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refreshMint: Deb’s perspectives on the latest news and ideas in philanthropy.

19 Aug


The Power of Words

August 19, 2015 | By |

As a consultant, I am often sought to deliver counsel and practical advice on how to help nonprofit leaders be more effective when meeting with donors. Whether it’s helping them prepare to meet someone new or explore a deeper relationship with a longtime supporter, the work can seem quite daunting. And, while I truly believe most of the strategies can be taught to motivated leaders, one particular area needs special attention — our vocabulary.

Vocabulary, by definition, is simply the body of words used in a particular sphere.

For years, nonprofit leaders have used outdated vocabulary. In addition, they have been reluctant to speak of their work in a robust way. This combination contributes to lack of confidence when engaging donors. Hence, I always recommend spending the necessary time in building a new “vocabulary bucket.” These purposeful words and phrases help increase credibility and reflect intelligent and purposeful leadership.

Here are some of my favorite bucket words. What are some of yours?


25 Nov


Now is the Time to Walk the Talk

November 25, 2014 | By |

You may recall in our refreshMint conversation last month we talked about several strategies to employ toward the effort to end the Nonprofit Starvation Cycle. This advice served us well in helping move the conversation along with the collective. However, there are many approaches you can employ now that can bring important and immediate results specifically to your organization.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Advance the conversation on overhead and the true costs of conducting business within the context of your budget planning.
  • Design the overhead conversation within the context of your strategic planning process.
  • Include growth and infrastructure strategies within the case for support for your next capital campaign effort.
  • Engage select funders and individual major donors in conversation about essential infrastructure and capacity-building initiatives they can help with.
  • Alter the way you are communicating about costs on your website and in collateral materials, i.e. eliminate the pie charts.
  • Be more specific about the true cost of overhead within a grant or special project.
  • Eliminate slogans such as “we’re lean” or efficiency statements such as “89 cents of every dollar goes to helping children….” in your communications.
  • Illustrate your organization’s outcomes and impact in terms of people served and lives changed.
  • Track costs in real time (and in reality) verses what was budgeted.
  • Wrap more context around your Charity Navigator Rating or eliminate using the rating as a stand-alone effectiveness metric.

The key here is to orchestrate an action that will initiate conversation. Conversation will spur questions and questions will involve more people – including board members and donors. When we reach this level of engagement, we can begin to see the change in thinking we envision.

24 Oct


The Conversation Continues….the Overhead Myth

October 24, 2014 | By |

You may recall it was a little over 18 months ago that activist Dan Pallotta rocked the TEDX Conference with his now famous, “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong” talk!  Over 3 million views later, the conversation continues to generate momentum.

I couldn’t be more pleased.   

In response, Charity Navigator, GuideSTAR and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance joined forces to pen a supporting letter to the Donors of America encouraging them to have a more comprehensive perspective of a charity’s performance than merely looking at the “overhead ratio.”  They cautioned when focusing only on overhead, the larger “performance story” remains untold and critical factors such as transparency, governance, leadership & results are overlooked.  Hence – we collectively continue to perpetuate the Nonprofit Starvation Cycle – the phenomenon first described by the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Now, they’ve released the second related letter – this time to the Nonprofits of America encouraging them to do their part in eradicating the cycle with three concrete steps – plus one of my own:

  • Demonstrate ethical practice and share data about performance
  • Manage towards results and understand the true costs
  • Educate funders (individuals, foundations, corporations, and government) on the real cost of results
  • Sign the Pledge to help end the cycle

This sounds simple enough.  It will however, take time, patience, intention and courage to take the necessary steps as nonprofit leaders to eradicate this starvation once and for all.

Just think – if we can do this, we will ready our organizations — and those we serve –to receive the full benefits of the golden bounty of philanthropy waiting for us.

29 Sep


It’s Time to Talk Ethics.

September 29, 2014 | By |

Let’s face it. There are probably 100 OTHER topics that might sound more interesting or intriguing for fundraisers than one on ethics. After all, doesn’t everyone in our profession have ethics? What’s there to talk about?


You may remember a few months ago I blogged on ethics and integrating ethics conversations across different disciplines within your organization. Have you gotten any traction?

A fantastic place to start is by reviewing the Donor Bill of Rights and AFP Standards of Practice. Here you will find the most basic of standards by which to operate. They cover those fundamental, universal principles of our profession:

  • Obey the law
  • Be honest in all of your dealings
  • Put the organization’s needs in front of your own
  • Honor confidentiality
  • Do not accept compensation as a percentage of funds raised
  • Be aware of potential conflicts of interest – even the perception of such
  • Be Transparent

This seems like a simple list, but as many of you know, situations arise where things aren’t so clear. In some instances, others may not appreciate the code and what it means to have signed it. Difficult conversations usually follow.

Join us for a more in-depth conversation October 22 as the Grand Rapids Community Foundation hosts AFP West Michigan. Bring your questions or case studies. We’ll dig deep to unravel it all. See you there!

20 Sep


09 Sep


Just In time!

September 9, 2014 | By |

Wow. It’s hard to believe it’s only been a week since Labor Day. It feels as though Fall is in full swing. The positive energy in our offices and pace of client activity is exciting and palpable.

Frankly, there’s good reason for it.

Over the summer we heard (or confirmed what we already knew) that giving was going to rebound  faster than anticipated. Our clients have been securing major gifts with regularity and commencing campaigns. Better yet, year-end is right around the corner and always creates some urgency to get some key donor visits on the books. Are you ready?

With this in mind, we’re pleased to present, Don’t Survive Your Donor Visits, THRIVE! This interactive seminar  will involve step by step insights through the major gifts process, key components of planning your visits, applying appropriate strategy, and purposeful follow up.

We’re deliberately capping this seminar at 25 participants and hosting it October 9th in our new home,  Blue 35.

We hope to see you there. We promise you’ll look toward year-end with anticipation and confidence. Sign up here.

Happy Fall!

11 Aug


4 Surefire Ways to Boost Your Fundraising Efforts Now

August 11, 2014 | By |

Finally! After years of abysmal reports on the rate of recovery for giving, the 2014 Giving USA report provides some optimism. The “recovery” people have been waiting for may come faster than expected. Woot! This is great news. So what are you going to do about it? Here’s a handful of good ideas:

Secure a Challenge Match. When donors have the opportunity to have their gifts matched, they respond. They stretch to give more. They love knowing their gift will trigger more impact. Whether you are finishing a capital campaign or looking to boost your year end, challenge matches always help.

Think About “Now & Later” Conversations with Donors. Many fundraising professionals limit their thinking (and ultimately their fundraising potential) when they cordon off donors into neatly organized campaigns or fiscal year cycles.  The truth is, discussing multiple giving options with donors allows them to engage with you in ways that make sense for them, and allow them to generously support your mission. Talk with donors about making substantial contributions now, as well as suggest they consider a planned gift for later.

Individualize. Personalize. We can’t emphasize this enough. Tailor your top donor visits and conversations one by one.  People who invest in your organization deserve and expect this type approach. Give them the information they want, the attention they deserve and experiences that draw them ever closer to you and your organization. The rewards will be exponential.

Think Differently About Corporate Relationships. Many companies are broadening their thinking when it comes to supporting nonprofit organizations. Obviously they can contribute dollars.  Many however, are thinking about how they can engage on a deeper level based on their stated values. In addition to your request for support, offer ways in which they can involve their employees. Offer opportunities to lend expertise in IT, HR, Communications or Marketing. Think of ways to align their customers with your client constituencies. This approach cements a deeper, more reciprocal and sustainable relationship.

Create the Right Environment to Boost Your People Power

June 27, 2014 | By |

IMG_6873edited_SmallerPhilanthropia Partners is pleased to welcome guest blogger, Tera Qualls M.P.A. to refreshMint this month!  Tera is co-author of the upcoming book, The Talent Development Platform (Jossey-Bass) and founder of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Tera currently serves as a trainer in Nonprofit Services, as adjunct faculty at Grand Valley State University and Communications Manager at the Dorothy Johnson Center for Philanthropy. Tera has worked with nonprofits across the country in building talent retention platforms.

In my last guest blog, I talked about creating a foundation for building strong learning cultures and talent retention models for your organization. Really, I just skimmed the surface and want to dive deeper into one of the strategies suggested in that first blog.

Talent development, staff retention, and creating learning cultures take time. Yes, there are systems you can put in place, but the culture and use of those systems is what really matters. Let’s focus on creating learning cultures.

Organizational culture affects your work in many different ways. When it comes to learning and talent development however, it’s whether staff and volunteers believe their current environment is open to change and the level of cohesiveness of teams that matters. Elements of a learning culture include:

  • The awareness of and regular discussion of the organization’s mission and strategic goals,
  • Staff cohesiveness,
  • The level at which staff feel strain and have time to reflect on their work,
  • Staff and volunteer’s openness to change,
  • Whether a collective vision exists among all team members, and
  • Whether staff and volunteers appreciate the differences that exist within their team.

Your organization’s learning culture depends on how safe staff feel in the environment and how comfortable they feel with one another. Each of the elements of a learning culture are important for giving and receiving feedback, learning from failure and success, and for taking time to reflect and learn independently.

To assess your organizational learning culture, ask the following questions:

  • Do your staff and board members have a good handle on your strategic plan and understand how it affects their role?
  • Can each staff and board member fully articulate your organization’s mission and what that means for the population you serve?
  • Do team members support and encourage each other?
  • Do all your teams work well together?
  • Do your employees have time regularly (weekly) to reflect on their work?
  • How often do staff members perform work outside of their given role?

If you answered yes to some or all of these questions, good for you! Your learning culture is on the right track. If not, you have some work ahead to increase support of your people, so that they may work more effectively for your mission.

Here are some ideas:

  • Start bringing your strategic plan and mission statement to all staff and board meetings to keep it at the forefront of decision-making.
  • Begin the tough work of intervening on difficult team interactions.
  • Make sure staff have the right tools for healthy conversations.
  • Help staff feel more comfortable by asking questions and encouraging learning.

Remember, talent development doesn’t necessarily require a huge investment. It’s possible to achieve success through simple shifts of time and focus on these basic tenets.

14 May


Launching our 5th year with a move to downtown Grand Rapids

May 14, 2014 | By |

Since 2010 Philanthropia Partners has worked alongside nonprofit organizations in Michigan developing innovative fundraising strategies and building smarter organizations. It’s no surprise then, as Philanthropia Partners moves into its 5th year that we’ve relocated to Blue35. The move has been both strategic and inevitable.

Blue35 is located in the heart of Grand Rapids’ Arena District and is a state of the art facility designed for ideation, collaboration, inspiration, and results. A place where ideas literally come alive.

Blue35 is the perfect space for the way in which Deb works with clients. Perfect for design, discussion, coaching, teaching, and simply applying practical intelligence.

We invite you to experience our new space. Together we can think differently about our work and maximize our impact on community.

Our space is open for your ideas, come visit us at our new address.

06 Apr


FEARLESS on Failure

April 6, 2014 | By |

Is failure the new success? Does success come from failure? Is failure an end or a beginning? Does failure beget more failure? Interesting questions….and the answers may vary depending on who you talk to, but let’s be clear – the conversation about failure is all around us.

First of all, let’s thank our friends and entrepreneurs in the startup culture who speak freely (and fondly) on the notion of failure. They have it right, I think. It goes something like this: You get an idea and you run with it. Develop it. Reshape it. Oops! Bad idea! Kill it. Begin again. Boom! Good idea. Great opportunity. Off you go.

What does this mean for the nonprofit sector? Often, nonprofit leaders avoid trying new ideas or changing strategies because they are afraid of failure. Why? First of all, they serve to advance important causes often times with highly vulnerable populations. Epic failures impact people who are already in need!  Second, the opinions of funders weigh heavily. Hence the perception of failure equals loss of funding.  Sometimes it can be that cut and dry. In reality however, taking a risk, failing, and learning from that failure can lead to an even larger pay off for those that need it most and your organization.

If you compare the startup and nonprofit cultures, both groups strive for high levels of accountability and transparency. In startups, everyone knows that building new products requires multiple planned failures – it’s simply part of the process. It’s ok however, because all parties operate under the construct that eventually there will be a great payoff. I’d like to see the same scenario for nonprofits. Whether an organization is testing a new program, serving a new population, or experimenting with a new funding strategy, all parties assume some failures along the way. Currently this is not the widespread thinking with the sector, however we can impact that by framing the conversation and expectations more often to these ends.

I would encourage you to bring these conversations into your board rooms, into dialogue with key donors and in meetings with senior staff. Talk transparently about what is and isn’t working and engage partners in taking on more aggressive or nontraditional approaches.

To learn more, tune in to organizations like Failure:Lab. They have made the concept provocative, giving leaders from all sectors an opportunity to share stories. Audiences are responding with enthusiasm, and leaving more determined than ever to reframe their thinking and their work.

What is the next big thing for you and your organization? Answer the question and pursue it fearlessly.