Five Steps to a Winning Annual Report

annual report

Take a moment and think about your last annual report. What words come to mind?

Boring?

Snooze-fest?

Good for the litter box?

Time suck?

Unread?

You get the idea.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. A good annual report can make a huge difference for an organization.

One time I worked on an annual report for an international relief organization doing work in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report was GREAT. So great, we used it to help us close some very large (7-figure!) gifts. There’s no way we would have received those donations without the annual report.

What made the report so compelling? The biggest thing was the way we told stories, both verbally and through images. These stories made it crystal clear to the reader that we were truly helping some of the world’s most impoverished people. It was extremely powerful.

So even though the process of producing the annual report was intensive, the benefits were enormous to the organization.

Now, most of the time annual reports ARE boring. Far too often the annual report gets short shrift. It’s considered a burden. Why? In part it’s because production starts soon after fiscal year-end and everyone is exhausted.

So in 2017 one of resolutions for you is this: your nonprofit will have a kick-ass, widely read annual report that you and your staff will enjoy creating and that will make a real different for the organization!

Sound like one of those resolutions people break in February?

Trust me; this is one you’ll keep, and love doing it.

Here’s why…Continue Reading

Feeling Overwhelmed? Try This…

feeling overwhelmed

Oh boy do I get it. Trust me.

The #1 reason people burn out in any job is because they’re constantly feeling overwhelmed. It’s the source of so much that’s negative in our day-to-day lives.

And for those of us in the nonprofit sector? The level of intensity and sense of urgency is just different. It’s more.

You know how it goes.

Every email feels urgent…

Everyone has a question that will take “just a second…”

You’ve got a high-maintenance donor who wants something you can’t give her. And somebody you need to apologize to….

Probably both.

In the episode of my podcast called, “A Day in the Life of an Executive Director” my friend Marea Chaveco spoke about having a plan and watching it go to (as my mother would say) “hell in a handbasket” the minute she walked through the door.

Even Marea, who is an AWESOME leader, admitted that even though she walked into work prepared to control her day, often her day controlled her. Talk about feeling overwhelmed! It’s really easy to do.

So today I want to offer you a quick win — three easy things you can do. Right now. Today. This week.

If you’re really feeling overwhelmed, be really proud of yourself if you do 2 out of 3.Continue Reading

It’s Time For a Nonprofit Reality TV Show

nonprofit reality tv give

Earlier this year, my friend Vu Le suggested on his hilarious (yet pointed) blog Nonprofit With Balls that we need a nonprofit-themed reality TV show.

He suggested titles like:

  • Dancing with Program Officers
  • Hell’s Charity
  • So You Think You Can Run a Nonprofit
  • America’s Funniest Fundraising Videos

I think Vu was serious. And I had some ideas of my own…

Maybe a drama such as CSI — an organization like the ACLU takes on a new case each week.

Or better yet, a nonprofit version of The Office that illustrates the absurdity of high-maintenance donors, board meetings where conversation goes in circles, and so on.

How great would that be?

My secret wish (not anymore) was for a show like Scandal and that central casting would come a-calling and knock on my door. After all, people have called me the Olivia Pope of the nonprofit space (sans the scandals) – “the nonprofit fixer.”

So I have some great news for Vu and everybody else in the nonprofit community.

THERE IS GOING TO BE A NONPROFIT REALITY SHOW ON NBC!

A reality show? For real? (Did you just say “uh oh?”)

Well, I’ve already seen two completed episodes (I’ll reveal why below.) Here’s my take…

You need to watch it.

Here’s why…Continue Reading

Should Your Executive Director Blog?

executive director blog

Please allow me to introduce three Executive Directors.

Pamela Iacobelli, the President and CEO of CultureSource, a Detroit based arts nonprofit with six staffers.

Lisa Goldstein, the Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, a 10-employee nonprofit based in New York City.

Joe Selby, the Executive Director at Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, a $400 million nonprofit based in Washington DC.

Three different kinds of nonprofits with different goals and sizes. You probably hadn’t heard of Pamela, Lisa, or Joe before today. I know I hadn’t before this week.

But Pamela, Lisa, and Joe have something important in common besides leading nonprofits. It’s something they also have in common with well-known nonprofit leaders like Scott Case (Network for Good, Malaria No More) and Jeff Walker (The Generosity Network).

They all blog.

“Well how nice for them. I guess I could blog, but I have more important things to do with my limited time.” – Most Executive Directors

I hear that from a lot of EDs and CEOs when I first suggest blogging. They don’t see the value of an Executive Director blog.

Or, even if they want to do it, they worry they can’t do it well for any number of reasons, including working at an organization that tightly controls its messaging (what happens if the ED goes rogue???)

Maybe you think every hour you spend blogging is an hour you’re not spending talking to donors, planning with board members, speaking with clients, inspiring staff or organizing volunteers.

But there are some important reasons to overcome these obstacles and start blogging. Or if you’re already blogging on occasion, to do it more consistently.

Several years ago, Joan Garry came to me to help her create an online strategy for her consulting practice. I convinced Joan to start this blog and showed her how to do it well. She’ll gladly tell you it was one of the best professional decisions she’s made.

For all the same reasons it’s worked so well for Joan, an Executive Director blog can have a major impact on the growth of your nonprofit as well.

Here are six good reasons you, as the leader of your organization, need to be blogging. Then I’ll give you a few tips to help you overcome some of the typical challenges.Continue Reading

An Easy Way to Build Your Email List

nonprofit list building

What could you do with a bigger email list?

More donations? Volunteers? Capacity? Impact? Probably all of the above.

After all, according to a recent M&R Benchmarks report:

  • In 2015, on average, nonprofits received $44 in donations for every 1,000 fundraising emails sent.
  • Nonprofit email revenue grew by 25%, faster than the overall rate of online revenue growth
  • Among the nonprofits with the largest year-over-year growth in total dollars raised online, 34% of all online revenue can be tracked directly to email campaigns.

So it’s clear that nonprofit list building is very important. It drives donations, scales communications, and provides real-time feedback about what constituents truly care about.

So how do you get more people onto your list?

Today I’m going to show you how some of the top nonprofits are doing it, the big mistake they’re making, and how you can do it better.Continue Reading

Increase Online Donations In Four Steps

increase online donations

Most nonprofit websites aren’t as effective as they could be.

But there’s a good reason.

As Joan likes to say, nonprofits are messy. It’s in the DNA.

Frankly, when you have too many a lot of very passionate cooks in the kitchen; when you’re working on something very important with unmovable timelines; when every dollar you spend on a website is a dollar that doesn’t go directly to your programs… well… that leads to messy.

Add in the fact that at this website, few nonprofits have serious in-house digital expertise, and that mess translates to your website. Which impacts its effectiveness. Which means fewer donations, less advocacy, fewer people helped, less influence.

So how do you pull yourself out of this catch-22?

Here are four improvements your nonprofit can make to its website (along with examples) that, combined with a smart digital marketing plan, almost guarantee you better online results and an increase in online donations.Continue Reading

Nonprofits Are Messy, the Podcast

nonprofits are messy podcastIn reverse chronological order, here are the latest episodes of my podcast series – Nonprofits Are Messy!

Here are the answers to some of the questions I’ve already gotten about the podcast…Continue Reading

3 Ways to Raise More Money Online

online fundraising

Joan Garry and I work on a lot of digital projects together (including this website) and we’ve definitely seen a big improvement among nonprofits. (If you’re wondering who I am, I’m Joan’s digital marketing partner and President of digital agency Abstract Edge — and after 17 years of helping nonprofits optimize their websites for fundraising, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.)

Thankfully, the quality and sophistication of nonprofit websites, social media, email marketing, and so on have improved over the years. By now, the basic playbook used by most nonprofits for online donations is pretty well understood:

  • A donation page with pre-set options like “$25, $50, $100, Other” and sometimes the ability to handle recurring donations.
  • An email newsletter that occasionally — or sometimes obnoxiously frequently — solicits.
  • A big “DONATE” button on every page.
  • A blog designed to provoke an emotional response that can easily be shared on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.

Many nonprofits also increasingly understand the impact of design on donations. First impressions matter a lot… if you walk into a dirty restaurant, would you want to eat there?

So now that they have the basics down, what can a nonprofit do to get to the next level?

THE THREE WAYS TO GROW ONLINE FUNDRAISING

It’s important to understand that there are precisely three ways to grow a business. You can increase a) the number of customers, b) the average transaction value per customer, or c) the number of transactions per customer. That’s it.

It’s the same with donations. There are really only three ways to increase your individual fundraising.

  1. Find more donors
  2. Increase the average donation amount
  3. Get donors to donate more frequently

These are the levers you can pull. Ideally, you pull all three to get exponential results (double the people donating twice the average amount twice as frequently and you now have 8 times more money!) But even pulling just one lever can help a lot.

Here are three tactics sophisticated digital marketers use in the commercial world that smart nonprofits can learn from (hint: none of them have to be expensive.)Continue Reading

The Most Important Lesson I Can Teach You This Year

Nonprofit StorytellingToday, I have a story to tell you.

When my kids were younger, they attended the absolutely wonderful Montclair Cooperative School in suburban New Jersey.

My twins, Ben and Kit, are thick as thieves and always have been. When they were five, the school thought maybe they were too thick. The teachers, who knew them each so well, determined that two separate pre-k experiences made sense.

Try telling that to Kit. She was bereft. Miserable.

The sweetest kid in the world actually bit a teacher. It got pretty bad.

In other schools, a kid who bites might be removed from the class. Certainly a punishment of some sort was in order.

But Kit’s teachers proposed a better solution – one that was so smart, so simple, and so compassionate, I will never forget it as long as I live.Continue Reading

Your 10 Favorite Posts of 2014

JG_Holiday_Crd_300_dpiMy memories of nonprofit headlines for 2014 can fit neatly into a bucket. An ice bucket. Over $100 million raised online in the relative blink of an eye. And now every nonprofit is trying to develop its own challenge. It’s crazy to think about the opportunities to fundraise when creativity is applied.

On the flip side, Greenpeace saw a senior staff member make a $5 million mistake while a board messaged away from its own responsibilities. And then a recent federal study shows Americans’ engagement with the public sector is waning and in fact, 2 million fewer people volunteered in 2013 from 2012.

What does all this tell us? I know what it tells me. Nonprofit organizations need more support and skill in building sustainable organizations that engage people in meaningful and creative ways. Business as usual is not an option as we look ahead to 2015.

It is support and skill that I have attempted to offer you this year and so, in that spirit, I follow in the footsteps of other kindred spirits like Buzzfeed who post year-end “listicles” like The Top 20 Common Names for Badly Behaved Children.

I present to you your top ten favorite Joan Garry posts of 2014.

With his retirement this year, it only seems fitting to do this David Letterman style.

Drumroll please….

Continue Reading