Friday, November 22, 2013

How to Help Your Board Help You

© 2013 Ben Delaney, CyberEdge Information Services

In a well run organization, the Board of Directors, Executive Director (ED), and staff are all on the same path, pulling in the same direction, working for the same goals, and speaking the same language. Here's some tips on how to achieve that in your organization.

As we've seen, organizations that embrace Systems Marketing™, enjoy coherent communications throughout the organization. Everyone on the Board and staff realizes that their speech and actions impact the perceptions of, performance, effectiveness, and sustainability of the organization. 

The Board and Executive Director have to work in a close partnership to create and sustain a high-functioning organization. This partnership impacts the entire staff, including the folks responsible for marketing and communications.

Strategic Planning

That close partnership starts with the strategic planning process. Strategic planning takes a lot of work, but it is essential to provide direction and to empower everyone in the organization to be working toward the same goals. I'm not going to provide a strategic planning primer here, but will mention a few key items that your strategic plan needs to include.

Obviously, any strategic plan needs to include goals and timelines, personnel assignments, and budget considerations. However it's also important that your strategic plan include communications goals and methods that will support all the other efforts. Your strategic plan should include messaging concepts, so that everyone in the organization is saying the same things about your work, mission, and impact. That's where your Board gets involved with the marketing communications (MarCom) efforts. Some Board members may have experience in marketing or communications and will be able to add useful insights and ideas to the strategic plan. The Board can be valuable thought partners in the MarCom messaging and methods conversation.

When I'm working on strategic planning I like every goal and activity to include a communications and/or marketing component, so that the Board and the staff appreciate the importance of communications in the success of the organization. Regardless of the Board's expertise, you want them to be aware of the importance of communications in the success of the organization, and of the fact that communications is being built in to all the plans. And of course, this bakes MarCom accountability into the strategic plan.

As an example, you might plan to issue a press release every quarter, add Twitter and FaceBook to your marketing mix, and post pictures of all your events on Pinterest. Your plan will include these specifics, as well as goals for impact and frequency of reporting on that impact. In addition, you may assign these duties as part of the plan. With some luck, you may get one or more Board members to agree to regular contributions, perhaps once or twice a year.

Board/Staff Interaction

Some organizations frown on having staff interact directly with the Board, but I think it's a good idea. It's especially good for the marketing people to be in touch with members of the Board who have experience in marketing. It's also important to leverage the Board's connections and contacts for marketing communications purposes, especially when it comes to fundraising, but ultimately, in many activities. It may very well be that certain Board members know people with areas of expertise that are going to help the marketing and communications of the organization. They may also have connections that can directly impact the success of a campaign or program. Having all this communication filtered through the Executive Director can be a waste of her time – but don't ever try to cut your ED out of the conversation. In addition, be aware of the value of your Directors' time. You don't want to overstay your welcome by bothering the Board members very often. And of course some are going to be more open to conversations than others.

When I've interacted with our Board members it's been with very particular questions. I always start by making sure the person I'm calling or e-mailing has time and is interested in the project that I'm asking their assistance with. If it's a phone call, I always start by asking, “do you have a minute?” In email, I am brief and to the point, and always include a subject line that is descriptive of what I'm going to be asking about.
Questions I have asked Board members are typically in these categories:

  • I have an idea for a new product/program. What you think?
  • We'd like to reach someone at this organization. Do you know someone there?
  • I'm planning a campaign and I've written up a description. Would you mind looking at it and commenting?

I found that when I'm respectful of the Board members time and expertise, they're happy to help.

Here are the best ways to make ensure that you and your Board have a good working relationship:

  1. Be brief and to the point.
  2. Be clear in your communications.
  3. Be respectful of the Board members' time.
  4. Be aware of the Board members' areas of expertise.
  5. Don't go to the Board very often.

When you do go to the Board make sure that you have your presentation or question together, that you're well-organized, and that you're actually ready to act on the advice you get.

I find that by following these simple rules, I've been able to establish and maintain great relations with Board members, even though I haven't been directly reporting to them. I found their advice incredibly valuable. I’m sure you will, too.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Making the Most of Your Events

Everybody thinks that an event is a great way to raise a lot of money fast. This isn't always true.
by Ben Delaney, © 2013

According to my former boss, and development guru, many, in fact most, events lose money. He pointed out that the cost of a good event is substantial and that the immediate payback from it is not always high.

He explained that key to really using an event well is to use it both as a reward and cultivation opportunity. In other words, it's a place where you reward the people who have been helping you the most. Bringing your staff is a great team builder and incentive. It also helps fill seats in case your event isn't the sellout you hoped for (more on that later). The other people you reward are your donors, those who have really helped you out. Not by asking them to buy a table or to support the event, but rather by giving them a table or providing recognition from the stage.

Now there are as many types of events as there are organizations. For the purposes of this chapter, I'm thinking about an evening gala. I think you'll find that most of these ideas apply no matter what sort of event you are producing.

Make your event special by doing it well. The investment pays off.
A well done event makes your entire organization look good.

The highest value of your event is cultivation. Cultivation means talking to people that may give to your organization and talking to people who have given to your organization with an eye on getting, or increasing the amount of, their support. Events do this by providing a good meal and an entertaining program that helps them feel good, better understand the organization, and see how well run it is.

It's essential to demonstrate competence, because the impression that people get from your event is going to carry over to the entire organization. Think about your reaction when you have a great waitress at a restaurant. The food tastes better. In a great restaurant, if the service is bad it leaves you less excited about the food. The impression you leave with is dependent on the totality of your experience.

Enveloping your planning for the event itself is all the promotional and impact planning, as well as establishing measurement points for evaluating the event. Your event planning should start with concrete and measurable goals. Those goals might include developing five new major donors, or having X number of City Council members attend. Your goal might include a dollar amount, such as raising $100,000. It's important to have all the goals in mind because this will guide the event planning, and allow you to make informed decisions on the budget and which ideas contribute to the overall impact of the event. After the event, they provide the measuring stick against which you evaluate the event's success.

Event planning as part of Systems Marketing™

Let's think a little bit about events and how they connect to your full marketing effort. In an organization with Systems Marketing thinking, event planning would start early. A year is not too early to start thinking about a large event. Annual events are often on staff work plans as a year-round effort, because there's always something to do to prepare, and there's always follow-up activities. As Systems Marketing organization knows that a big event is going to impact virtually everybody in the organization.

Every event should have a planning committee that is made up of people from the various departments that are affected by the event or contribute to it. These people are conduits for information from the teams with which they work directly, to the committee and back again. Obviously the communications team has to get the word out early and often, and plan follow-up. In fact it's recommended that you follow up an event with a press release that describes how well it went, how much money raised, what dignitaries attended, whatever else is important, and announces the date of next year's event.

The event committee needs to keep in mind all aspects of the event. The planning checklist varies a lot, but will include things like catering, decorations, printing of a program, door prizes, program, securing a venue, and, if you have an auction, arranging for donations for it, as well as the many other items critical to the success of the event. That is just for the event itself. As you can see from that list, which is nowhere near complete, there's an awful lot of aspects to pulling off the big event. At one event I worked on, we produced a nine-minute video that took three months to produce. It's important to do your planning in advance, and understand the time and the budget.

It's also important to evaluate what you can do in-house and what you want to hire expert help for. Catering is an obvious task that is usually best to contract out. AV production, decorating, and printing are other aspects of events that are often handed off to contractors. Be realistic in balancing your resources – some things you can and should do in house, some things should be outsourced.

The event committee needs to work closely with your communications department to make sure that the branding of the event, including its name and logo, are appropriate both to the event and to the larger branding of the organization. It's possible to completely confuse your audience by mixing up your messages. A clear purpose and messaging are essential to garner positive attention and attendance.

Often the development team is the lead team on event planning because it's so critical to their work. As we discussed earlier, donor cultivation is a major goal of many events. This is where the development team shines. Events give the development team a reason to personally reach out to major donors. It also enables fund raising, especially from corporate and foundation supporters, who will buy tables and sponsorships. It's an opportunity to raise money through raffles and auctions, and thereby a chance to reach out to in-kind donors who will provide the items that you offer. The development team will also see your event as an opportunity to invite people who haven't donated to come to see what your organization is all about.

It's very important for the development team to be thinking about goals and accountability related to the event. If your goal is to invite 20 new potential owners, sell 12 tables, and raise $15,000, you need to write those goals down and measure the appropriate data to determine whether or not you've hit your targets. This is easy when you build in specific points to measure at the planning stage.

The event

Let's plan a hypothetical event and take a look at what it takes to make the event work well. Our hypothetical organization is Kitty Rescue League. Kitty Rescue League collects feral cats,  sterilizes them, and re-releases them or finds them adoptive homes. The hopefully annual Fat Cat Bash is being attempted for the first time. The goals are to bring in 20 potential new donors and raise $10,000. There also will be recognition of existing donors.

In order to raise interest and recognize major supporters, Kitty Rescue League is going to make three awards to people or organizations that have really helped save the most kitties in the past year.

Awards help attract people to your event. A quick sidebar on awards

Why do so many organizations give so many awards? It's not a conspiracy by the award industry. Awards are a great way to gain positive attention, recognize your donors and others in the community, and give your organization a topic for a good press release. Awards bring in the recipients and their friends and families. They increase interest, and rightfully bestow recognition on those who work hard for your cause. 

Awards don't have to be extravagant to be appreciated. A nice trophy, an engraved clock, or some similar trifle says thank you over and over. No one gets all the attention they need or deserve; your organization can make its donors feel great by recognizing them at an annual event, where the community can hear about their good deeds and express its appreciation.

The Fat Cat Bash budget

Kitty Rescue League has a mailing list of approximately 3,500 names. They're hoping that they can get 5% of that list, or 175 people, to come to their bash. So now the planning team needs to create a budget that shows how to pay for the cost of the event and show a profit.

Kitty Rescue League's budget  for the Fat Cat Bash looks a bit like this:

Space rental                       $1,500
Catering, 200                       5,000
Audio/visual                         1,500
Programs and favors               875
Program                            15,000
Marketing costs                   5,000
Decoration                           1,000
Total                                $29,875

Tickets, 175 at $75          $13,125
Sponsorships                    20,000
Program ads                       1,000
Total                                $34,125

NET                                 $3,250

As you can see, even if Kitty Rescue League meets their goals, they miss their revenue target. And it means that the planners need to decide if they want to proceed with a smaller return likely. That illustrates the difficulty in event planning.

Looking at this budget, the event committee has several options. They can change their goals, they can change the cost of the event, or they can figure out a way to bring in more revenue.

Key to making this evaluation is determining what's more important: cultivation or immediate revenue. If cultivation is more most important, then it may make sense to run the event expecting a low return, or even take a loss, in order to have the opportunity to meet and interact with the people that you need to talk to. If revenue is a prime goal then it is important to look at both sides of the budget to see what can be reduced or grown. For example the $15,000 cost for the program includes creating a video montage of the award winners. Perhaps money could be saved by instead doing a montage of still pictures which would require no original taping. Or maybe a video production company can be found that would donate part or all of the cost of production. Other expenses should be looked at too, but it's always best to start with your biggest expense, because that's where you're most likely to find some fat to trim.

On the income side of the table, there aren't very many options. Calculating the increase in donations resulting from the dinner will help, but is a very unreliable figure. owever, factoring in the anticipated increase in donations in the next few montKitty Rescue League can charge more for tickets, but that may make it more difficult to get people there. Additional sponsorships may be possible and it may also be possible to raise the cost of advertising in the program to raise more money there. Maybe adding a raffle or auction would increase revenue, but with additional costs that have to be figured in. Perhaps bigger actually works better than smaller. Because your expenses do not go up directly with the number of attendees, it may make sense to increase seats to 200 or 300. However the challenge then becomes getting those additional people to the event, which typically would require increased marketing and communication costs, and often more staff time.

Which brings up the importance of filling seats. Nothing is worse than a partially empty banquet hall. It is far better to oversell a small event, and bring in extra tables, then to undersell the room. You may have the same number of people there, but the packed room looks infinitely better. This where you use staff people to help out. A good rule of thumb, if your staff is large enough, is to have one staff person at each table. Board members can help with this usually pleasant assignment. They can answer questions about your organization and help make your guests feel welcome. But staff and board members and their (adult) families can also help fill seats to ensure that the room is filled to capacity. It is a nice reward to invite your staff, and they will help your event succeed simply by being there.

The Program

What is going to happen at the Fat Cat Bash? You don't want people to simply come in, eat and leave. So a program is in order.

First, don't overdo the program. 30-45 minutes is usually enough. If you run late, people become impatient. If you are boring, it's even worse.

The program needs to be both entertaining and interesting. Again, an award ceremony, if it is appropriately brief, is a great way to create excitement and enthusiasm. A door prize drawing does the same. Perhaps Kitty Rescue League has connections to a musical act, or a staff member who is a good magician. Adding that entertainment to the bill can be very enjoyable. But again, be sure the entertainers, unless they're cute children, are professional enough to entertain, and not embarrass.

A keynote speaker is often considered de rigueur at nonprofit event. This can be good or bad. Some very impressive and effective people are not good presenters. Some speakers enjoy their own voices so much you almost have to drag them off the stage. Either of these situations can really bring down the mood.

If you have a keynote speaker, find someone who knows your organization and can say nice things about it. Have someone go see them present before you book them to ensure that they will provide a good presentation. If at all possible, get someone with name recognition who will help you sell tickets.

Finally, don't forget the ask. No one is going to be offended by having your Executive Director or Development Director make a brief pitch. People are there because they care. So Kitty Rescue League will tell them about the tremendous impact they've had over the past year, some of the challenges facing the organization, and how X more dollars will make a huge difference in the coming year. For added impact, have a donation envelope under each plate.

After the event

After the event, there are two important tasks – follow-up and evaluation.

Follow-up means that your event and development teams get on the phone and call people to thank them for attending. Nothing cements a relationship like a personal touch. One could write an entire book on cultivating donors, but suffice it to say that you need many touches with each donor, and your post-event phone call is an important one. This is when you can ask for support, get feedback on the event, and stay in touch with the people who keep you going. I can't overemphasize the importance of this step in funder cultivation. 
Also thank your in-kind and other donors that helped you stage your event. Again, your personal attention is worth a lot, don't be stingy with it.

Finally, a few days after the event (when people have had a chance to catch up on their sleep) get the event team together for a postmortem. What went well? What would you do differently? What was awful? Be honest and fair. Evaluate the work plan, the promotional efforts, and your vendors. Take notes and refer to them before your next event. Only through an honest appraisal will you be able to improve on your event.

This chapter addressed planning for a dinner event, but planning for any other type of event is not dissimilar. Obviously, a 5K run has different details, but the process is similar.

Events can be a lot of fun, good money-raising opportunities, and ways to acknowledge the people that help you carry out your mission. But they are complex and important, so do the work up front, and then enjoy your event. As my old boss always said, “Have fun kids!”