Jan/Feb 2009

New Year's Resolutions: Advice from Nonprofit Sector Leaders

by Tad Druart, Director, Corporate Communications, Convio

Inevitably, a new year brings about thoughts of change, improvement and the annual ritual of making New Year’s resolutions. Often these resolutions are important tools for remaking ourselves, our organizations and frequently the world around us. Based on the historic events and considerable changes of the past year, we enter 2009 with a mix of consternation and optimism at what the future holds for philanthropy.

We took the opportunity to ask some of the most influential leaders in the nonprofit sector to share insights and propose resolutions that nonprofits should consider in 2009. The ideas they provided are diverse, yet valuable recommendations that can work for you, in whole or in part this year. We also want to hear from you. Join in the discussion and participate in our New Year’s resolution poll and/or share your ideas, comments, and challenges at ConnectionCafé.

Paulette V. Maehara, CFRE, CAE, President and CEO, Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP)
Lead and communicate.
2009 will be all about leadership and communication. Look at the honorees of AFP’s annual fundraising awards program every year, and you’ll find one common factor: outstanding board members and volunteer leadership. You can overcome challenging economic times provided you have a core group of dedicated volunteer leaders who can inspire others to action. Organizations that spend a little more time on volunteer identification and training can dramatically improve their fundraising results.

We also should not forget about the value of continuing to communicate with donors. Now is an opportunity to show that you are interested in them beyond just the gifts they can make. Many people may be truly moved by your organization’s work but don’t have the means to give now. By keeping them updated on your progress without asking for money every time helps you develop long-term relationships that will serve your organization well in the future.

Vinay Bhagat, Founder and Chief Strategy Office, Convio
Be constituent centered. Your constituents have choices as to where they contribute their philanthropic dollars and their time. In this increasingly difficult economic environment, it is more important than ever to be fully constituent centered in your constituent relations. Don’t just market to your constituents – listen to them, act upon their feedback, and empower them to help you further your cause. Reach them in their preferred channel(s). For your next major giving demographic, early boomers and Gen Xers, it’s the Web and email. For future generations, Gen Yers, it’s increasingly social media and text messaging/mobile.  Make it easy for them to find the content they want on your website and to manage their email communication options. Act with a single voice across channels, departments and chapters if you have them, and hide the complexity of your internal operations from your constituents.

Senny Boone, Esq. Senior Vice President, Corporate and Social Responsibility, DMA Nonprofit Federation
Shed any excess and use multiple channels.
Most people want to lose weight for their health and appearance in the New Year. For nonprofits, a good thing to do is to shed excess programs that may be useful during good times, but do not help the overall mission during leaner times.

From a marketing perspective, this includes having a good acquisition strategy to build muscle for the future, but also having a good suppression system so that you are not contacting individuals that have told you to stop. Refocus your resources on potential donors. The DMA has launched a consumer website this year, www.dmachoice.org that helps donors select their preferences and helps build consumer trust. Look at diversifying marketing communications channels; such as, social networking, search engine marketing, email, Web 2.0 strategies, postal strategies that improve delivery and your postal rates. Do not count on a single channel. I have heard a range of input from members on multichannel marketing practices, and another set of views that is looking at the impact of all channels possibly merging. Based on the latter, you might be able to view everything on your cell phone. That remains to be seen — but for this year — look at a multichannel approach.

Holly Ross, Executive Director, NTEN
Make mistakes. If there's one thing I think nonprofits should resolve for 2009, it's to make more mistakes. I know that when things seem scary, we often want to retreat to the tried and true, what we know works. But I think that when things get scary, that's when we need to try new things the most. New times and new technologies call for new strategies. So we need to set up some controlled, cost-effective, and measurable experiments for our organizations, and not be afraid to make mistakes.

Tony Elischer, Managing Director, THINK Consulting
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. As we move into a year of pretty deep recession, now is a great time to remind yourself of techniques, approaches, creative and simply great ideas that ‘used to work’. So many great ideas get lost or passed over for new ideas, so now is the time to objectively review your portfolio and see where the gaps are that could perhaps bring back a successful idea from the past. It is unlikely that this will be a ‘whole programme’ but perhaps looking back through files to find creative concepts that worked and could be updated; or even concepts that were presented in a pitch but never used.

You may also have stopped using certain communication methods, think about testing them again or redesigning them to bring new life to them. As fundraisers, we get excited by new ideas and directions, but often forget to keep a note of what worked well in the past and to make regular reviews backwards to ensure we really are always deploying the ‘best of the best’.

Make your resolutions a reality.
Resolutions are not a one-time effort. They are a process that creates new behaviors and habits.  Regardless of the resolutions you and your organization make, you must be committed to make a change, have coping strategies to deal with the challenges that arise, and a method to track your progress. Next week, we will publish a Resolutions Guide, which provides helpful tips, advice and lessons learned that can help you be successful. Pre-register now and we will send you an email when the guide is ready for you to download.

Happy New Year from the Connection editorial team!

New Year's Resolutions: Advice from Nonprofit Sector Leaders | Convio