Putting On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

When you get on any airplane, before takeoff a flight attendant goes through safety procedures and tells you that in case of cabin pressure loss oxygen masks will be dropped. They instruct you to put your own mask on before helping others.

I fly a couple times a month on average. I’ve never once seen a passenger raise their hand and object to this idea. Who would? The fact that you need to be breathing in order to help your fellow passengers isn’t a hard piece of logic to digest.

Yet as non-profit leaders we overwhelmingly don’t do this. We think it’s our duty to work 20 hour days without eating. To go on less than 4 hours of sleep for weeks on end, give up going to the gym, the doctor, seeing our family and friends…or any other part of the outside world in the days or weeks leading up to big campaigns.

We are responsible for delivering impact into dozens, hundreds or thousands of lives yet we’re not taking the time to make sure we’re nourished enough to do so.

I’m not writing this from some high horse, urging you to follow my exemplary footsteps. I’ve had a horrible time internalizing this idea in the years I’ve devoted my life to making change.

Last fall I was immobile for almost a month from ignoring my own needs in exchange for my mission’s. I didn’t listen to what my body needed, which certainly wasn’t to stress my injured back by 10,000+ miles of travel and multiple speaking engagements in less than a week.

Did my organization get some great things because I didn’t listen to my body? Sure. But I also had to leave one of our fundraisers because I couldn’t stand I was in so much pain. I was at less than 25% capacity for work output and my days were cut in half to accommodate my physical therapy schedule for an entire month. That doesn’t seem so great for my non-profit or the children I work so hard for.

Being a good leader means not being a martyr. We all know this in our heads – it’s time to internalize it in our hearts.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

*This post also appears inside the #NPZen Sandbox at 501 Mission Place. Want to poke around there? New subscribers to our free newsletter get one month of premium membership free with no-strings attached.

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Cause Competitiveness: Keep Your Eye On The Prize

Who's Getting Off First?

 

by Estrella Rosenberg & Geoff Livingston

If the last two marathon weeks of cause-related conferences are any indication, competition isn’t just something the for profit sector is thinking about – the cause community is too. How do we compete for market share? How do we compete for visibility? How do we compete for more money? Much has been said about competitiveness in the for profit sector, but what is the right role of competition in causes? Is there a right role?

Some would have full on competition, while others would have singular causes or coalitions within each sector. Are either of these right? They both are in a way. Competitive spirit definitely has its place: Finding the fastest, most efficient, most impactful way to resolve the problem the cause addresses.

Non-profits are not in business to make money. They are a business to be sure, but unlike a for-profit, which seeks to dominate markets and yield profits, a cause or social enterprise seeks to provide a solution. When a for-profit business is successful, it keeps its doors open for years and expands and keeps looking for more market share. When a non-profit is successful it should close its doors because its business – or mission – has been completed.

Are you competing just to raise the most money? Competing in the sense that a cause seeks to beat out its competition helps no one. It actually hurts the cause space by creating distractions and wasted resources.

Consider Komen for the Cure’s use of $1 million spent to legally enforce its rights to term “for the Cure.” How does that help anyone resolve health or larger issues? Worse, last year during The Cause Marketing Forum, Komen for the Cure proclaimed that it was their mission to reclaim the pink ribbon from other non-profits in the breast cancer space – organizations that they themselves support with grants! Imagine if that money and energy went towards finding the most innovative way to discover the most impactful solutions in breast cancer?

Competing to be the first to the finish line with the same approach as ten other organizations in your cause space isn’t the right kind of competition either. Wealthy founders and well meaning activists who think they can do it better without any unique theory of change are creating distractions too and just making more choices for donors, often paralyzing them. Yet another voice with nothing new to add creates a longer path to the answer.

The ability to see the problem and a unique answer to it (or a part of it) is at the heart of social entrepreneurship. Innovation means finding better faster ways to provide answers. In essence, this is the Ashoka model of social entrepreneurship where a changemaker seizes on a unique approach to a problem and deploys ambitious actions for wide-scale change.

For these social entrepreneurs, and for forward thinking non-profits, competition means cooperating with other organizations within the same space when they have to because they have their eye on the prize: an answer to whatever problem they’re trying to solve. That doesn’t necessarily mean sharing resources, but it does acknowledge that everyone is trying to reach the same end goal. Forming coalitions and cause verticals can have great impact if each organization is working on their own piece of the puzzle.

Ultimately, causes should want to end their business by resolving their problem. They shouldn’t want to be the organization who uses social media the most cleverly. They shouldn’t want to be the organization that raised the most money at their annual event. They should want to shudder their doors. Period.

What kind of cause are you? Are you competing to make change or just competing?

Leading With Vision Over Mission

All of us love the word “mission”. We use it a lot. Our organizations are “mission-driven”. Our work is our “mission” in life. When we make decisions we ask if it will help advance our mission. Mission, mission, mission!

Mission is good. Mission is great! It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning and what keeps us up late at night. It informs our entire organization, our donors and our beneficiaries. But our mission isn’t really where it’s at. Vision is what actually got you into the non-profit world. Vision is the pie-in-the sky goal that will do away with the need for your non-profit. Mission keeps your organization in business. Vision moves your organization forward.

What do I mean by that? My organization’s mission is to provide lifesaving surgery to children with heart defects in developing countries. But that’s our mission because most children in developing countries don’t have access to it. My vision is that all children born with a heart defect will have access to lifesaving care no matter where they live or what their economic status.

I get lost in mission a lot. It’s hard not to – I have to spend most of my time finding help for the children who need us or they’ll die. But if all I ever do is raise more money to fund more surgery all we’ll ever be is a band-aid. One million children are born with a heart defect. Half of them need surgery. There’s less than a thousand surgeons in the entire world qualified to help them. It’s not hard to do the math. Funding is the least of my cause community’s problems.

When I lift my head up from mission and look at my vision I start to think about solutions. The funny thing is, they’re not really that pie-in-the-sky. They may take a long time and they may take a lot of support, but vision breeds support. Fanatic support.

Your donors, your Board, your volunteers – they want to be part of a solution.

If you can communicate your vision to them effectively you’ll have a band of disciples ready and willing to help with vision and with mission. My organization is in the beginning stages of working to change how doctors are certified to become congenital heart surgeons. We have an uphill battle to be sure, but I’ve shared our vision with leaders of other organizations in our cause space and we have the support of every last one of them. It’s energized us. It makes saying no to 35 families a week and only saying yes to five bearable.

Spend some time today clarifying your vision for your cause and then let your organization know what it is and how you’re going to lead them to it. Inspire yourself, inspire your community and go build change!

Super Sized Brand-Building on a Value Meal Budget

 

 

During Mardi Gras last year Big Love Little Hearts wrapped up Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week with a trip to New Orleans: Big Love in the Big Easy.

Since Mardi Gras is going on as I type I’m remembering how much fun I had there but I’m also remembering how many valuable lessons I can share with you from the how, what and most importantly – why – we did what we did.

When you’re a small organization and especially when you’re a new one, every last dollar counts. While your impulse is to use every dollar raised for program and mission, you need to invest in brand building and awareness raising. What matters is that you’re smart in how you spend it and maximize the opportunities you choose to the nth degree.

As an 8 month old organization (our age at the time of Mardi Gras last year) we had four concerns: building good programs, funding those programs, building our brand so the public associated us with the cause of heart defects, and raising awareness of heart defects so people knew they were a problem that needed fixing.

I chose to do a brand-building and awareness campaign at Mardi Gras because it fulfilled all four of those.

We had interest from several students at Tulane to start a fundraising chapter for us in New Orleans so I had already planned on being there at some point. I really like to maximize my travel expenses and whenever possible build in multiple purposes – that’s what I did here.

I arranged meetings with the students and appointments with several venues and potential partners for the days following Mardi Gras to make it a worthwhile trip on the fundraising side.

On the program side, I made appointments with pediatric cardiologists and cardiovascular-thoracic surgeons who could help us accomplish the meat of our mission: delivering lifesaving heart surgery to children in developing countries.

The last two goals, brand-building and awareness, are why I chose to go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras though.

When raising awareness for your cause the chief goal is always to raise that awareness among people who don’t know about it. Brand-building has the same goal (along with increasing brand position among the people who already know about your cause).

Both these share a similar problem: reaching people on a broad basis outside of a narrowly confined demographic can be expensive. It’s a challenge to find an event, venue or platform that encompasses people from all over the country and from all walks of life that isn’t already inundated with cause messaging (like facebook).

Mardi Gras is filled with people from every corner of the country (and beyond!) and people from every demographic you can think of.

My cause, heart defects, has an incidence of 1 in 100. Few of the nearly 40 identified defects have genetic links and do not correlate to any demographic. For us, everyone is our demographic.

We brought 1500 Mardi Gras beads and a couple hundred t-shirts with our branding to New Orleans with us to give away during the parades. While that alone would have exposed us to a large and diverse audience, we did some things that really amplified our impact and made the dollars we spent wiser.

 

 

 

Smart Branding.

We tried to make our beads unique. They were red with a big heart pendant where we printed our log0 and our web address. They needed to be unique enough for people to want to take home with them where they might look us up online.

We printed our logo and web address on the backs of our t-shirts. People spend more time behind someone than they do walking towards them. Our t-shirts are made of soft, high-quality cotton and fit well…people like to wear them, and they like to wear them most to the gym – where someone might spend up to an hour behind them on a treadmill staring at our logo and web address.

 

Talking To, Not At.

We didn’t stand on a balcony or a float and throw beads and t-shirts at people. We put the beads on people’s necks for them. We told them who we were. They asked us what we did and who we helped. We had conversations.

Similarly, we had conversations with the people we gave the t-shirts to. Having to ask them what size they’d need started a dialog and every last person who got one wanted to know more about us.

Just by having conversations we created an experience for them that differentiated us from the hundreds of other businesses and groups  throwing beads at them – this gave them a reason to remember us and talk about us to their friends.

 

Being Different.

Besides differentiating ourselves by engaging with the crowd, we were the only cause there giving out beads and t-shirts.

When you do something  no one else is doing, even when it’s as simple as giving out beads at a parade, you let people know you’re forward thinking. Never underestimate the importance of this: innovation and out of the box thinking are key to solving social problems. Donors want to see you think this way everywhere.

 

We did the most we possibly could with this opportunity and it paid off. We saw a huge spike in page visits and newsletter sign-ups in the days following Mardi Gras and started receiving donations from new supporters immediately.

How can you maximize your brand-building and awareness spending?

The Hall of Shame: Fundraising Failures

Fundraising Hall of Shame

 

Last night Marc Pitman posted a blog inside 501 Mission Place about testing our assumptions. In it he included a link to one of the best resources I’ve ever seen for development officers or anyone involved in fundraising at a non-profit.

Marc asked this question: “As a donor to charity, what do we nonprofits do that REALLY annoys the tar out of you?”

 

The responses make up what should be required reading for every non-profit. These are mistakes that are avoidable and in many cases are common sense. Marc’s original blog inside 501 Mission Place coupled with some of these responses inspired a post I’ll share on Monday about whether we’re winning the battle but losing the war in fundraising. Until then, I wanted to share one of  the more striking answers:

 

From Susan Smith – Marc: My answers are not unlike many you’ve received already, but I’m glad you asked!

1. Assumptions that since I gave to a similarly-missioned npo, I will give to another or 20 others just like it. I had my reasons for giving to the one – don’t assume that I give indiscriminately. You’re “like missions” are not all alike, not by a long-shot.

2. Phone calls that sound like they are coming from a boiler room. Don’t call me and ask for money – ever. I do not give based on phone calls, not even to students who call from my alma mater. My giving isn’t like ordering from LL Bean. I don’t give based on one call a year.

3. Don’t make your only contact with me a call or a letter asking for money. If you can’t be bothered to tell me what you do with the money or to contact me when you don’t want anything, then don’t contact me at all.

4. Don’t send me stuff. I don’t need or want stuff. I will probably die before I can use all the notepads, address labels and tiny calendars I receive.

5. Don’t send me generic anything – solicitation letters, acknowledgements for contributions (!), brochures, newsletters or annual reports addressed to “To Our Friends At”. If you can’t be bothered to find out my name, then don’t waste your money sending me anything.

6. Don’t send me a “Dear Friend” letter with “Dear Friend” crossed out and my first name written in. I don’t find that conducive to wanting to give you anything, especially if I am already a donor. Send a letter – personal – to me.

7. Don’t send a solicitation letter that thanks me generically for past gifts. Let me know you did your homework and know who I am and what I gave you last year.

8. If I’ve told you I cannot make a gift this year, say “thank you”, wish me a good evening and get off the phone. Don’t keep trying to get me to say yes. I won’t.

9. Don’t keep mailing me the same letter over and over. I didn’t respond to it. Receiving it a 2nd or 3rd time with no new information will not snare my interest or my gift.

10. if you’re going to write a personal note on my letter, then write something more meaningful than “Hope you’ll give” or something equally inane. Show/tell me something that I may not know and that addresses why you need MY gift.

11. Big news flash: I know you are only calling/sending me a letter because I live in a desireable zip code. My zip code qualifies me for nothing other than paying my mortgage every month. It has no magic connection to your mission. If you’re spending money to buy lists based on zip codes, purchasing preferences and whether or not I subscribe to the New Yorker or Martha Stewart Living, you’re wasting your time, my time and your money. My income/education/demographic are predictors of nothing that likely has anything to do with your mission or purpose.

 

Take off your industry hat for a moment and think about your own experience as a donor. What turns you off?

I used to be a major supporter of Lyric Opera. I had two full-series box seat subscriptions, attended gala fundraisers and made a hefty annual gift for several seasons. When my divorce began my box seats were one of the luxuries I had to say goodbye to. When I didn’t early-renew like I normally do I was bombarded with phone calls. After explaining that my financial situation had changed but that I would still purchase individual seats when they became available to non-subscribers I thought the  phone calls would stop.

Not so. They continued to a level I consider harassing. My mailbox was also filled with solicitation letters and materials from Lyric on a weekly basis. This finally irritated me so much that I asked them to remove me from their database. I love the opera. I love the Lyric! But…I haven’t made an annual gift, gone to an event or purchased seats at a single showing since.

Do you have your own examples for the Fundraising Hall of Shame? Post them in the comments!

I can’t encourage you to read the full list of answers Marc received enough – they’re invaluable insight!

A Place to Grow

About 9 months ago I was leaving my house to meet a friend who was in town. Like me, she is the founder of her own non-profit. I left a facebook status update to that effect and another friend who is the Executive Director of a nonprofit made a comment that the next time I was doing a roundtable lunch I should invite her.

I was getting (and still get) emails everyday from people just like her – they had either just started a nonprofit, wanted to start a nonprofit or were the E.D. of a nonprofit and needed advice and help. I love helping people realize their own vision to make the world a better place, but it was impossible to answer everyone who asked and still run my own organizations effectively.

When my friend left that comment on my facebook status something clicked and I realized that what nonprofit Directors and Founders really needed was each other. They needed a community where they could learn from each others experience and share their own.  That night I filled out the articles of incorporation form for a non-profit that would do just that, The 4F Club.

I gathered a Board of amazing nonprofit Founders and set about talking to our intended community. We wanted them to tell us what they needed and what was missing – not the other way around. A few months into that process I met Chris Brogan at SOBCon (a conference I have spoken about many times here and can’t recommend enough!). After discussing my plans for 4F Club with him, he shared that he was developing a similar community under his new company, Human Business Works.

Both Chris and I really believe in collaboration and that’s exactly what we did. I am really proud to officially announce that I brought everything I was building at the 4F Club over to the kindred home for nonprofit Founders & Executive Directors Chris was already creating, 501 Mission Place.

I’m privileged to not only be the host at 501 Mission Place, but to get to work with very special resident contributors Marc A. Pitman, John Haydon and Rob Hatch. The four of us have created what we know will be a valuable place for you to spend your valuable time. Created specifically for the needs of nonprofit leaders, 501 MP is founded on the idea that in a room full of peers every answer, every resource and every connection already exists.

Each month we’ll bring in new content from thought leaders to veterans in the industry to people just like you (because we’re all experts in our own way) in a format that takes the realities of your busy schedule into consideration. But the real value is the community. You are the value. Your peers are the value. You have knowledge to share that I need to learn and vice versa.

I am beyond excited to share 501 Mission Place with you. Find out more here – can’t wait to see you inside!

*thanks to Veronica Ludwig, Sarah Ahmed, Patty Kerrigan and Robin Katz for your work and inspiration with 4F Club. I am honored and blessed to know such Fabulous Females!

*thanks to Chris Brogan, Rob Hatch, Marc A. Pitman, John Haydon, Liz Stewart, Patrick Iwanicki and 9seeds. You are an amazing team to work with and all of why 501MP is such a wonderful place.

A Love Note To Facebook

There’s been an abundance of negative press, blogs, tweets, status updates and conversations surrounding facebook as of late. I don’t disagree with most of what’s been said – like the rest of you I’m no fan of their labyrinthine process to control personal privacy settings and am more than a little perturbed that my entire “info” section all but disappeared just because I didn’t want to link every last interest to some website somewhere.

That being said, when I logged onto facebook this morning something happened that made me want to express my undying love for what a fantastic tool it can be for non-profits. I’ve written before about why I love social media for non-profits – not only does Big Love Little Hearts communicate and engage with our donors and beneficiaries via social media we are also able to get a great deal of our mission accomplished through social media. We have found surgeons and hospitals to help children who need their heart repaired in developing countries in a matter of minutes on facebook and twitter as opposed to the weeks it would take offline.

Recently the families who need our help have sent their requests through facebook and those who have profiles have friended me personally and often post expressions of thanks on my wall or leave updates about their children on my (and Big Love Little Hearts) wall. I love that facebook lends a platform for that kind of public interaction…as many of our donors are facebook friends of mine they get to hear how the work we do is affecting lives straight from the people we’re helping.

This morning that was taken to a whole new level. Yesterday one of our donors made a post on her wall that she tagged me and Big Love Little Hearts in. It read:

Estrella Rosenberg those tickets sold out in like 20 minutes!!!! What a great thing you’re doing with Big Love Little Hearts …inspiring!! Can’t wait to see u at the game:) 🙂 🙂 🙂

Because I was tagged in the post it showed up on my wall where anyone I’m friends with could see it, view the post on her wall and comment on it on her wall. The father of a little boy we’re helping in the Philippines did exactly that – he commented directly on our donors page, sending “appreciation and love” from the Philippines. Without any intervention on our part, facebook created a direct connection between someone we help and someone who funds our mission.

I couldn’t pay for better donor engagement than that…I couldn’t plan better donor engagement than that! The great thing is that I didn’t have to. For all it’s hiccups, facebook offers an unparalleled platform to communicate with your donors and your beneficiaries.  I love facebook and if you’re a non-profit you should too.

Go show your facebook fan page some love today…it’s not just a megaphone for announcements about your next event or all the great work you’re doing. It is a free tool that can be crafted to foster an environment of communication and collaboration between you and your donors, the people you seek to help and the other organizations you work with. Done well it also allows for communication between each of those segments. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Build Community. Build Change.