Steve Jobs on Creating a Culture of Excellence

In fundraising, a lot has been written about the importance of creating a culture of philanthropy in your organization. Along with that, it seems to me, nonprofits also need to create a culture of excellence that motivates and inspires people to set higher standards for themselves and their organization.

Here’s how Apple co-founder, chair, and CEO Steve Jobs described it:

“If [employees] are working in an environment where excellence is expected, then they will do excellent work without anything but self-motivation. I’m talking about an environment in which excellence is noticed and respected and is in the culture. If you have that, you don’t have to tell people to do excellent work. They understand it from their surroundings.”

New Study to Spotlight Fundraising Success Stories

j0227558The following post is adapted from “The Corner Office — Full Speed Ahead: How Development Directors are Taking a Leadership Role Through Vision, Resilience, and Commitment to Mission,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Winter 2016 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, the 2013 survey of executive directors and development directors conducted by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services ( and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund (, identified a “vicious cycle” of conditions within many nonprofits that was not only driving frustrated development directors out the door, but also making it difficult for organizations to bring in new development directors to replace them. The cause of the cycle, the survey concluded, was the lack of a “culture of philanthropy” that encouraged staff and volunteers to see themselves as donor-focused ambassadors of their organizations.

Having identified the problem and its causes, the Haas, Jr. Fund,
CompassPoint, and Klein & Roth Consulting ( in Oakland, California, has since undertaken new research to study nonprofits that have been able to avoid, or break, the vicious cycle and, in so doing, achieve breakthrough successes with fundraising. Prior to the release of the report in early 2016, CompassPoint is able to share some illuminating preliminary insights in advance that will no doubt be of interest to fundraisers eager to achieve similar outcomes in their own organizations.

The new study employs positive-deviance analysis, also called bright-spotting. Bright-spotting focuses on identifying organizations that have attained better generic klonopin price results than their peers by using available resources in better ways. The goal is to provide nonprofit leaders with case studies that are replicable across a broad range of nonprofits, says Marla Cornelius, MNA, Senior Project Director at CompassPoint. “We wanted to find case studies that are not just interesting, but that are practical,” she explained.

CompassPoint began by inviting nonprofits to nominate social justice and social change organizations with budgets of between $500,000 and $5 million that had experienced significant sustained growth over the past several years. From the 100 organizations nominated, CompassPoint selected 12 on which to focus. At each of the 12 organizations, CompassPoint then conducted five in-depth interviews, one each with the executive director, the development director, a program director, a board member, and a donor. The goal was to identify how each organization’s successful fundraising program began, what its strategies and results were, and what lessons could be extrapolated from their experience.

“The largest source of funding for many small organizations, particularly social justice organizations, has traditionally been foundations and government grants,” Cornelius explains. “These bright spots are different in that they’ve been able to raise significant funds from individuals in their communities.”

Cornelius says that despited the focus on organizations of a certain size and mission, nonprofits of all kinds will find something of value in the results, whether related to culture or infrastructure or fundraising practice. “There will be important lessons here,” she promises. “Everyone will pick up something of value.”

Rethinking the Ask, Part 2: Storytelling, Not Selling

“The market for something to believe in is infinite.” — Hugh McLeod

Ken Burnett (, managing trustee for the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII, and author of the classic handbook Relationship Fundraising: A Donor Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money (Jossey-Bass, 2002), loves that quote.

Burnett believes that fundraising could be on the cusp of what he calls a “golden age,” but it will not happen unless donors’ experiences become consistently and continually very much better and more desirable. However, will the profession be willing or able to come together as a whole to make the kinds of sweeping fundamental changes that will permit that era to come to pass? It could, Burnett explains, if there is a confluence of three distinct factors:

  • The enormous untapped potential represented by improved donor retention;
  • Dramatic demographic changes resulting in an increase in donors age 65 and up who are looking for fulfilling activities that nonprofits can provide; and
  • Opportunities to engage the corporate sector, which is increasingly wants to be seen as contributing to the social good.

“What prevents us from making the most of all these opportunities, tragically, is the nature and quality of the experience that we’ve traditionally offered our donors and that, in our current paradigm, we seem unable to change,” Burnett writes. This is why he has come to see storytelling, not selling, as the essential activity of fundraisers.

People still care about nonprofits and the causes they were created to address, but they want to be engaged by them in more meaningful ways, and on their own terms. Ken Burnett believes that the way to do this is through relationships in which shared storytelling is used to convey the need. Otherwise, if fundraisers don’t change their approach themselves, change may be forced on them.

“People are going to have to want to listen to us,” says Burnett. “We have the best stories to tell and we have the best reasons to tell them. Right now, people can hang up on us or cross the street to avoid us, so we have to find ways to make people cross the street to come to listen to us instead. And no one pretends that’s going to be easy.”

Dramatic changes in technology have made it possible to reach more people using certain techniques, most importantly the rise of the World Wide Web. “Communications have changed completely since the first edition of my book came out,” says Burnett. “I fundamentally believe communication is the core of fundraising, and given that it has changed so much, I think it’s remarkable that my book is still relevant.”

It’s easy to see how today’s fundraisers can use social media channels, e-newsletters, email blasts, interactive websites, and mobile apps to accomplish those goals more readily. But at the same time, does Burnett feel that relationship fundraising is in danger of becoming passé in an age where many relationships are conducted primarily through tiny screens?

“I do think that things are becoming more superficial, that you need to have a shorter attention span now,” Burnett admits. He notes that the boomer generation is aging out of the prime giving age bracket, and the generation that is moving into their prime giving years have different expectations about how they want to be approached and be engaged. “We can’t just keep asking the younger generation the same way as we asked their elders,” he says. “We have to find a better way that is more inspiring and less obvious.

“I’ve never met a donor who wants to be marketed at,” he concludes, “but I’ve met many who want to be inspired.”

This post was adapted from “Inspiring Better: How Relationship Fundraising Can Win Back Skeptical Donors and Change the Way Fundraisers Think about Approaching Them” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Spring 2016 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Nonprofits Can Build Risk Tolerance By Permitting Failure

Question markThe following post is adapted from “What’s After Next?: How Innovative Chief Executives Use Entrepreneurial Techniques to Lead and Motivate Their Staff and Volunteers to Succeed,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Winter 2016 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Hybrid nonprofits—organizations that blend business management principles with mission-driven social outcomes—are a natural fit for energetic, visionary leaders. Their emphases on accountability, transparency, and measurable outcomes are in sync with today’s business-savvy, data-driven donors who are more likely to view their gifts as social investments. And increasingly, business leaders are encouraged to join nonprofit boards as much, if not more, for their fiscal and managerial acumen as for their wealth and connections. Successful leadership of hybrid organizations requires executives to possess a different suite of skills than they were required to have just a few decades ago, and that can be a challenge for even the most visionary leader.

One of the most important requisite skills for an entrepreneurial leader, and one of the most important concerns raised about hybrid nonprofits, is a tolerance for risk. Investors give their money to for-profit companies knowing that the venture may fail and that they may not see a return on their investment. Donors, on the other hand, have traditionally given their money to nonprofits with the expectation that their gift will see a return—not for them personally, but for the program they have chosen to support and, by extension, the community at large. Is it therefore unethical for a nonprofit to take risks?

“Probably one of the most important things for a leader to do in order to encourage risk taking is to allow people to fail,” says Lisa Petrides, Ph.D., CEO and founder of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (, a nonprofit research organization in Half Moon Bay, California, that supports the development of innovative teaching and learning practices through continuous learning and collaboration. Petrides calls it the “WD-40® approach,” after the popular lubricating and water-displacing spray whose name refers to it having been the 40th attempt at a successful product. “They embraced their failures,” Petrides observes. “They built the story of their failure into the success.”

Similarly, Petrides argues, entrepreneurial nonprofit CEOs should encourage a culture of risk and accountability throughout their organizations. Accountability is important. Leaders must still be able to demonstrate impact to donors, as they always have done. With sound metrics in place, an organization can use the outcomes of both its successes and its failures. “Metrics have to have built into them enough flexibility to encourage learning from your mistakes,” says Petrides, who credits the approach with sustaining the organization through the recession, as well as through a shift to create a sustainable business model for the nonprofit. “Successful or not, I always ask, ‘What worked, what didn’t work, and what have we learned because of it?” she says.

Paula Whitacre Shares Digital File Management and E-mail Tips

Paula Whitacre of Full Circle Communications recently featured some of my tips and techniques for managing digital files and e-mail in her newsletter, Ease of Writing. The article, “Managing e-Files for Writing Success,” is a summary of my presentation at the 10th annual Communication Central this past September in Rochester, New York.

Take a look! As Paula says:

All of Paul’s ideas won’t work for you (or me), but they can get us thinking about the systems we can develop that will work for us.

I hope some of the ideas — which include steps to be followed before, during, and after a project, moving between devices, and backing up — are helpful. And please feel free to leave a comment with questions or suggestions for improving digital file and e-mail management.

If you can’t get enough of file management for publications professionals, then you’ll want to sign up for my online workshop “File Management and Version Control” on Thursday, January 21, 2016, at 11:00 am Eastern. The workshop is being offered by Copyediting, the online newsletter and resource for editors in the digital age.

2015 Communication Central Presentation Handout

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure and privilege of presenting at the tenth annual Communication Central conference in Rochester, New York. Communication Central is a low-key event wonderfully managed by Ruth Thaler-Carter, which attracts some of the big names in editing in the United States and Canada.

I gave an updated and expanded version of my presentation on electronic file and e-mail management, “Don’t Let Your E-Files Manage You.” Several people at the conference asked me for a digital copy of my handout; I have uploaded it to the Active Voice server for anyone who might be interested:

Feel free to download the file and use it for reference. And if you haven’t attended Communication Central before, you should seriousoy consider attending next year.

Tips for Tailoring Your Research

Blank NotepadThe following post is adapted from “More Than Data: How Prospect Research can Help You Fine-Tune Your Ask, Allowing You to Raise More Money More Cost-Effectively,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, v18n1, January-February 2011 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Researchers today have access to more information, more quickly, than ever before. But are they looking for the right information in the right places? Are fundraisers making the best use of the information? Making sure that the wheat is being separated efficiently from the chaff has become a crucial management function for today’s fundraising executives.

Continue reading “Tips for Tailoring Your Research”

Tips for Effective Grant Writing

Filling Out a FormThe following post is adapted from “Dear, Near, and Clear: How Improving Your Organization’s Donor Relations Can Help You Provide More Resources to More Constituents More Effectively and More Often,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, v17n6, November-December 2010 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Nonprofits should remember to use their relationship savvy to cultivate grant makers as well as individual donors, says Jane C. Geever, founder and chairman of fundraising and management consulting firm J. C. Geever Inc. in New York City ( Geever says that in more than 35 years in the profession she has seen enormous change in grant making — not just in the explosive increase in foundation and corporate giving, but also in the way these programs work with nonprofit applicants. “There’s an openness that didn’t exist years ago, and also a frustration that nonprofits don’t take the time to figure out how to approach them with priority projects,” Geever explains.

In her book The Foundation Center’s Guide To Proposal Writing, 5th Edition (The Foundation Center, 2007), Geever used extensive interviews with grant makers to discover not only what makes a winning proposal, but also how to best reach out to grant makers. She learned that grant makers dislike “fishing expeditions,” preferring instead to hear from grant seekers who have done their homework first. However, on average only about one in three applicants takes the time to ensure a program is a good match with grant makers’ missions before submitting an application. “Grant makers see themselves as investors in people and good ideas,” Geever says. “Why would they bother to respond to people who are just churning out applications? They like educated grant seekers because they want to give them an advantage.

“Grant makers complain that we don’t communicate enough. Every step builds the relationship,” Geever says. Stay in touch through mailings and phone calls — especially after a rejection. Keep them informed about your successes and challenges. Be sure to put them on your mailing list, too. Geever adds that it helps to think of grant makers as individuals, so make your communications to them personal, not institutional. She also recommends these tips for building strong relationships with a grant maker:

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GAO Audits Find Good, Bad News at NARA

As has been widely reported, last month the Government Accountability Office released the long-awaited reports on two audits of the National Archives and Records Administration’s oversight and management and information security. The results are a mixed bag, but indicate that NARA is continuing to learn from its past mistakes.

Here are some of the highlights:

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Writing Skills are Essential for Successful Fundraising

The following post is adapted from “All Thumbs?: How Nonverbal and Verbal Skills Can Make All the Difference with Donors — and Why Young Fundraisers Should Care,” by Paul Lagasse and Mary Ellen Collins, Advancing Philanthropy, v17n4, July-August 2010 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Accurate, clear and persuasive written communication is essential for successful fundraising, particularly for grant proposals, says Diane M. Gedeon-Martin, president of The Write Source LLC, a grant-writing consultancy based in Glastonbury, Conn. She believes that proposal writing is becoming a lost art in part because technologies that were developed to help people communicate more quickly have instead made it easier for people to communicate more frequently, with a resulting loss in quality amid the density. “Proposal writing is something we must champion because grant makers often look unfavorably on proposals that are poorly written,” she explains. “Grant makers are very savvy these days, and if there’s a similar proposal that articulates the need and project description well, they may place a higher priority on the one that they can fully grasp the concept of.”

Gedeon-Martin, who is on the faculty of the Fund Raising School at Indiana University, recently completed a two-day basic grant-proposal writing course that exemplifies the dilemma. “Here were 50 people in my session, with one-half of them under the age of 30,” she recalls. “I spent a lot of time educating them on proper grammar, style and voice.”

Those basics can make or break a grant proposal and, by extension, the nonprofit that needs the money. “Poor writing skills suggest an inability of organizations and their personnel to manage funds,” Gedeon-Martin stresses.

Perhaps ironically, the trend toward ever-shorter communications spurred by text messaging and email has affected grant proposals, too, as more corporate and larger foundation grant makers switch to online-only submissions that place a cap on the number of characters allowed and reduce or eliminate altogether opportunities for face-to-face or telephone meetings. This compression has made it harder for grant seekers, as they try to write persuasive case statements in 2,000 characters or less. “The day of 12- or 15-page grant proposals to foundations and corporations are long gone,” Gedeon-Martin explains. “The attention span of reviewers is compromised when they have to read 20 to 30 proposals in a day. How can we keep their attention? We have to write differently by getting to our point quickly. We need to keep them reading.”

At a time when more and more nonprofits are seeking grants just to be able to keep their doors open, the attention-grabbing power of words is that much more important. “You’re not just writing a grant proposal,” Gedeon-Martin emphasizes. “You’re writing an introduction to your whole organization. It might be the only thing they see from you, so it needs to be the best thing you’ve ever written.”

To make sure it is, the writing must do the following:

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