Raking the Roof…

raking the roof

Until about two weeks ago those were three words I never thought of stringing together before.  Now, it is all I hear.  “Have you found someone to rake your roof?”  “Do you know a store selling roof rakes?”  Did you know there was a recent run on roof rakes this past week in a small Connecticut town?  As the story goes, 3,000 were sold in one week as opposed to the usual 5-7 a year prior to this season of snow.  I heard another town actually sent out an alert via their phone system letting people know 500 roof rakes were being delivered!

Many of us in New England don’t want this weather to continue … but the reality is – we have no control over the matter.  In fact, an old song by the “Stones” comes to mind … “You can’t always get what you want – but if you try some times, you just might find, you’ll get what you need”  Hence, – roof rakes!

It’s a matter of adapting.  And hasn’t that been a song we all have been singing the past couple of years?  Working with non-profits has shown me that they are among the most resilient entities out there.  Since the plummeting economy of 2008, many have shown remarkable resilience.  And that spirit has resulted in their ability to raise funds even in the most challenging of times.  I know charitable giving has declined.  But it hasn’t stopped.  People are still giving and the hardiest non-profits have become more astute about asking.   They know people understand that giving means the most when times are most difficult.  And they are willing to step up to the plate.  Now as we begin to slowly re-emerge, perhaps there are some lessons we can learn from our collective experiences.

  • Strong development programs are not about a few large (and often lucky) gifts coming through.  It is about consistently building those relationships that will provide a solid stream of revenue from different sources in both good times and bad.
  • Boards are the foundation of giving at any organization.  What they bring to the table is more than expertise – it is a willingness to reach out to others and engage them in the cause.  They, too; however, must be nurtured and applauded for the time and commitment they give.  Asking and raising funds does not come easy to anyone.  Hooray for those who are willing to embrace the cause and wear their dedication on their sleeves.
  • People have made a real difference to our causes.  We cannot thank them enough.  And thank you is not a casual, mechanical process – but one that is heartfelt.  Appreciating our donors, our volunteers, our Boards and all those who make a difference to the organizations we serve is so important – because they  are treasures in and of themselves.
  • Raising money is work.  That is all it really is.  Show up, do what you need to do, and it will yield results.  There’s no short cut.

So whether your raking the roof, plowing the driveway, walking instead of driving to your friends’ house, finding ways to adjust to cabin fever  …  you’ve adapted.  And if you work for a not-for-profit organization – that’s just your way of life, isn’t it?

“Thank You” is meaningful – only if you really mean it …

I came home tired the other evening.  It had been a long day and I went to retrieve my messages.  What greeted me was an automated message from a charity I used to support.  The call puzzled me at first, then it annoyed me and finally it actually made me angry.  It went something like this:

“Hello Mrs. Danosky, this is Arthur from (name of charity).  I’m calling to say thank you for your support in the past year.  It has meant a great deal to us and allowed us to accomplish many things on behalf of the people we serve.  We just wanted you to know how very much we appreciate you and wish you and your family well.”

  • First, I didn’t support this organization last year.
  • Second, he doesn’t know if I have a family
  • And third … for goodness sake it was automated – how appreciative is that?

The irony is that a few days earlier I had done a workshop on Major Giving.  And we talked about appreciating people who give to your cause.  And calling to say “thank you” is important.  But you need to mean it.

While we live in an age where mass marketing is still a bona-fide way of doing business, we also have the ability to direct our messages in ways that are personal and meaningful.  When you make a charitable contribution, you expect to receive a written acknowledgement.   If you make a significant gift – it is nice to receive a more personal acknowledgement.  And if you receive a personal phone call to thank you … well – that is just lovely and makes you feel special, indeed.   We all want to feel special – but only if there is something special being acknowledged.  An automated phone call to 1,000 donors doesn’t say “special”.

As I was sharing this story with a friend, she told me how she received a nice e-mail from her son’s high school guidance counselor.  In it he recommended the classes he thought her son should take next year.  She was pleased and impressed by this attention – until she saw that one of the classes being recommended was a class he was currently taking.

Notes that appear to be personalized, but really are not (often discovered because of inaccurate information) actually do more harm than good.  I applaud the effort to go above and beyond.  But only if you mean it.  Otherwise, – you lose me at “Hello”.

Mother Nature is in Charge


DSCN0156I’m sitting here with a cozy fire going, contemplating the fact that over two feet of new snow has just fallen – on top of over a foot of snow that fell last week.  The landscape is transformed, with funny white mounds reshaping everything and a quiet hush that seems to have fallen over the setting.  I was supposed to be in Florida – speaking to a group of non-profit executives.  But, alas – that was not meant to be.  And I am writing this blog from snowy, cold, New England.

Mother Nature is in charge.  In fact, there are few times we are really ever in charge of events …  just try to plan a trip in the winter and you will learn that very quickly.  Change, catastrophes and events beyond our control will always dominate our lives.  What matters  is how we respond.

No one knows that fact better than non-profit executives.  Economic downturns, lack of government funding, forced reductions in staffing, increased need for services: these are the realities non-profit leaders face every day.  Sometimes there are a few good years when providing services aren’t as challenging … but 2008 was certainly a turning point.

I have always believed that philanthropy can provide a safety net – because it gives non-profits the opportunity to better control their own destiny and to reach more people and perhaps spread the potential for loss and risk over a greater platform.  But, even from a philanthropic perspective … you need to be flexible to adapt to changes that come along.

For those whose responsibility it is to raise funds, you know all to well that there are no sure things.  Donors change their minds; fall in love with another charity or simply cannot continue giving at a rate they were accustomed to.  You plan a major event and the keynote speaker cannot make it, you experience a snow storm.  The key is to have a back-up plan, have enough irons in the fire and be able to adapt.

Sometimes, though you can’t see the forest for the white-out.  That’s the time to bring in a consultant to help you assess where you are – prepare that plan and help to identify the options that are out there.

After all, you can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust the sail.  Whoops – sailing analogy after a snowstorm, mixing my metaphors.  Hey – I’m looking at over 40” of snow with more expected this weekend.    I’m tired of winter.  Ready for change.

Philanthropy is Contagious

It’s the first of the year.  Happy New Year!  And a lot of people I know are getting sick  …  catching colds, coughing,  sneezing, chills … all kinds of contagious stuff.   It always happens this time of year.  So, it made me think about things that are contagious … you know, germs, bad moods, and everything depressing.

Then, it dawned on me – there are lots of good things that are contagious … smiles, laughter and – even philanthropy.  Yes, philanthropy is contagious.

From gala’s, to walk’s to campaigns to even leaving an organization in your will – it’s contagious.  How often have you volunteered for something, told a friend and the next time that friend joins you?  Just a few weeks ago a friend sent out an e-mail asking people to bring coats to a workshop he was participating in.  I gathered my coats together – then sent out my own e-mail.  And lo and behold – a large bag of coats arrived at my front door to donate.  Giving is very catchy.  And it feels good, too.

People want to give – they’re waiting to be asked and when you set the process in motion – it picks up steam and more people seem to jump on board.

So, whether you believe in making resolutions or just doing the best you can – remember, next time you’re volunteering, attending a committee meeting, making a contribution to something you believe in, or attending an event – ask a friend to join you.  Philanthropy is contagious.

PS – To really put philanthropic contagion at work – check out the Fundraising EventBox, a manual that is chock full of how to build the excitement, contagion and translate it into more dollars for your favorite charity.  Click here to learn more.

Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem

Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem
By Dr. Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortal’s, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.