A Deeper Look Into 11 Ideas for 2011

A Deeper Look Into 11 Ideas for 2011, Starting With The Basics: Financial Transparency and Face-to-face Outreach
by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

In January as the new calendar year began we offered our “11 Ideas for 2011” and projected how these insights would help to guide and hopefully reinvigorate non-profits for 2011 and beyond. While we recognize that there are endless strategies and techniques for non-profits to employ – especially as we experience a slowly recovering economy – we stress these fundamental points to incorporate into every fundraising program. While some are simple and basic, many non- profit leaders tend to overlook them … which is why we will focus on each of these “ideas” throughout 2011 and hopefully shed some light on their importance. (For those who have not yet reviewed our list of 11 or would like to review it again, refer to back editions of eJewish Philanthropy.)

This month, let’s target two age-old fundraising principles and imperatives:

  1. Financial transparency
  2. Face-to-face meetings

As we have stressed previously, the non-profit arena today is governed by a “new normal,” changing rules and directions for fundraising success driven by a combination of a challenging economy along with the fallout from several well publicized scandals. As a result, financial transparency has taken on a whole new meaning, especially in the Jewish community but not limited to the Jewish world.

Naively, we think that non-profits have always been transparent in their financial management and affairs, but in the past it has been approached inconsistently. Yes, some organizations have produced annual reports, but more often than not those reports don’t truly exhibit financial transparency; many are amateurish or incomplete.

We do commend those organizations that have made a concerted effort to publish detailed annual reports but in today’s world that is not enough. Donors want to know that they are investing in a trustworthy and financially sound organization which is using their charitable dollars to make the necessary, desired and promised impact. Without that assurance, donors will be reluctant to support a non-profit organization. We recommend that all organizations:

  1. Create a detailed annual report;
  2. Make your annual report and IRS form 990 available to your consistency by posting it to your website;
  3. Provide a yearly or quarterly financial report or update for donors; and
  4. Make sure to have formal gift acceptance policies and adhere to them.

It is important to do everything you can to demonstrate that you handle donors’ money with care and responsibility.

The “new normal” also requires us to embrace technology and electronic communication: professionally, socially, and philanthropically. Communication methods are now faster, but not necessarily as effective, and need to be used judiciously. While we recommend that all of our clients stay up to date with and utilize various technologies, we also stress the need to maximize opportunities for face-to-face meetings with donors and leaders. Meeting in person, whether it is in a home or office, enables the organization and the stakeholder to establish personal connections around the mission and goals of the organization. It, therefore, will be more productive in terms of learning about personal preferences, issues that might exist, and plans for the future. Most of all, it shows the donor that the organization has taken the time for them and demonstrates that they matter. It is really as simple as that, but most people would be surprised to learn how many organizations have thrown this important tool aside and relied on the ease of email communication.

Everyone knows how easy it is to write an email and equally they understand the effort it takes to meet face-to-face. While we understand that you cannot meet with every donor personally, it is important to reach out the best way that you can. Have you made a plan for reaching out by phone to different donor segments … just to say thanks or thinking of your on your birthday? Be creative! A small effort on your part can go a long way with donors, so do not underestimate the significance personal contact.

Suggestion: we recently asked each board member of a client organization to make five outreach calls each month to donors, even disregarding whether they knew the donors. With 12 Board members each making five calls each month, more than 1500 people will receive a personal contact in 2011. Undoubtedly this will return gifts many times over.

As you review the plans you created at the start of the new calendar year, think about how these two pieces fit into your strategy. Make sure they are given significant attention in addition to the nine other “ideas” we highlighted and will continue to review as the year progresses.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to eJewishPhilanthropy.com. EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook.