The Accidental Fundraiser

A New Take on an Old Technique

One of the great things about my work is learning from my clients. I was in Helena, Arkansas last week working for Main Street Arkansas and hear a unique take on an old technique. One of the women on the board used to live in an area that was known for its panhandlers. People were pretty sick on them. The board member and her friends got dressed up and make signs that said, “We aren’t vets, we aren’t homeless and we aren’t hungry. We just want your money to stop domestic violence.” Their local shelter benefited big time.

Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP enjoying being home for two days.


March 21, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Special Events and The Board, Not Forgetting The One Crucial Step

One of my favorite nonprofits is in a pickle. And a common pickle it is indeed. A board member suggested a smallish event a few months ago, it is now crunch time. The staff didn’t get the invites out on time. The board has a bit of post-holiday malaise and bloat and the event chair is going ballistic. Where is all the support that was promised? Or was it?

Here is the most common scenario: A board member says, in best Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney fashion, let’s put on a golf tournament, skeet shoot, wine tasting, wild boor hunt, you fill in the blank. The board hears, “I will put on the event.” The board member thinks she is saying, “Together, WE will put on the event.” Everyone agrees to the event, a date is set, and then fast forward, its crunch time. The board is dismayed that the event chair expects the board member to bring 10 people. A few of the board members confide, “The truth is, This really isn’t my kind of thing, you know!.” This is the stuff of antacid commercials.

How to avoid this? If this is a small event and you are counting on the board rather than a committee to bring in the guests, take ten minutes, ask the board for a conservative count and ask them how many people they can deliver that night. Take names and write it down. If you want 150 to attend and the board can deliver 37, this might just be the wrong event, wrong evening, wrong committee. This one step will make all the difference.

Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP, not a fan of small events

January 4, 2008 Posted by | Special Events | Leave a comment

Special Events-Under Promise and Over Deliver

The opening of the new gambling casino in St. Louis last week crapped out. My husband and I weren’t invited, but many of my friends who are married to big shots were. My husband would rather be invited to an autopsy than the opening of a gambling casino. (Being a physician, this is also more likely). Anyway, the invitation promised big things. The uber expensive invite indicated that there would be visible grandeur and perhaps fireworks.
Just getting to the black tie event was a problem. No one thought to have spent time or money on signage. Once you arrived, getting a drink was damned near impossible. And food? Well, one of my friends found the sushi table and planted herself there. Another friend said that she couldn’t even see the food. Guests were given coupons to shop at the stores, but they weren’t open.
But the real talk of the town is that with all the hype, they dragged the grumpy, hungry and still sober guest outside in the cold to witness the magnificent lighting of of the building named Luminarire and it didn’t work. A few bulbs flickered, but then nothing.
The valet parking took one of my friends an hour. Another friend’s husband stayed to gamble. She took the car and left. He won $27. When he asked the valet to get him a cab, no one knew how to do it. He finally got one using his cell phone. The cab was only $25. At least he was working in the black! The next day, he realized he had forgotten his driver’s license which he had left as collateral for chips or some such thing. The phone number for the casino was unlisted. The mailbox the the PR firm was filled. The meeting planner is no doubt in rehab.
One of my clients is having the mayors from a number of municipalities in for a meeting in two weeks. The trick to events is to under-promise and over deliver. I’ve suggested to indicate that there will be sandwiches, then have goody bags. Their mission is healthy living. Fill reusable bags donated from a local grocery store with a pedometer, snacks etc. If you tell them, as Luminarie did, to expect the event of the century, and then fail, you will wind up in the blog of someone who didn’t even get an invite!
Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP, glad to be on the B list

December 22, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Amuse Em Use Em or Lose Em, The Board and Fundraising

I recently did a board retreat with a dynamic foundation board. The development director was tearing her hair out trying to get trustees to show up. The folks who did show were amazing. They were CEO’s, dedicated community volunteers, people of wealth and affluence and influence. I was wowed. The “A Team was in the building. The problem: They were being asked to work on a golf tournament. Period. Not only that, if you deducted staff time, they were making  about $11.00. It was a classic example of a race horse being asked to pull a beer truck. The power balance to the mission was off kilter.

What would get the whole team together? A massive goal that matched the talent pool. One of the members had just funded a building for a hospital that will bear his and his wife’s names. He alone could have written the check for the golf tournament gross amount and everyone else could have gone to jazzersize or watch reruns of the West Wing.

If they don’t get these folks excited, use their talents they will for sure lose these dynamos. The questions: Does your fundraising goal match your board? Too staggeringly high and they will feel overwhelmed. Too low and they will disengage.
You can bring this up with the board as a whole, or ask them individually. The questions are:
1. Is our fundraising goal going to meet our organization’s needs to drive our mission?
2l Do we have the right people in the room to achieve this?
3. Are we using you, our board member, effectively?

Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP, wanting to spread all this talent

December 9, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Does Your Nonprofit Board Think $4 Million is a Lot of Money?

Is $4 Million dollars a lot of money for your board? Well, it certainly is a lot of money to pay for a dress, a pair of earrings, a pair of golf clubs. Is it a lot to pay for a condo? A 12 family apartment building? A payroll for 80 employees?

I asked this question during a retreat, “What would it take to deal with this problem for the entire city.” Someone came up with the figure $4 million.” To most of the people in the room, it could have been $4 billion. Only one person said, “Is that all?”

Every board needs someone who is used to dealing with big numbers and has a comfort level with them. The member doesn’t have to have the money, but a familiarity and comfort with thinking big and expanding the horizons of the group. (Although if someone would be able to write the $4 million check, it would have been interesting to see what the reaction would have been!)

I did a retreat for a group where more than 51% of the group were on disability. The CEO’s salary was so low, it wasn’t even on the chart on the Association of Fundraising Professionals Salary index. No one in the room, including the CEO, had a clue. If something happened to her, she could not be replaced for anywhere near this salary. No one was financially literate about salaries. Good, caring people. But NO ONE knew how underpaid the CEO was.

If you can’t talk about the big numbers, you can’t ask for them. Every nonprofit does not have to be large, but if there are people you want to serve and aren’t, get someone in the room who doesn’t think $4 Million is big bucks!

Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP, Asking big, but shopping the sale rack

November 19, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How To Keep Great Staff for Your Non Profit

Compare and contrast, as we used to hear in high school English class. Last Saturday night, I was at an auction for Rebuilding Together, a fabulous client of mine that rehabs houses for the poor and elderly. The board chair not only graciously thanked the volunteers, but the development director got flowers.

Another client, just a few months before, had a huge convention. They were in deep financial crisis. They had to sell their building to avoid bankruptcy. An interim executive director came in and made very hard decisions which bills to pay to keep the doors open. There wasn’t enough dough to take a salary, so she didn’t. She wasn’t even acknowledged from the podium, much less presented a posey.

I have a meeting regarding the strategic plan for Rebuilding Together this morning. I can’t wait to go. I have recruited one of my sons to get involved. I had lunch with a friend on Monday and suggested her husband join the board.

I believe strongly in the mission of the other organization. There would have to be a big time culture change before I would refer a friend into that snake pit. They chew up staff a combine goes through hay.

The difference between the two: the simple act of acknowledging good work. And all it takes is $10 worth of flowers.

Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP, glad to be able to work with good clients

November 14, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment