” Aloma said there are three things you have to do to deal with the board when it pressures you to focus on short-term concerns without considering the long-term effects.
“Parenting, patience and flood with information,” he said. “If you parent the board too much and call to ask about every little decision, it will micromanage everything you as a fundraiser do. If you continuously give your board information and just ask it to jump in on big decisions, your every move won’t be scrutinized.
“And have patience, especially for the long term,” Aloma added. “We are in a culture of instant gratification, but patience is a virtue. Be good advocates to emphasize the importance of long-term goals. Do that through parenting, patience and information.”
McGregor went into more detail on Aloma’s suggestion of flooding the board with information. He said that at Greenpeace, the fundraising and finance teams work closely together and come to a common conclusion before going to the board so everyone has the same answers, same goals, same strategies to present the board. From there, they take the board into the details to make the best decisions for the organization.
“Make sure you provide tools to staff so they understand the numbers and short term vs. long term — make it basic and simple so everyone understands,” McGregor said. “Really understand the implications of each decision, and play with variables. Get both levels on the same page.”
Tandon added his three keys: walking, leading and prodding — as in, walk the board through each decision, lead them toward the goals and prod them to make the necessary changes. For example, Tandon said that he finds a three-year budgeting plan works better than a one-year focus on budgeting. It allows for greater long-term planning, while the quarterly reviews address short-term issues.
Further, Tandon offered this advice:
- Recognize expenditures, and talk the board's language.
- Demonstrate consistent improvement in long-term donor value.
- Show real numbers, consistent performance and help the board change the lens through which it looks.
Don’t skimp on acquisition
Harrison asked if anyone has had someone say, “We need to cut the acquisition budget,” and said that cutting acquisition “has a devastating impact."
“Sometimes it’s pretty easy to acquire new donors; sometimes it’s incredibly difficult,” he added. “But you always have to do it and keep growing to survive. If you cut acquisition, it puts you in a death spiral.”
“I would probably say, ‘Shut up!’ to anyone who asked me to cut the acquisition budget,” Aloma deadpanned. “It’s very shortsighted thinking.
“When times are tough, go against intuitive thinking and invest. Do stuff, try new things instead of cutting back acquisition. Dive into lapsed donors, guerrilla fundraising, social media — there are lots of things that don’t take lots of money. But don’t cut back on acquisition.”
Aloma also said to keep major donors engaged and treat them well — call them, write them, thank them, give them more information.
While Harrison and Aloma adamantly advised against cutting back on acquisition, McGregor said that Greenpeace actually has cut back its acquisition budget, “but only because of understanding the impact,” he said. “We analyzed all the data and discovered that the numbers didn’t really work out to justify our acquisition strategy.”
McGregor advised fundraisers to continue to try new things and to always keep testing as well.
What the C-level needs from you
“What can development do differently or more of to help you out?” Harrison asked the panel.
Aloma offered these suggestions:
- Better coordination with all fundraising channels
- Stop fighting over credit issues — who gets credit for that donation (i.e., the Web team, direct mail, social media, etc.)
- Develop a master schedule
- Better system software where everyone can speak to each other in a more efficient way without duplication
“Everyone needs to come together and stop worrying about credit,” Aloma said. “Worry about what’s best for our donors and what’s best to fulfill our mission, not us.”
An audience member interjected: “Doesn’t that come from the top, that fight for credit? Everyone wants to meet the numbers and get that credit. That’s how the top evaluates our work.”
“You’re right,” Aloma said. “We often have a bottom-line view. We have to make a concerted effort to change that, though it’s not always easy. There’s a saying that ‘culture eats innovation for lunch.’ This is the culture we’ve created. We have to find different criteria to judge our fundraisers.”
Tandon suggested focusing more on donors: “Know your donor. What gets the donor to give? Learn as much as you can about your donors, and let all the fundraisers across all the programs know those things.”
He offered this advice as well:
- Be married to your numbers.
- Emphasize testing — learning, scaling up, testing up.
- Innovate. “Innovation is needed, continuous improvement and innovation,” he said.
- Be flexible. Tandon likes to say, “I’m married to my wife, not strategy.” Focus on your donors, not you, and adjust your strategy to them.
- “Take God seriously, not yourself,” he said. “A lot of issues slide away when you relax.”
McGregor said that each fundraiser at Greenpeace educates the rest on what he or she does and why to encourage more collaboration, and suggested others do the same. Here are more of his suggestions:
- Consistent education — how you make decisions, document them, fix them.
- Keep testing and analyzing — it’s the only way you learn and improve.
- Send what you learn to everyone to explain why you do what you do.
Another audience member chimed in: “When you put it all in the same sandbox, the house divides among itself — one donor does four different things, and people argue over that donor and who spurred that gift. How do we deal with it?”
“It’s really a management issue,” McGregor said. “If the staff thinks that is the environment, then that happens. The environment has to change. Evaluate the whole program, not X amount of dollars a fundraiser brings in. Don’t hold hard on those numbers for evaluating each person’s value.”
Harrison said it’s the classic silo management mentality. “Things change. Monitor all things and react,” he said. “Don’t protect the budget; protect the organization. You have to have a team willing to do that.”
“Look at donor values; don’t look at one wheel only,” Tandon added. “Take a product view, a donor view, and then combine that with a hierarchy view.”
“How do we invest in the future, in research and development if you will, the way corporate America has R&D departments?” an audience member asked.
Tandon said that he goes to the board and tells it he needs venture capital money to put aside for new ventures in the best of times and the worst of times … and emphasizes that the board doesn’t hold him accountable for that money in the budget. It is strictly to invest in the future and to try new things so the organization can survive down the road.
“Hold me accountable on all the rest of the budget, but treat this separately,” he said. “Set up separate teams to work on future goals and new ventures. Let the mainstream team do what they do day in and day out, and let this future ventures team focus on research and development. Mange it differently.”
“If you don’t separate it, the organization will kill it,” Harrison added. “Use different standards to evaluate it.”
Aloma then offered these suggestions:
- Have a committee to brainstorm every month — from those, Food For The Poor came up with and started a texting campaign with the Florida Marlins and is developing an iPhone app.
- Include a budget amount for innovation.
- "Keep fundraisers thinking because there are mines of diamonds in their brains," he said.
Check back next week for the third and final installment in this series.