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Are you the kind of person who seems to be a magnet for conversations and interaction with strangers?  Salespeople, waiters, fellow passengers on planes or trains – you get the idea.  I guess that I am never rude so the conversation is bound to continue.  What is most curious and captivating about these random interactions is the Jewish or Israel angle that leads the conversation to continue longer than one would expect.

Last week I was in Boston on a less than 24-hour business trip that I expected to be intense so when it was time to leave town I really wanted to get out quickly because I was driving home and feared the ever-increasing congestion on the roads.  (Plug here:  Read Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s’ new book “Move” for some insight and solutions on this national nightmare…but I digress…)  One of my colleagues was nice enough to walk me out into the taxi-deprived streets of Boston to help me flag one down.  Walked about a block and found a taxi sitting in front of small hotel and sure enough, he was free.  When we talked about where I was going, I instantly knew that I was in for one of “those” conversations.

Russian.  I know that dialect intimately, after working with Russian Jewish emigres for over 14 years.  What I didn’t know was whether or not he was Jewish but soon enough (of course!) I would know the whole life story…which begins with him complaining about Uber and how his income has been minimized by the “capitalist bastards” who have no right from the government to drive people around.  No permits, no license.  I suppose he has a point but well, this is America after all and we love our new “sharing economy” which I thought should appeal to him but I knew, when I asked him where he was from and he replied “the Soviet Union” I knew a whole lot about what was prompting his rant.  I also knew that he wouldn’t say that if he wasn’t Jewish.

So I asked him when he came to this country and he knew, in that moment, that I must be a landsman as this is the question that Jews ask of emigres, usually when they first meet.  He turned his head around for a moment to check me out and to make the kind of contact that Jews have when they meet each other, that knowing look that gives permission for a change in tone and direction in the conversation – to speak of the things that we intimately understand, whether it be geography or experience.  It was also his choice at that moment to make a turn that was a detour to our destination.  But I knew…he wanted to talk.

And talk he did.  He lived in Netanya (Israel) for many years after he emigrated from the Soviet Union.  But his children lived in America and his wife missed them so they moved to the U.S.  I told him how I loved Netanya and particularly the sunset on Shabbat from high above the sea.  He turned around to smile and then made another left turn that was taking us farther away from where I was going.  And yet still I did not protest.  This was not the usual conversation struck up by strangers – this man of many years and many countries needed to talk to another Jew today as he scoured the streets of Boston looking for fares, and I guess some friendship.

We talked of the recent Supreme Court decision on the status of citizenship and Jerusalem (he was furious, I was not surprised).  We talked about Boston’s miserable winter (that was worse than Soviet Union!) and how much we both miss the aroma of the streets of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean.

My taxi fare was double, maybe triple what it should have been and I was late getting to my car and even later getting home that night.  But there was something deeply satisfying about finding that time with a stranger who happened to be a Russian-Jewish emigre and an Israeli and a Bostonian (and did I say, also Red Sox fan?! – yes, that’s a good thing!) that created a connection for me that day that was more resonant than the work I did all day on behalf of the Jewish community in my consulting practice.

Sometimes it’s good to be destined to have the company and conversation of strangers.  When I am approached the next time by someone who feels like striking up a conversation, I will knowingly smile and reciprocate.  And remember Boris of Boston.

Under the Influence

WHO do you know?
I ask that question a lot in my work. After all, fundraising and nonprofit management are all about creating and managing opportunity.
When I go to my “Contacts” I realize that I do know an awful lot of people – and many of them are ones you would describe as quite influential.  But I would have to say that my work, and the way I approach it – keeps me under the radar.

As a consultant, I work behind the scenes, guiding organizations and people to strategies and solutions that suit them and hopefully make them successful – more able to advance their missions. I have learned that, although there are many consultants out there, handing out advice to everyone from farmers to physicians, consultants don’t, as a rule, get much respect – which I attribute to large egos and little substance (and sometimes, gargantuan fees!). And yet, everyone seems to want to retain a consultant. Knowing that people can have disdain for our lot, I have chosen to position myself uniquely –  akin to the back-up singer and studio musician – maybe that’s why “20 Feet from Stardom” and “Standing In the Shadows of Motown” are two of my favorite movies. I am providing the best harmony and the most creative riffs to make the song memorable and indomitable. My work backstage leads to an organization and its mission  basking in the spotlight.  That’s my job and I love it.

It’s only natural, I think, to want to get credit and recognition in your work and for people to regard you as a person of influence. But I’d rather have credibility than influence.  I feel like a person with influence but maybe not the same way we have deigned to describe such an individual.  I am not the first on the invite list, the one who people are buzzing about or the one you “need” to be seen with.  But my brand of influence is authentic, consistent and genuine.  I am deeply loyal and meticulously attentive.  I have cast a wide net over the years, a couple hundred organizations and over a thousand professionals and volunteers in my tow.

Who do YOU know?  If you know ME, you really are in the know, even if no one knows it! :)

Very Public Theater

This is not a theater review per se but yes, you should definitely go to see a production of the The Good Person of Szechwan. It’s Bertolt Brecht updated, Brecht on steroids. It’s phenomenal – in New York now, produced by The Foundry Theatre Company and playing at The Public Theater.
Interesting new twist – they distributed the programs after the show. I guess they wanted people to pay attention and also not litter. It worked.
In the comfort of my living room I read the program and was astounded to see something i believe I have never seen before. In the program was printed the line-by-line operating budget of the production! Printed creatively on what looks like a torn cash register receipt. So transparent…took my breath away.
Across the top it is written…”THE TRUTH IS CONCRETE.” This quote was written above Brecht’s desk quoting Lenin quoting Hegel quoting Augustin. Now we have philosophical back-up for a most unlikely 21st century occurrence – truth-telling and transparency from a social sector organization. Doesn’t that kind of public information make you want to be a donor? Even if you don’t like Brecht?! You gotta love The Public Theater and the Foundry Theatre Company for having the guts to make this kind of choice in truth-telling. I applaud them. As a nonprofit leader, what do you think about sharing your financial information and becoming a Good Person of Philanthropy?

Keeping Track

It’s the ultimate in silos. It’s how organizations keep track of their data.
Take an example from Jewish day schools:

One piece of software manages Student Records.
Another program for Admissions.
Another piece of software for Accounting.
And yet another for Fundraising.  And this week I learned of another that just manages financial assistance.

None of them are integrated and they aren’t very good friends because they never talk to each other.

The software is acquired on a piecemeal basis, and the key criteria is often cost. An integrated system is thought to be wildly expensive and therefore out of reach.

But what happens when there are two or more pieces of software running at the same time is more costly than you might realize.

Consider the challenge of fundraising in parallel data universes.
In using a relational approach to effective fundraising, establishing, maintaining and growing relationships over time are what yield the highest results.
So take this example…
A student is in the admissions process and data is collected.
Then the student enrolls but a new data entry process begins and the data related to admissions is not transferred to the student records because it’s not in a program that “talks” to the system.  So the student and the family are sent into a new system.  Imagine that this same student receives financial aid and that data is being stored in yet another location.
Then the fun begins when the fundraising starts.
The student/family information cannot be transferred to the fundraising system through simple data merge.  So an arduous process of reentering all of the information on current families begins…or doesn’t, depending on the capacity of the development office, which many times only consists of a part-time staff person.
Is the amount of intel that needs to be captured for strategic relational fundraising even there?
Did the admissions office and the administrative office get the following information…

  • Names of parents
  • Contact information for parents (if they do not live in same household)
  • Occupations and workplaces of parents
  • Names and ages of siblings
  • Grandparents or significant extended family members and their contact information
  • Alumni of what schools (both students, parents and grandparents)
  • Notes on connections in community

This knowledge is critical to the development office.  First it needs to be collected during the admissions and enrollment process and then needs to be made available to the development office.

Not by osmosis…but through integrated software that has a good relationship, just like you want to have with prospective donors and has the ability to communicate.

With good cultivation and respectful, personal and passionate solicitation, that same family makes a gift but wants to pay the pledge off monthly with their tuition payments.  The fundraising system doesn’t interface with the accounting system and it requires several processes to get that pledge into the accounting system.

If you are lost now reading this, imagine what happens to that hapless donor who calls up wanting to know the balance they owe on their pledge and that they’d like to apply their journal ad payment to their payment plan?!

It’s chaos and it’s unnecessary.  In Jewish day schools, like in so many nonprofit organizations, there’s an ongoing and sometimes urgent need to raise significant funds.

My question to you is…should the staff be spending their time re-entering the same data over and over again or out in the community fundraising to support the mission?  You know the answer…

How Shall I Tell You?

I know I promised you a follow-up on the CompassPoint webinar.  But I have been working long hours on behalf of PLK clients for the past few weeks and there’s been some success, some roadblocks, some resistance, some disappointments, some conflicts and yes, some triumphs.  The usual.

The webinar was interesting.  Participants from all over the country (who identified mostly as consultants) listened intently as a panel (mostly consultants) talked about how other consultants weren’t as good as they were.  Not exactly what I expected.

The central question was on whether consultants do more harm than good.  Does the profit motive dominate decision-making in client acquisition and project management?  Do consultants allow clients to wander, squandering time in service of their own bottom line?  Are social sector consultants the problem…not the social sector organizations?

Mostly, organizations know what they are supposed to do to be successful.  Really, they do – they just don’t or can’t do what’s necessary to build a sustainable culture of philanthropy.  Excuses abound.  They hire a consultant like me to make it work.  And sometimes it does work.  But sometimes no one really wants to put in the sweat equity it takes to grow and succeed.  They want magic.  And they want a consultant who doesn’t really tell them the truth.  They want a sugar-coated version of the truth – the one where their rescue fantasies are fulfilled by the donor carrying large bags of cash into the front door.

It’s hard raising money and growing affinity and leadership.  It’s hard getting everyone – staff, board, volunteers and community on the same page about mission and execution.  But it’s not impossible.

If you are not ready to hear what your consultant has to say, then you are not ready for a consultant.  If your consultant does not tell you what you know you need to hear, then get a new consultant.  Because you do know what you have to do and a good consultant can be a catalyst.

So…how shall I tell you?  Do you want the truth?  Do you want to make positive systemic change?  Or do you want the fairytale?

Culture Shock

Lying in bed with the flu a few weeks ago, I was able to catch up on the reading I should be up on. Front page of Chronicle of Philanthropy on January 17, 2013. Major national study reveals that many nonprofit organizations are stuck in a vicious cycle that “threatens their ability to raise the resources they need to succeed.” Being a bit cynical about what researchers view as statistically significant, I not only read the lengthy article but I download and read the entire study title: “UNDERDEVELOPED” A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising.

As I finish the last words and graphs and conclusions, I am cynical no more. This study, I think is a watershed moment. I am not wrong. For the ensuing weeks, it’s all everyone I speak to is talking about. You need to download and read yourself:
https://www.compasspoint.org/underdeveloped

Funded by the highly regarded Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Foundation and jointly produced along with CompassPoint Nonrprofit Services, this study not only reveals the tenuous nature of development professionals investment in their jobs and in the field (more than 50% want to leave their current jobs and nearly 18% want to exit the field altogether) but that less than 50% of all execs are very satisfied with the performance of those same professionals.
BUT…the chief variable that contributed to job angst and perception of poor performance is attributed to what the authors call the conditions that contribute to this vicious cycle…and that is an underdeveloped culture of philanthropy.
The definition the study used:
“Most people in the organization (across positions) act as ambassadors and engage in relationship building. Everyone promotes philanthropy and can articulate a case for giving. Fund development is viewed and valued as a mission-aligned program of the organization. Organizational systems are established to support donors. The executive director is committed and personally involved in fundraising.”
I have been trying to pour the Kool-Aid of that definition for the 18+ years of my consulting practice.
I want you to be shocked that the field in such disarray. I want you to think about how to remove barriers to building a culture of philanthropy.
But I want to know if what I am doing may be part of the problem because PLK Consulting is a learning organization. To that end I have paid to be part of a webinar on April 11, 2013 organized by the authors of the study entitled: “First Do No Harm: Are Consultants Part of the Problem?” More to you after that on-line conference. I hope that I can increase my ability to be part of the solution. In the meantime, read the study and then think about what YOU can do in you organization to build a culture of philanthropy.

Pasta cooks swear by it. And many a college student kitchen has the scars to prove it. Toss a piece of spaghetti against the wall and see if it sticks. Then you will know whether or not it’s done and ready to be removed from the pot.
It’s really a trial and error approach, wastes time, expensive and damaging. Better have a new coat of paint ready before the landlord comes to inspect.
Or…could you develop a better methodology for cooking pasta, tried and true, no mess, good instincts and delicious results? Good cooks can attest to this.
Same goes for strategic planning – especially around financial resource development.
Right now it’s direct mail season. Should we or shouldn’t we? When? Before or after Thanksgiving? What might be the result?
Rarely do I hear the question – how might direct mail be a part of our overall development plan? How will this plan advance our relationships with donors? What’s our overall strategy? After all, pasta is not eaten every night of the week (unless you are a fussy four year-old with exasperated parents). But I feel like an exasperated parent sometimes – encouraging a balanced meal, planned out for best nutrition and growth. Because I do not recommend throwing the spaghetti against the wall and seeing where it sticks – or for our purposes, dropping thousands of pieces of direct mail and see what sticks.
Don’t get me wrong – direct mail can be a part of the plan, just like vegetables are a partner to the pasta.
So if you are game and want to effectively plan instead of throwing pasta on your office ceiling, here’s some components of a good plan:
1. State your overall strategy for your development year.
2. Create your objectives.
3. Delineate your tactics to achieve your objectives.
4. Quantify the financial goals.
5. Qualify your non-financial goals.
6. Create your timeline.
7. Define success and create a portrait for what success feels like and looks like.
8. Get broad-based buy-in for your plan from all stakeholders – professional and lay leadership.
10. Drain the pasta and immerse it in cold water so it doesn’t stick to the pot or continue to cook…
If you need help creating your development plan, I know a good consultant (who also makes excellent pasta!)

Dear Pearl,
Thank you so much for stopping by our store while on your Vermont getaway from the city! I’m glad you found two flowy shirts for the upcoming seasons…the safari green blouse looked great on you! Hope you enjoyed the rest of your mini-vacation and do come stop in again!
Sincerely,
Katie K
Wow. I bought two blouses at Michael Kors Factory Outlet in Manchester, VT and spent less than $150. I got a thank-you note, handwritten, on beautiful card-stock.

I THINK DONORS DESERVE THE SAME TREATMENT.  DON’T YOU?

Overheard walking down the street in Manhattan..man shouting into his phone for all to hear…”I have emailed and called a hundred times and there’s no response. Forget him.”

Ironic to be party to this very loud angst when I have been, as of late. pondering over the biggest, most challenging issue presented to me by the organizations I work with.

Which is…what should I do? I can’t get a call back. My emails aren’t answered. I try and try but no one answers.

This is the hardest thing to deal with when trying to inspire nonprofit professionals and volunteers to fundraise. Fear grips them.  And when no one replies, it causes shame and an unwillingness to fundraise in the future.  It’s discouraging.

I had a boss, many years ago, before email and faxes and text messages who would not accept no-answer as an option. So he would go to the expense of sending a registered letter that explained that he was trying to get in touch and that he would like to set up a meeting, and soon. Time after time, it worked. The recipient was inevitably embarrassed. Besides, it’s dangerous not to open a registered letter – might be something serious like a legal or financial action against you. Clever, I always thought.

Then I knew a very influential but very brash attorney who was a major leader in nonprofit organizations. High atop his 74th Floor Sears Tower office, he would send telegrams that had one line….”F**k you – strong message to follow.” Well, that showed them who was boss. And yes, he signed them. Did he get answered?  Indeed! But are these the lengths we have to go to to get the attention of a donor??

So, I ask you – what are some of the ways in which you try to get someone’s attention when they are non-responsive? I am looking for answers, ones that are a bit more delicate than the aforementioned telegram, but nonetheless drive the message home.

No one likes to be ignored. Especially when it takes so much courage to make the all-important fundraising call.

Send suggestions for dealing with the donor playing dodge ball. Let’s try to help each other be heard. Post your ideas!

P.S. Click on to hear the Beatles lament on this topic!03 You Won’t See Me 1

I was blessed (and sometimes cursed!) to be in management roles from the time I was a very young professional.  My own boss taught me the skills I needed to supervise and manage, partially through the use of classic social work supervision techniques and partially through watching him up close and mostly through direct mentor-ship.  I have cherished these experiences and tutelage my whole career and now I use those same philosophies and methodologies to coach executives, especially when it comes to supervision and management of development professionals.  What I learned:

  1. Meet with each of your direct reports ALONE on a consistent, regularly scheduled basis.  This practice encourages dialogue and helps you keep on top of professional development issues.
  2. An agenda should be prepared mutually before these meetings.
  3. Do not only meet with your direct reports when there is a “problem.”
  4. Keep the dialogue going from meeting to meeting.
  5. Document your ongoing issues and watch for change and growth.
  6. Acknowledge positive outcomes or point out weaknesses.
  7. Don’t wait too long to sever a relationship if it’s not working out for six months or more.
  8. Ask your direct report to not only bring tough issues (or complaints!) to the table but insist that they offer at least two solutions to each issue so you can get a better understanding of how this individual approaches problem solving – on what level, intensity and through what lens – their own, or in the best interests of the organization.
  9. If you are supervising someone whose core business is not your own – like a head of school or executive of a cultural or social service organization supervising a development professional – I believe it IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to manage that person with the same strength as you would manage an educator, a curator or a caseworker.  After all, you are a partner in financial resource development and it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to make that professional accountable to the organization and to the community.
  10. Age and gender should play no role in how you view supervision and management.  Even the most seasoned professional needs, wants and desires to be an effective manager.  Make it work.
  11. In the case of young professionals in the field of development, it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to give that professional the benefit of your own experience – teaching them best practices, challenging them to be successful, supporting them, teaching time management and getting them training and coaching if your ability to build skills in the area of development is lacking.  (Maybe you should think about getting coached too!)
  12. The supervisory relationship can be close and sacred.  But you are not buddies or best friends.  You are not the mom or dad. Keep the boundaries clear!  But do enjoy the relationship.
  13. Show that you are interested in their success by taking an active role yourself in the development process.
  14. And last, but most importantly – teach your development professional the value and power of lay leadership by allowing them access to the board.  Include them in board meetings.  It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to make sure that your organization is financially viable.  It is your development staff who work with you to LEAD this effort.  Your lay leadership are your partners.  Don’t break the chain by keeping your development staff separate from your board.  If their skills are lacking in the area of board relations, get them the skill-building and coaching they need to succeed in this area.

Meet weekly.  Set the agenda before the meeting.  Listen.  Teach.  Process.  Adjudicate.  Assign.  Benchmark.  Invest in professional growth.  Maintain professional boundaries.

You will be a SUPERvisor!  And maybe…you will also meet your financial resource development goals more efficiently, consistently and perhaps you will exceed goals and expectations.

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