Thank you for your support! Let’s talk!

Thank you for your support! Let’s talk!

Frustrated by supporters who want to restrict their gifts? Maybe it’s time to rewrite your Gift Acceptance Policy so it can open a world of opportunity.

Across the Internet, we can find all kinds of essays about why it’s important to have a Gift Acceptance Policy. And most of them point you to pretty standard templates. But instead of thinking of how the policies can limit your liability, what if your Gift Acceptance Policy opened up opportunities?

Taking a cue from Creating the Future, let’s start by asking how a gift acceptance policy can support your mission, vision and values.

Looking around at your community, you see clients, staff, board members, and supporters. What should the gifts acceptance policy do for each of them? For your clients, you want to have the maximum amount of flexibility so you can serve them in whatever way is necessary. You want your staff to have clarity as to what they should do when offered a gift.  You want your board to know that the resources you receive are used appropriately and transparently.

And you want your supporters to know that the resources they are giving you – their gifts – are truly making a difference.

In a spirited online conversation among nonprofit consultants, we debated what to do about restricted gifts. How do we handle gifts that are designated for a specific program, but may not take into account administrative costs? That’s when Hildy Gottlieb produced a policy that is brilliant in its simplicity. Without tying anyone’s hands, the policy says to the donor – Thank you for caring about the people we serve. Thank you for using us as a way to help them. Let’s work together to figure out the best way that your funds can help.

“When we have the opportunity to receive restricted gifts, it is our policy to work with each donor to co-create the best possible result of improving life for the people we serve.

“As part of that policy, we will learn both the immediate thing / service the donor wants their gift to purchase, as well as understanding what the donor hopes that gift will make possible for the people we serve.

“As part of that policy, we will work with the donor to co-create how their intended results will be achieved, and the true allocation of resources for achieving that result – how their monies will be used, as well as how other resources will be leveraged to achieve that result.

“This policy of co-creating results is rooted in our core values of trust, transparency, and building deep relationships, because that is what builds strong communities.”

As John Baker, CFRE, Executive VP of Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, commented, “I bet their gifts will soar. Simply being able to promote a policy like this in ones materials, and then to live it, leaves me with a reenergized sense for Resource Development.”

What does your gift policy say? Are you inviting your supporters to co-create your future?

An Open Letter to Nonprofit Board Presidents

Dear Nonprofit Board President,

Your board members need to hear this.

In person… From you.

Thank you for all the time and wisdom you’ve been contributing to our organization.  We have a firm foundation now, with a great executive at the helm.

Our clients rely on us to change their lives. You’ve heard their stories; and I’ve heard how passionate you are about what we do.

Every time we’ve invested in making our dreams happen, we’ve had a great return on that investment. We invested time and energy into finding a path out of debt. We invested time and energy into finding our new executive.

And in the last year, we’ve made great plans for the future.

Now we have to make those plans a reality. When you joined the board, you made a commitment to invest in our future. It’s time to fulfill that commitment so we can start the new year knowing we can make those goals come true.

Please join me in making this organization, that I know you passionately love, your top philanthropic priority.

If your board members think the only reason for 100% participation is so other funders will give to you, then you need to rethink who’s on your board.

Donors give money.

Volunteers give time.



If you’d like to hear more about inspiring your board members – please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.


Right Message. Wrong Words.

Did you read the BBB, Guidestar, Charity Navigator letter about The Overhead Myth ? I did. And even as I cheered the message, it felt wrong.  It was written to the wrong audience. The donors who commented were not convinced.

The same day I read Michael Schrage wrote in Harvard Business Review’s Good Leaders Don’t Use Bad Words, and I saw the problem; the authors were being lazy with their words. Instead of speaking to their audience’s needs, they were speaking to their own.

Nonprofits will certainly be better served if donors don’t focus solely on overhead as a measure of competence. But what’s the upside for the donors? Why should they care? That’s where the authors fail.

Donors should be looking for measures that demonstrate value to society. Are people’s lives being changed? How lasting is the change? How is the nonprofit making sure that it’s effective? What does it need in order to stay on track? These are the measures that donors should be looking at.

Instead of telling donors that overhead is the wrong measurement, we need to help them see the benefit of seeking alternatives.

Do you really need a board?

“Do you really need a Board or does having one just lead to more chaos…?”

A few months back, this loaded question was asked of the Nonprofit Professionals Group on LinkedIn, and a robust discussion followed.

My favorite answer, though, came from colleague John McClusky.

need-a-board“…we, the public, “entrust” the “trustees,” the predominantly volunteer body named “the “board,” to serve as our agent to ensure that the NPO actually pursues the socially beneficial purpose (mission) it claims to fulfill and acts in a fundamentally responsible way with the charitable donations and tax exemptions we grant it…”

In other words, the Board of Directors is entrusted with the responsibility to make sure that the mission is fulfilled.

For years, I have been telling boards that their job is to ensure that the mission of the organization can be fulfilled now, and in the future. It lays the groundwork for the board’s role in ensuring that the resources necessary for this fulfillment – financial, intellectual, capital, social, vision —  are available to the organization.

But I’d never really looked at the other side of the role. When we serve on boards, we are not only serving our own nonprofit organization, we are also serving society. We, the Directors and Trustees, are the eyes and ears of society, are responsible for making sure that the dollars which society entrusts to us are used wisely and to fulfill the intent which we proclaim. Our donors give us their wealth; our government is giving up tax dollars to us.

As directors and trustees, we serve our nonprofit. But we are also trustees of society, and as such, responsible for upholding our end of the bargain.

Being on a board is an awesome responsibility. Let me know if you’d like to talk about instilling this vision of a board’s role throughout your work.

C’mon People, It’s Not Donor Relations!

Quit calling it donor relations.

It’s people relations. It doesn’t matter if she’s a prospective donor, a volunteer, a parent or a student. It doesn’t matter if he gives time, money, or attention. Or none of the above. 

If you care about your organization, then you should be building relationships with every person.

Every  single person you encounter.

Segmenting the people you know for the purposes of sending appropriate messages is one thing. Segmenting them because you think that somehow donors are different from other people is completely different.

A person is a person is a person is a person. A person has dreams, hopes, and ambitions. A person has quirks and traits and tendencies. Anyone might have a reason to care about your organization, and it might not be the reason you think.

But if you only look at her as “soccer mom,” you might miss that this particular person dreams about somehow personally making a difference. If you only look at him as “volunteer,” you might miss that he hopes to introduce his kids to philanthropy through your organization. If you only look at that couple as “stay-at-homes,” you might miss that they really are seeking for the best way to invest their time and energy together.

Everyone should be in your database, so when you encounter that person, it doesn’t matter whether he’s a donor or not – you have an entrée into a conversation about their dreams, hope and ambitions.

A chance encounter with a community member was a forceful reminder of this truth. His kids are really into soccer. My client was an arts organization that educates children. A mismatch? Not at all. Not after he wistfully said he wished his kids could learn a little discipline. What is learning to play an instrument but learning discipline? Sure, it’s a lot of other things, too. But one big part of what it brings to kids is the knowledge that if you keep at it, you become better. Maybe the class in rock can do that for him.

Everyone you meet is a potential relationship. And every relationship starts with seeing every person.

Where are you now?

Where are you now?

Before 1973, no one ever asked where are you? when they reached you on the phone. Of course they knew where you were. You were within 3 feet of the telephone they had dialed (now that’s an anachronism!). Thirty years later, times have changed. Today, because of mobile phones, one of the first things we ask when we reach someone is, where are you?retro telephone detwiler mission standards for excellence governance

Where are you? An innocuous casual question that turns quite profound when you ask it of your organization. If, in 30 years, the world has changed so we call individuals instead of a place, has your nonprofit kept pace? Do you still ask your constituents to come to your location, or do your meet them where they are? Have your programs evolved to meet the new mobility of society? Has your mission changed?

Society’s rate of change has accelerated. When was the last time your board of directors evaluated whether your programs are still relevant, much less whether your mission is? Once every 10 years isn’t enough (and maybe it never was). But certainly  never shouldn’t be the answer.

In fact, maybe now is when you should ask, where are you?