Tag Archives: adding value

Charities Cause Fund Development to Fail!

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Mara Leopard

It’s not what an organization does to succeed but rather what it doesn’t do that places it at risk. No charity intentionally follows a formula for failure or works towards mediocrity when it comes to developing funds. How then does failure or mediocrity happen?

There have been many articles alluding to problems facing the non-profit sector. In particular, the issue of staff turnover in the fundraising role has been identified as a major problem for charities.

To keep the right staff, regardless of the type of business, an organization needs to create an environment where staff can succeed and use their time effectively. Greater success means more dollars for programs and salaries. In most cases, this success manifests itself in greater staff retention.

The non-profit sector often neglects to provide this type of environment. Instead, they bring new hires into a plethora of ‘this and that’ with no concrete definition of how things get done. Information is everywhere—and in disarray. New hires often have a mandate to make changes and decisions which they are unprepared to make, negatively affecting operations.

Examples of poor results are endless as charities search for funding and the right formula for success, and not just survival.

Some problems might already be well entrenched, with new ones to be introduced. Do any of the following situations sound familiar? 

  • A new staff member is hired to work special events. With no guidance they make decisions about how the event will be presented to the public. The use of a web-based system to accept ticket sales, a spreadsheet of auction items and a list of sponsors provide their tools. The outcome for the following year is chaos as none of the current year’s information was captured in a useful form.
  • The grant writer left and what they left behind was a spreadsheet and some notes. The new hire requested a list of all grants received, declined and in process over the last 5 years. The task was onerous and the results were incomplete.
  • The charity sent out a new holiday information piece at Christmas to the usual donors. The new fundraiser decided to record all gifts as unsolicited. The charity lost its ability to do any form of comparative analysis or determine the effectiveness of the appeal.
  • Staff acquired the contact list used by the previous fundraiser but there was little hope in understanding who these people were, if they were still active contacts or what role they played in helping the charity.
  • The charity has monthly donors. Some monthly gifts had continually been declined. Did the fund development department connect with the donor to get more information? The donor may have wanted to continue with a monthly gift, or was there a change of heart or maybe it was something else? No policy had been established to address the situation so ‘just let it go’ became the policy of the day.
  • The last fundraiser didn’t connect with staff entering donations data. Gifts were entered without any fund allocations and appeals were set up incorrectly.  Now they have data but it’s not an effective stewardship tool.

The most damning situation of all is where new staff arrive only to find a black hole rather than a wealth of information and knowledge. How easily can they resume the job of fund development when they will need to spend considerable time trying to reconstruct the past in order to move forward?

Implementing information-management practices

These problems are not those of the fundraiser but rather of the charity which has chosen not to establish concrete information-management practices. Implementing change may not be welcomed when practices have been established on an ad hoc basis, however, this is where the good of the charity takes precedence over inconsistent methods. People come and go, when they leave a legacy of their contributions it helps sustain a charity, when they don’t it puts the charity at risk.

It is senior management, with the blessing of the board that needs to establish the rules of engagement. These expectations, when hard-coded for all players from executive director to receptionist, provide the basis for achievable goals and objective performance reviews. They make all staff accountable for their compliance to best practices designed to benefit the charity. In particular, it is those involved in fund development that need to explicitly understand these roles. Fund development and ultimately fundraising are key functions and when these areas suffer so does the charity.

It’s our position that each and every staff position should be well defined with specific tasks that ensure a department functions within the context of the business as a whole. Where we have noted a failure to perform is where there are no well-documented expectations and instead there are general guidelines which a staff member may choose to follow in any manner they consider reasonable. This is where fund development gets into trouble as each person’s understanding of what is expected varies.

No one intentionally neglects important contributions to a charity and its knowledge-base, but some have been better prepared to meet their organization’s expectations than others. This may be due to a better understanding of the importance of information and how it affects activities today and opportunities tomorrow.

And how important is fundraising?  Can a charity do without it?  Just examine the percentage of charitable dollars a charity needs to raise annually to understand the gravity of this question.

Can a charity do ‘it’ better?

The answer to this question is ‘it depends’.  It depends on senior management and their resolve to endorse and support change. It depends on whether the board and management understand the need for a business approach to information management and particularly as it relates to fund development activities. It depends on whether the charity wants to thrive or just get by. It depends on whether the charity has been able recognize practices that cause it to under-perform.

To engage a high performance, fund-development team a charity must first look at the environment they offer to ensure continuity and sustainability.

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Hosting a Successful Conference: an Exhibitor’s Point of View

NagaWe have been an exhibitor or sponsor/exhibitor at several conferences.  It takes thoughtful planning to hosting a conference successful for everyone involved.  We would like to comment on the role of exhibitors and how you can ensure your conference will be well attended by exhibitors and sponsors alike.

Exhibitors view a conference as a business opportunity.  They balance the cost of attending the conference with the benefit of meeting new clients.   The cost of travel, shipping, time away from the office, staffing, materials and the exhibitor registration needs to be offset by the benefits and opportunities the conference provides. To meet with new or existing clients away from the hectic pace of an office is a benefit to exhibitors.  Delegates on the other hand, also benefit from this time to acquaint themselves with what’s new in the marketplace.

Exhibitors give added value to a conference.  They are a rich source of information and ideas.  They can update delegates on new services and products in an exclusive environment.  Exhibitors bring an important influx of cash to pay conference costs and reduce delegate fees.  They are an integral part of conference activity.

The role of the conference committee is to ensure that everyone benefits.  We begin our comments with location.

Location Location Location! Where a conference is held is an important consideration.  Issues like accessibility, services, space and cost are important factors. From an exhibitor’s perspective, access to the target audience is key. When the location is too far afield, the cost of travel, transporting exhibitor booths and materials, and additional transportation requirements all become a factor in deciding to attend.  The conference committee needs to assess who they want attending; only local exhibitors, only deep pocket exhibitors, or a wider array of potential exhibitors that will be of greater benefit to their delegates.

The position of the exhibitor hall, and the routing of delegates as they move throughout the day to encourage traffic is important to exhibitors. Time for delegates to attend the exhibit hall is often relegated to coffee breaks and lunch.  However, when coffee breaks include a trip to the bathroom and chatting with a new colleague or listening to the lunch speaker before rushing off to the first afternoon session, exhibitors will begin to wonder if their presence is valued or whether they were invited as the proverbial cash cow?

Some conferences offer a social evening in the exhibitor hall.  No one is rushed, everyone has a bit more time and is encouraged to meet and greet.  A social event the day before the conference goes into full swing, usually means that local participants will not attend and those coming from afar will just be checking in.  This is not viewed as a generous offering that benefits exhibitors but rather short shrift to attempt to be doing the right thing.

As an exhibitor, we have a few suggestions.  First, you want your conference to provide such value that exhibitors and sponsors are signing up a year in advance. You can do this very easily if you follow a few steps:

  1. Provide time in the schedule for delegates to visit with exhibitors during the day.  Coffee breaks and lunch hours are of limited value.  Bathroom breaks, chatting with other delegates, listening to a speaker, catching phone messages, grabbing a coffee or eating lunch.  There is no time for exhibitors and to offer this time is chintzy.
  2. Don’t fill the delegate schedule so full that they are ready to drop.  Again, everyone needs a bit of their own time and  many exhibitors are a wealth of knowledge and ideas.
  3. Host a special event with the exhibitors in the exhibitor hall.  The more the merrier is very true.
  4. Add the visit to the exhibitor hall on the conference evaluation form.  It provides delegates with a different perspective and helps them understand that exhibitors are important too. After all, exhibitors want time to introduce their products and services in a professional manner.  Keep in mind, your delegates most likely are selling something to their potential client base as well!
  5. Ensure that there is proximity to where delegates spend their day and where exhibits are housed.
  6. If you have promised a delegate list, make it a full list and make sure it is correct. A pleasant invitation can go out to delegates prior to the event from those exhibitors wishing to send one.  Responses like “Take me off your list.” or “How did you get my email address?” show that delegates were not made aware of the importance of exhibitors.
  7. Most exhibitors will stay with their booth over the lunch hour.  Put out some buns and cold cuts.  You would never sit down to eat in your home or office and leave others to stand and watch …would you?  Hospitality to all concerned is beneficial particularly considering the cost and time some exhibitors have contributed.
  8. Take time to thank each exhibitor / sponsor for attending.  A face to face thank you from the committee is a demonstration of professionalism and good manners.

Where did we get all these outrageous ideas?  Well, we have chaired conferences and tradeshow events and we have been exhibitors and sponsors. Our comments are a result of our experiences as a conference participant.

The key to running any event is simple.  If I was in the shoes of the delegate, exhibitor, or sponsor would I feel this was a successful use of my time, my resources and my money?

It’s not just what you get that makes a great event, it’s what you give that makes it exceptional!