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Nine lessons learned from clients in 2017, and how we’re using them in 2018

in Communications, Leadership, Planning by Lauryn Rosinski Leave a comment

In our roles as fundraising and communications professionals at Dot Org Solutions, we educate and guide our clients so that they can raise the most money and awareness as possible for their organizations.

But we have a little secret; one we don’t often share. We learn a great deal from them as well, putting some of their best practices into use in our own company.

That’s because nonprofits have some unique qualities that those of us in the for-profit space should emulate. Yes. For-profit companies should emulate certain nonprofit qualities. There’s certainly a touch of irony in that statement given that boards and others in business often tell nonprofits that they need to run more like businesses. In some respects, I agree. But in terms of having passion for helping others and making the world a better place, most nonprofits can’t be beat.

So, at Dot Org we are taking nine lessons learned from working with our clients in 2017 and are putting them to use in our 2018 planning. We hope that by adopting and incorporating these best practices into our work, we will be an even better company in the future.

#1: Focus on the mission.

More than 95 percent of our clients are nonprofit organizations. It’s the core of what we do here at Dot Org. (Hence our name.)  When we help them plan, develop marketing messages, fundraising campaigns, write grants, etc., we are always highly focused on their mission. We decided to take the same approach and let our company mission drive everything we do. Our mission: to support nonprofits in their fundraising and marketing efforts so they can better serve their clients and build better communities.

#2: Find your niche – do what you do best.

We cannot be all things to all people. And we often tell our nonprofit clients to do what they do best and not develop a new program or service just to get additional funding. We’ve decided to focus on what we do best here at Dot Org – content, strategy, training, planning, branding/brand integration, marketing and fundraising campaigns. This focus will help us get even better in these core areas so we stay true to our mission.

#3: Collaborate.

I think the word nonprofit should be synonymous with collaboration. That’s because nonprofits often must work together to best meet the needs of the constituents they serve. We are seeking ways to collaborate with key partners as well in 2018 to better serve our clients. We already have some partnerships in the works and are looking forward to rolling them out throughout the year.

#4: Tell stories.

We’re great storytellers – for our clients. Sometimes it’s just hard to tell our own. But, we realize how important it is to share our own experiences and the great work of our clients with others. So, we’re going to focus on sharing more of what we do and why we do it. We will also be developing some training and education opportunities to help nonprofits perform better, which we will be rolling those out during the year.

#5: Have clean data.

Ok… This one sounds a little strange. But we spend quite a bit of time helping nonprofit clients set up and clean up their constituent database systems. We preach about the importance of pristine donor data and how it is critical to better communications and fundraising. So, when we implemented a new software system for ourselves this year to create internal efficiencies, we needed to get all of our customer, vendor and prospect data into one place. Wow. What a mess. Our data certainly isn’t pristine. We have much work to do. So, like we advise our clients, we vow to create better data entry processes and continue to clean up our data to save time and better communicate with our clients, vendors and prospects in the future.

#6: You don’t marry everyone you date.

Sometimes client and vendor relationships just don’t work out. It is important to know when the relationship isn’t working and make the choice to move on. That said, we also need to remember not to burn bridges. You never know when you may run into the ex at some point and want to remain amicable.

#7: Plan and set goals.

We spend lots of time working with clients on developing marketing and fundraising plans that align with their goals. We’ve certainly gotten better at this as our company has grown, but we’re making a conscious effort in 2018 to develop solid goals and objectives along with action plans to go along with them.

#8: Remember why you do what you do. What’s your end goal? 

This one ties back to the whole concept of mission. But sometimes it’s hard to focus on the end goal when we are busy, tired, frustrated or fatigued by the length or stress of a project. It’s also easy to lose sight of the “why” we are working on something. So, we’re taking some cues from our nonprofit friends when we get in this situation and asking ourselves “what did we do to make a difference today?” If we can answer that question, we get back to understanding the “why.”

#9: Slow down and savor the successes.

Actually, this bit of advice is something we all can benefit from. Whether it is the homeless program placing a family in a new home after a tragedy, a musical organization building confidence in its young singers, or a community health center providing healthcare to immigrants, nonprofits celebrate and savor successes every day. It is human nature to try to fix things and dwell on what isn’t going well. We’re going to make a conscious effort in 2018 to slow down, breathe and step back to enjoy what we have accomplished.

Whether they know it or not, our nonprofit clients (and thousands of other nonprofits like them), have a profound impact on all of us here at Dot Org Solutions. We thank them for all they do to make our communities great places to live and wish them much success in 2018.

Finish Strong! 6 Tips for Successful Year-End Fundraising

in Boards, Giving, Planning by Sara Lundenberger Leave a comment

The end of the year is approaching and we all know what that means! Nervous fundraisers are doing everything they can to hit their yearly fundraising goals; running their donor lists and checking them twice to make sure they don’t miss any possible dollars. Although there are only a few weeks left in the year, here are a few things you can do for a final push to hit your goals.  Remember: 12 percent of giving happens in the last three days of the year!

1- Make sure 100 percent of your board has given
Having the financial support of your board sends a message that those closest to your organization believe in the mission. There are also many grantors that require 100 percent participation for funding. If you need to, enlist your board chair for help to solicit those last-minute shoppers. Remind your board that even making a pledge and paying it in the new year can still count as a participation in 2017.

2- Post on your social media
No, social media is not going to bring in significant dollars. (I can repeat that if you need proof for your executive director.)  In 2016, social media brought in about 7 percent of all donations. BUT, post a compelling story about someone or something your organization did in 2017 and you might gain a few new donors and/or followers.

3- Send out an e-blast/e-newsletter
For every 1,000 newsletters you send, you can expect a $44 return. That doesn’t sound like much, but if a donor’s first gift is $44 from an e-newsletter, imagine their potential once they’ve been stewarded and thanked all year long. Keep it simple and to the point. Nobody has time to read a three-page story, especially at the holidays; however, a reminder about your organization, why you are important and what you did in 2017 might be enough to persuade someone to give you their year-end gift.

4- Remind donors about stock gifts
The stock market is up, so if you can accept stock gifts – DO! Stock is a great way for donors to give to your organization, sometimes at a higher amount than they could in cash. If you can’t accept stock this year, add it to your to-do list in January.

5- Pick up the phone
Visit the ghost of Christmas past and remember the days of actual phone conversations. Call your largest donors who haven’t given yet and gently remind them about the importance of their donation. Even better, enlist your board members (who are always asking how they can help) to call a few donors and thank them for their support.

6- Make a plan for next year
You know all of those awesome ideas you have right now that you don’t have the time, money or the resources to implement? Write them down for next year!

You still have plenty of time to engage your donors and hit your fundraising goals.  Good luck and Happy Holidays!

Sara Lundenberger, director, nonprofit consulting

Big plans, small budget  

in Planning, Uncategorized by Sara Lundenberger Leave a comment

Small businesses, start-ups and nonprofits are always balancing big ideas with small budgets. But they must often look at the best way to use their budget. Here are some ways to use a small budget the best way possible.

 

Have a plan: Decide your end goal. As a nonprofit, you might be looking to extend your services to more clients or raise more money for your programs. Small businesses and start-ups may want to market their product for investors or sell more products. One of my favorite quotes from Alice in Wonderland fits perfectly here;

 “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Knowing where you want to go is imperative to figuring out how to get there.

Design multi-use pieces: If you are spending money on designing and printing a piece pay close attention to all of its uses. By making a few tweaks to content or layout you may be able to use the same piece for multiple projects. Think about alternatives to your current pieces. Do you need brochures explaining every different program you offer or can they be combined into one brochure? How about a folder with rack cards that can be switched depending on the audience?

Use technology: You are already using your website and social media platforms to provide information to your clients and supporters. If you are investing heavily in invitations, flyers or promotional pieces, think about how you can drive clients to your website or social media pages to get the information. Not only is it cost effective, the information is always up to date and can be changed by your staff as often as needed. Try sending an eye-catching postcard with a link to your next big event instead of save the dates, invitations and remittance cards.

Tap into free or low-cost help: Internships are increasingly becoming a huge resume builder for college students to help them land the career of their dreams. They are very social media savvy and can keep your websites and social media platforms up to date and engaging. Often, interns become huge supporters of your organization or even your newest employee. Another great option is to work with your local colleges and universities. Communications, public relations, nonprofit administration, business, and many other major programs are constantly looking for projects for their students to work on throughout the semester. Everything from simple projects to creating large scale communication plans can be done at no cost to you while providing real world experience for students.

Donor Communication – Comparing it to “the big game”

in Communications, Giving, Planning by Amy Wong Leave a comment

In the spirit of yesterday’s “big football game,” I thought it could be fun to think about donor communications in the context of the pregame and four-quarters.Football scoreboard

Pregame:For nonprofits, the pregame is typically the year-end appeal. A strong year-and campaign often dictates what an organization will be able to do in the next year. If this is the only appeal you do, make sure it includes a mix of mail, social media, email communication and phone calls. You are competing against many other quality “teams” for your donor’s dollars.

 

The First Quarter: In the first quarter, your donors are still interested – similar to those who are just sitting down to watch the game and much-anticipated commercials. They have come to the party by making a gift at year end, and your organization is still fresh in their minds. Keep your organization front of mind and set up the coming year.  Consider:

  • Sharing goals for the coming year and how donor gifts will help achieve those goals
  • Producing a calendar of events for the coming year
  • Explaining any changes you anticipate for the year

 

The Second Quarter:The second quarter can go either way. If your team is still in the game, they will remain engaged. If your team is way behind, you may lose donor interest and they will find something else to do and support. So it is important to keep them in “the loop.”

  • Maintain regular communication – once a month is recommended through e-newsletters or print if your budget allows.
  • Use social media to share photos, organizational events, etc.
  • Keep donors apprised of special events, newsworthy items, etc. through special communications

 

Halftime:This is a great time to showcase your talent. Your audit should be done and you can share success from the prior year.

  • Create an annual report. It doesn’t have to list donors unless that is important to your constituents. It can be a simple year in review completed in-house and sent out electronically via email and social media channels.
  • Send reports to donors who have endowed funds. Tell them how their gifts were used, the value of their fund and other relevant data.

 

The Third Quarter:The game is more than half over, but there is still work to be done. Update your donors on your goals. Don’t lose steam as you prepare for year-end. Continue regular communication like you did in the second quarter. If your donors continue stay engaged, this will help your year-end appeal success.

 

The Fourth Quarter:At this point, you don’t want to rely on a Hail Mary pass. Controlling the game is where you want to be. Make sure you are very strategic and thoughtful in planning and executing your annual appeal.  A strong game plan is going into the fourth quarter will make a significant difference and carry your organization through the end of the year.

 

Post Game: Take time to celebrate, assess your program, and reflect on the good you do.

Planning in the midst of a chaotic world

in Planning by Amy Wong Leave a comment

I am a planner. I don’t do well operating in chaos or uncertainty.

But in my line of work, my days are never the same and I constantly need to be flexible and creative. Therefore, I had to find the middle ground in order to keep myself on task AND leave time for unexpected things!

Directional Signs in California

So… How do I do it?

Create a grand plan…

When you drive somewhere, you either know where you are going or have a map/GPS. Do you do the same at work? Unfortunately, many nonprofits and small businesses organizations don’t have plans to guide them. They don’t have to be complicated. My operations plan includes marketing deadlines as well as mundane items such as billing, marketing schedules, tax deadlines, etc. arranged by day, week and month so I stay on task.  My marketing plan is more conceptual, but provides needed direction. The benefit: By knowing what tasks are due ahead of time and scheduling them appropriately, I am able to be more creative for my clients.

Review the grand plan regularly…

We all have stories of grand plans that took hours to create, but never saw the light of day. If you create a plan, use it and review it weekly with staff. Ask if there are any questions or issues with deadlines and adjust deadlines, projects as needed. Review your marketing plan often to see what is working/not working. The benefit: You stay on task, staff knows what is happening and you actually implement great ideas you had six months ago.

Create planning time and make it non-negotiable…

This is my home run. I block off every Monday morning -no meetings and no phone calls allowed before 1 p.m. unless there is an emergency. I answer emails only during breaks. I spend this time reviewing my marketing plan and client projects, setting up my week and reviewing the prior week. Not everyone can devote 4-5 hours, but scheduling regular non-negotiable time is essential. I have been doing this for six months and it has made a significant impact on my business. The benefit: Knowing you have time blocked off forces you to review the plans and increases your likelihood of implementing them.

I am a firm believer that a little bit of structure allows for greater creativity and flexibility.  I encourage you to give it a try!