The Captive Consultant

Fundraising advice on demand

Becoming a Linchpin May 14, 2010

Filed under: Workforce — captiveconsultant @ 5:53 pm

Too often, in today’s environment, many feel as though they are walking on eggshells to avoid the dreaded pink slip. Especially in the nonprofit arena, funding is tight and it seems that we are beyond trimming the “fat” and have moved on to combining legs, arms and other essential body parts to get by. Because of this, I often hear the question being asked about how we not only keep our jobs, but also become a vital spoke in the wheel the organization can’t live without.

I love this question and the fact that you are asking it speaks volumes. So many people in the workforce, nonprofit and for profit, going about their daily routine focusing on the 5:00 hour and nothing more than checking off their to do list. This may “get you by” but it will never get you ahead and keep you on board.

What you are asking about is how to become a linchpin. Seth Godin recently wrote another amazing book on this topic and I want to share his thoughts on this with you. For those of you who have never picked up a Godin book or don’t follow his blog, you should – now!  Godin reminds us that we were not born to be a “cog in the giant industrial machine”, but that society, over the years, has trained us to become a cog. The days of cog living have come to an end if you wish to be indispensable in the workforce.

According to the book, Linchpin, by Seth Godin, “There used to be two teams in every workplace: management and labor. Now there’s a third team, the linchpins. These people invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos. They figure out what to do when there’s no rulebook. Thy love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.

Linchpins are the essential building blocks of great organizations. Like the small piece of hardware thet keeps a wheel from falling off its axle, they may not be famous but they’re indispensable. And in today’s world, they get the best jobs and the most freedom.

Have you ever found a shortcut that others missed? Seen a new way to resolve a conflict? Made a connection with someone others couldn’t reach? Even once? Then you have what it takes to become indispensable, by overcoming the resistance that holds people back.” You can be a Linchpin.So the choice is yours. The first step is to decide that you can and will become a Linchpin. After that, your actions will speak loudly. Be sure to be as educated as possible. Read blogs, books, and articles. Have conversations and become indispensable. In the nonprofit world today, we desperately need to think outside of the box and wrap our arms around different ways of doing things. You have a chance now that may not have been available before to be a part of the new, out of the box, way of thinking and doing. If you can step up to the plate, fill yourself with information, passion, leadership and understanding, you will not only keep your job, but also cease to be a cog in the system.

There is no better place to be when pink slips are handed down than to be the one they can’t live without.


Should I or shouldn’t I? Questions you should ask before you agree to a board seat. April 16, 2010

Filed under: Boards — captiveconsultant @ 3:56 pm

Have you been approached by a nonprofit organization to come onto the board? If so, the question of if you should or shouldn’t is a constant theme for many community leaders. You have been identified by the organization as someone who can contribute in time, talent and treasure to this cause through this organization. Before making a decision, there are a few key questions you need to ask yourself and the organization.

The first question I would ask would be to the CEO. The question would be about the role of the board and the role of philanthropy within the organization. Many times, this question has not been asked, and it should be. If the CEO wishes for the foundation (or development office) to be a major capital fundraising foundation, then the needs and expectations are very different than if she or he wishes for more of a PR model. Depending on the CEO’s answer, you will need to reflect on your role within that vision.

The second question I would ask would be a personal question. Ask yourself if this organization is in your top three charitable priorities. If it is not, are you willing to give it a top three slot in the near future? It is critical that board members be invested and engaged in the organization, so if it is not a top priority and you cannot see it becoming one, perhaps you should consider joining the board where your priorities are more in alignment.

If the organization is or can be moved to your top three charitable priorities, the next question you need to ask is what your role will be on the board. Does the role presented in the job description align with your expectations and hopes for your board experience? If not, discuss this with the Executive Director/CEO to determine if this can change. If so, continue your discussions to find out if this board and organization could be a fit for you and you for the organization. If not, your board experience is not going to result in good results for you or the organization.

Lastly, what are the major projects or goals the organization is undertaking now or in the future? Can you get excited about those projects? Could you get excited enough to want to speak about it with your friends and family? The right organization and the right board will make you want to go to that board meeting, excited to help them overcome their challenges and committed to reaching their goals.

If you are a nonprofit organization leader, can you answer these questions each time you cultivate a prospective board member?


The Role of Philanthropy April 8, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — captiveconsultant @ 6:04 pm

Each time I begin to work with a new client, I always ask myself, “What role does the CEO want philanthropy to play in this organization.” To me, this is the first question that should be asked and it should be asked as frequently as needed. Just as our donors want complete transparency about what we do, how we do it and the outcomes of our actions, we too should want transparency of thought as it translates directly into action. The dialogue we begin with our senior leadership team, even tough dialogue, will open the door to new possibilities and create greater understanding of the mentality at the top.

Too often, when we do not understand what the CEO wants from the foundation or fund development program, we find ourselves running in circles and creating our own projects and our own reasons for philanthropy. This, in the end, is not incredibly beneficial. What if we could stop running in circles and begin climbing the mountain?

So my question to you is, have you asked your CEO what he or she wishes the role of philanthropy to be within your organization? Have you begun to ask the cage rattling questions about what his or her answer ultimately means for the development arm of your organization? If the CEO desires a serious, high level, capital fundraising foundation/development office, what does that mean for you? Are they ready to make the commitment to either enhance the philanthropic culture or change it completely? How does the Board feel?

Until you ask, you won’t know where you are going and how you need to get there.


Thinking Generationally March 26, 2010

Filed under: Generational Giving — captiveconsultant @ 3:07 pm

How many times do we think to ourselves, “How are we going to engage this person?” We may think this during a campaign (annual, capital or comprehensive), we may think this during board recruitment or at any other time during each crazy day at the office. As more and more nonprofit leaders begin to realize how important the engagement of both the younger and older generations is and will become, the more head scratching there seems to be. So how do we engage them?

First, it is critical to always think about who you are trying to engage. Who are they, what do they like, how do they communicate, what do they need from me, is it a match with what I would ask of from them in return? All of these questions are vital! As we have done for so long, we know how to segment groups. We can segment them into current donors or lapsed donors or LYBUNTS or SYBUNTS or young alumni and so on. But what about generations? Have we been segmenting by generation? For the most part, the answer is no. Why not?

We have been taught that it isn’t polite to ask someone’s age. Well, depending on what type of organization you are, you may already have that information at your fingertips without having to ask. Others of you will need to provide the opportunity for your current or prospective donors to give you that coveted information. Does it really matter? If you want to communicate effectively it does! And after all, how can we engage people if we can’t communicate with them?

So how different are the generations really? VERY! The chart below is from The Center on Philanthropy at IU and it shows where the areas of interest are among the different generations. This chart alone will show you that how you communicate your impact in the community and in the world will attract different generations.

Of course, there is a lot we could say about Generational Giving, but for now, it is really time to start thinking about segments in different ways in addition to the traditional. What are you doing to think and act differently?


Chase: The Verdict January 25, 2010

Filed under: Branding,Corporate Giving — captiveconsultant @ 6:05 pm
Back in November, we posted a story about Chase ‘s contest for non- profits to compete for millions of dollars. Millions of votes — some cast by people and some by fabricated accounts– later, there are 6 winners! But was Chase among them?

Nathaniel Whittemore of Social Entrepreneurship ( titled dubbed his wrap-up of this contest “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” and suggested that the negatives run from “bad taste to fraud.”

And the winner is...

It’s true that Chase (and its corporate philanthropy department) had little to do with the selection of the winner and that the winners were selected–not unlike American Idol–based on their “sexiness” and their ability to draw voters in. They were rewarded, therefore, not for the merits of their organization but for their ability to drum up exposure. (Surely, this is an important skill for non-profits to have, but it does smack of pageants based 90% on beauty and 5% on talent and 5% on the ability to answer the judges’ queries about what they’d do to save the world.)

Still, this contest DID end happily for a lot of organizations–and not just the winners. Hundreds of non-profits were SEEN through this promotion. They reached audiences who now know their name. So, even though Chase didn’t give to support their causes, someone will!

Likewise, many younger and smaller non-profits learned a valuable lesson: only the strong and visible survive. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking of non-profits as wholly altrustic entities which should ALL survive for they ALL do good things. In truth, charities have to compete just like their for-profit counterparts. Contests like this reinforce the truth that in order to stay in “business,” non-profits must have a well-conceived strategy, a compelling message, AND the means to convey that message to the right audience.

This contest has been a hot-button topic around the Corporate DevelopMint water cooler this week so I look forward to hearing how those consultants “on the street” feel about the conclusion of this effort.


Death and Taxes (and Charity) January 22, 2010

Filed under: Legislation — captiveconsultant @ 6:49 pm

Until now, people had a choice in regards to their estate: leave it to charity and know that they’d receive 100% of the estate, or leave it to family who’d receive just 55% of the estate while Uncle Sam took the remaining 45%. This was a huge incentive to give to charity.

With the repealing of the estate tax for the year 2010, donors lose that incentive. And, with so many people still suffering from a year of job loss and tanking investments, would-be major donors may be more inclined to give to family than even their most beloved charity. Many optimists will say that philanthropists are generous not because of the tax benefits but because of their commitment to leaving the world a better place.

This sentiment certainly describes a lot of philanthropists I know but it also only paints one part of the picture. Consider this: In 2007—before the bottom fell out—Bank of America and the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University studied the motivations for giving of America’s wealthiest people. They found that if the charitable deduction were reduced to 0%, less than half of those worth $5 million or more would give the same amount; 56% of those worth between $1 million and $5 million would do likewise.

The Grim Reaper's Weekend Wear

The message is clear: any change to the incentive a donor has to give to charity will have some effect on giving. Even among our most benevolent donors.

So, what can you do?

1. Strengthen your Case for Support. Your Case for Support isn’t just for campaigns anymore! Savvy donors want to know just what their philanthropic dollars will support. If you don’t have a thoughtful, well-articulated, compelling reason for them to give, they won’t. Now, when your needs are competing against those of your donors’ children and grandchildren, your story has to touch them more deeply than ever before.

2. Think big picture. While planned gifts are often your largest gifts, they aren’t your only gifts. People will still give to your annual fund. They will still come to your events and they will still participate in your capital campaigns. Consider this bump in the road an opportunity to tweak your mix of fundraising tools and start expending more energy on reaching a different kind of donor. The great side effect of that is that eventually those annual fund and campaign donors you’re cultivating now will be your planned gift givers someday!

3. Meet your new family! Just because your big donor decides to leave her fortune to her kids instead of to you doesn’t mean that those dollars are lost forever. Data shows that many philanthropists pass this spirit of giving on to their children and, very often, causes are kept in the family for generations. The estate tax repeal may simply act as a trigger, spurring the younger generation into action earlier than they might otherwise have begun giving. So, get to know the families of your most generous donors; the 30 somethings of today are the major donors or tomorrow.

4. Don’t panic. Many in the industry believe that this 0% rate won’t last beyond the year. And, even if it does, Congress may institute a retroactive tax. This is to say, this repeal is not a permanent condition.

Legislation will always affect charities—sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. We just need to be nimble and never put all our eggs in one fundraising basket.


‘Tis the season to be: bold, smart, appreciative December 17, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — captiveconsultant @ 8:49 pm

As we wind down toward the end of the year, we’re all thinking of ways to make 2010 better than 2009. The good news? It can hardly be worse! Still, getting over the holiday blues–especially if end of year giving is as lackluster as expected–may be tougher than usual to pull off, but with these couple tips, you’ll keep your team engaged and start the year off with a bang.

1. Less mission statement, more message.  Don’t get hung up on stuffy language for a mission statement to hang on your wall. Instead, think about who you are, what is most important to you, and what you do to benefit your community. Remind both your volunteers and your staff why their work is so important in very simple terms.

2. Celebrate ALL gifts. Too often, staff and volunteers don’t hear about gifts unless they are at the very highest level.  It’s important to celebrate all the larger gifts (as well as the smaller ones in aggregate).  The goal is to provide everyone with the opportunity to have lots of celebrations along the way, not just major celebrations at the conclusion of a campaign or when the largest gift of the year is secured.  Small victories, medium victories, and big victories – they are all worth celebrating.  The real purpose of the celebrations, remember, is to remind people of the progress that is being made toward a wonderful goal.


What's YOUR New Year's resolution?

3. Set specific goals.

Getting motivated is also so much easier to do when expectations are clear. Give your staff challenging (but achievable) benchmarks to meetm, and revisit these goals often. Don’t just celebrate end of year successes; set short-term goals and when they’re reached, let your staff savor the moment.  The trick is to take some time (or even a whole day) to think about all the good you’ve done. Allow your team to take some joy in their accomplishments, let them know how proud you are and that you have confidence that they’ll deliver the same in 2010.

4. Do the numbers. Once you’ve determined how much money your team helped you raise, share how that money will be spent. “Because of your hard work, 100 more kids will go to camp this year. Because of all you do, this cancer wing will be built.” Make the results real and their impact the reason for these successes.

5. Get back in the game.  Over the last year, so many non-profits have been terrifed into inactivity by the economy. They’ve stopped ASKING, they’ve put all efforts on hold waiting for the storm to blow over. Well, while it ain’t over yet, the skies are definietly clearing and you don’t want to be the ones caught indoors while someone else is splashing around in the sunlit puddles. Get out there! Bold, brave leadership will tell your team you believe in them and in your mission. It may feel like activity at first but, once you get rolling, this busy-work will transform into purposeful, meaningful action again.

Have a happy holiday and if you need us in 2010, remember your Captive Consultant will be right here. Tied to the EZ chair with Christmas lights…


Define “community” December 9, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — captiveconsultant @ 3:14 pm

com-mu-ni-ty – n

Old school definition: A social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage

New school definition: A social group of infinite size whose members live anywhere in the world and who share the commitment to advancing a specific vision

The whole world in our hands

As fundraisers for education, we often struggle with defining “the community” of potential donors to colleges, universities, and public and independent schools. Gone are the days where doing a sweep of the neighboring blocks would find grandparents, parents, and alumni still living and working within a stone’s throw of their alma maters, willing to give. Today, those who may be inclined to support the schools that supported them are across the country and around the world.

And, in many cases, those who wish to support a certain CAUSE that would directly impact many institutions, aren’t directly tied to these institutions at all.

Consider Bill Gates’ commitment to give $12.9 million to community colleges next year to ” advance the role of technology at community colleges beyond online courses” and to increase the number of Americans with post-secondary degrees. He is not, we should mention, giving to community colleges only in the Seattle area, his “community.” Instead, his gifts are being spread out among 16 states.

So, what does this say for us and the “communities” we try and reach? Especially with philanthropy down across the board, how can we expand our definition of what community means to ensure our message appeals to a broader audience?

1. Think about what you want for your organization in terms of VISION and not in terms of PROJECTS.

2. Remember that even if your organization satisfies a local need, it’s purpose may have a global appeal.

3. Keep track of anyone and everyone who has a positive interaction with your institution and never discount them as potential donors–just because they live in Seattle!

The world is changing and with it, so must our approach to cultivation and education of those who have something to give in support of our endeavors. The good news? As community grows, so do our opportunities to create something truly exceptional. The bad? The onset of carpal tunnel from signing ALL those holiday cards…


BrandAid: Leaving Brand Creation to the Masses November 18, 2009

Filed under: Branding — captiveconsultant @ 5:54 pm
Tags: , , ,

Big news from Chase today: they are leaving the choice of which charities receive $5 million in gifts up to US. Well, not JUST you and me. In fact, they are letting anyone who visits their Facebook Fan page decide.

Your brand. In that guy's hands...

At first blush, this sounds like a great idea. It achieves a couple very powerful objectives:

1. People are driven to CHASE’s fan page. Chase is getting its brand front and center and publicizing its commitment to non-profit causes.

2. Non-profits (even ones that don’t garner any votes) are gaining exposure to an entirely new pool of potential donors and volunteers.

Still, something about this program concerns me. What a company supports SAYS something about their brand. Corporate Philanthropy departments exhaust untold thought and energy on finding partners that reflect their company’s values, their ambitions. In short, their BRAND.

Would Microsoft allow Joe and Jane Q. Public the opportunity to recreate its logo as a big door instead of the ubiquitous Window? What if NY Life’s powerful “The Company You Keep” motto was suddenly transformed into “NY Life: That Big Building on the Left” by someone with a vote?

It would never happen. So, why would Chase hand over such control of its brand?  Fast Company blogger Ariel Schwartz says in her piece that this “crowdsourcing” experiment has the potential to change corporate philanthropy forever.

I certainly agree that times are definitely changing for corporations. With economic conditions being what they are AND need being so much greater than ever, making the effort to forge partnerships with customers (new and existing) could have an incredible impact. However, now may not be the time to turn carefully developed brands AND giving programs over to the general public. As it stands ANY non-profit (that meets certain prerequisites) is elgible to receive votes. Like American Idol, then, it may be that it’s not the talent that wins–but the guy with the most votes! Perhaps if Chase chose 10 charities–all in line with their vision and brand–and let us choose the 5 winners this experiment would seem a smarter plan.

Increased awareness is good, the potential for giving by these voters is even better, but it will be interesting to see how Chase’s brand fares in the long run as a result of this experiment.


Help! My social network doesn’t work! November 9, 2009

Filed under: Social Networking — captiveconsultant @ 9:16 pm
Tags: ,

For the last few years, we’ve all been told that social networking was the wave of the future. Make friends and influence people on Facebook! Get your voice heard on Twitter! Connect with colleagues and forge partnerships on LinkedIn.

But what started as an enthusiastic “tweet tweet” from non-profits optimistic about reaching new audiences VIRTUALLY has dulled to something more reminiscent of crickets chirping  quietly. What happened?social-networking

According to a new study by Philanthropy Action(, the results non-profits have achieved through social networking has been, in the author’s words, “dismal.” For example, when asked how many new volunteers were attracted as a result of social networking, 85% said “fewer than 25” or they couldn’t say. When asked how much money they had raised as a direct result of social networking, 74% said “less than $100” or they didn’t know. Only about 2% boast gifts of $50,000 or more. Still most of the 250 charities surveyed will continue to invest time and money in social networking.

While this study certainly does ask the non-profit sector to check its unbridled hope in social networking as the panacea of future fundraising, what it does not do is underscore the possibilities. Let’s remember that fundraising is not a moment in time but an arc, a pathway, a long-term engagement. The connection we make on LinkedIn today might not lead to a gift or volunteerism TODAY or even tomorrow, but it plants the seeds of passion and commitment that could one day bloom into something amazing.

Although the fate of non-profit social networking doesn’t seem yet cast in stone, a couple things are clear upon reviewing Philanthropy Action’s study:

1. Non-profits must do a better job of MEASURING the outcomes of their social networking efforts. Create polls, ask people how they found you, and ensure that your database is updated with this information. Further, mind what you measure. If you define success as getting a $100,000 gift  from posting photos of the gala on your Facebook fan page, you will surely be let down. 

2. Non-profits should not forsake traditional methods of engaging donors and volunteers. Fundraising success relies on touching PEOPLE–unique, complex, opinionated, passionate people–who all like to be engaged differently. Find a way to integrate your social networking efforts into your master plan, ensure your language and message are the same throughout out all fundraising vehicles but don’t stop any method in its tracks simply because it’s “old school.”

So, that’s what the Captive Consultant has seen. How has YOUR organization fared with social networking?