Unbelievable Comments from Nonprofit Leaders…Sad but True! And Rude, Too!
In my years working with nonprofit organizations across the country I have heard my share of unbelievable comments from lay leaders and nonprofit executives alike. I’ll tackle just a few and give some insights on how they should proceed.
I have had the great experience of attending various board meetings of different nonprofit organizations lately. Here’s a smattering of comments and statements that probably suggest that nonprofits are not as inviting, warm, and welcoming as mission statements and websites might have us believe! We will expand upon penny-wise and pound-foolish thinking in future blogs, but for the moment here are a few thought-provoking ideas.
Board #1: We are spending far too much on printing and postage . . . even though our rate of emails read keeps declining. My response: return to “snail mail” and see how quickly people suddenly read about the activities of your agency. Even if 40-50% of your email readers open the message (which would be a very high open rate), recognize that you have a problem and that your information is not getting to the majority of your members, donors, or other friends. Go back to old-fashioned methods – especially since people receive so much less mail today that they are likely to open and peruse even advertisements!
Board #2: Let’s spend more on our security precautions, given the increased pressures others seem to be facing. Many organizations are setting up more barriers at the front door, despite no major reports of similar facilities being targeted for malicious activities or specific terrorism. We still need to feel a warm and welcome greeting when we approach our institutions and being “buzzed in” by an impersonal greeter and then being asked to go through a metal detector does not convey what each of our organizations contends in their mission statements. Let’s review security, perhaps consider less costly approaches, and keep visitors in mind as we craft new guidelines that are less costly but take advantage of the experiences of others.
Heard on the street about donor relations: A major donor (of more than a one million dollar gift) has not received any formal or informal thank you from the volunteer leadership or the highest paid executive officer yet . . . even though more than four weeks have passed since the gift was solidified. How often do seven-figure gifts get made that leadership (professional staff as well as Board members) can’t pick up the phone and express a warm, sincere thank you? Perhaps a lack of appreciation of large gifts by nonprofits is a legitimate reason wealthy donors go elsewhere to make their visionary gifts!
A perplexing situation: An organization raises under $500,000 annually; its last major campaign preceded the downturn in the 2008-9 economy but did not reach its announced $10-11 million goal so it borrowed the needed $2.0 million to move forward. Now they want to retire the debt and intend to ask donors for their financial support. My response: most Americans have personal debt, especially a substantial mortgage on their home. In their minds, why help the school reduce/eliminate debt as this does nothing to grow programs; support faculty; introduce new, creative educational models; and plan for the future. Donors want vision and passion today; reducing debt is the most difficult type of campaign to mount. Therefore, our consistent recommendation is to turn the proposed campaign into a positive, strategic activity that focuses on building endowment.
Each of these snippets can create hours of Board discussion . . . and heated conversation will undoubtedly create some differences of opinion. Our general recommendation is: always consider how you would like to be welcomed, talked about, and be embraced as a friend, donor, or as a potential visitor.
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