Planting Seeds

My father was raised on a farm. While he has never been a professional farmer, farming, working the land, and producing something of value is in his DNA. What he was not born with is patience!

This week as I picked a bucket full of cucumbers, (a favorite summer treat of mine and Bert Armstrong), I called my dad to tell him NOT to plow up the cucumbers. My mother let it slip that he was ready to break out the tractor and turn the soil over. Basically, he was bored and ready to go to the next stage in the process. I am NOT ready to move forward because I am still reaping the benefits of what he planted.

The planting cycle for my beloved cucumbers is set, but there are so many things that can be done to support and help their growth cycle. There are also many factors that are outside of my father’s control. To our benefit, we have been blessed with rain this year and a cool start to the growing season. This was perfect for the cucumbers but did delay our watermelons.

Over the spring I had many conversations with Executive Directors, Development Directors, Board Chairs, and Development Chairs about their nonprofit’s growth cycle. We have come out of the pandemic season, and many are preparing for a new season of growth, but each paused to reflect on what could be done to impact their season of growth. Circumstances and assets varied greatly among them, but there was a theme in my advice that was true for all.  

Back to Basics: There are many trends in the world of fundraising and more tools than ever before, but fundamentals of development, just like a plant’s development cycle, are as true today as they were when my dad was a boy. Over the past year more nonprofit boards have expressed a need for development training than in the last 20 years of my nonprofit experience. This excites me! Development training should not happen once and then be checked off the list. Understanding the development process and how someone can support the growth of an organization is a constant cycle. Staff, board members, and key volunteers are constantly coming into and going out of an organization. That makes training critical and fundamental to an organization’s success.

TIP 1: Just like you might incorporate a mission moment in each board meeting, you might also incorporate a fundraising tip or activity into each development report so that there is an ongoing conversation surrounding fundraising.

TIP 2: If you already have an annual onboarding training for new board members that provides development training, make this onboarding accessible to all board members so that every year your key ambassadors can be refreshed.

Know your Numbers: Nonprofits are better today at articulating their impact than ever before. But do you know your fundraising stats? Does your development committee? Recently in assessing a board’s readiness to support fundraising, one board member shared that it would be helpful to understand their nonprofits fundraising trends and current strategy to help them understand and brainstorm how they could better impact the organization. They are correct! While the board does not need to know the detailed timelines of your campaigns and when details are due for the annual report, all staff and board members need to know the key goals and strategies for the year and how they can support that effort.

TIP 1: If you don’t have a development dashboard reflecting your annual development plan, make one. Items might include campaign goals, year-to-date progress, retention rates, number of new donors, and increased support. Share it not only with the board, but also staff. Communication generates ideas that support goals. It’s also more fun to celebrate and troubleshoot together.

TIP 2: Have you conducted a fundraising effectiveness audit? This process tests your donor dependency, fundraising net, and return on investment of your development efforts. The audit is done over a three-year period, and it is helpful to test changes or investment in strategy or to prepare for or equip during a transition. Let us know if you want to learn more.

Practice your Story: Just like the increase in rain helped us to grow more cucumbers, more resources around your strategy supports growth and opportunity. This is why I love to have the board and staff practice “their stories” surrounding the mission. Training, stats, and impact numbers are good but if key ambassadors for your organization cannot internalize and make it their own, they are less likely to connect others with your mission.

TIP 1: Take a portion of a board meeting to practice. Have a self-guided worksheet with thoughtful questions like “How would you describe the success of this organization?” or “What solidified your belief in this organization?” Then let members pair up and practice talking to someone about their love for your organization.

TIP 2: Record members sharing their love for your organization and share online!  

If you are thinking about development training, development assessment, how that might fit into your normal rhythm, or benefit this season, let us know. We are always available to brainstorm. It could be that pause, that spark, that unlocks your next growth potential.

PS: In case you could not tell, I love my dad! He was the first man in my life and has taught me more about integrity, hard work, and loving your neighbor than anyone I know. On July 26, I get the pleasure of celebrating his 80th birthday as he jumps out of a plane. While I will have my feet planted firmly on the ground, I look forward to celebrating his no fear, headfirst approach to life.

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