MindsetCreating a culture of philanthropy isn’t for wimps or hot air balloons; it’s hard work and it requires authenticity. Part of the reason it’s so difficult is that it requires leaders to change their mindset or at best, evolve it. Let’s face it, if leadership was already “there” in terms of mindset the culture would be right there with them. Leadership has to want to change and then lead the process to do so.

In my last few blog posts I’ve talked about the role of organizational core values in creating a culture of philanthropy – or LVBs (living, breathing values) as Wendy Maynard from Kinesis calls them (as opposed to the useless, lifeless, generic lists of core values too many companies pay lip service to). Reason being, to create a culture that’s different from the one you have now – even if it’s only more evolved – requires LVBs that support that culture.

Employees First
Last week I wrote about the importance of having a mindset where not only clients of your mission, but clients that invest in your organization come first. That seems obvious, right? If you don’t make donor relationships an organizational priority then you’re not going to have a culture of philanthropy. But now I’m going to say that wasn’t a completely accurate statement. To be truly successful at both achieving your mission and creating a culture of philanthropy, employees need to come first.

I understand that this is a tough challenge for many organizations. Although 90% of corporate executives say that employees are the most important variable in their company’s success, a Towers Perrin survey reported that in practice they rank people-related issues far below other business priorities. Executives agreed improving employee performance would improve business results; 73% even said their most important investment was people. However, people-related issues, such as training and compensation, consistently ranked at the bottom of the list.

According to Steven Nardizzi, executive director of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Wounded Warrior Project (ranked #3 overall in 2014 after 3 years in the #1 spot, which it still retains among large nonprofits), successful organizations boil down to focus on the culture and alignment with mission and attracting, retaining, and engaging and supporting incredible people.

The Value in This Approach
In nonprofit organizations, leadership (and thus the entire organization) too often have tunnel vision when it comes to their mission being most important and they are hamstrung by the overhead myth that can keep them overly focused on the expense of employees rather than their value. The motto at Wegman’s, a company that has been on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list every year for 17 years (they are ranked #7 this year) is “Employees first, customers come second.”

Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies and author of Employees First, Customers Second, asserts “By putting employees first you can actually deliver on your promise of customers first. If you do not put the employees first – if the business of management and managers is not to put employees first – there is no way you can get the customer first.” Nonprofit organizations by design are laser-focused on their mission, it requires a shift in perspective to understand why putting employees first will serve the mission better.

business people holding smiley faces“A study of 50 companies over a one-year period showed that organizations with high employee engagement had a 19% increase in operating income and nearly 28% growth in EPS (earnings per share). Conversely, companies with low levels of engagement saw operating income drop more than 32% and EPS decline 11%. A similar study also found that organizations in the top quartile in engagement generated revenue growth 2.5 times higher than companies in the bottom quartile.” (Financial Executives International)

According to Lori Fouché, CEO of Fireman’s Fund, “Culture is the glue that holds an organization together. It helps guide all the decisions, how you behave and act. You can pick whatever strategy you want but how you go about doing it is the difference between, oftentimes, success and failure.”

Learning and Development
Employee motivation is a highly researched topic and in study after study, employees cite learning and development as one of their top three motivations for staying with an organization, so it only makes sense that companies with a strong corporate culture and values typically couple personal growth with putting employees first.

  • At First Horizon National Corp., the parent company of First Tennessee Bank and FTN Financial their #1 core value is “Employees First. We hire, retain and develop the best people, ensuring that every employee has the opportunity to demonstrate high performance and succeed. We nurture our culture as our competitive advantage.”
  • Home Depot, also on Fortune’s list, has “Taking Care of Our People” as a core value and elaborates “Our associates are key to our success. We strive to create an environment where all associates feel they are respected, their contributions are valued and they have equal access to growth and development opportunities.”
  • The Barnes Foundation has as a core value having “A Learning Culture – We offer venues for information sharing, analysis, education, and training that foster professional and institutional growth.”

Again, because of the overhead myth, many nonprofits, especially small-to-medium sized nonprofit, struggle to offer competitive salaries. Good news! A 14-year ongoing engagement and retention survey found that just as within the for-profit sector, within the nonprofit sector, Career Growth/Learning & Development was the second most cited reason for staying with an organization, behind Exciting/Challenging/Meaningful Work. (With the latter being fulfilled, at least in part, by the nonprofit’s mission.)

Why? The ROI
Visual depicting ROIIn a previous blog post I wrote about many of the hidden costs associated with not training fundraising personnel because according to Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, executive directors report that 26% of development directors overall – and 38% among the smallest nonprofits – have no experience or are novice at securing gifts. What I didn’t talk about is the preponderance of studies that support the fact that training enhances organization profits. (When it comes to fundraising, this seems like such an obvious correlation).

Research shows that companies that invest in employee training and professional development outperform the market by 45%. These same firms also enjoy significantly higher profit margins and higher income per employee. Blackbaud suggests that setting aside 2-4% of your revenue for professional development each year “will show employees that you’re committed to their continuous growth.” 

Training also decreases turnover – a chronic problem for nonprofit director of development positions. (A recent survey found that half of development directors (50%) anticipated leaving their current jobs in two years or less.) Major gift fundraising is all about relationships. How solid can your relationships be if your director of development position is a revolving door and the position is left unfilled for months (and in smaller organizations sometimes years)? (This tool can help you calculate the cost of replacing an employee for your business, although it does not include the biggest expense – lost revenue in the case of a fundraising employee.)

Of course there are many other ways to put employees first and truly having a culture that does so means making it a living, breathing core value that permeates the organization and directs its decisions and actions on a day-in, day-out basis. For examples of some nonprofit organizations who are having success with this kind of mindset, look no further than NPT’s Best Nonprofits To Work For 2014 (a new list should be coming out this month).

Attracting and Hiring the Right People
Attracting and hiring the right people goes hand-in-hand with training and putting employees first. Companies with strong, positive corporate cultures attract better people. The other side of the coin is choosing the right people. Dave Ridley, CMO of Southwest Airlines says, “Good culture starts with how you hire. You can’t train for happy and nice – you have to hire for it. Hire for attitude, train for skill.”

Hire Fire keys on a computer keypadFinding the right person for a role is a challenging, costly, and time-intensive process which is why it’s important to make the right decision the first time. Strong living, breathing core values help guide the selection process. Bruce Jones of Disney says, “The selection process must include deep cultural immersion. That means communicating to potential applicants what the organization values are…The only way your selection process can work is if it becomes so deeply immersed in culture that someone will self-select in or self-select out depending on whether or not the culture is the right fit for them.” This is true when a strong culture has been established. Prior to that, however, Daniel Neel, president of The Fundraising Resource Group agrees with the Southwest approach and recommends hiring for characteristics needed for the job. “Often, some of the best and most successful MGOs have no previous experience or proven track record of success in major gift fundraising. I can teach the skills but I can’t teach the intangibles needed,” says Neel.

The flip side of hiring the right person is being willing to let people go who are not in agreement with and invested in your culture. In a radical move today, Tony Hsieh, CEO and founder of Zappos has decided to dramatically change the company’s organizational and management structure – and has offered an “exit strategy [three months’ severance] to any workers who aren’t sold on the unconventional idea.” Hsieh is also famous for his policy of offering new hires $2,000 after their first three months on the job to weed out anyone having second thoughts. While Zappos is an extreme example, companies that are successful at establishing a positive corporate culture agree that everyone in the organization must accept their core values.

Putting employees first is a real challenge for many organizations, and perhaps especially so for nonprofits because of their mission focus. Nonprofit leaders often cite the inability to pay competitive salaries as a big challenge in attracting and retaining good people but if you understand what truly motivates employees, you begin to understand the many benefits and wisdom of putting employees first and why it is essential to the process of creating a culture of philanthropy.

Other posts you might like on related topics:
The True Cost of Fundraising Training
The Role of Core Values in Creating a Culture of Philanthropy
Core Values and Nonprofit Client Service
NPTs Best Nonprofits to Work For: It’s Not About the Money
Nonprofit Leaders: Are You Effectively Motivating Your Employees?
Does Your Nonprofit Organization “Get” Internal Marketing?

Written by Lee Neel, Vice President of The Fundraising Resource Group. The Fundraising Resource Group helps non-profit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, nonprofit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success, visit our website or call 888-522-1492.

In last week’s post on The Role of Core Values in Creating a Culture of Philanthropy, I stated that using core values to create or reinforce a culture of philanthropy requires having at least one core value that communicates that client needs are a top priority for everyone and are critical to the organization’s mission.

Donations are critical for nonprofits to sustain and grow.Importantly, nonprofit organizations must recognize that they have TWO clients – those whom their mission serves and donors, who make their mission possible. Serving clients who are identified in a typical nonprofit mission statement alone doesn’t ensure that the organization will survive. Understanding this, every nonprofit organization should make serving the needs of its donors central to its core values. Nonprofits tend to do an excellent job of living and promoting their mission and vision. Few beyond the most successful nonprofits understand that core values require the same dedication and level of attention. In order to create a culture of philanthropy, everyone in the organization must understand that it’s their job (regardless of their job title) to ensure the needs of donors are being met.

Clients/Donors Come First
When reviewing the core values of companies that rank among Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, virtually all have at least one core value (usually listed first) that addresses putting the needs of customers or clients first. Number one ranked company, Google, states “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” The Boston Consulting Group, ranked #2, states in its core values, “Clients come first. We measure our success by our clients’ success.” You will find much the same as you continue down the list, on and on. LinkedIn’s fist core value is, “Our members come first.” They go on to say, “Simply put, without our members there is no LinkedIn. Everything we do is ultimately driven by our desire to create value for our members. We encourage employees to know and understand our members to ensure the long-term health of the LinkedIn ecosystem.” This could easily be applied to a nonprofit organization in speaking about both the clients their mission serves and their donor/volunteer clients. What I especially like is the reference to the LinkedIn “ecosystem.” While missions and visions loom large in the nonprofit world, it is vital to acknowledge the critical role of donors in the nonprofit ecosystem.

Deliver WOW Through Service
Zappos is a company that is often cited for their incredible customer service and strong corporate culture, the basis of which is their 10 core values. Their first core value is “Deliver WOW through service.” Four words. One of the things that makes this a strong core value is the use of the word “WOW.” They could have said “exceed customer expectations” but “WOW” invokes and encourages so much more – you can surprise, delight, and amaze customers – there are many ways to interpret “WOW.” With “WOW,” the sky is the limit. Understand, too, that this is an empowering statement; Zappos is giving employees the discretion to figure out what “WOW” means to a particular customer and to do it. According to CEO, Tony Hsieh, this first core value is designed to encourage employees to go “above and beyond the average level of service to create an emotional impact on the receiver and to give them a positive story they can take with them the rest of their lives.”

To illustrate this core value in action, Hsieh sometimes tells the story of a “customer service representative who got a call from a woman whose husband had died in a car accident after she had ordered boots for him from Zappos. The day after the call, the widow received flowers that the rep had sent her on the company’s dime without consulting a supervisor. At the funeral the widow related the experience to her friends and family.” (Inc.)

Crafting Core Values
Forward City reports that according to Tynesia Boyea-Robinson, CEO of Reliance Methods, “Values are often static and generic. In the effort to boil them down to universal truths, values are often universally useless.” Boyea-Robinson goes on to say, “To work, your values must be:

  • Action-oriented
  • Relevant regardless of tenure or stage in the organization
  • Dynamic – they grow, change and develop with individuals
  • Holistic – they apply personally and professionally.”

According to Wendy Maynard with Kinesis, core values often fall short because of many or all of the following 15 issues.

  • “They are not connected to your mission and/or vision.
  • They are platitudes and not unique to your company beliefs.
  • They are not memorable.
  • No one in your company can repeat them consistently.Guidelines for Core Values
  • They are too long.
  • There are too many of them.
  • They are not actionable.
  • They are not used to set employee goals or measure their performance.
  • Your team cannot describe how your values guide their actions.
  • They are not a part of your daily culture.
  • They are not part of your sales or marketing goals.
  • Your values are not visibly integrated into the way you do business.
  • Your customers’ experiences do not align with your values.
  • They are not a tool that is used to attract the best talent.
  • The founders and leadership team are not passionate about them.

All of the above is good advice and should be taken into account when crafting core values. Many experts recommend that you should have no more than five core values. I would suggest that if you find yourself with a list of more than 10 core values, chances are that you are confusing core values with business strategies, operating practices, a code of ethics (these last two deal with specific types of situations and behaviors such as conflicts of interest and confidentiality) or cultural norms.

How did your nonprofit organization determine its core values? Are they living, breathing values that guide leadership and employee actions and decisions? Leave a comment – we’d love to hear your story!

Written by Lee Neel, Vice President of The Fundraising Resource Group. The Fundraising Resource Group helps non-profit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, nonprofit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success, visit our website or call 888-522-1492.

I often say, “Capital campaigns fail to reach their potential not because they run out of prospects but because they run out of steam.” (Warning: heavy use of quotes throughout this blog post.) I have yet to work with a nonprofit organization in their capital campaign where we were searching for someone else to ask. Most often, when a campaign falls short, it is because the organization simply quits asking.

One of my early mentors in this business was Ben Gill (Look him up. He will make you smile). Ben used to say “There are two things that are hard to do: things you don’t like to do and things that you don’t know how to do.” Usually what happens when we encounter something we find hard to do is we stop doing it and revert to those things that are more comfortable. This is what happens many times in capital campaigns. We simply stop doing what is necessary and fall back on the things we like to do or know how to do. Thomas Edison said, “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work,” while Benjamin Franklin warns that “Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy.”

Capital Campaigns 7 deadly sin #6 is sloth.

Why is the sloth the symbol of inactivity? Here are some fun facts:

  • sloths move only when necessary and then very slowly;
  • they can move at a marginally higher speed if they are in immediate danger from a predator;
  • they spend up to 18 hours at a time sleeping upside down in a tree;
  • they spend 70% of their time resting;
  • they eat and digest their food so slowly, they only leave the tree once a week for a “nature break”;
  • sloths literally move so slowly that they have moss growing on their backs!

Capital Campaigns are Hard Work
Do any of these traits sound familiar? Capital campaigns are hard work and take prioritization and persistence to achieve success. You have to keep moving forward. Remember, “a rolling stone gathers no moss.”

Photo of a sloth

Photo courtesy of a-z-animals.com.

The CEO of an organization I was working with recently was scratching his head wondering why giving to the capital campaign had stopped. There was such good momentum early on and excellent volunteer engagement. The top gifts identified in the feasibility study had materialized and the campaign was on its way to success. We had achieved the benchmarks of the quiet phase and launched the public phase with an attainable goal in hand and a financial roadmap to get there. There was nothing left to do but ask donors to continue to join us. What happened?

I asked three simple questions of the CEO and the development director: 1) How many calls have you or volunteers made? 2) How many visits have been scheduled? 3) How many gifts have been received? Amazingly (but not surprising given the outcome) the answer to all three was the same: zero. When I pressed why, I got responses like, “I have the gala coming up and need to focus on it,” “I can’t get the volunteers to do anything,” and “I think everyone is getting tired.” Well, Hakuna Matata!

Check Your Priorities
Many times the excitement in the beginning of the campaign is contagious. The gifts received in the early stages are the largest (by design). When the campaign gets long in the tooth and the gifts get smaller, this is the most challenging and organizationally intensive time. We know that seeing donors face-to-face to ask them to consider supporting a capital campaign yields a more personal and quality decision on the part of the donor to give, but the time commitment on the part of the organization is huge. Many times it means adjusting your priorities. H.L. Hunt perhaps put it best, “Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.”

I provide some simple tips to keep an organization on track when other priorities threaten to overtake the urgency of the campaign:Business woman making appointment on notebook

  • adopt the appropriate mindset toward the priorities of the campaign;
  • set realistic benchmarks;
  • schedule appointments with yourself and keep them;
  • engage others;
  • track and measure activity before dollars; and
  • conduct formal reporting and accountability sessions with all involved in solicitation activities.

Steven Covey famously said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities,” but Gandhi said it best, “Action expresses priorities.”

I Would Rather do it Myself
What about when it is just easier to do it all yourself? We know engaging, training, and keeping volunteers on task sometimes seems like more trouble than it’s worth. But, there are good and practical reasons to involve volunteers in capital campaigns. First, volunteerism breeds ownership which makes a difference in their personal giving of time and treasure. Second, you don’t have the time to do it all yourself. You will run out of gas before you finish the job and your campaign will most likely not reach its full potential. 

When engaging volunteers in solicitations for capital campaigns and keeping wind in their sails, I suggest the following:

  • enlist to specific activities and commitments;
  • provide training and tools;
  • role play;
  • match assignments to appropriate relationships;
  • have them join you on visits;
  • get them an early win;
  • hold them accountable; and
  • allow them to bow out gracefully if they are not able to get the job done.

"Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships." Michael JordanMichael Jordan, arguably the most talented individual basketball player of all time said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

What does this have to do with sloth? It sounds like industry and hard work. Back to the things that are hard to do, knowing how to effectively engage volunteers is actually harder than doing it yourself, but will yield far greater results for the campaign and for the future of the organization. Take the words of Henry Ford if you want true victory, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success,” and remember “Many hands make light work.”

Stay Vigorous to the End
In conclusion, heed the warning of Herodotus when he said, “Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal, while others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before.” 

Don’t let sloth in the end, either by running out of steam or trying to do it all yourself, undo the successes of your early efforts.  Pay attention to the Polish Proverb that says, “For the diligent a week has seven days, for the slothful seven tomorrows.” I close with a poem by Gloria Pitzer that you should put on your desk, your mirror, make it your ring tone or whatever will remind you to stay diligent in the midst of a capital campaign:

“Procrastination is my sin. It brings me naught but sorrow.
I know that I should stop it. In fact, I will—tomorrow.”


This is the eighth in a series of nine posts.
See the first post and full INFOGRAPHIC
Read the previous post on Capital Campaigns Deadly Sin #5: Anger

Written by Daniel Neel, President of The Fundraising Resource Group. The Fundraising Resource Group helps nonprofit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, nonprofit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your nonprofit achieve fundraising success, visit our website or call 888-522-1492.

Many nonprofit organizations don’t have defined (written) core values. Others think they have them, but what they are calling “core values” are actually something else. Still others have them but aren’t successfully implementing them. Correctly conceived and applied, core values are critical to creating a culture of philanthropy.

What are Core Values?
Core Values written in block letters.A core value is principle that defines and guides an organization’s internal conduct as well as its relationship with the external world. Core values clarify who you are as an organization by articulating what you stand for. Core values communicate to employees exactly what is expected of them and informs their decision-making and actions. Without core values that support the care and service of donors, a culture of philanthropy cannot exist.

Identifying Your Core Values
The CEO of a large retail company I used to work for frequently reminded employees that our goal should never be to make money, instead we should, “fill the other guy’s basket to the brim, then making money becomes an easy proposition.” Of course, when he said “fill the other guy’s basket” he did not mean literally; he was using a metaphor to remind everyone to focus on customers’ needs. Virtually all successful companies with written core values have one, if not several, core values that relate directly to delivering superior customer service. The centerpiece of FedEx’s core values is their famous purple promise, “I will make every FedEx experience outstanding.” The #1 core value at Zappos, a company famous for their 10 core values is, “Deliver WOW through service.” Nonprofit organizations have two clients – those whom their mission serves and donors (including volunteers), who make their mission possible. Central to creating a culture of philanthropy must be a core value that recognizes the importance of serving donors and meeting their needs. In addition to customer service, other areas that successful companies include in their organizational core values typically address: teamwork, communication, personal growth and learning, employee empowerment, ethics, and community.

What are our core values?The first inclination in tackling a project as important as identifying core values is to develop a team. In a nonprofit organization this might include key leadership and the board. The problem with this approach is that large teams are often dysfunctional and reach watered-down solutions in the name of compromise. To be effective, politics need to be put aside and ruthless decisions about membership must be made; not everyone who wants to be on the team should be included. Ideally, the team should be two or three people at the most.

Looking at the core values of other successful organizations is another good way to begin the process. The organizations do not have to be nonprofits and do not have to have any common ground in order be a valuable resource. Keep in mind that the purpose of core values is to guide the decision-making and actions of employees. Done correctly, they are also an indispensable tool in making the right hiring decisions.

Although this may sound counterintuitive, an important characteristic of well-written corporate values is that they are often open to interpretation. Zappos “Create fun and a little weirdness” indicates that the organization values employee happiness and individuality and encourages employees to be proactive in pursuing these values but it doesn’t tell them how to create fun or what “a little weirdness is.”

According to the website Delivering Happiness, when Zappos set out to identify their core values in 2005, leadership sent out an email to all employees asking them to provide four or five values that were significant and meaningful to them personally, not necessarily having anything to do with the company’s values. Using this information as a List of Zappos core valuesspringboard, leadership developed their ten corporate core values. They then sent out an email to managers saying, “We’ve been working on a “Zappos Core Values” document, and the first draft of it is below. Please take the time to read it over and email me (do not CC everyone) any suggestions, additions, subtractions, or other feedback. In particular, think about any employees that you think represent the Zappos culture well, and whether what you like about those employees is covered by the 10 core values proposed, below. Conversely, think about any employees that you think do not represent Zappos well, and whether the reason behind it is due to them not representing one or more of the core values below.

This will be a very important document, as we will give the final version to all employees. It will be more or less permanent for all the future years of Zappos, so your input is very important. Please make sure you set aside time to read and think about it.” In this approach, everyone was aware of the process and had input, but it was one or two people who crafted the values and made the decisions.

When is a Core Value Not a Core Value?
Having a written list of core values doesn’t make them core values. To actually be core values, they must be ingrained in such a way that they are used every day in everything an organization, its leaders and employees do. Core values are the guiding principles that direct virtually all the actions of an organization.

Implementing Core Values
To successfully implement core values in an organization requires true leadership. Achieving the title of “executive director,” “president,” “CEO,” or even “founder” typically ensures that one is a good manager, but not necessarily a good leader. Leadership means “the ability of an individual to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organizations of which they are members.” (diffen.com) Leaders inspire, Leadership pyramidguide, and facilitate others to make a positive difference and to contribute to a larger good. To create a culture of philanthropy, leadership must embrace, enact, and evangelize the core values that support employee focus on philanthropy.

Earlier in my career, I had the privilege of working for a very successful and profitable company that has consistently been on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For (16 years running). Both the CEO and the president were adept at internal marketing (the process of promoting the organization’s mission, vision and core values to employees). They used stories and storytelling to bring the core values to life. We heard the same stories over, and over – and over – again. You might think everyone would come to dread those oft-repeated stories, but they didn’t. Instead, everyone embraced them as their own. It was a company where the customer was king, communications on all levels of the organization were excellent, new employees were thoroughly and formally onboarded and received ongoing training, all employees were empowered to make decisions, and turnover was low. All of this is attributable to good leadership coupled with well-defined and executed core values.

What does a culture of philanthropy look like?
As stated earlier, the most important aspect of creating a culture of philanthropy is having a core value that communicates that donor relationships/partnerships and donor needs are a top priority for everyone and are critical to the organization’s mission. It is then important that the executive director/president/CEO, the development director and other senior management partner in being cultural drivers, acting as role models, cheerleaders and actively engaging in promoting and living the organization’s core values. Everyone in the organization must be committed to the nonprofit’s mission, vision and core values. New hires and board members must share the organization’s core values and orientation/onboarding should be an immersion in core values.

One of the most amazing things about core values that are carefully considered and effectively implemented is that it creates an environment for employee empowerment. The organization hires and keeps people based on their ability to embrace and live the core values. Employees know how to make good decisions because the entire organization is on the same page regarding what’s important and what the expectations are for decisions and actions.

If developing and maintaining donor relationships is a core value and it and the organization’s other core values become the guides for organizational behavior, you’ll ultimately have an organization where everyone acts as an ambassador and relationship builder, everyone can articulate the case for giving, and board members are actively engaged in fund development and share responsibility for meeting development goals.

In the coming weeks I will talk about core values related to customer service, teamwork, communication, personal growth and learning, employee empowerment, ethics, and community and that support success in many types of organizations and why they are important in creating a culture of philanthropy.

Written by Lee Neel, Vice President of The Fundraising Resource Group. The Fundraising Resource Group helps non-profit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, non-profit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success, visit our website or call 888-522-1492.

Early in my career as a fundraising consultant, I was working with a church on its capital campaign. On the eve of one of the most important gatherings with top donors, I was preparing the pastor for his presentation. We went through the objectives of the evening, the talking points, and the call to action. All was ready to go. As we were getting ready to leave the church to swing by his house on the way to the gathering, the pastor said, “By the way, there is something that may come up tonight. My wife left me today. She took the dog and the meat that was in the freezer but left the kids. Word is getting out, so I thought you should be aware. Do you think it will impact the campaign?”  

It may come up?! Ya think?! Then as we approached his home he counseled me that if I saw an angry woman with a pistol, I should either call 911 or run. Of course it was a very sad situation for the family. But needless to say, the collateral damage for the church was devastating.

The Unvarnished Truth
As long as humans are involved, there is always the possibility for things to go off the rails. We are passionate, sensitive, and sometimes emotional creatures, often acting on those feelings.

For nonprofit organizations that are filled with, and who depend on partnering with us oh-so-fallible human beings, the question often becomes, how do you keep everyone happy and everything copasetic? The answer is you can’t, but you can be aware of the consequences of not dealing with concerns – real or imagined – and address them appropriately when heading into, or in the middle of, a major fundraising initiative such as a capital campaign.

Two questions that must be asked when considering or conducting a capital campaign are: 1) what is your organization’s external image, and 2) how is your internal health?

Capital Campaigns 7 Deadly Sins #5 - Anger

Three Types of Anger
There are basically three types of anger that can derail capital campaigns: unknown, unacknowledged, and unresolved. Ryan Martin, Ph.D., in an article in Psychology Today points out that people get angry under fairly predictable circumstances. “People become angry when faced with situations that they see as unpleasant and unfair. They will get even angrier if they blame someone else for the situation or think that it could have been avoided.”

The kinds of situations I have dealt with in preparing for or conducting capital campaigns include everything from the hangover effect of a strong-armed campaign approach from twenty years previous and loss of confidence in leadership, to concerns of mismanagement. I have even witnessed volunteers nearly come to blows with organizational leadership over disagreements about direction. All of this upheaval serves only one purpose: to keep you from engaging donors in a way that maximizes giving so that you can reach more with your mission.

How Do You Know if There are Issues?
confidential discussionIn dealing with the first type of situation where you are not aware of the undercurrent that is occurring, how do you address it or even know there is an issue when preparing for a capital campaign? A true planning and feasibility study conducted by an objective and experienced third-party (a.k.a. fundraising consultant) answers more than the question of how much money you can raise. It also identifies how you are perceived by your constituents. Simply put, donors will tell us things in confidential interviews they sometimes have not shared with the organization. Our experience helps us extract those concerns during the conversation.

In a recent feasibility study, I uncovered two different potential concerns that an organization was not aware of, each requiring a different response. The first was from a potential donor who certainly had the capacity to consider a seven-figure gift if so inspired. He told me he would likely give a six-figure gift for the construction of a new gymnasium, but would give $1 million if they fired the basketball coach. Having pledged confidentiality to the interviewee, I asked his permission to share his concern with appropriate leadership and he agreed. In the same study, almost 50% of those interviewed had some complaint or significant issue regarding their relationship with a key leader of the school. The damaged relationships were to the point where those donors said they could not see themselves giving to the campaign unless the situations were addressed.

Let me say in both of these instances, it is not my, or any third-party’s place to make a recommendation on what to do about personnel matters based on a feasibility study. It is our responsibility to appropriately communicate the concerns that may have an impact on an organization’s ability to conduct a successful capital campaign or that simply need to be addressed for the health of the organization. We raised these concerns with the CEO and he dealt with each as he deemed appropriate. Both situations were addressed prior to the campaign. The coach kept her job (we did not get the $1 million gift). There was a transition of leadership to address the other concern and the campaign moved forward to focus on the needs and the kids.

Don’t Stick Your Head in the Sand
When dealing with the other two types of issues, unacknowledged and unresolved, sometimes an organization thinks it can stick its head in the sand, and that matters of concern won’t become enormous problems for a capital campaign. Wrong. Many times it is simply a lack of communication or a miscommunication that is at issue. One of my favorite quotes comes from George Bernard Shaw who said “the danger with communication is the illusion it has been achieved.”

Most often what people are looking for is to have their grievances acknowledged.  Many times during the feasibility study I hear concerns about lack of financial transparency, misuse of previously contributed funds, perceived injustices, slights from leadership, or other concerns. I label these as “Obstacles to Overcome” in a feasibility study report of findings with recommendations to address them prior to launching a campaign. Sometimes the organization tells me they are aware of the concerns and the issue has been dealt with, or that it is not valid. Unfortunately, “perception is reality.” Choosing not to deal with real or perceived concerns is a sure way to keep a capital campaign from even getting off the ground, much less maximize its potential.

Director your anger towards problems, not people, answers, not excuses.Another article on anger from Psychology Today says, “Studies show that the ability to identify and label emotions correctly, and talk about them straightforwardly to the point of feeling understood, makes negative feelings dissipate.” It goes on to point out, “Psychologists believe that the relief we feel (by simply telling someone we are angry) results not from venting the anger but from identifying the anger-arousing circumstances and working towards a solution.” And that points to the positive value that anger has. It’s a great motivator for change. It encourages us to deal with the issues and allows for a hearing from all perspectives leading to resolution.

Self-Inflicted Wounds
Most of what I have described are external angers that can stymie the success of a capital campaign. Then there are the self-inflicted wounds. We were working with an organization in its early planning for a potential capital campaign. This organization does wonderful work with disadvantaged children and from the outside-looking-in, appeared to be the model of a healthy organization. Then came the implosion. A handful of disgruntled board members and past staff began a campaign to oust the Executive Director. To their credit, the Director had apparently given them plenty of ammunition. Many board members simply resigned. Ultimately there were allegations and investigations and the Executive Director resigned. The press got involved and the dirty laundry of the organization was laid bare for the entire community.

Knowing that the organization intended to push forward with a campaign, we counseled them that they had to get their house in order and re-establish trust with donors before they could be successful. To test our instincts, we talked with some of their major supporters. One donor in particular who we had a close relationship with, and who had literally given millions to the organization was so turned off by leadership on both sides of the issue (who had talked to her about their grievances and defenses, but never once mentioned the children) that she decided to withdraw her support in favor of other ways to aid the children. Others in the community followed.

Deal with It
This is just one example among many. I have seen daughters remove parents from boards, directors removed because of scandals, and petty arguments for control or positioning snatch defeat from the jaws of victory during capital campaigns.  The victim is always the same: those whom the organization serves. Problems and issues can’t be avoided, but when identified early and dealt with appropriately the effects of anger can be mitigated and sometimes even be turned into a positive.

Yes, we humans are passionate. That is part of what brings us to this work of service and philanthropy. But beware to acknowledge and deal with concerns and that passion does not turn to anger lest we have a hand in destroying what we care most about. Take the advice of William Arthur Ward, “It is wise to direct your anger towards problems – not people; to focus your energies on answers – not excuses.”

This is the seventh in a series of nine posts.
You can see the first post and full INFOGRAPHIC here.
Read the previous post on Capital Campaigns Deadly Sin #4: Greed (Part 2).

Written by Daniel Neel, President of The Fundraising Resource Group. The Fundraising Resource Group helps nonprofit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, nonprofit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your nonprofit achieve fundraising success, visit http://www.thefundraisingresource.com or call 888-522-1492.