Your One Goal for 2019

By: Sheela Nimishakavi, MA, MPH

In many ways, 2018 was the year of the story. Nonprofits were encouraged to share the impact of their work with supporters by using narratives that read almost like short stories. Appeal letters featured heartwarming tales of struggling protagonists who were helped along their journey by a nonprofit organization, with the donor as the hero.

But 2019 needs to be the year of questions. I’m not saying we need to throw stories out of our toolbox this year. But, if we are going to use them, we need to question the narrative. Does our story empower those we serve? Does this story unintentionally perpetuate racism, sexism, ableism, and other –ism’s? How can you be sure you’re telling a compelling true story and not disseminating poverty porn?

In addition to moving past stories and creating empowering narratives, questions can help us gain clarity of purpose and clearly articulate impact. As a donor, I want to know how my support helps. This doesn’t mean I need a log of how my $200 paid for lunches. I want to know: What change did I affect with my giving? Did I contribute to making the world a better place? What did we accomplish together and what remains to be done?

Importantly, nonprofits must keep a finger on the pulse of their field, having a ready answer to the question: Does your nonprofit treat a symptom or solve the root cause of a problem?

Both types of work are absolutely needed. Symptoms need to be treated until we can figure out how to solve the root cause of a problem, which will likely need to occur through advocacy for systemic changes. However, where does your nonprofit fall on this spectrum? What is the root cause and is anyone in your community tackling it?

If your organization goes through a facilitated strategic planning process every three to five years these questions are likely raised at that time. I would argue that this is not sufficient. Questioning what, how, and why we do our work should be a constant dialogue in our offices. Questions ensure we not only stay on track but are on the right track. Questions help us become better leaders, fundraisers, front line staff, board members, community members. Questions help us solve problems.

As you sit down to write your goals for the year, make sure to add this one to the top of your list: Ask more questions.


How to Keep Your Donors Engaged All Year Long

By: Sheela Nimishakavi, MA, MPH

I know you’re working your buns off to get your Giving Tuesday campaign off the ground and preparing to make this end of year giving season your best yet. I know it feels like December 31st is that magical day when all the hard work ends. The point when you can celebrate your wins and learn from your losses. And I really, REALLY hate to be the one to tell you this, but the work doesn’t stop there.

The end of year ask is really just the “sell” to gather your community to give at a particular time. Ideally, you’ll be stewarding your donors all year, so the end of year ask doesn’t feel like a big push.

So, what exactly does that look like?

Once December 31st comes around and you’ve had the incredibly successful campaign your nonprofit deserves, let’s say you take some well-earned time off to celebrate, relax and you come back to work around January 7th. (Can you tell I like to get specific?) One question remains- now what?

Okay, I lied. There are a few questions-

What is your next step?
How are you going to keep your donors engaged and enthusiastic about continuing to give throughout the next year and into the next giving season?
How are you going to get your donors to increase their gift size?
How are you going to prevent your annual appeal letter from feeling like an annual invoice?

I’ve found that using what I call a “donor road map” is really helpful in keeping me on track with donor stewardship. My road map ensures that I make all the appropriate touch points throughout the year.

Here’s what it looks like:

Donor Road Map

This road map is set up for you to make another ask within 6 months. But, depending on the number of appeals your organization does each year, you can speed up this process or slow it down. The main point to remember here is that you want to make sure your donors are properly thanked without getting an ask. Once they are adequately acknowledged, then you want to ensure they have the latest program updates. Once your donors have been thanked and updated, you can make another ask and you’ll start back at the top from step one.

This is a technique that has worked well for me. Do you use another method? I’d love to know!

5 Tips for Running an Effective Meeting

By: Sheela Nimishakavi, MA, MPH

Let’s just throw it out there- no one likes meetings.

There, I said it.

Even worse than meetings are inefficient meetings. You know, the kind where no one really knows why they are there. The kind that run a half hour longer than scheduled but everyone still leaves not knowing what the next steps are and who is doing what.

Want to know what the worst part is? Inefficient meetings spawn more inefficient meetings. Since no one knows what the next steps are, another meeting gets scheduled to figure that out. Then a meeting to check-in. Then a meeting to determine next steps. Before you know it, your day is full of meetings that don’t actually lead to decisions getting made or action being taken.

I know, it’s the stuff of nightmares. But what can you do?

Here are five tips for running effective team meetings, along with a FREE meeting minutes template to help keep you on track:

  1. Create and distribute a meeting agenda at least two days in advance.

Sending out the agenda in advance is not only courteous, it’s necessary. The agenda sets the stage for the meeting- it tells everyone why you are meeting and gives team members a heads up to prepare for the discussion topics. Importantly, two days’ notice also allows team members time to provide input on the agenda topics. Don’t skip this step!

  1. Make sure the right people are invited to the meeting.

Not everyone needs to be at every meeting. This is where creating that agenda ahead of time is also incredibly helpful. If the discussion does not involve a staff position, there is no need to invite them to the meeting. Rather, send them the meeting minutes and invite them when they need to be in the room.

For example, if your team is responsible for planning a fundraising event for your organization but only plan to discuss catering and décor during an upcoming meeting, perhaps the team member responsible for stewarding corporate sponsors does not need to be in that particular meeting. Making sure the right people are invited also helps limit discussion and keeps the meeting running on time.

  1. Assign roles.

There are three key roles that help make team meetings more efficient and effective. First, is the facilitator. This is most likely the person who called the meeting and sent out the agenda. Second, is a timekeeper. The team member facilitating the discussion should not also be the timekeeper. This person is essentially responsible for making sure the meeting does not stretch beyond the allotted time. Lastly, a scribe. The scribe is responsible for taking minutes during the meeting that can be sent out to the team afterwards.

  1. Assign action items.

As you move through your agenda, make sure that any action items that get discussed are assigned to a specific team member.

  1. During your next related meeting, review old business.

For meetings that occur on a regular basis, review old business before moving on to the agenda for the day. Ask staff who were assigned tasks at the last meeting to report on their progress by email before the next meeting. Then, briefly review the updates for the team.

Meetings may never be our favorite thing in the world, but by incorporating the above tips, you can make them less painful. AND you’ll look like a super boss the next time you run a meeting with this FREE meeting minutes template.