Tag Archives: leadership

What Do Donors REALLY Want? Information!

Reposted from eJewishPhilanthropy – May 21, 2012

Nonprofit leaders face tremendous pressures today: living, operating and succeeding in a competitive marketplace of ideas, programs and services presents innumerable challenges. Donors who are guided by a passion for certain aspects of an agency’s mission and vision might be unaware, or unconcerned, about the everyday deliverables the agency must produce to achieve certain goals. Keeping both supporters and constituents happy is often a delicate dance.

Nonprofit leaders must continuously upgrade and strengthen their abilities to translate their mission into a “selling proposition” for a variety of interest groups. This selling proposition involves creating a case for support that clearly communicates what the agency does, their goals, and the methodologies used to achieve these goals.

All of these complexities must then be translated into “everyday language” and communicated in the fundraising context to donors of all shapes and sizes, from national foundations to individual givers.

In today’s economy, customers drive the marketplace, and in the philanthropic world, donors drive the discussion around sustainable funding. The essential question then becomes, “What do donors want?”

What are their motivations to give, and what do they expect from the agencies they support and the staff who run them?

How are decisions made in the current giving climate, and what are the “deal breakers” today?

We thought that it would be most helpful to address these issues through questions that are often raised during our interactions with donors across North America. Let us predicate this conversation with two basic assumptions about why people give:

  • They care about the person making the “ask.” Despite advances in technology and the way people give to agencies (text to give, online fundraising websites, etc.) the dictum “people give to people” is still as true as ever.
  • They care about the impact of their gift. The vision of the organization and the resulting impact of the contribution are critical to encouraging a donor to make a gift. The difference that the gift will make in the lives of people, the life of the community and in the life of the donor remains essential parts of the “selling proposition.”

Now, let’s move onto the top three questions we receive as fundraising consultants.

DONOR QUESTION #1: Do you have a Business Plan?

We first heard this question more than ten years ago during a meeting with a prospective major donor to a prominent Jewish arts group in New York City. Nowadays the question seems intuitive enough, yet the organization’s Artistic Director who was leading the meeting was taken aback.

“Well, we have a budget,” she responded.

“I’m not looking for a budget,” the prospect responded. “I want to know that my investment will not be swallowed up because the organization – as much as I love what you do – won’t exist five years from now. Show me that you believe and can demonstrate that you will be around and in good health and I will make the gift that you are asking for.”

SOLUTION #1: Be prepared with current facts and long-term vision.

Be ready with the facts: your nonprofit is a business with a “selling proposition” that provides demonstrable benefits within your community. Know what those benefits are and how they will change over time. Luckily for our example organization, the Director had considered the long-term viability of the mission and vision and was able to communicate it to the donor, who then made a significant gift.

It is essential for nonprofit leaders to consider the long-term vision for your nonprofit: where it is today, where it will in five years, and in ten years. This long-term vision (which will often include grand plans such as new programs, services, and resources) will inspire and motivate your donors.

DONOR QUESTION #2: Why does it take so long to understand what you do?

“It is like I have ADD sometimes: I cannot listen to long explanations,” complained a leading benefactor to a growing Israel-based organization. This individual, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist, made a good point.

In today’s fast-paced and hyper-competitive world driven by smart-phones, tablets, and the demand for instantaneous responses and results, donors want the information now. In addition, loyalty is an almost-dying commodity; unlike in decades past when someone picked one cause and stayed with it for a lifetime, today’s donors spread themselves around.

SOLUTION #2: Make your point quickly and use varied communication channels.

Modern nonprofits needs to be deft and nimble, framing their”selling proposition” in small, understandable bites through a variety of communication channels. Create an “elevator speech,” no longer than 30 seconds, that explains your organization’s mission, vision, and deliverables, and distribute it to your executive staff, Board of Directors, and leading donors. Utilize online tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as traditional media like newsletters, press releases, and direct mail.

You must always be ready to make your case quickly, because donors who notice that you are slow to respond to their interests might move on to the person or organization that best fills that philanthropic vacuum with easily digestible information.

DONOR QUESTION #3: I cannot ask my friends for money; can’t you just do it for me?

This is the question we most often receive from leading donors and Board members. For example, a committed Board member of a Jewish day school was recently approached to set up meetings with his contacts for the head of the school, who would then present the school’s “selling proposition” and hopefully engage these prospects as donors. The Board member was devoted and generous with his contacts but would not attend a prospect meeting with a contact he knew personally.

“Just tell him I said he should give,” the Board member offered. “If he hears that, and knows that I am also supportive, then he will give.”

“Come with us,” we implored him, knowing the power of personal connection. “We will help you prepare and role play for the meeting. Tell him yourself how much you support this cause, and he will be moved and surely respond.”

“I cannot ask my friends for money,” he lamented. “What if they say no?”

“He agreed to a meeting and knew why we requested the meeting. If he was going to say no, he would have done so already,” we advised.

We went to the meeting without the Board member and made our presentation.

“I really like what I am hearing and am interested in supporting the school,” the prospective donor replied, “but I really need to speak with my friend who set this up to know why he’s giving and how much before I’ll give you a final answer.”

SOLUTION #3: Conquer your fear of the “ask.”

So many leading donors do not want to ask their contacts to support their favorite charity. What drives this phenomenon? Fear! Leading donors are afraid that if they ask friends for money, these friends might then turn around and ask them for money. That sometimes happens, but is typically for a good cause, and should not be considered reason enough to NOT ask.

Secondly, leading donors fear of losing a friend when they ask for money. In our 21 years of consulting, this has never happened. Strong prospect research eliminates candidates who do not want to give, so that by the time a leading donor asks his/her friend to help support a cause, the answer is always yes. The amount varies, and sometimes it takes more than one ask, but at EHL Consulting we have never seen a friendship dissolve because of this situation.

Remember, the mission and not the market drives the donor, so know WHY your agency is in business and be clear and concise in how you communicate your “selling proposition” to your stakeholders. Use ALL of the tools that you have at your disposal … from online marketing to far-reaching contacts of your Board members and agency leadership. They all have their role in helping communicate long-term vision.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask others to support your passions. The real reason a donor supports a worthwhile cause is because he/she receives a formal request. Finally, if you want to close a major gift, take a deep breath and meet face to face.

Don’t rely on technology to do what humans do best.


21 Years…and Still Going Strong!

As The EHL Consulting Group enters our third decade as a firm, it’s encouraging to see not only how much we’ve grown, but also how much the nonprofit sector has matured and evolved as well. Both domestic and international nonprofit organizations have changed markedly since the early 1990’s . . . in terms of the numbers of agencies, the levels of sophistication, the work required to attract significant philanthropic support, and the amount of transparency that donors demand.

Helping so many different nonprofits in so many different ways has been – and continues to be – meaningful beyond expectations, and has made our work at EHL Consulting an effort that has been rewarding personally and professionally. 

As a longstanding member firm of the Giving Institute, EHL Consulting abides by a strong code of ethics that ensures our clients are treated with respect, and that their campaigns are always honest, heartfelt, and powerful. Working closely with enthusiastic and devoted men and women from all walks of life and from all parts of North America and elsewhere motivates us to keep improving our services and hopefully make a positive difference in the world at large.

We have seen the philanthropic marketplace grow and strengthen remarkably over the past 21 years. From a “slap on the back” network of unseen agreements and elite charitable circles, it has matured into a sophisticated, more scientific, accountable and increasingly transparent (though not enough) environment. Giving is now a $300+ billion dollar industry, accelerated by committed professionals with a drive to achieve substantial, measureable results.

The fact remains, however, that with all of the tools and the science, the real work is still built around relationships and connections with people. Giving is an act of passion, not a business transaction, and the connections between people are, and will always remain, the driving force.

Successful organizations know that connections are key, and always work hard to cultivate those personal bonds. Those who rely on technology and “arm’s length” communication will be forever doomed to struggle with difficulty. And besides, connecting with people is far more fun!

Our team at EHL Consulting is very optimistic about the future of philanthropy and we look forward to ever greater growth and productivity in the months and years to come. Thank you to all of our past and present clients for their hard work, enthusiasm, and dedication. For all of you who we have not worked with yet…we hope to meet you soon!

With gratitude,

Robert I. Evans, Founder & Managing Director

Avrum D. Lapin, Director & Principal

Jewish Development Professionals and the Job Market

Reposted from eJewish Philanthropy – March 27, 2012

An improving U.S. economy and an upturn in charitable giving should expand the market for Jewish fundraising professionals. Is this happening … and what are the projections for the next 18 months?

“Historically, the job market for development positions is the first to see improvement after layoffs occur,” we learned from David Edell, president and cofounder of national firm DRG Executive Search Consultants, where he has been actively engaged for 25 years of search efforts with nonprofit organizations, especially Jewish organizations looking to fill higher executive positions. “We are certainly seeing a hiring rebound, especially during the last 18 months, in three specific areas of the Jewish nonprofit arena.”

“Nonprofits are looking to refill ‘frozen’ positions, they are making certain personnel changes to upgrade staffs, and they are looking to staff some new initiatives that require professional leadership and expertise,” he told us.

He confirmed that the areas that are showing the most activity in the current job market require fundraising experience in major gift donor solicitation stewardship and people comfortable in on-line giving and social media … mirroring where many successful nonprofits are placing emphasis now. “Organizations today are seeking experienced and successful professionals, people who have specific expertise and skills and who are personable and articulate. Jewish agencies are following the same paths as other nonprofit organizations in this regard,” he reiterated.

While the marketplace has once again become reasonably competitive for experienced fundraisers, salary levels have not grown substantially. Current salaries for Jewish (and non-Jewish) development personnel are competitive and are of course higher for “more seasoned and experienced men and women,” even though more people are considering careers in development after having worked in the for-profit world.

Our recent review of development positions showed us a wide range of compensation, ranging from the $45-55,000 level to as high as $250,000 and higher for very seasoned development personnel. These levels have not changed markedly during the last ten years despite competition and levels of experience.

A recent published review of nonprofit salaries by The Forward focused primarily on senior executive compensation at Jewish nonprofits across the U.S., not on development positions specifically. However, because fundraising specialists are in more demand now and as a result of a competitive philanthropic world, Edell projects some upward adjustments of salaries, especially for organizations that are competing to recruit experienced, personable, and strong professionals. “This holds for vice-president positions down to development officers,” he said, but “not especially for lower level, starting positions.”

A wide spectrum of jobs in Jewish nonprofits across the globe is often announced on a popular websiteJewishJobs.com, which was started in 2001. Founder Benjamin M. Brown, of Austin, Texas, had intended to be a college professor and while going for an advanced degree he was looking for a position in the nonprofit Jewish community and there was no jobs web site at the time. Much later, he realized that there are “distinct cycles of ups and downs in hiring” that tend to be more impacted by the calendar than the economy. JewishJobs.com, which initially focused as a clearinghouse for a wide-ranging listing of postings for Hillels, JCC’s, and Jewish Federations, today carries hundreds of job openings at any given time, with “the second best level of the best paying jobs being for development openings,” he reports. Jobs listed on this website range from nonprofits seeking teachers, computer-knowledgeable expertise, researchers, and support personnel at all levels of expertise in the Jewish communal arena, but generally the organizations that turn to this resource seek personnel at levels lower than those who reach out to the executive search firms.

Even during the most severe period of the “Great Recession,” from 2008-2010, there were Jewish nonprofits that were hiring, although the length of time required to fill open positions was longer and more competitive than what we are seeing now, both Edell and Brown agreed. What we witness today, though, places even more pressure on the job seeker, where increasing numbers of candidates are attracted to each position, especially in major cities and for the largest nonprofits.

Our review of published openings currently available illustrates that hospitals and health care are paying the highest salaries for Jewish development personnel among key sectors of the nonprofit arena, with higher education close behind. Other observations about the current – rosier – job market seem consistent with criteria used for more than the last ten or 15 years:

  • nonprofits seek dynamic, curious and engaging people who know how to take initiative and how to cultivate donors;
  • people with a functional knowledge of finance and management are being sought for development positions;
  • career-minded men and women comfortable in the major gift and planned giving arenas are in short supply.

With the job market in flux today, we envision that nonprofits seeking development personnel may need to test different methods of attracting the best and most appropriate development staff, with a greater emphasis on word-of-mouth and networking than ever before. And the networking also holds for job seekers, too, many of whom have felt frozen in current positions where they may not have seen salary increases or promotions.

We talked recently with an experienced nonprofit executive in search of a new job since early January. She has held responsible positions in synagogues and at a national Jewish nonprofit; she wishes to expand her career by focusing on the fundraising profession but she is experiencing some difficulties finding “the right job.” “I have decided to be selective about my next position,” she explained, “and I certainly want to stay within the Jewish community and to use my years of experiences to impact on a dynamic organization.” She has scheduled interviews but during her 12-week job search, no firm offers have come her way . . . as yet. She is hopeful, trying to be flexible and optimistic, but meanwhile is leaving no stone unturned. “Networking is crucial and I am certain that I will ultimately secure a job that captures my skills and expertise!”

So goes the challenging search for jobs … from the employer’s perspective as well as from the view of the job seeker. All-in-all right now it’s probably back to a solid market for the best qualified candidates, though salaries are not escalating and where mid-sized and larger organizations are watching budgets but seeking outstanding personnel.

Are You Tackling Planned Giving Yet?

Reposted from eJewish Philanthropy – March 2, 2012

While every charitable gift is planned, some are “more planned” than others. And in today’s charitable giving arena the importance of testamentary giving is more punctuated than ever, especially as Jewish Baby Boomers are aging … quickly.

Yet, America’s Jewish congregations lag far behind other Jewish nonprofits in reaching out to secure commitments by wills, trusts, estates and other revocable and irrevocable approaches, complementing current gifts. In fact, planned giving is acknowledged to be among the most critically important, but often overlooked, aspects of a synagogue’s overall fundraising strategy. Higher education, arts organizations and hospitals have successfully pursued testamentary gifts for decades. But why not synagogues?

Charitable bequests in the U.S. rose an estimated 18.8% in 2010 to $22.8 billion, according to Giving USA. Although planned giving is becoming more important to many nonprofits, Jewish leadership – and especially congregational leaders – has been reluctant to make it a centerpiece of congregational fundraising.

Philanthropy in both the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds has evolved fundamentally from the “crisis mode” of the post Holocaust generation. With a substantial accumulation of wealth, we would expect that donors have money to give for compelling causes and important organizations. Coupled with increased wealth is increased involvement in philanthropy, as donors strive to find the best fit for their specific areas of interest and demand assurances that their contributions are being well utilized. Perhaps synagogue leadership have been afraid of talking about the eventuality of death and the importance of putting the synagogue on an equal footing in estate planning with an individual’s other philanthropic priorities.

This then begs another question: why haven’t synagogues evolved their fundraising capabilities to position themselves in the new philanthropic dynamic? This is an especially critical question in light of recent economic challenges.

Most congregations rely on annual and High Holiday appeals, the bread-and-butter of synagogue fundraising, along with events and other “nickels and dimes.” Additionally, synagogues generally focus on securing contributions to address day-to-day needs rather than looking at strategic and future needs. Further, planned gifts involve seemingly complex and unfamiliar legalistic terms and are sometimes couched as the private purview of financial advisors, lawyers and wealth consultants and not with clergy and synagogue administrators. It’s no wonder why some would hesitate to initiate discussions about planned giving.

So why must synagogues integrate planned giving into existing development programs? Talking about planned giving need not be fraught with technical jargon, and, in fact, is a wonderful opportunity for dynamic discussions with members, engaging them in personal conversations about their hopes and dreams for the future of the congregation. Incorporating planned giving conversations and efforts into other campaign-focused efforts provides an alternative or a partner to outright gifts. Moreover, planned giving can be geared towards a larger audience, reaching those who may not have the capacity to make a significant outright gift. There are also tax benefits and supplemental funding considerations to various planned giving vehicles.

In a nutshell, planned giving focuses on an individual’s assets, which typically comprises the majority of a person’s net worth and allows individuals to make larger gifts than they could merely from their income. Rather than make a single major gift through various planned giving vehicles, donors can structure a bequest or something more complex that provides both income and tax advantages to the donor as well as heirs. Depending on the gift, a donor may pay no capital gains tax, receive current tax deductions, qualify for sales tax exemption or receive fixed payments.

Our research led us to four practitioners with varying positive perspectives on planned giving. Lisa Farber Miller is the Jewish Life Program Officer with the Rose Community Foundation in Denver, Colorado. Through the Rose initiative, Live On: Build Your Jewish Legacy, 31 Denver/Boulder area Jewish organizations, including nine area congregations, have built endowments through planned giving. Like many Jewish communities, Denver’s Jewish organizations had not approached fundraising from a strategic perspective, relying mainly on membership dues and annual giving. Ms. Miller attributes a willingness to consider alternative fundraising techniques to a dwindling dues pool and recent economic challenges. Through targeted training, incentive grants and a public awareness campaign, Live On has enabled the Denver/Boulder Jewish community to harness about $45 million in endowment bequests since 2005.

When educating Jewish organizations on the creation of planned giving initiatives, Ms. Miller leans towards keeping the message simple, as planned giving terminology and functionality can be confusing. Similarly, she stresses the relative ease of “stroke of the pen” gifts, such a adding a Jewish organization as a life insurance beneficiary, which allows donors to add the synagogue to the policy themselves and does not require legal counsel. The culture of planned giving starts at the top, which is why she advises the creation of a leadership-based Planned Giving Committee. Committee members should receive training in how to establish and build upon relationships with legacy donor prospects as well as make planned gifts themselves.

One of the most successful synagogue-based campaign efforts now in progress is at Temple Oheb Shalom, in suburban Baltimore. With more than $5.0 million in pledges already secured for restricted and unrestricted endowment, about $1.5 million comes in the form of testamentary commitments, according to Mrs. Maxine Lowy, director of development and special projects. “We have incorporated a solid planned giving component into our campaign and I know that we will see many more planned gifts in the future,” she told us. “Our Pathways Campaign has a planned giving subcommittee and they will continue even after Pathways concludes.” She noted, too, that discussing planned giving with congregants is opening up many discussions that serve to strengthen all aspects of the congregation.

Rabbi Michael G. Holzman, of Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in Reston, Virginia, recognizes the importance of planned giving, yet believes that synagogues have been fundamentally slow to adapt to the changes in the philanthropic environment and to adopt new practices. With burgeoning membership growth a benefit of the baby boom, synagogues did not have to try too hard to grow and remain fiscally sound. However, he believes that the last ten years have been a wake-up call to congregations.

Declining membership in many communities, coupled with economic challenges, has both drastically altered the vision that many synagogues have for their next generation. When it comes to fundraising – fortunately or unfortunately, “everything is on the table.” Challenges exist for many suburban synagogues, of which NVHC, in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, fits the mold. A majority of the almost 500 household member congregation comprises families with school-age children – not exactly the cohort to embrace planned giving. However, congregants who are a little older have considered planned giving options as part of their synagogue support. Rabbi Holzman describes planned giving as being exactly consistent with Jewish traditions of giving and supporting the community. He counsels that synagogues should create a culture of planned giving by investing staff time and leadership effort, congregational energy, and the required financial resources. Additionally, they should insert a planned giving line item in their budget and through the above investment, expect to receive testamentary support annually.

The acknowledged leaders in capturing the planned giving market are the so-called eds and meds – institutions of higher learning and medicine – which traditionally have had development departments engaged with alumni, former patients and their families. According to Brian Rissinger, Executive Director of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, it is rare to find a synagogue that has kept pace with higher education and hospitals in developing and promoting planned giving. Although he sees more synagogues with development professionals, there too often is pressure for immediate results rather than an acceptance of the delayed gratification of planned giving.

As a result of a recent endowment campaign there is renewed emphasis on planned giving and a lay-led committee is coordinating an on-going approach that develops into a long-term fundraising vehicle, he hopes. At Keneseth Israel, Mr. Rissinger is rarely notified beforehand that congregants have named the congregation in their estate. More often than not, he receives bequests that he was unaware were being left to the synagogue. Several major bequests were a result of “seeds” that were planted 15 years ago. The bequests are treated like “found money,” of which the unrestricted bequests are used for capital needs or placed in a rainy day fund. Regardless, the KI policy is to recognize each and every bequest, whether or not specific instructions were included. Donor recognition in the form of plaques and special newsletter articles are used to inform and educate the membership about planned giving.

Planning legacy gifts requires a dedicated effort of a congregation’s professional and volunteer leadership. A commitment to both strategically accommodate and demystify planned giving is a must.

  • Establishing a Planned Giving Committee of members who not only are passionate about the synagogue and its future but also possess some technical familiarity (e.g. lawyers, accountants, financial planners) is essential to ensuring that donors can efficiently plan legacy gifts safeguarding their charitable intent.
  • Clergy as well as past and current leadership should be included in the planned giving process.
  • As always with fundraising, leadership should lead by example so Planned Giving Committee members should be the first to designate the congregation as a beneficiary. The other responsibilities of the Planned Giving Committee should include creating gift policies and procedures, marketing, asking for gifts and donor recognition.

Planned giving should be approached as a long-term venture, where relationships with congregants are stewarded, through consistent promotion and regular and appropriate promotion, until they are ready to make such a special gift. Discussing the synagogue’s mission and future plans is a good way to initiate contact with potential donors and learn more about their specific motivations and preferences.

Communication and education are essential. Virtually all communication should have an integrated planning giving message, including newsletters and brochures along with a “Ways to Give” link on the synagogue’s website. Specialized seminars given by legal and financial professionals, possibly drawn from the congregation, are an informal way to promote planned giving. Recognizing individuals who have made planned gifts is vital to maintaining relationships and building new ones.

Planned giving is the most flexible way for congregants to proactively acknowledge the importance of their synagogue in their lives. Likewise, planned giving affords synagogue leadership with a tremendous opportunity to forge and strengthen bonds with congregants when discussing how to best use the multitude of testamentary options, not to mention supplementing dues, enhancing capital projects and supporting vibrant programming. The time is ripe for synagogues to expand their funding capacities and catch up with other nonprofits in strategically planning a sustainable financial future.