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So beloved yet so reviled…

So expensive yet so rewarding…

So much focus on quid pro quo asking (who will buy a table?) – yet so great an opportunity to make your case…

How can we get the most out of the extraordinary energy required to put on a gala? 

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Posted on in Fundraising

The stories we tell.

In our efforts to give our boards the whole picture, are we shrouding the truth? Are we showering them with minutiae, ensuring their attention is fixed on the weeds?

How many numbers blur the fiscal trends?

What amount of donation data hides the full picture?

How many program factors obscure the real impact?

How much detail is too much? MORE

b2ap3_thumbnail_forest-through-trees.jpgIt’s an art form, communicating with board members so they understand enough to engage in meaningful dialogue about the organization’s trajectory.

They need to know the environment in which the organization functions – the political and economic context – but if you give them too many acronyms, their heads spin. Staff lives with this information every day, sees it play out in multiple spheres – but board members drop in, once a month or even just once a quarter.

What do they need to know to be meaningful board members? To do their duty to the mission?

Fiduciary is actually the easiest of the board duties to communicate about, but even there too much detail invites board members to ask why postage is going up instead of whether staff salaries are competitive enough to recruit and retain the best personnel.

Fundraising, too, is not hard for board members to grasp – but if they’re asked to look at the entire donation list, they’ll fixate on donor A or donor B, not the overall trends of why people give and how we can boost the activity of our star askers.

Program, ah, there’s the hard one. Give board members every program stat and watch their eyes glaze over. But the other extreme, of parading clients at board meetings to hear their individual stories and explaining impact by anecdotes, doesn’t help board members make the right judgment calls about meeting mission effectively given the resources at hand.

And finally – governance. What should the board be looking at to assess if it’s doing its job? How many times the board meetings meet quorum matters, of course, but that’s a bottom line measure, not a best practice to strive for.

As with all communication, the primary question is not “What do I have to tell them?” – it’s “What do I want them to do with this information?”

That determines what information is needed, and at what level.

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What can the rest of us learn from the Metropolitan Museum?

About the human scale of fundraising.

Emily Rafferty, the retiring resident of the Met Museum, was profiled in Crain’s last week talking, in part, about donor relations and motivation.

Sure, those of us that run nonprofits without the heft of the Metropolitan Museum’s renown, cachet, and board of directors might think – easy for her to knock on doors. But “there are a lot of people that I’ve gone to and asked for money, and it hasn’t been the right time for them,” she recounts.

Her response? Patience, and building an authentic relationship over time. 


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That’s how many donors the Humans of New York Indiegogo campaign for Mott Hall Bridges Academy had by the time it closed its doors.

Raising $1.4 million on an original goal of $100,000, there’s an even more important metric it achieved – the number of individuals who were inspired to put their money, in denominations as low as $5, into making a difference for the kids of Mott Hall Bridges Academy.

Why this school and not another? Why kids and not endangered snow leopards? Or medical research?

Sure, it’s the power of viral media – but there’s more.

It’s the inspiration of a good story – and the belief that one’s own donation can change the course of someone else’s life. 


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I don’t know what to say.

Tongue-tied board members. Volunteers with incomplete understanding. Staff members sharing too much detail.

Kind of like the three blind men with the elephant.

Especially when you’re trying for a one-two punch (pairing staff and board for a funder site visit, or asking a volunteer to conduct a tour followed by a sit-down with the executive director) – it can get very confusing.

Confusing messages get tossed overboard. Too much going on to be able to retain information that’s not crystal clear.

The answer? A fundraising messaging plan. 

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