Author Archives: Nick Fellers

So… don’t be ‘the money guy’

Is this you? Is this somebody at your org?

“Every time I come around people turn their heads or quietly walk away because I’m the ‘money guy’”

Well… change that. Don’t be the ‘money guy’.

Be the ‘Advancement Guy’. Be the ‘Visionary Gal’. Be the ‘Caffeinated VP’…

Even change your title.

Is it about transactions [asking for money]? Or, relationships?

Is it about income? Or, impact?

Are you ‘the money guy’? Or, ‘the impact guy’?


Presidential Race and Power of Message

Disclaimer: This WOW is not about politics. It’s not an endorsement. It’s a case study in message.


Last week Tom wrote about the simplicity of six words. Over and over again in trainings we are asked, “Can it really be that simple?”

For the past six months I’ve followed that question by asking, “What’s Obama’s message?” 90% of the room, in unison (regardless of affiliation) will say, “CHANGE!”

One word: CHANGE.

It’s a powerful word. It’s a 30,000′ message. It’s CLEAR and SIMPLE.

Watching the primaries you would see other candidates dance all around several key message points inconsistently. Almost every sentence used by Obama related back to the theme of change.

Q: “What you think about XYZ?”

A: “We need to change. If we don’t work together, stop bi-partisan… blah blah blah.”

Regardless of your political beliefs, this is a case study. One person has made it halfway to the White House with a one-word message. One word is not too simple.

Remember, it’s not what you say but what people hear/takeaway/remember. In can be so simple and clear that it can even be one word: CHANGE.

Your message is your frame. Simplify it. Stay in it. Stay on it. Rinse and repeat.


As a side note: This morning I read an article, “Obama needs to clarify his message.” What little I’ve read and seen the last few weeks has been about UNITY. It seems to me that it’s not about ‘clarifying the message’ but returning to the 30,000′ message and staying on it, reinforcing of THE 30,000′ MESSAGE that’s worked for the nominee so far: CHANGE. Talking about UNITY is kind of like sending out the message, “We need more unrestricted funds!” No you don’t… you need to save more lives.



The 4-Hour Workweek for Fundraisers

What would you do if you could only spend 4 Hours each week on bringing in money for your organization?

One of my favorite reads right now and personal recommendations is The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. It speaks to me about designing a life over designing work and designing work around life. You should read the book for Tim’s life outlook alone and the thinking that leads to a 4-Hour workweek.

The social sector is crammed with people that came into their jobs fueled by passion and fast-tracking to burnout as they find themselves doing so many things, for so little pay and so far from their passion for 60-80 hours per week. Even ‘dedicated development people’, they spend most of their time dealing with event prep, mailers, meetings, research, etc.

The 4-Hour work week is about maximizing your return-on-energy.

One of things Tim had to do was fire 80% of his non-productive clients. He them employed Pareto’s rule to every aspect of his business.

What if we eliminated 80% of our nonproductive [funding] activities? Go even further… what if we eliminated 97% of our nonproductive funding activities and focused ONLY on the top 3% of the prospects that really transform the org?

What if we eliminated two (or three or four) not-so-special events and took all that time, energy and effort focusing on one (or two or three or four) prospects that could invest $1Million to the cause?

Whether a start-up, a large university or entrepreneurial org focusing on boosting programming dollars, every organization we’ve ever worked with has been completely transformed as a result of focusing on and maximizing the relationships with its top 10 prospects. This is a ‘simple not easy’ concept. It’s much easier however, than working 80 hours per week and spinning the hamster wheel.

Most of the funding activities we’re doing are not productive. Nix them. Focus on the top-of-the-pyramid always. Find more time for your passion in life and business. Find more time for your business to focus on its business – rather than the next event, report, activity, etc.


Campaign Week: Top 10 Campaign Questions

In this seminar we will work through the top 10 campaign challenges faced by every organization…

  1. “How do we simplify our case for support?”
  2. “How do we find and train our sales team?”
  3. “How do we move from planning to dollars in the bank?”
  4. “How do we identify and prioritize prospects?”
  5. “How do we get visits?”
  6. “How do we overcome call reluctance?”
  7. “How do we close?”
  8. “How do we measure and manage our campaign?”
  9. “How do we actively engage our board and volunteer leaders?”
  10. “How do we use our president/ED and senior staff?”

MP3 File | Download Call Notes

Some of the feedback: how listeners described this session:

  • “Top 10 campaign changes are really summed up in one word…FOCUS!! Focus on prospects, focus on priorities, focus on the campaign. Don’t become distracted!”
  • “Super focused experienced. Very clear message and strategies!”

  • “Had our entire board on. Very fired up and gives us much to move forward with… THANKS.”

Campaign Week: How to Fund Your Vision

We started off campaign week yesterday with the first of our teleseminars – a campaign rendition of ‘How to Fund Your Vision’. See more teleseminars.

MP3 File | Download Call Notes

Some of the feedback: how listeners described this session:

  • “Gives you a new perspective on approaching funding for your organization that is direct, simple and takes the dread out of funding your cause. Helps create excitement for doing something that for too long has been seen almost as a necessary evil. Helps you focus on the good that you are doing in your organization and getting the story out to the community.”
  • “A good start to get into “campaign mode” – which, according to the seminar, should be ongoing. Motivational, makes you think about what you are currently doing and how and why you may need to change.”
  • “Great presentation! I am going to take the POV Guiding Principles and really concentrate on incorporating it into my organization.”
  • “This is an extremely useful clinic that employs a “no-nonsense” yet humorous approach to fund raising. For instance, Nick tells his audience “you’re in sales, people! Get over it!” I would recommend this clinic very highly to anyone looking to increase their organization’s impact.”
  • “I enjoyed the seminar, It has given me something to think about.I need to focus more on the relationships between my organisations and our friends, and keep up communications.”

Get Entrepreneurs ‘On Board’

You’ve seen or heard Tom and I talk a lot about the importance of ‘on board’ vs. ‘on the board’. In order to really make a transformational leap in your IMPACT and INCOME the kind of thinking and leadership you need will come from individuals that are ‘on board’ with your cause / case…not ‘the whole of the board’.

We’re always encouraging you to find three champions to drive your funding efforts. Again, could be on your board or not on your board but they are always on board.

The BEST on-board champions

  • Drive the vision
  • Will (read: brute force determination) your project to happen
  • See an obstacle as a challenge, not a sign of doom
  • Think big and leap head first with a positive ‘can–do’ attitude
  • Make this vision a self-fulfilling prophecy

The profile above is that of an ENTREPRENEUR. With all due respect to lawyers, bankers, doctors, etc. they usually don’t fit this profile. They can aid with some of the responsibilities of the board but they’re usually not drivers of the vision.

That may seem like a slam on lawyers, banker and doctors — it’s not. I’ve worked with some very committed and passionate people in those industries. They’re GREAT people and they’ll often tell me, “We just don’t think that way.”

We can spend months and years hoping people will become ENTREPRENEURIAL. It’s a way of thinking that’s either there or not. Don’t try to change people. If they don’t fit this profile keep moving…put your energy and effort into finding someone that does.

Another litmus: You want people that will say ‘this will work because’ not ‘what if?’ or ‘I think we need to worry about”.

The action: Find three people that are ‘on board’ [as champions]… start by looking for ENTREPRENEURS that get your cause. You want people that see the vision, not the obstacles. One great ENTREPRENEURIAL CHAMPION ON BOARD will help ‘outperform’ 20 committed people that don’t fit that profile.

Tom’s Ideal Profile (for every org, for every situation)

Someone who is ready to move from SUCCESS to SIGNIFICANCE!

Someone who has had the ‘Bill Gates-in-the-shower’ epiphany
(“I can’t take all of this with me”).

Somebody who has been very “successful” financially in the
business world and who is now committed to making an IMPACT
on the world.

He or she has already taken care of their family and their own “needs”, as well as their “wants”. There is still plenty left.

Special Note: Taking this a little deeper, my very best Ideal Prospect is someone who has actually moved from STRUGGLE to SUCCESS to SIGNIFICANCE!
For me, that means a Wealthy ENTREPRENEUR!
They know what it’s like to start things… to overcome obstacles… to make a difference. Plus, there’s no “committees”! (They can make a decision.)
This is my “favorite” prospect!


What Would It Mean To Maximize This Relationship?

What would it mean to maximize this relationship?

Think about this question.
Use this question to gather information.
Use this question to drive strategy.

It is very different from these questions:

What do you think the prospect will give?
How much should we ask for?

These second questions lead to short-sighted prospect information, under-asking and engagement at the wrong level. We want engagement at the highest possible level.

If you ask your team, “How much do you think Mr. X will give?”
You might get an answer like, “$50,000.”

If you ask, “What would it mean to maximize this relationship? What could Mr. X give if he understood our impact? What could Mr. X give if he loved this vision? What would Mr. X do if he woke up in the morning driven to make this vision happen? If it were his number one priority?”

You might get an answer like, “Anything he wanted to.”

The point? It may not be about a $50,000 gift (think: transaction). Think big. It’s about maximizing the relationship. It’s about that $1M or $5M investment in the vision. These are two different dynamics all together.


You Will Never Have Enough Information

Remember a powerful quote that Tom and I love:

“Engage, then plan.” Andy Grove

You will never have enough information before meeting with a prospect.
If you’re waiting until you have enough then your approach would be to,
“Plan, then engage.”

I don’t know that I’m every really sure about the ratings and
rankings on my prospect list (including a prospect’s capacity and
relationship) until AFTER I’ve gone to visit with them.

The implications?

  • You can’t determine what you will ask for until you’ve had a real conversation
    with the prospect. Too many times I’ve been told by a board member or
    champion, “You can only ask for $X.” During the visit we learn information
    that would warrant a $10X ask. (So we ask for $10X!)

  • It’s okay to not know everything. You can fill in the blanks by asking

  • Wealth screening, Google, giving history etc. are your knowledge base
    – not strategies. Want a strategy? Go and visit with the prospect. Share
    the story around your impact and present the opportunity to save lives,
    change lives and/or impact lives.

  • Don’t to set a bar BEFORE you share your vision, your impact, your
    raison d’etre. Don’t make decisions for your prospect. The reason for
    sharing your story and your vision is to SET A NEW OR VERY HIGH BAR.

Here is a very powerful question – so powerful we call it the ‘DISCOVERY

After getting the prospect VERY engaged around your impact and your priorities
you can share you funding plan and ask:

“Prospect, I don’t know about your capacity.
This program will require $40,000 a year for each of the next three years.
Is this something you could do?”

After you build confidence in your approach, you can drop the line about
‘not knowing capacity.’

It’s a powerful question you’ve engaged the prospect. The answer
will provide all the information you need to plan. It’s important
that you listen, process and keep moving forward with the relationship.
Implied: Don’t ‘engage… then stop.’


To Campaign Or Not To Campaign: That Is The Question

Let’s do word association:

What comes to mind when you see this word?


Add your thoughts in the comments section below. Will be interesting to see what people say.

You know we’re really big on vocabulary. Words have meaning. Words are important. This ‘word’ may be the granddaddy of them all. Especially if your definition of campaign involves feasibility studies, committees, a ‘capital campaign launch’, etc.

Think about this: It’s often easier to raise $5M than it is to run a $5M campaign.

Some readers are not allowed to start a campaign without jumping through a number of hoops in their community.

Last week I was with an organization on the east coast. This organization had completed the funding $40M of projects in the last three years. We were gathered to strategize the next project: to be around $10M. This gathering (nine people total) included major, major community philanthropists and long-time high-level supporters.

One of the board members asked if this was going to be a ‘campaign’. What followed could best be described as a ‘freak out session’.

  • “We have too many capital campaigns in this city already.”
  • “If we’re going to do a campaign we might want to look at the annual campaign model the Y uses.”
  • “I don’t want to do a feasibility study.”
  • “Campaigns are scary.”

Mind you, we had $40M toward $50M and roundtable full of people with capacity (also strong relationships).

Sometimes we would do better to let go of the baggage associated with campaigns and just execute on a plan to fund projects or fund a vision.

If you haven’t done so, read Tom’s campaign book for many more high-level thoughts to help you with your campaign.


Raising Money With Martial Arts Wisdom

It happens at every organization, every day, every where. A founder, executive director or fundraiser is trying to gather the support (financial and otherwise) from someone, such as a board member or community leader. He or she should be the perfect prospect and easy visit… instead we get ‘objections’.

I’ve always struggled with this concept: objections. We have a terrific opportunity. The people with whom we visit WANT to SAVE LIVES, CHANGE LIVES and IMPACT LIVES. What are widely viewed as objections are more often (1) real questions, (2) ways of saying “I don’t understand” or sometimes even (3) “I don’t understand but I want to help so let me suggest a lot of stuff that I’ve seen work elsewhere.”

How you address these situations is critical. For that, turn to philosophy + martial arts. Turn to Aikido. Aikido translated literally means “the way of harmony of life energy”. It’s a form of martial arts in which you join incoming thrusts and redirect them with minimal effort and without inflicting harm on the aggressor. According to Aikido’s founder it is literally the Art of Peace.

If you get a zinger of a question or a response that could take you off course – work with it. Don’t try to ‘oppose it’. Don’t get defensive. Raising your hands to block a person means you absorb the blow… you literally have to push back with equal and opposite force (wasted energy) to absorb the blow. Instead, practice Aikido and redirect the incoming zinger back to your impact, your message or your plan.

Note: Politicians practice Aikido every day. Watch ANY primary debate with questions. Instead of getting defensive when a tough question is asked the Politcian redirects toward his or her message.


Yeast For A Stalled Campaign Effort

I’ve spent the last two days with a start-up high school in the midwest (founded in 2003) trying to help re-energize a $10M campaign effort that’s stalled at $1M. Following the two days I asked the school and volunteer leadership to identify their biggest epiphanies from the two days. What started out as feedback turned into a learning framework…. shared here with permission for your vicarious thinking and learning (and maybe a little bit of [our] pride).

[The first person statements come from the director of development]

  • Before we were thinking about making presentations. Now we think about conversations.
  • Before, our main point was we needed a building. Now we focus on the vision of the school. We’re thinking bigger. We’re talking about why someone would want to make an investment in this. It’s about the vision, not the building.
  • Before, our thinking was about giving levels. Now, we’re raising the levels and thinking about investments.
  • Before, we didn’t know what to say or how to approach our master prospect list. Now, I know what to say and now I know how to approach those people.
  • Before, we had an internal administrative concern that if we go after the building, we’d cannibalize our operating budget. Now, we have a total view, a comprehensive approach that includes building our vision, planning for the future, and maintaining our current budget.
  • Before, I was the only guy! There was a high level of gray area and confusion about our roles. Now, there’s clarity. Everyone is encouraged and wants to be used.
  • Before, everyone was expecting me to figure it out. Now, the Board is excited. We’re not just meeting our bare needs.
  • Before, there was concern that we didn’t have a clear, consistent, and compelling message. We didn’t have this before, but we’re closer now.
  • Before, we couldn’t figure out our funding plan. We didn’t see how we could do it. But now we do!
  • Before, we didn’t have enough involved champions. Now we’re getting great involvement. They are stepping forward. This wouldn’t have been possible before, because we had no plan, no ideas on how to work with the champions. We now know what they can do.
  • Before, we didn’t know how to tell the story. Now we know we need to show the story.
  • Before, there were higher expectations of videos. Now those don’t seem as important. We see the value in simpler, different, more interactive presentation tools. It’s less presentation and more discussion.

Be In A Position To Advance The Ball

You’re a development (our word ‘sales’) professional in the relationship business. As professionals, it’s our responsibility to turn ‘pendings’ into ‘commits’. With that in mind, we need to avoid giving these kind of reports:

  • “I haven’t heard back from [prospect] yet.”
  • “I left a message.”
  • “They said they would call us.”

Whether it be fundraising (sales), negotiations or life we need to take responsibility for ‘advancing the ball’. This begins by putting ourselves in the position to advance the ball.

At the end of a great presentation we get so excited. The prospect says something like, “Great, let me think it over and get back to you.” We say, “GREAT!” And then what?

My point is about attitude and less about tactics. You know how to handle a relationship. If you remember that it’s your responsibility to advance the ball then your will find yourself leaving voicemails like, “It’s Nick Fellers calling, I’m sorry I missed you. I can be reached at 614-352-2505 or I will try you again tomorrow.”

Two additional thoughts:

  1. You can also use Action Forcing Events to help you ‘advance the ball’.
  2. Embrace this term (‘advancing the ball’) in your office as a way for your team to talk strategy. Eg. “What can you do to ‘advance the ball with Ms. Jones?”

If Effective Then Plenty of Money Available

BusinessWeek featured a story about the world’s top philanthropists in November. The most striking line of the story:
“Most philanthropists, even experienced ones, say that it’s harder to give money away effectively than it is to make it.”
— Beth Cohen, Director of the Global Philanthropists Circle (GPG)
(An organization created by David Rockefeller’s great granddaughter.)

A few thoughts on that point:

  1. You should be asking whether or not your org is an effective use of funds.

    The answer is yes or no.

    • If NO – then you don’t deserve the money (pretty simple).
    • If YES – then the issue is that you’re not able to communicate your effectiveness.
  2. This goes back to one of our principle message points: Impact drives Income.

    I think this is encouraging.

  3. Think much bigger about your Impact and Income Tom always shares a great line from his sales mentor who came from the life insurance business, “It’s easier to sell a million dollar policy to a qualified prospect than it is to sell a $10,000 policy to a family member.” Thing big about your qualified prospects. The greater the capacity and philanthropic interest the more difficult it is for that person to be effective (evidence in the BusinessWeek article).

    I recall another BuisnessWeek article from two years (Bill Gates Gets Schooled) ago in which the Gateses communicated thier challenges in giving away money effectively. Specifically, Bill and Melinda were talking about schools and how the Gates Foundation continues to face a lot of challenges in dealing with the ‘education issue’. For the Gateses (and many others), money is not the issue… the solution is.

    This means there is an entire network of investors out there looking for you (if you are an effective investment).

    This is also encouraging.

  4. Trust me, most organizations are not out communicating their impact.
    1. Get a visit with a qualified prospects
    2. Share the story around your impact (communicating your effectiveness)
    3. Present the opportunity to make an investment that will change lives, save lives or transform lives
    • Most people don’t go visit with the prospect; they send a letter, don’t hear back, call it a rejection and chalk it up to the idea that he prospect is “getting hit up by everybody.” Or, “It’s a competitive environment.”
    • When they do visit, they ‘ask for money’ (instead of ‘presenting the opportunity’). They don’t communicate the impact. What the prospect hears is, “We want your money.” Instead of, “This is how the investment will change lives, save lives or impact lives.”
    • Or, worse yet, they visit, talk about the NEED for money, share no impact and make no real ask.
  5. So don’t base your assumptions about prospects (people, foundations or corporations) based on what you’ve heard on the street.

    While we all know there are plenty of people that have ‘short arms and deep pockets’, I have a tough time accepting that judgment about somebody before going to see them — primarily because

    Try this.

    It makes all the difference in the world. You will be successful and the word on the street will be that you walk on water.


Want Inspiring, Creative and Big Ideas?

Over the holiday break I was turned on to and tedtalks video podcasting through iTunes (same content different channels).

TED is an annual and exclusive conference held annually in Monterey , California . It brings together brilliant thinkers in the areas of technology, entertainment and design. Some are well-known, others are not but they’re all amazing. Each presenter gets a limited timeframe – 18 mins, for example – in which to share an idea.

This content ranks among the best I’ve found on iTunes or the web – hands down.

I’ve been downloading the videos to my iPod for some ‘thinking’ while I run. This morning I listened to Ken Robinson, ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity?’. He communicated the importance of creativity as a discipline in our schools. He was phenomenal in this thinking and communication – as are most presenters at TED.


9 Big Board Questions

I’ve been a part of dozens of board retreats (leader/observer/participant), meetings and planning sessions in the lasts few years. A traditional strategic planning session lays out goals and actions but often fails to ask some really big driving questions.

What if we asked these questions?

  1. What is our purpose or raison d’etre? This is different from mission – which should be the same thing but usually ends up being more about ‘place in the world’ vs. purpose. Raison d’etre literally means REASON FOR EXISTENCE. It’s the WHY question. If you can’t answer WHY then WHAT and HOW are irrelevant.
  2. How can we (intentionally) go out of business? As this for the short term (1000 days) or long term (50+ years). You exist to change lives, save lives or transform lives. How often do we re-examine our activities and ask, “Can we find a SOLUTION?”I started to qualify this question – to say that it might not apply to some organizations such as schools. Then, I withdrew my qualification. Ask it anyway; see where the conversation takes you. Education is changing.
  3. What would you do with $100M? Or pick a number that is a factor of 10x higher than anything you’re thinking about now. I attended a board retreat last weekend as a board member for Road of Life Cancer Prevention for Kids. With $100M one board member said she would get laws changed to make health education mandatory at an earlier age and another said we should invest in longitudinal studies to understand how health prevention impacts kids. Those are two VERY DIFFERENT priorities and we aren’t doing either right now. Ultimately, the question helped to build consensus around focusing on EDUCATION.Until the question was asked, every debate was about incremental tactics, not vision or even, I would argue, strategy.
  4. What strategic partnerships can we pursue? You have finance committees, development committees, marketing committees, campaign committees. If anything, I would like to see a partnership committee. Better yet, just a commitment to partnerships as a core priority (DNA) of the organization.I haven’t seen the numbers in a while but we’re somewhere in excess of 2million nonprofits and many more socially focused businesses (all For Impact). Current structures and strategic planning questions focus on bloat, not partnerships. We’re all trying to make a difference so let’s make a commitment (financial resources) to exploring this full time.
  5. How can we maximize our impact? Simple and open-ended… but not asked enough.
  6. What are we best in the world at? Jim Collins has made this conversation prevalent in the last few years (revisiting the Hedgehog Concept). It’s ultimately a question of priorities and focus. Consider finding the one thing you do very well and FOCUS on that.I can’t tell you how important this discussion is for your staff. It helps them make decisions about grants, programs, staffing, etc. Equally important is identifying those things that you’re not good at.Side note: I am a big Marcus Buckingham believer. He tells you to focus on your strengths. Our strength at For Impact is in-person training, facilitating and coaching. We’re focusing on ways to do more of that in 2008 (live, via web and on-demand).
  7. Should we grow ‘wider’ or ‘deeper’? It’s a scope of services question. Ultimately a lot of ‘strategic planning’ comes down to this question. Do we add more depth to our current programs (make them longer, more available, etc)? Or, do we expand our scope of services (diverse offerings, expanded continuum, etc.)? Refer back to question six to help you frame this debate.
  8. How much money do we need to achieve our vision? What usually happens: we spend time tweaking funding goals based on last year’s results. It would be of huge value [to everyone] if we knew how much money we really needed to accomplish our vision (annually or over time via a campaign initiative).Reflecting on this, I would say that this question is often asked in preparation for a campaign but it is not asked in relation to our operation (annual). Why not? Instead, we set a number and then allocate it (budget)… every year.
  9. What is our business model? Or, what business are we in?

    I think this goes along with several other questions and relates to strengths, focus and priorities. It also adds clarity and could even become part of your message.

I think these questions would also SOLVE a lot of the problems I hear about every day:

  1. Board engagement / Staff communication: Iit works both ways.
  2. Board meetings: If we’re on board about the big stuff it raises the level of the conversation. I think a lot of the comments I hear about board members being too detail focused or staff members seeming unfocused is resolved when we can communicate about and focus on the big picture.
  3. The proverbial rat race: Incremental thinking gets incremental results (some times).

$2.0M + $2.0M More

Harvest is over and we’re sitting at $2.0 million with $2.0 million more right outside the door. Within the next 2 weeks I think they’ll be in in a big way. Many others are watching. The momentum that will be created by $3.5 to 4.0 million will be huge. Thanks for all your training and guidance!

Tim McGree, President
La Salle High School – Yakima, WA



An article in the Wall Street Journal this morning

Doing Due Diligence On Your Donations
As Charitable Giving Grows, So Do Services for Donors Who Want Evidence that Their Money Is Having an Impact

“Donors can readily compare charities from a financial perspective: how much an organization spends on administrative costs or fund raising, for instance. But givers, especially younger, business-minded ones, now tend to want more information on how successful a charity’s programs are in addressing the issues the charity sets out to resolve…”

The article goes on to debate methodology. I would contribute that simply making a commitment to communicating your ROI – however you do it – is imperative – even if only (in some cases) it can only be done anecdotally. The challenge (currently) is not how we evaluate and communicate impact but if.

I’m reminded of double training camp alum – Tracy Elliott. Before committing his life to the For Impact sector he was a banker. In his current role as executive director he sends out quarterly bank (impact) statements to investors. These ‘bank statements’ include total number of lives saved/impacted, families served, and other stats. The statement then outlines ‘your investment results’. Pretty cool, pretty powerful and pretty effective in demonstrating how money is having an impact.


Create an Action Forcing Event

I’ve never worked for the State Department but I know someone who has. Last week I was on the road and spent an afternoon with a campaign champion in California. He introduced a piece of State Department lexicon: ‘The Action Forcing Event’.

The organization I’m working with has a number of pending commitments. We’re using the executive director’s scheduled retirement (March 2008) as a reason for investors to finalize their commitments. This reason, he explained to me, is called an Action Forcing Event (AFE).

He went on to explain that in the government you sometimes have to make up an AFE just to get stuff done.

We can all be using AFE’s as part of our case/rationale for support around WHY we need the commitment NOW. Applied, this could be:

  • A ground breaking event
  • Campaign timeline
  • A symbolic date

Without an AFE you are at the ‘complete’ mercy of the prospect’s timeline. Without an AFE the pending process can (and often does) drag on indefinitely.

I would encourage you to create an Action Forcing Event as part of your strategy for every visit. It’s not often that a visit results in a check on-the-spot so think about ‘timing’ as part of your presentation.


Talking Time: You v. Them

It’s a sales mantra: Selling is not telling.

We all talk too much on sales calls/visits/presentations.

Do whatever you need to in order to get the other person talking. The more time he/she is talking, the better.

In fact, often I will say, “I’m talking too much. Tell me what you think about…” [Then I shut up and listen – it’s harder than it appears.]

Note: Watch what happens to the other person’s body language when you be quiet and engage her in the presentation by letting her talk. Watch as it changes from ‘lost fog’ to ‘enthusiastic engagement’.


What You Say is Driven by Your Goal

Change say to ask.

You have to know what you want (clearly) as an outcome of the visit to know what questions to ask.

Example goals for a visit:

Goal: To leave [discovery] visit with clear understanding of whether or not this is a fit for prospect.
Q: What are your top giving priorities?

Q: (After outlining project) Is this something you would want to support?

Goal: Clear idea of project’s rating around capacity and relationship.

Assuming we got you to the site and you loved the project, could we have a conversation around a lead commitment ? (Question asked after addressing what a lead commitment would mean)
Goal: Get a commitment from strong relationship (eg. board member)

What do we need to do to help you come to a decision?

My questions are direct (but authentic) and driven by the goal. I will not leave a visit until I have what we need re: the goal. This could be a commitment/decline, interest/not interest or a clear road map for action. One of my goals for every visit is always tied to building and/or maximizing the relationship at that given moment and for the long term.

If you identify the goal of the visit you will ask the right questions.


“Green” is everywhere… water is not

More than a year ago I stood in an airport bookstore and noticed that just about every major magazine had a global warming/energy/green headline. I thought that much coverage surely spelled media fad (instead of cause that would be lasting over time).

Perhaps I was wrong. Every magazine and newspaper I picked up this week had “green coverage” (Even Sports Illustrated – albeit the new Boston basketball team).

I’m someone that is aware of what’s happening with the environment but I would not be considered an activist in any way.

What strikes me is how much we’re reading about the environment – many aspects and how little we’re reading about ‘water’ – specifically.

In August, Tom and I rafted down the Grand Canyon. It was a two week adventure… amazing in too many ways to describe. That trip opened my eyes to the pending water crisis that we are facing here in the US. Lake Powell and Lake Meade were both down 50%.

[Pictured] Lake Meade – White ring shows lake down 100′. Lake at 49% of capacity.

We’ve also had more and more water-related causes joining our website and attending trainings. A few years ago we met Ryan’s Well and more recently (last week) The New York Watershed Agricultural Council attended training camp.

I predict ‘water’ will catapult to the forefront of the environmental discussion in the new 2-4 years. It’s impending and visible to everyone.

  • This week, The New York Times magazine: Is the Future Drying Up?
  • In July, Fast Company did an ‘expose’ on the bottled water industry.
  • and San Francisco has banned bottled water for city workers.
  • Share:

    Stop Cultivating and Start Communicating

    “Why do we cultivate people?” As Tom always reminds me, “Cultivation is that thing you do with plants and manure.”

    I really, truly don’t understand ‘cultivation’. We are in the business of saving, changing and impacting lives. If you can help someone understand your impact then it’s really not about cultivation; it’s about asking whether or not they want to help you with your cause.

    I always reduce this to a simple story in order to emphasize my point. Imagine that you and your prospect were walking around a lake and came upon a drowning child. What would that prospect do? It’s likely she would jump in with full commitment to save the life of the child (so would you). I can’t imagine a scenario where you would first try to spend years getting this person interested in saving children (read: cultivation).

    So… if you’re saving or changing lives then you can’t really argue that we need more cultivation. I would propose that the issue at hand is really much more about communication. That is, how you communicate your impact in such a way that is clear, concise and compelling. So clear, in fact, the prospect jumps on board (read: into the lake) to make a major investment in your vision.

    If you can communicate the impact, the income will follow. If you can communicate the impact, you can ask for any amount of money on the first (sometimes second) visit. The challenge, again, is that we struggle with our message. Or, we might even have the message, but we’re not out visiting with people, one-on-one, to share the message and present the opportunity for them to help (save the child – as it were).

    Your job is to communicate the impact, not spread manure. I know that’s blunt but I want to motivate you to action with this idea. You’re doing great things… so present the opportunity for someone to help… now.

    People come from all over the world to the For Impact Boot Camp because they need more money. In order to do that we spend almost half of the Camp talking about HOW to COMMUNICATE the IMPACT.communication and why attendees have success when leaving. They have the ability to communicate their impact in such a way that it is as clear as saving a drowning child.

    PS – If you think my example is too simplistic or unrealistic please know that this same example is what set into motion the greatest philanthropist of our era – I’ve altered the lake example somewhat but stole that from noted philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer who wrote an amazing article last year in the New York Times: What Should a Billionaire Give – and What Should You? In that article he also explains Bill Gates’ moment of clarity around impact that moved him to action.


    How to be an Immediate Sales Expert

    This nugget focuses on the power of one idea: authenticity.

    At training camp we have everyone practice their presentations, remembering some important keys to success:

    1. Listening (including discovery)
    2. The simple process: Share the story then present the opportunity
    3. Authenticity

    I want to highlight authenticity because if you get this one idea it makes you an immediate sales (major gifts) expert!

    I’ve found so many people have call reluctance because they fear “screwing up.” If you are authentic:

    • You can’t mess up – at least not in a way that you cannot recover. If you are earnestly communicating an opportunity to save lives, change lives or impact lives how can that be messed up?

      If you’re authentic you can say, “Let me call a time-out and back up. I’m not sure I’m communicating [insert point] clearly.”

    • You have a REAL dialogue. I’ve watched so many people give robot-canned-spiels. That’s not authentic.
    • You tell your own story, not someone else’s. Authenticity allows you to make a wonderful visit your third day on the job. You can say, “This is only my third day with [org] but I’m loving what we’re doing and I’m thrilled (but also a little nervous) to be sitting with you today.”

      How can someone not respect that candor? It also means you don’t have to be the founder or at the organization for 15 years to make a visit.

    You will also find authenticity to be incredibly disarming to the person you’re with. It changes the dynamic of the visit from ‘eyeball-to-eyeball’ to ‘shoulder-to-shoulder.’ Think about that dynamic!


    The Simple Idea that Changes Everything

    Last week Tom and I were with a Benedictine prep school in New Jersey. We were discussing the importance of focusing on top prospects in the development plan when one of the board members asked this question:

    “What type of results should we expect if we visit with each of our top 100 prospects?”

    Being the ‘helpful outsider’, I gave that wonderfully ambiguous answer: “It depends.”

    After thinking for a moment I was able to offer an epiphany that was a bit more insightful…

    I’ve never been with an organization which made a commitment to focus on its top 10 prospects that wasn’t completely and totally transformed (in ways beyond funding results).

    That’s a long-winded epiphany — I will restate: If you focus on your top 10 prospects it will transform your organization (period).
    This is a simple (not easy) idea that changes everything.

    The secondary epiphany is that most organizations gloss over their top 10 prospects to make selective visits with prospects 11-100 (if and when they’re making visits).

    Why aren’t more organizations transformed by their top 10?

    • They don’t stop to ask the question, “Who are our top 10 prospects?”
    • It’s easier to focus on prospects 11-100.
    • They give up on the top 10 at the first sign of uncertainty. (eg. “The prospect did not return our phone call… she must not be interested.”)
    • They have not yet committed to ‘sales’ and are therefore not out making asks.
    • They have ‘top of the pyramid’ call reluctance because:
      • They can’t communicate the vision/mission/message.
      • They haven’t been trained to sell and therefore fear messing it up.


    • Make a commitment today to focus your energy on your top 10 prospects.
    • Make a commitment to visit with them, share the story, and present the opportunity within the next year.
    • Don’t back down from this commitment*.
    • E-mail me ( on August 13, 2008 with your transformational success story. I would be equally interested (and very surprised) to hear from you if you truly made this commitment and weren’t wildly successful in your funding efforts.

    *If you have encounter any of the challenges above join us at a training camp to remove the challenges [more powerful than a plug; it’s a statement of action].


    How to Answer the Most Important Question of Every Investor

    One of the most important questions of every investor asks is

    “WHERE does the money go?”

    Parenthetically, they’re also asking “WHY does it go there?”

    In our all of our recent trainings, we have boiled down the PRESENTATION to PURPOSE… PRIORITIES… PLAN.

    ‘PRIORITIES’ is where we answer the question about “Where does the money go?” (Use of Funds). One of our metaphors for this answer is YOUR THREE BUCKETS. The three Buckets represent the most important priorities to be funded. These symbolic ‘buckets’ literally represent the ‘HOW’ you do ‘WHAT’ you do.

    Lately, we have been illustrating the three buckets as three connected circles. Regardless of the visual or the design, the important thing is to have three things that can be simply stated to create engagement and dialogue.

    Some examples might include:

    • Research
    • Education
    • Service
    • Education
    • Training
    • Disaster Relief
    • Students
    • Faculty
    • Campus

    Note: The students/faculty/campus example works for every school.

    • People
    • Programs
    • Place

    This last example (PEOPLE, PROGRAMS, PLACE) is a very simple way to capture almost every FOR IMPACT ORGANIZATION’S PRIORITIES.

    P.S. One terrific way to see if this works is to take your Operating Budget and see if you can “fit” almost every line item into one of your Three Buckets.


    9 Guiding Principles for Sales Success

    Here are my 9 GUIDING PRINCIPLES to help you ‘sell’ your VISION, your MESSAGE, your PRIORITIES…

    Pretty self-explanatory, but there are some ‘notes’ at the end.

    Action: You can print this out and carry with you as a REMINDER.

    GP #1 CHANGE YOUR VOCABULARY!WORDS ARE IMPORTANT! Stop using all the typical ‘nonprofit’ industry jargon. Start using ‘sales’ terms, ‘business’ terms, ‘common sense’ terms.

    Appointments Visits
    Power Points Presentation Tools
    Asking for Money Presenting the Opportunity
    GP #2 THINK BIG. BUILD SIMPLE. ACT NOW!My absolute favorite Entrepreneur’s Mantra. Also works great for SALES. THINK. BUILD. ACT. BIG. SIMPLE. NOW.
    GP #3 THE RULE OF 3!This principle alone is worth the price of admission! ‘FORCE’ everything you do into groups of 3! Your Message Points. Your Priorities. Your Buckets. Your Sales Presentation. Trust me. It works.
    GP #4 NO TIMEOUTS. NO SUBSTITUTIONS. NO EXCUSES.My Notre Dame Boxers’ Mantra. Works for sales. Take responsibility for your life. Your actions. Your results.
    GP #5 PREPARE. PRACTICE. PERFORM. You get PREPARE and PERFORM. What we never, ever, ever do (in our world) is PRACTICE! PRACTICE YOUR PRESENTATION. Your response to objections and challenges. Your opening. Your close.
    GP #6 FIRST WITH THE HEART. THEN WITH THE HEAD.This is the corollary to a great line in my favorite book, THE POWER OF ONE. Zig Ziglar, über sales trainer, says it perfectly: “People buy on emotion, then justify with logic.”
    GP #7 DO THE MATH.You can’t ‘SELL’ unless you understand all the ‘NUMBERS’! This is about goals, self-fulfilling prophecy, and the Stockdale Paradox (Face the Brutal Facts).
    GP #8 ASK QUESTIONS. (ACTUALLY) LISTEN TO ANSWERS.This is, without question, the greatest ‘SALES TIP’… ever!
    GP #9 SHARE THE STORY. PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY.No explanation necessary. Just do it.

    Follow-Up Is 90% Of The Effort

    Like predisposition, follow-up requires a specific strategy. Too often wonderful presentations/asks/sales calls are wasted because there is no follow-up.

    A typical scenario includes someone making a great presentation and then ‘hoping’ a gift comes as a result of the ask. Or, sometimes there is only a phone call that some weeks later in which the substance of the dialogue is one question: ” We were wondering if you had a chance to make a decision?”

    Just remember one thing: “Hope is not a strategy!” – Rick Page

    And for you: Hope is definitely not a follow-up strategy.

    Huge problem: We consider our work finished when we get to the point of making the request. We feel like we’ve shared everything we can and now it must be in the prospect’s hands. That notion is wrong. In fact, follow-up is 90% of the effort!

    Some misc. reminders to help you:

    • Remember, this is not some one-off transaction. It’s all about a true relationship. Follow-up is not really about a strict yes or no – it’s about advancing the relationship, opportunity or plan WITH the prospect.
    • It’s either win/win or lose/lose! You’re presenting an opportunity to save lives, change lives or impact lives. Stop being so bashful.
    • Follow-up is about taking the opportunity to continue the excitement generated on the visit. You’re literally trying to continue the momentum. This could mean:
      • An immediate follow-up letter.
      • An immediate follow-up phone call from champion or volunteer.
      • An immediate follow-up phone call from you.
    • Don’t dodge the issue! The worst follow-up is when you step politely around the pending request (hoping the prospect brings it up or announces to you a commitment). Using your own style you need continue to work with prospect to advance the ball – be direct, sincere and authentic and remember…
      Hope is not a strategy.


    Never Make A Cold Call

    This little nugget is about predisposition–the goal of which is to set the stage for your visit, call or presentation. Predisposition is an important component of the sales process and it’s done in advance of your visit.

    So often I hear about visits where so much work was done to get the visit, there was a lot of strategy around the ask, number, etc. but for some reason or another something just didn’t feel right and so an ‘ask’ was never made. Many times this is because there was zero predisposition beforehand.

    To help you understand predisposition, think of it as the sum of actions that will make the visit as far removed from a cold call as possible. This could apply in many ways:

    • Predisposition to your cause, case or project: If this person has no real idea about a particular problem, then your solution is not going to be as exciting. Or, perhaps it’s a long time relationship that doesn’t know about a wonderful project or campaign initiative. Get this person excited about the project.The best predisposition in the world would be to have the prospect see how/where/when you deliver your impact!
    • Predisposition to the ASK: If an ask is coming out of left field then you did not do a good job of predisposing to the ask BEFORE the visit. If you go a great job predisposing to the ask then numbers are VERY EASY to talk about.
    • Predisposition to the presentation team: The prospect might have a great relationship with a board member and even to the organization but not to you as an executive director or development person. Use your champion to set the stage to predispose for the personal relationship so that you don’t get the cold shoulder.
    • Predisposition in any other way that prevents your visit from being ‘cold’…

    This is a concept. What’s important is that you get the concept and apply it to each presentation strategy so that you’re not met with cold or clueless receptions.

    Action: Look at any visits you have setup for the next three weeks. Force yourself to come up with a predisposition strategy for each visit. Perhaps it’s as simple as a support phone call from a champion or sending over some materials via e-mail–in advance of the visit.


    Powerful Thinking On Change

    As a follow-up to last week’s Challenge to Change W.O.W. Email we’re sharing some powerful quotes On Change.

    Don’t gloss over or blow by these thoughts. They were carefully selected to make a BIG POINT!

    Print ’em. Read ’em. Apply them.

    EVERY ORGANIZATION has to prepare
    for the ABANDONMENT of almost
    EVERYTHING it does.”
    — Peter Drucker
    to get the RESULTS they are getting.”
    – Tim Kight
    – Tom Peters
    “Be the CHANGE that you want to see in the world.”
    — Gandhi
    “If you don’t like CHANGE, you’re going to like IRRELEVANCE even less.”
    — General Erik Shinseki
    “We don’t need COINS. We need CHANGE.”
    – Sign in a Window in the Short North (Columbus)
    “BEGGING for ‘CHANGE‘… or ‘begging’ for CHANGE.”
    – Robert Eger
    CHANGE is one thing. PROGRESS is another.”
    – Bertrand Russell
    “It’s often easier to KILL an organization than CHANGE it in any significant way.”
    – Kevin Kelly
    “We have 60,000 THOUGHTS a DAY.
    However, 95% are the SAME ONES we had yesterday.”
    – Deepak Chopra
    “It’s easier to CHANGE PEOPLE than to CHANGE people.”
    – Kets de Vries
    “I get up every morning determined to both CHANGE THE WORLD and to have one hell of a good time. Sometimes, this makes planning the day difficult.”
    – E. B. White
    “LEADERS can’t help but CHANGE the present, because the present isn’t good enough.”
    – Marcus Buckingham
    “If it ain’t broke, break it.”
    – Entrepreneurial Mavericks
    “When you CHANGE your THINKING, you CHANGE your BELIEFS.
    When you CHANGE your ATTITUDE, you CHANGE your BEHAVIOR.
    When you CHANGE your PERFORMANCE, you CHANGE your LIFE.”
    – John Maxwell

    Board Seat Not Necessary

    A quick learning point that comes from a lot of the sales training and coaching around maximizing relationships.

    Re: Prospect Strategy – Joining the board is not a pre-requisite for maximizing a relationship.

    You should complete a customized prospect strategy (including goals) for each of your top prospects. When I bring this up in a workshop I’m commonly asked, “Should we first try to see if he/she would like to be on our board?”

    That’s not a goal OR a strategy that I’m satisfied with. To me, trying to get someone on the board is a tactic that usually has nothing to do with the real goal which is to maximize the relationship at any given time.

    Remember, getting someone ‘on THE board’ should not be the goal. My real issue is that I think it represents the wrong way of thinking. Instead, frame your strategy around getting the prospect ON BOARD with your cause / case.

    I believe that if you’re with a qualified prospect the dialogue will not be about a board seat … it will be about HOW to deliver the impact.

    For more clarity:

    • My point is not about whether or not someone should join the board but rather that you don’t need to be ‘on the board’ to be ‘on board’.
    • I’ve heard far too many stories about strategies that have involved ‘trying to get someone on the board’ as a first step in a relationship. Some of you have spent years trying to get prospects on your board. And then …
    • We think getting them on the board somehow makes them on board.

    Think about how this idea applies to your organization. By way of a challenge I want to encourage some of you to re-frame your strategies. Where as you could spend years trying to get someone on your board, I believe some of your best prospects are already on board–with your cause … so go visit, share your story, and present an opportunity to help).

    Note from the field: As one great community leader / champion recently put it, “I’m on enough boards already. I’ll help in anyway I can but I’m busy and quite frankly, most boards make me bored.”


    Your Funding Plan Supports Your Case

    I’ve been a road warrior the past two months. For schools, entrepreneurial start-ups and other organizations a big epiphany continues to be the idea that your funding plan actually is part of your case for support.

    To me, the funding plan is the HOW behind the big picture dollar goal and the big picture dollar goal is what you need to deliver on your vision. So, in essence, this is HOW you will deliver on your vision. Is that important? You bet!

    I’ve found that most organizations don’t have a funding plan.

    Three simple action steps here:

    • Determine the dollar amount you need for both operations and projects. What is the lump sum? Do the math! 80% of organizations can’t answer this question.
    • How many investments would you need – and at what amounts to achieve this goal?
    • When? (One year? Three years? Five years?)

    The funding plan does a few things as it relates to your case:

    • It makes it believable
    • It shows a potential investor how she/he would fit into the funding vision.
    • It also illustrates that you’re not just picking a number out of the air – there is logic.

    Extra bonus: There are times when you can actually ask the potential investor, “Where do you see yourself in this plan?” Then, you let them select a dollar level.


    Return On Energy

    Here is a simple idea you can use to frame your thinking around your funding plan:


    This seems to be especially big for organizations trapped in a transaction-based system of special events (life-sucking, volunteer-draining) with often and incredibly low RETURN ON ENERGY.

    If that describes your organization then think about this rhetorical question: What would happen if you did away with one event. Then, you focused all that energy (time, urgency, people, resources) on building a great relationships with one or two prospects that could invest $1Million in your vision?


    • Special Events As Fundraisers Stink– they’re not special.
    • Major Gifts: Raise the most money at the least cost.
    • 97/3: 97% of the money/investments comes from 3% of your family … focus on the 3%


    Last week I was with a school in Albuquerque. The bulk of the funding strategy revolved around special events … in fact, they were running FIVE events. The board was drained. It made a commitment to CHANGE the way it FUNDED the VISION. In only one week so far, the board has generated more than $80,000 to fund student scholarships by working only a few key phone relationships. To really see the ‘WOW’ you need to know that they these events were consuming hundreds of volunteer hours and netting an average of $30K – $50K each (with a funding cost as high as 70 cents to raise a dollar – yikes).

    To me, this is a wonderful example of stopping to think about the RETURN ON ENERGY, making a commitment to change and enjoying IMMEDIATE RESULTS.

    Final Note: This applies to EVERYTHING you’re doing. Take a moment this Friday morning to think about your RETURN ON ENERGY.


    Master Prospect List – QPI Rating System

    the excel file.

    Internet Explorer users, right-click and ‘Save Target As’ to download to your desktop.

    Directions:We have used this tool to run hundreds of campaigns and major gifts initiatives. It’s simple and powerful. Rate your top prospects to create a master prospect list in descending order of importance. Then focus all your time (literally) on your top ten prospects — you will be amazed by the results.

    Each prospect receives a rating in each category 1-5 (5 being the highest). You need to determine the rating system for each category that makes the most sense for your organization. If you are a two-person organization with a low budget a major gift may be $20,000. If you’re the American Cancer Society you may be looking more at $1M.

      Capacity This is the prospect’s capacity to make a major gift.You must decide what constitutes a major gift for your organization .Generally, it is a gift level that is worthy of one-on-one time with a prospect where you develop a specific return-on-investment for the gift.This is not an indication of what you think the prospect will invest in your organization – it is an indication of what you think the prospect COULD give.
    Relationship This is an indication of this prospect’s relationship to your organization OR CAUSE.If this prospect is on your board it should be a five (5).If, for example, you are the American Cancer Society, and this prospect is a cancer survivor, the rating should be a five (5) even with no gift history .Develop a rating system to account for each number 1-5 that makes the most sense for your organization.
    Timing Generally timing is always a five (5) unless you have specific knowledge otherwise.For example, we just received a major gift commitment last week … move down to a three (3).
    Gift History What is this prospect’s giving history to your organization?You might determine that a five (5) on the rating scale indicates lifetime giving of $100,000+ or ten consecutive years in your Leadership Society.
    Philanthropic History This is a measure of the prospect’s general willingness to give.Has he or she supported other organizations?Is it a foundation (5)? … or does this prospect have short arms and deep pockets (1)?
    QPI Qualified Prospect Index:The sum weighted total of ratings in each of the five categories.You need to visit with anyone 90 and higher today!
    Relationship Manager This is the person within your organization that manages the relationship — does not have to be the point of contact but must responsible for thinking about this prospect every day.
    Natural Partner This is a person, internal or external to your organization that has the closest relationship to the prospect.

    You Can’t Outgrow Losses

    I picked up a new book by business turnaround expert Gary Sutton called Corporate Canaries: Avoid Business Disasters with a Coal Minder’s Secret’s. It’s one of those brutal, simple truth reads where the author points out simple logic in a profound way.

    Sutton says this book is all about avoiding disasters but I think it’s more about identifying the factors that can have the most dramatic effect on an organization’s finances.

    First chapter: ‘You can’t outgrow losses’. To me, this is saying DO THE MATH (and address that issue FIRST). If you’re losing money on sales then more sales is not the answer. So, the For Impact corollary would be that if you’re losing money on fundraising activities – then more of them is not the answer. Seems simple … right?

    “Fix profits first. Then add business … And going for more volume with bad margins only makes you die faster.”

    More special events … more direct mail … more grant proposals is not the answer. (See … No More)

    Fix profits (cost of fundraising) first: SALES (project-related gifts from individuals/corporations/foundations – major gifts). ABANDON special events, direct mail, phonathons, etc. THEN grow your sales operation …. First step to a major TURNAROUND.

    This book is a quick and worthy read to help you AVOID disasters (watch the canary warning system) or make a quick TURNAROUND.

    I also love chapter four: ‘Any Decision Beats No Decision’ … but that’s another nugget.


    Planned Giving Training in Three Bullet Points

    I want to sound off on planned giving. Nobody is doing enough of it. It always seems like it’s some ‘elusive field’. Like we are ‘waiting to get trained in that area’ or whatever. I want to make this as simple as possible.

    Planned giving is just a sale (or another form of a major gift) to a person that wants to help your organization. It is a just a means or a vehicle. Your job is to present the prospect with a wonderful opportunity to change lives, save lives or impact lives.

    There are hundreds (probably thousands) of ways to do a planned gift. YOU do not need to know how to do them. Leave that to an insurance agent, a lawyer, a financial planner, etc.

    Here is the training … ready?

    There are three forms of a planned gift:

    1. Assignment of a life insurance policy.
    2. Bequest (will).
    3. Other

    If the prospect wants to assign life insurance he/she can call his or her agent. A simple bequest can be a codicil to a will (just google it). Other includes all those ‘other’ complicated financial arrangements (including gift annuities) that we can pass off to an expert.

    Most smaller planned gifts will either involve life insurance or a very simple bequest.

    I DON’T believe I’m over simplifying. Your goal is to maximize every relationship at any given time. If you’re meeting with a prospect about a project need today you can also talk about providing TOMORROW in the form of a legacy or planned gift.

    My point is that this should be simple and we should be asking nearly everyone for a planned gift commitment. Too often, I believe, individuals and organizations ‘wait’ until they have the necessary training or ‘organizational capacity’. If you get training you will get a thick binder that will sit on the shelf with tons of terms and if you wait you will leave tons of opportunities on the table.

    Keep it simple …


    Are you unique to this planet

    Good to Great and the Social Sector
    I’ve had Jim Collins’ ‘monograph’ in my bag for two weeks and finally had time to read and digest on a plane yesterday. It will only take you twenty minutes to read but the words deserve much more time to digest – great stuff.

    We need to write more extensively about Collins’ add-on to Good to Great but I wanted to post one tiny little line that’s been stuck in my head for the past day.

    Collins writes that one of outputs of a great organization is that it makes a distinct impact. More specifically,

    “… it touches and does its work with such unadulterated excellence that if it were to disappear, it would leave a hole that could not be easily filled by any other institution on the planet.

    So … digest that one for a while. That’s really BIG THINKING and I love it.


    The Most Important Question

    This is a quick one to share – let you ponder and add your thoughts.

    When meeting with a new prospect or a group or even someone very familiar with your organization, what is the Single Most Important Question you should ask to start things off?

    How about this one:

    “What do you know about our organization?”

    Or, if the person has long been associated/involved with your organization:

    “What do you know about this project?”

    Or, more broadly:

    “What do you know about [insert your cause here]?”

    Listening to the answer will do wonders for your ability to have a productive visit. The answer to this singular, one important question could:

    • Save a lot of time (you don’t want to repeat things he/she already knows)
    • Get out misunderstandings (if the prospect has the wrong idea about your org, you can address these points)

    Presumably you know where you would like to be at the end of the visit (the goals).
    Wouldn’t you like to know where you are at the beginning of the visit?

    Two quick stories to share with you to make my point (one good, one bad) and then you get more thoughts/ideas online:

    First, the bad (DID NOT ask the Most Important Question):

    Three years ago we were helping a domestic violence shelter. They were trying to work with the community to locate new space so that they could increase the number of families that they served.

    The prospect was a successful female entrepreneur. In the first meeting it was just she and I (male – single).

    We had a great dialogue, hit it off, made our connections and I asked a lot of questions … Just not the single most important question.

    I was sharing a number of astounding statistics about domestic violence – one of which is that one out of four women are victims of domestic violence.

    She stopped me there …

    “Nick, I know all this … I’m the one of those four.”

    GULP. Who was I to be ‘informing’ her about the problem?

    She was willing to share this information. I should’ve asked the most important question: What do you know about Domestic Violence?

    For another organization (DID ask the Most Important Question):

    A board member and I were visiting with someone that the staff had identified as a great prospect and friend of the organization. I had a thick folder full of information (thanks to all the ‘prospect research data services’, Google and staff interviews).

    After we got to know each other on the visit I asked most important question:

    Q. “Can you just share with us what you know about XYZ org?”

    A. “Just about everything – I think. I was one of the three founders fifteen years ago.”

    We had no idea this woman founded the organization. The staff had no idea. The board had no idea. Needless to say, it completely changed the nature of visit and we moved immediately to an exciting dialogue about HOW we were going to make the vision for the current project a reality.

    Next time you’re on a visit don’t forget to ask The Most Important Question.