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Posted on in Fundraising

Special events, even modest ones, require lots of time and attention. And sometimes the return on that investment stalls.

Even a successful house party – for example, 75 attendees at $100 each – can feel like a mountain to produce, year after year, for only $7,500.

“Don’t mess with success,” the warning goes – but is there a way to increase the net with the same amount of effort?

The answer is yes.

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Posted on in Fundraising

Board members who buttonhole. A rare breed, valued to the nth degree.

It’s not that these folks are born salespeople, although they’re often eloquent persuaders.

It’s also not necessarily that they have extensive networks of friends with disposable income, although some connections are certainly useful.

It’s that they care – and understand, with a burning passion, how much their actions can affect what they care about.

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Posted on in Nonprofit
We're at the final stages of preparing for our 30th Anniversary Celebration here at Cause Effective, and we're going through what we've been through with our clients so many times... that feeling of being on a shared enterprise that is rapidly, rapidly, rapidly coming down for a landing.

But it’s the shared enterprise - the team - that I want to take this space to reflect on.

A nonprofit is, by its very nature, one of Tocqueville’s “associations” – a group of individuals coming together for a shared purpose.

In the 1830s, Tocqueville traveled to America from France and wondered at the preponderance of voluntary associations to accomplish social good: “Americans

of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of dispositions are forever forming associations,” he mused.

Almost 200 years later, we still are.

But my point here is not the proliferation of nonprofits in the past several decades – though that’s certainly true – it’s the idea of a joint endeavor. At the heart of board-staff relations, at the core of how we run our organizations, is the concept of collective shoulders to the wheel to get the job done.

And even more than the idea, that concept of collective associations – is the feeling of shared purpose and collaboration.

It’s exciting, it’s affirming, and it’s reinforcing. I’m not in this alone – we’re all pulling the cart along, together.


Nothing brings that home more than sliding into home on a special event.

The whole office is working late. People are taking on responsibilities that “aren’t my job” to help each other out. Board members are responding to emails within seconds, even generating an-idea-a-minute to help the engine along.

I know I’m using a lot of movement metaphors here, but that’s what it feels like – we’re being swept along by a collective force that’s far, far stronger than any one of us doing our jobs in isolation.

And the question post-event?

How to keep that collective energy going, albeit at a lower pitch, to keep the communal strength of purpose and lightning-pitch clarity about goals that we experienced with the event.

Stay tuned…
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Posted on in Nonprofit
Maybe it’s because I’ve been on vacation, but I’ve had several moments of “re-think the plan” since I’ve been back. And so I’ve been realizing how useful that can be.

One was for an organization whose development director is taking another job. Of course there’s the race-to-replace; but we spent some time on the phone talking through what kind of a development department they’d need in 3-5 years (as opposed to what they’d home-grown through the skills and contacts they had on hand). By the end of the call, the job description they were thinking through – indeed the very job of development for this organization – had shifted. The way they might most profitably spend their staff time and energy had evolved.

New possibilities had opened up.

Another was for a nonprofit – like so many others these days – approaching the end of its fiscal year with a noticeable budget gap. Instead of just re-shaking the same trees, we took the occasion to rethink the whole formula – the relationship to the board, the percentage of earned and unearned income the group was striving for, even the timing of when the group was aiming for economic independence (that holy grail when expenses equal business-as-usual income). We ended up creating a 3-year-framework to climb towards that mountain, and the group is sounding out its board to get buy-in (and start-up funding) to move towards that trajectory.

A different game plan.

The final “re-think the plan” moment was for Cause Effective ourselves. We’re coming up on celebrating our 30th Anniversary, and we’ve had trouble settling on the right space to hold our celebration. Last week we broke through our miasma around a sea of options, none of them perfect (what is?), changed the date, and signed a contract. Done! (and on to the next decision-point…)

What links these disparate occurrences is an out-of-the-weeds moment of clarity – when we pick our heads up from doggedly following the plan, and choose an alternate route.

These days, that can be a really important moment in the day-in, day-out struggle of running a nonprofit.
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