Refreshingly Candid, Direct Conversation on Fundraising

Jerry Paul, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Deaconess Foundation, was refreshingly blunt during Thursday’s Quarterly Board Presidents Meeting Series.

“The best thing that a board member can do is tell a good story about your organization,” he said during the panel discussion, “Successful Fundraising and Revenue Diversificiation.” The program was presented by the Nonprofit Services Center and the Nonprofit Presidents Council.

“Board members need to be cheerleaders for their organizations,” Paul said.

Too many times organizations expect board members to only write checks, ask friends for donations, invite colleagues to galas or lead committees. But how many times have you been at a cocktail party or barbecue and during a conversation you mentioned your passion or enthusiasm for the organization you are leading or guiding? Board members can become ambassadors for their organizations with some prompting or coaching from the executive director. But first, the executive director must be meeting privately with board members at least annually.

Paul was joined on the panel by Amy Rome, Founder and Principal of the Rome Group, Ken Harrington with the Washington University Social Enterprise Innovation Competition, and Tom Mulhearn, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Provident, Inc.

“Boards must be supportive, believe in the mission of the organization and want to help grow the organization,” said Mulhearn. “You must show people how lives are changed by your organization.”

The 90-minute discussion stimulated a lot of thought and good discussion questions. I now open my notebook and share pertinent notes:

  • Rome reviewed the research conducted by the Rome Group on giving trends. (See blog post, Donor Survey Suggests Increasing Marketing To Raise Awareness, Attract New Donors from Aug. 1.)
  • Paul: Growth in nonprofits is about 6 percent annually, so competition for funding is going to occur.
  • Paul: Organizations need to be more focused on outcomes and foundations want to know an organization’s outcomes. Foundations want to know how strong and useful is your organization.
  • Paul: Foundations don’t know how to measure impact when they provide funding to organziations. People often incorrectly assume the foundation’s mission is the nonprofit organization’s mission.
  • Harrington: New capital markets are evolving for nonprofit organizations. Earned income is a way to test the value of an organization.
  • Harrington: consumers are willing to pay for social value. The quality, timeliness and product deliverability might deliver a premium price.
  • Harrington: Ninety-four percent of entrants to the Skandalaris Center’s social entrepreneurship competition have never completed a business plan.
  • Mulhearn: Chief Executive Officers or Executive Directors spend too much time on operations. They must be mindful of where the organization is going and help set the direction.

“We cannot emphasize enough the importance of communication,” said Mulhearn. “Organizations must develop a simple message that keeps being told.”

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