Are You Providing Your Board with Mission Moments?

During the 2015 Young Nonprofit Professionals Network National Conference in Little Rock, there were a few great presentations focused around getting the most out of your board, which particularly highlighted intentional relationship management as the core of nonprofit board work.

One point that stood out to me during these sessions was how some boards create “mission moments” — opportunities for their members to reconnect with the mission and critical work of their organizations.

A few examples of ways to do this are:

  • a performing arts organization that holds one of its meetings each year on the stage;
  • inviting beneficiaries of the work to share their stories with the board during a meeting; and
  • having a board member share why he/she is committed to this work.

I believe that mission moments can be a great way to deepen commitment and provide insight. We’ve certainly had some success with this in my current organization and I hope to do more of it as our board grows.

Have you used mission moments with your board? Please share any experiences in the comments.

Quick Tips — Bequest Asks

While attending this year’s Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in Baltimore, I sat in on an interesting session by Stephen Pidgeon about getting bequest asks right.

Since I enjoyed the session so much, I want to share a few quick tips that I learned from Stephen:

  • When asking donors and prospects to consider making a bequest to your organization, acknowledge the importance of family and friends, as this demonstrates your respect for the donors’ relationships outside of your organization and can lead you into an easy ask for a residuary bequest (leaving whatever is left after they have taken care of loved ones to your organization).
  • Providing social information about recently made (or confirmed) bequest intentions in your ask can triple the number of people who consider and make their own bequest.
  • Organizations should be asking donors and prospects to consider bequests in all modes of communication other than the telephone (e.g. personal letter, supporter newsletter, inserts/ads, events, website, etc.).
  • Asks should be made by: a beneficiary of the organization’s work, a senior trustee who has made a bequest of his/her own, or another supporter who has made his/her own bequest.

I hope that you find these points interesting and that they will influence how your organization is pursuing its legacy giving goals, as I will be integrating these into my efforts for our next fiscal year.

For more from Stephen, check out his book Love Your Donors to Death.

Have any thoughts or specific responses to these ideas? Share them in the comments.


I’m back!

Dear Readers,
I know that it has been awhile since you heard from me here at The Good Steward. Almost six months ago, my wife and I welcomed our first child, a boy named Harrison. Now that we have recovered from the initial shock of having a new little person around and our bodies have mostly adjusted to less sleep, I’m back to share my musings, lessons, and tips on all things fundraising and nonprofit.

I look forward to re-engaging with you all!


Who’s Minding Your Board Culture?

After two years on the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network National Board, one (of many) things that I have learned is the importance of paying consistent attention to a board’s culture.

A few ways that we have intentionally focused on our board culture are:

  • highlighting one specific element of our culture during each monthly meeting
  • making cultural fit a key element of our annual board recruitment efforts
  • creating opportunities for members to socialize outside of our formal in-person meetings

This calendar year, we have been setting aside a few minutes in each regular meeting to highlight one element of our culture that has contributed to our cohesion and long-term success. This simple act has helped reinforce what is important to our newest board members and ensure a smooth transition for them onto the board, while also reminding longer-tenured board members of their commitment.

Leading up to and during our annual board recruitment process, we are very clear about the importance of adding new members who will complement the board’s culture, while also bringing the expertise and perspectives that we need to advance YNPN’s mission.

However, I feel that the most important element of our culture has been the time spent together informally, which has allowed us to engage on a much more personal level and to act more effectively when working together as a board.

These elements of the YNPN National Board’s culture are the result of the thoughtful work of our Board Development Committee, which has primary responsibility for maintaining a productive culture, recruiting and onboarding new members, transitioning members off of the board, and much more.

Does your board have a Board Development or Governance Committee? If so, is it engaged in supporting a positive board culture? If not, how have you encouraged this among your board in other ways?

Guest Post: Fundraising As a Vocation, Not a Job

After I read this post by Lynne Wester, I e-mailed her about re-posting it here for all of you and she graciously agreed. Please feel free to leave comments here or in Lynne’s original post.


There are two types of people that work in nonprofit fundraising. Distinct and telling differences emerge when you examine those two types of people. Many times I am often asked why I do all I do in addition to my full time employment. My first answer usually revolves around insomnia, my second answer strikes at the core of who I am, fundraising is my passion. I fully feel that there are two types of people working in our field. Some who feel it is their day job and the rest of us that feel it is our vocation or calling.Growing up, I was the kid who never knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. Among my lifelong dream careers were the first female NFL referee, the next Ernest Hemingway, and a  restaurant critic. Growing up, never did I say I wanted to be a donor relations professional. After trying many things from a boat captain to a pastry chef to a teacher and a bartender, when I found philanthropy, something in me changed.  We now have the opportunity to teach others about our profession, to hire the kinds of people that inspire us to do better.So why am I on this vocation kick? Because I meet people who are just in it for other reasons and I’m baffled. You won’t become rich working in nonprofit fundraising, but boy is your heart full. The dictionary defines vocation as “a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.” The first time I heard vocation it was in 8th grade when I had to take a series of all of the vocations, including wood and metal shop, agriculture, home economics (am I dating myself?), typing, and auto shop. But I am now convinced more than ever that fundraising is my vocation. I chose higher education as my specialty for a deeply personal reason that I won’t go into in this blog (let’s just say it involves my Dad) but one day if you catch me at a bar over a glass of Malbec I’ll try telling you without crying.The folks I tend to do business with, those whom I admire, and those whom are my mentors all are in this profession and see it as their vocation. I actively choose not to spend my time on and with those who see it as another job or a means to an end. They exhaust me. As some might say, they don’t
“get it”.

A job is defined as, “the work that a person does regularly in order to earn money” this designates a few differentiations from a vocation. The first is that the end goal is money, anyone in nonprofit will tell you the benefits are great, the pay is not that fabulous. The second thing about a job is that it seems to have a finite end and purpose, I just cannot say that about a vocation. My vocation consumes me at times, for better or worse.

Maybe I can relate it in philanthropic terms. People who work in nonprofit fundraising as a vocation are donors, and those who see it as a job are non donors? Is that too bold a statement?

As I wax philosophical, I would love to hear your thoughts. What drives you in your career? why do you do what you do? Is it a vocation, a job, what? How do you define what you do and who you are to others?


Are you talking to your donors?

A recent Wall Street Journal article about a $100 million gift from billionaire couple Henry & Marie-Josee Kravis to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center reminded me of the simple power of talking to and engaging donors in our work. The article shared how the gift started . . . with a simple conversation:

It grew out of a conversation at a social event 18 months ago between Mr. Kravis and Craig Thompson, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s president and chief executive officer. As the men recall it, when Dr. Thompson described how the emerging ability to analyze the DNA of individual patient’s tumors was changing cancer care, Mr. Kravis asked how Memorial Sloan Kettering could make a unique contribution.

Dr. Thompson told him about the center’s database of more than one million patients, including archived tumor samples and details of care and outcomes, dating back to 1980. Mr. Kravis asked what could be learned from the history of the patients that were already treated.

How has your successful donor engagement led to major gifts? I’d love to hear your success stories in the comments!


Join me this week for a webinar on nonprofit board service!

Are you interested in nonprofit board service? Or not sure if you have something to offer as a nonprofit board member? I’m co-hosting a webinar with the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) this Wednesday, April 23rd from 3-4 pm EST. Come learn about what board service is really like and how to get onto a board yourself!

If you leave a comment, reach out to me through the Contact form or tweet me, I’ll provide you with the discount code.

Hope that you can be with us this Wednesday!

Quick Tip: Uncovering Wealth Among Your Prospects & Donors

In the last six months, I have been spending anything from a few minutes to an hour or so each week looking up lost I-House alumni in the hopes of being able to reconnect with them. During this year’s Association of Donor Relations Professionals NYC Regional Conference, one of the presenters mentioned that one of the wealthiest counties in her state was not too far from the metropolitan area in which her organization worked. After the conference, I looked up that county and started checking for any alumni who lived there just to be sure that we were not overlooking any particularly well-off constituents. With this in mind, I encourage you to check the wealthiest counties in the United States each year and confirm whether any of your prospects and/or donors reside in any of them; any of those who you identify can be marked for additional research. Here’s to uncovering some wealth in your own database!

Happy 2014!



Happy New Year from The Good Steward!  The year ahead will be full of plenty that will keep me busy, but most of which will also be shared with you, dear readers.

Some notable highlights for the year ahead:

  • As of January 1st, I am serving as Vice Chair of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network National Board;
  • There will be a good amount of experimentation in and increased fundraising with the new I-House leadership;
  • I’m continuing a pro bono consulting relationship with a great grassroots organization in Missouri, which is really providing me with an opportunity to deepen my fundraising and coaching skills;
  • I will be representing YNPN on the Independent Sector NGen Advisory Board and look forward to helping shape the 2014 program, which will be capped off at the Independent Sector Conference in Seattle.

I look forward to sharing 2014 — and all of these experiences — with you and hope to hear from you in the comments.  Feel free to let me know if you have thoughts on topics that you want to see covered here!


Photo credit

Top 3 Reader Favorites from 2013

In case you missed any of them and to be a bit reflective as we proceed into 2014, I wanted to share the top three posts that were written last year.  They cover a few of the different areas and concepts that were discussed here on The Good Steward last year and I hope that you find them helpful in your efforts this year.

  1. How One Web Search Led to a $20,000 Gift
    I shared how some smart web searching led me to a strong prospect for a fundraising effort focused on I-House’s retiring Board Chairman and the true serendipity that led to a $20,000 contribution. The title alone seems to have grabbed readers’ attention!
  2. Are You Making the Time to be Creative?
    I wrote this post while at the 2013 AFP International Conference after an especially insightful talk by John Legend. Please feel free to share in the comments how you keep those creative juices flowing!
  3. Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story in the 990 Report
    This post provides some quick food for thought around how fundraising staff can collaborate with their colleagues in the Finance Office to better tell their organization’s story through the annual 990 charitable filing.