In order to create a culture of philanthropy or just a strong corporate culture that supports your mission and vision, it is essential to embrace and practice good communication throughout the organization, which is why this is often included among organizations’ core values.

  • The Container Store’s #2 core value (which they prefer to call their Foundation Principles™) is “Communication IS Leadership.”
  • The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.Zappos has among its core values, “Build open and honest relationships with communications.” They explain, “As the company grows, communication becomes more and more important because everyone needs to understand how his/her team connects to the big picture of what we’re trying to accomplish. Communication is always one of the weakest spots in any organization, no matter how good the communication is. We want everyone to always try to go the extra mile in encouraging thorough, complete, and effective communication.”
  • Scottrade, one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” J.D. Power’s “Highest in Investor Satisfaction with Self-Directed Services” and Computerworld’s “100 Best Places to Work in IT,” has as one of its four core values, “We encourage the honest and frequent sharing of ideas, opinions and information across all levels of the organization.”

Not Just Communication, Open Communication
According to Karen Berman and Joe Knight, authors of Financial Intelligence, “Our experience is that many, if not most, companies refuse to share much financial data with any employee other than top executives. The unfortunate message this sends to anyone outside the loop: We’ll tell you what you need to know. Period…sharing the numbers tells employees you think they’re an important part of the business. Studies indicate that commitment grows and turnover declines.” (WSJ)

Jack Stack, president and CEO of Springfield Remanufacturing Company (SRC) and an advocate of open-book management, wrote in The Great Game of Business, “We are building a company in which everyone tells the truth every day — not because everyone is honest, but because everyone has access to the same information: operating metrics, financial data, valuation estimates. The more people understand what’s really going on in their company, the more eager they are to help solve its problems.” I understand that nonprofit financials aren’t secret and that employees can go online and read 990s (just as they can read annual reports) but that is not the same as proactively sharing, providing context, and ensuring that everyone has the same information. However, I don’t want to get stuck on financials, because I am simply using this as an example of information organizations often don’t think to share proactively

The Benefits of Open Communications
Quote from Benjamin FranklinSharing of as much business information as possible across departments and with the entire organization not only makes employees feel valued, it creates a sense of ownership and makes them better ambassadors for the organization. Other important information to share is your organization’s strategic direction, goals, business decisions, marketing efforts, and of course, core values.

Early in my career when I was the marketing director for The Container Store, an important part of my job was making sure that every employee was informed about every new product the retailer added to their selection (at a time when they were adding new products on a weekly basis and we weren’t yet using PCs for anything beyond tracking inventory and there were already more than a dozen stores!). And by everyone, I mean everyone. Everyone in the warehouse, the office, the stores, and even the truck drivers. This was not because everyone needed the information to do their job; it was because everyone likes to be “in the loop,” it’s very motivational and, as mentioned before, it engenders feelings of ownership.

I was also responsible for making sure everyone was aware of all of our marketing efforts. The key here is it was critical that they were informed before the public was – no one wants to hear news about the organization they work for from an outside source. Ever. Even something as seemingly small as an interview of your Executive Director that’s going to appear in the media; it all matters. The sharing of as much information as possible across the entire organization also creates a sense of community and respect. Everyone in the organization should feel equally important and valued.

Another reason good and open business communication is important is that it helps ensure consistent messaging across the organization. When you commit to transparency, people don’t have to get their (speculative, distorted) news through the company grapevine. They hear what’s really going on, in a controlled and consistent way. This kind of transparency also leads to faster, more efficient execution. When times are challenging, execution is important and the key to good execution is good alignment: every employee and department of an organization must understand exactly what’s required so they act in a coordinated and collaborative fashion.

Achieving open communications when it has not been the norm in an organization is difficult. It requires creating systems and new behaviors that support good and open communications. As I mentioned in my previous post on putting employees first, there has to be a change in the mindset of leadership within the organization. But I can promise you that it is impossible to create a culture of philanthropy or to optimize your nonprofit mission without it.  

Other posts in this series:
The Role of Core Values in Creating a Culture of Philanthropy
Core Values and Nonprofit Client Service
A Culture of Philanthropy Requires Putting Employees First

Written by Lee Neel, Vice President of Marketing at 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.

Well we’ve finally made it. Pride is the seventh and final sin in this series on the 7 Deadly Sins for Capital Campaigns, but many believe it is the root of the other six.  St. Augustine of Hippo way back in the 5th century wrote “Pride is the commencement of all sins.” Think Adam and Eve. There is nothing wrong with believing in yourself and having healthy self-esteem. We have all had parents, teachers and coaches tell us to take pride in our efforts. That is good advice. When it becomes a problem is when you aren’t willing to explore the possibility that others have experience, expertise, and wisdom to contribute to the conversation.

I’m a decent handyman. Certainly not the caliber that my Jack-of-all-trades dad was, but there are projects I can tackle on my own. However, I know my limitations. More importantly, my wife knows my limitations. Several years ago I wrote a blog post about her wisdom in stopping me from an electrical project and the rationale to bring in an expert. A quote I use often comes from the famous oil well fire fighter, Red Adair who said, “If you think it is expensive to hire an expert, wait until you hire an amateur.”

How are Capital Campaign Goals Set?
Research shows that as many as 40% of all capital campaigns do not reach their goals. When you begin to dig deeper you find that the reasons range from bad goal setting to lack of expertise in managing the campaign from start to finish. The Nonprofit Research Collaborative asked how organizations established their capital campaign goal. Participants could choose more than one response. Almost three-fourths (74%) said they set the goal simply based on how much they needed. Only 37% said they actually asked donors what they thought about the campaign. Taking it one step further in the study, the organizations were asked how many used full-service consulting services to set the goal, and only 11% said they engaged a full-service fundraising consultant to help.

Partial infographic of the pitfalls of pride as it relates to capital campaigns.

A Word on Expertise
Now don’t click away thinking this is just some commercial for fundraising consultants. I certainly acknowledge that there are other ways to acquire the expertise you need to establish a capital campaign goal or conduct capital campaigns depending on your specific circumstances. I am simply establishing that when you do not set the appropriate foundation for your campaign, or possess the expertise and experience required in executing the campaign, you are more likely to fall short in your efforts.  I would hope when you need an annual financial audit you hire a CPA. When you need legal advice, you turn to an expert. And you certainly wouldn’t want me to set the curriculum for your school. It would be recess and lunch all day.

There is value in the insight and expertise that comes with experience in conducting feasibility studies and guiding capital campaigns that can protect you from a negative experience and provide value way beyond the amount you raise and the cost of doing so.

Why Bother with a Fundraising Feasibility Study?
Let’s take this one issue at a time. First, do you always need a feasibility study before going into a capital campaign? As I wrote in a detailed article on the subject, Do You Really Need a Feasibility Study?, the answer isn’t always, but most often, “yes.” Second, is there value in using outside expertise to conduct the feasibility study and the capital campaign?

The Thinker sculpture by Auguste RodinWe were recently asked to submit a proposal to provide consulting services to help an organization with its upcoming capital campaign. The Executive Director told me that they had already established the goal for the campaign and in fact already knew how they wanted to communicate the value proposition. They just needed a consultant to provide a little structure and teach them how to do it, and in a few months they would be ready to take it over on their own. When I asked how they established the goal, I was told that the amount was based on how much they needed for the project. I inquired further how they had established that they could achieve that goal; had they conducted a feasibility study of any sort? He replied that he did not believe in fundraising feasibility studies and thought a study was a waste of time and money. After all, they knew people who had money. “How hard can it be?” Perhaps he could ask the 40% who did not reach their goals. 

In my article mentioned above, I make the case for why a feasibility study is valuable in most instances and discuss the values of a planning and feasibility study that go well beyond goal setting. But sticking to the subject of goal setting, here are three reasons:

  1. There is no better way to gage philanthropic priority for your project among your constituents.
  2. There is no other reliable indicator of capacity for your campaign.
  3. The campaign must be an unqualified success.

Setting Your Goal is the Difference between Success and “Failure”
Goals are merely benchmarks for success. The psychology of goal setting is that it must be an amount that is challenging but that you ultimately soar past. Most campaigns will be judged successful or not if, and only if, it reaches its goal. Guess what? You have the ability to set the criteria for success in a way that will ensure it is achieved. Most often a fundraising feasibility study will help to do that. The feasibility study must be conducted in a way that actually will lead to an educated projection of the outcome for your campaign. Then the organization either needs to listen to the outcome of the study or reshape the project and retest.

I conducted a feasibility study for a $15 million dollar project for an organization. Based on the findings of the study, among other specifics, we recommended a beginning campaign goal of $10 million. The organization decided it could not scale back or phase its project, so $15 million it had to be. The campaign provided some very important gains and firsts for the organization, including its first seven-figure gift. They raised more in that campaign than ever in the history of the organization, and had more robust volunteer involvement than they had ever experienced. But because they did not quite reach their $15 million goal, the capital campaign was perceived by many as less than a success.

Laying the foundation is not the place to skimp.We have all heard the scripture paraphrase “Pride goes before a fall.” It is likely that the capital campaign you are conducting or thinking about conducting will not be the last for your organization. Success breeds success and therefore achieving an unqualified success is imperative. Most often, a feasibility study conducted by an experienced and highly trained individual who is completely objective is worth the time and expense. Make sure that whoever conducts your study has those qualities. Laying the campaign foundation is not the place to skimp.

Can You Successfully Go the Distance Alone?
What about the issue of a self-led campaign versus using outside professional fundraising consultants? Some information suggests that self-led campaigns conducted without the benefit of appropriate staff experience raise 50% less than capital campaigns conducted using experienced outside expertise. As an outside consultant, it is easy for me to see how this happens. Capital campaigns are hard work and take up a lot of time both on a daily basis and over the long haul. It is not an uncommon experience for me to find that my clients get some of their best work done when I am there compelling them to make the campaign the priority it needs to be to be successful. As I covered in my last post on the sin of sloth, campaigns that don’t reach their goal run out of steam long before they run out of prospects. In addition to all the expertise and experience an outside consultant can bring, they sustain the priority and sense of urgency within the organization that is needed to see the campaign through to its successful conclusion. 

I know when I am taking on a do-it-yourself project I have to make several evaluations, and sometimes compromises. First, I have to determine if I truly have the understanding or experience needed or if I am willing to learn on the job. Second, even when I know what I am doing, I usually realize it will take me longer and will probably not be done as well as an expert could do it. I have to be willing to live with those limitations and concessions, and believe it is a good trade-off. Many times, after calculating my time and correcting my mistakes, it ends up costing more than it would have if I had just brought in a professional to begin with, and usually the workmanship isn’t as good. Many times, the greatest cost of a do-it-yourself capital campaign is the money that you do not raise.

Sustainable Value is Key
I do believe there is more than one way to ensure you get true value for your consulting dollar. I am a true advocate of the “teach a man to fish” principal. I would rather see your investment in outside expertise be used to increase your knowledge and capacity when conducting a capital campaign, rather than to just perpetuate the consulting business. Sometimes hiring internal staff, and using experienced fundraising consultants to organize the campaign and train your people, not only to raise what you need for the campaign, but also for your ongoing benefit, is a better use of consulting dollars than to just bring in someone from the outside to manage the campaign for you.

Pride is excessive belief in one’s own abilities. Many organizations have been the victim of the sin of Pride with the “I can do it myself; how hard can it be?” attitude when they simply do not have the expertise or experience to establish the appropriate starting point, design a winning campaign, or guide it to the finish line successfully. But if you believe there is little value in expertise, I will be happy to help with your next surgery. After all, I do stay at a lot of Holiday Inns.

7 Deadly Sins of Capital Campaigns Blog Series:
See the first post and full INFOGRAPHIC
Deadly Sin #1: ENVY
Deadly Sin #2: GLUTTONY
Deadly Sin #3: LUST
Deadly Sin #4 (Part 1): GREED
Deadly Sin #4 (Part 2): GREED
Deadly Sin #5: ANGER
Deadly Sin #6: SLOTH

Written by Daniel Neel, 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.

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

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.