Transparency with Panash: Kathryn Minshew responds to “How’s it going?”

A deer in headlights, aka, the way you feel when Board members and donors ask how everything’s going. Kathryn Minshew’s advice for start-up CEOs, How Are Things Going? on the Harvard Business Review blog will resonate with any nonprofit leader or development director who’s fielded that question with trepidation.

Minshew writes: the secret to answering this question is realizing that your goal isn’t to summarize — it’s to set the conversation in motion along a productive path that generally relates to how you’re doing and what you’re working on. Have a couple good answers prepared (and update them regularly), and when someone asks how things are going, you’ll find yourself ready and poised to guide the conversation down the path you want it to go.

Here, here. What’s her formula for success?

1) Highlight two recent accomplishments.

2) Talk about one problem you’re working on.

3) Talk about what’s different than 3 or 6 months ago.

4) Ask for advice.

Seems easy, but when you’re worried about how lower year-end appeal return rates might impact programs or focusing all your efforts on managing one unruly Board member, your mind may be elsewhere. I’ve seen too many leaders (and been one, at times) miss opportunities to make a positive connection with someone because they’re too busy worrying about coming across as negative when times are tough.

Minshew reminds us that we own the message and can make each conversation productive. I’d add the advice that you make the practice of building a new script part of your organizational process. Dedicate time at each staff meeting to agree on recent accomplishments you want to communicate to your external audience. Talk about how to communicate any problems, stressing to staff what’s internal and confidential and what you are willing to share for the duel purposes of being transparent and getting help. It’s a good reminder that message alignment isn’t a once-a-year-annual-report kind of thing, but rather an ongoing, dynamic conversation that you, your staff, and your Board can and should direct when the question, how’s it going? comes your way.


Souper Bowl of Caring

While visiting Austin in January, I was accosted in the local supermarket. The perpetrator? The HEB cashier, who after ringing me up, singsonged what’s become a common refrain heard in supermarket check-outs across the country: “would you like to make a donation today?”

I looked up and there was the unexpected: the donation itself. Usually, I’m presented with an electronic choice on the credit card machine, a simple yes or no accompanied by a bored-sounding cashier’s “ask.” Having created a personal philanthropy plan I usually stick to it, only saying yes when the donation is earmarked for one of my chosen causes.

But this cashier was holding up a brown grocery bag. Inside were cans of vegetables and meat, enough to feed four people who wouldn’t otherwise eat dinner that night. $5 per bag. I looked down at the snack pack of goldfish crackers and bottle of wine I’d thrown into my cart on a whim. How could I say no? And WHY would I say no?

I didn’t know at the time, but I’d just contributed to the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas’ local Souper Bowl of Caring Campaign: mine was one of $1,000,000 meals that were donated. I also didn’t know that in January, 2012, 3,000+ groups participating in the Souper Bowl of Caring raised $5,323,124 in cash and food for charities fighting hunger in seven US cities.

Food donation drives are no novel thing. But the Souper Bowl is not a drive, it’s a “national youth-led movement of schools, congregations, community organizations and compassionate individuals joining together to fight hunger and poverty in their local communities, transforming the time around the Super Bowl into the nation’s largest celebration of giving and serving.”

One of my favorite Hebrew words is “Dayenu,” translated roughly as “it would have been enough” and used in this context: if I had only paid for the contents of that shopping bag and fed a family for one night, then “Dayenu.” But I contributed to building a transformative movement in the fight against hunger. For now, this too is “Dayenu.” But speaking as a kid who was involved early on, through Quaker schooling and family practice, in volunteerism and generous acts, I know that the children who’ve built the Souper Bowl of Caring in the last 20 years will continue their good works into adulthood and change their communities. So someday, perhaps we can say, “We fed the world. Dayenu.”

Since the Souper Bowl of Caring started in 1990, volunteers have collected more than $81 million in dollars and cans, with 100 percent of all donations going directly to community food banks, soup kitchens or other charities chosen by each group. For more information or to join the team, visit For more informational about the Capital Area Food Bank, visit





Search Engine Optimization Made Easy

Cheers to the Public Policy Communicators of New York City, whose article released today, “What We Learned: Search Engine Optimization” is a quick and dirty how-to-guide to getting your website noticed.

PPCNYC explains what SEO is (and what it’s not), why it’s so important, and how to make it work on your website. The crux of the matter is that “keyword research is the key” but never fear: their explanation of how to get started is straightforward:

To truly understand how people search on the concepts associated with your cause and your issues, it helps to do some simple research. This is what you should do:

  • In your own mind, boil down your article topic to its essence – just a few key words. These are the words with which you will start your research.
  • Start a keyword “glossary.” This is just so you have a record of your research for future reference, since you will probably want to use certain terms that seem like good prospects many times in the future. Just create a table (can be in Excel or Google Docs or whatever spreadsheet program you like), and create column headings for “Keywords,” “Competition,” “Global Monthly Searches,” “Local Monthly Searches” and “Comments.”
  • Start your keyword research. Go to Google Adwords’ keyword tool. Enter in the “Word or phrase” box the key words your article is about and hit “search.” Or, if you are wanting to refine the title and/or metadata for an already existing post on your site, paste the URL into the “website” box and hit “search.” This will bring up a long list of terms associated with your search criteria. This process can also be used when pulling search terms from your competitors’ sites, you simply enter the URL that is similar to your top and hit “search.”
  • Determine which keywords have both high search volume AND low competition. The terms from the search returns you should be most interested in, says Murphy, are those that have “low” competition and high numbers of global monthly searches. (Murphy also noted the term “Longtail Keywords,” which is commonly used to describe these terms.) For those terms that have those indications, click the box on the right for each one and then use the “download” box at the top of the table to download a CSV for Excel file, then just open that up and copy and paste the information into your Glossary for safe keeping and future reference.
  • Put those keywords into practice. Once you have done your keyword search, you not only have a better sense of what are the terms that people search on but also which have relatively little completion in terms of other sites that use those terms. Rework your article title and/or metadata/opening paragraph to give prominence to those terms.

To read the article in full, click here.

Like Riding a Bike: Feel the Joy of Sponsorship Once, Feel it Forever

A cornerstone of my personal philanthropy is to contribute towards friends’ causes. I’ve been a sponsor of swims for cures & races for cures, a patron of the arts, granted birthday requests, wedding requests, and more. In fact, if, like me, you see many requests in your inboxes each month, you might feel overwhelmed….

It helps me to think about how easy it would be to say “yes” to each friend if, instead of asking for support, they were asking me to dinner. A night on the town in San Francisco runs anywhere between $10 to $100 or more…so why not consider that tonight, instead of dinner and drinks, I’m going to treat my friend to an evening of work on their brilliant new website? Or to an afternoon of swim time through the San Francisco Bay?

Still, that’s THEIR experience and while I’ve often ponied up, I’ve never felt truly connected to what my sponsorship of their passion could mean to them and to the cause they’ve chosen.

Until I received this thank you note from Meg for helping sponsor her AIDS Lifecycle Ride. She’s given me permission to share it with you:

To all of my wonderful donors!

The 545 miles from SF to LA have come and gone and I wanted to thank you, again, for your contribution. It was one of the most incredible adventures I’ve ever been on and in the process we – you, me and the rest of the riders -helped raise 13 million dollars to go toward research, education and support services for those living with and at risk of contracting the HIV/ AIDS virus. We started off with an almost miraculous break in the rainy weather from San Francisco and had dry weather all the way to Santa Cruz. It did finally rain, but only after we had finished up dinner and were all tucked into our tents for the night and only for a little bit. We made our way through beautiful agricultural and rural areas of California, areas I definitely wouldn’t have seen otherwise. California really is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

We rode on freeways and bike ways and through towns. We supported another fundraiser along the way in Bradley. The students of the school district there hold a BBQ lunch for the riders and use the money they earn for various school programs. Last year they purchased new computers with the money they made, and I think this year it was to go toward their field trips and extra curricular activities.

Many of you have already heard how life changing this ride can be. It really is. Aside from the extreme miles, aside from tight living quarters with 2499 new friends, aside from the idea that you are indeed raising money for a great cause you are spending every waking minute with 2,499 of the most dedicated people you will probably ever meet in one spot.

A concentration of this size would change anyone. For 7 days straight you are on your best behavior. You shrug off jeers that you still get from a very few but random people on the road. You respect the reality of lines for the bathroom, lines for the shower, lines for dinner and dig up patience where you never thought it existed. You don’t let the hunger, the fatigue, the b.o. affect your inner calm. You don’t compete, you are gracious. You respect that there are riders of all levels and abilities and you don’t allow for any discouragement anywhere. You find stregnth where you didn’t know you had it. You cheer for riders behind you, you cheer for the riders ahead of you. And every hill you summit, every day you finish, every rest stop you arrive to are filled with roadies and riders cheering for your accomplishment.

I could feel the influence this ride has had on me in the days after we pulled into LA, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what, when or where. Rather, it’s an overwhelming clarity on what is important in life.

There is rider that always does the ride, named The Chicken Lady. On the last day of the ride, she puts eggs on all 2500 bikes with a note and a lifesaver mint. She said best what I could only feel after 545 miles. I’ll leave my thank you with her words:

Life is too short to wake up with regrets. Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it. Applaud yourself.

Love, The Chicken Lady ALC10

Thank you so much for your contributions. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without each and every one of your dollars and encouragement. Your generosity in this recession has been mind blowing.

Much Love, Meg, ALC 10 Rider # 4870

Wow. $13 million dollars. 2,500 riders. Total commitment. I picked up the phone that day and asked the Leukemia and Lymphona Society for information about their Team in Training Program. And thanks to her thoughtful note, Meg changed my outlook on sponsorship from one of grudging gifting to passionate philanthropy for the actions my friends take to make the world a better place to live. So, thanks to all of YOU! Ride on.

Leadership Revealed: Have You Mastered the 10 Minute Phone Call?

The current CEO of one of my clients used to hold a different title: CEO of an international for-profit tech company. Part of the reason I took the contract was because I knew I would learn some new tricks about leadership.

Today’s lesson: how to save your nonprofit money and time by mastering the 10 minute phone call.

Contractor phones CEO and says, I need direction, here are my questions. CEO listens carefully to each question and replies with:

1) Exact description of what he expects to see delivered by me by the end of the week. When I say exact, I MEAN exact. Drawings and descriptions. I have seen him do this in meetings. I have surreptitiously slipped the scratch paper he leaves behind with the sketches into my folder when nobody is looking.

2) Clear directions for what are NOT my priorities this week…or at all. As anyone who has ever worked for, well, ANYONE knows, a good boss will confidently direct you to not do everything at once. This can especially be a trap in the fundraising world, where there are always tasks that need to be done to raise more money. This sounds like a no brainer, but I’ll bet in your head right now you are thinking about the boss you had who let you fail in the impossible task of doing everything at once.

The kicker? When I got off the phone with the CEO (now focused, clear, and ready for action) and looked to see how long the call had lasted? Shocker: 10 minutes.

We didn’t need to schedule any follow up meetings to answer my questions. We didn’t need to pull in any other staff at that moment. I suggested solutions to new issues raised in the course of the conversation –  he approved or rejected them immediately. That, my friends, is not only effective management, but efficient as well.

Nonprofit Job Sites Reviewed and Rated

A big shout out to Blue Avocado for their “best of” list of nonprofit job sites. They collected input from your colleagues, reviewed and rated 31 sites to help jobseekers get organized.

Their findings:

Another good one for you specific food-related changemakers to check out is They launched within the last year and I’ve been enjoying watching them grow.


Fear and Loathing in Fundraising

I am a very social person. I am also somewhat shy. Okay, don’t believe me. But it’s true.

Yesterday, I spent 12 hours meeting people and learning about amazing ventures including: the impressive leadership programs new client Oasis for Girls provides for young women of color and Ashoka’s Youth Venture’s work supporting entrepreneurs leading food justice initiatives.

I love building connections and collaborations to make good ideas a reality, but frankly, making new friends is scary. Before you build trust with someone you can’t guess the outcome of your interaction. We feel insecure: what if they hate that idea? What if I don’t have anything to offer this relationship?

Or, you can be like me: struggling in vain to swallow a mouthful of spanakopita in order to respond to a group of people paying compliments to my necklace. FYI, grace under pressure does not often walk hand-in-hand with a raid on the buffet table.

Luckily, we’re all human. They were sympathetic to my plight. Well, at least I proceeded to have very nice conversations with all of them. I could easily have fled. And if I’d been in a different situation – like a cotillion – I might have.

But I knew we were all at that table with a common goal: to figure out ways to work together to make sure everyone has access to healthy food. So actually, I felt safe. I got over my fear of looking ridiculous and had a great evening sharing ideas and resources.

But what happens when your fears of social interaction are justified, when you try to establish relationships and end up hurting your cause?

A Board member recently told me that when she was newly appointed, she was asked to call the organization’s supporters and ask them to give. But the donors hadn’t been prepared to receive these calls. Instead of being engaged by the new leadership, they felt defensive. The volunteer had pushed past her fear and instead of being rewarded was punished. Why? Because she wasn’t just afraid: she wasn’t safe.

Feeling safe – aka, establishing trust – means you can tackle something scary in a relationship knowing both parties have already agreed to the rules of engagement and want the same goal.

I will tell you this right now: some people can roll with the punches when the rules of engagement are changed suddenly. But some people cannot. If you try to force new terms on them suddenly, then they don’t feel safe. And when thinking about your donors are you really ready to ask for forgiveness instead of permission?

These donors had a relationship with the organization where 1) they received letters asking for support and 2) they responded with a gift. All of a sudden, someone they didn’t know changed the relationship to the level of a phone call AND asked them to recommit in the same moment.

We’re all so pressed for time and resources, it’s easy to forget to check-in with each other. We know we’re ready to jump into the unknown and assume our supporters will follow us. It’s a false assumption.

You can’t skip steps in building relationships. And you can’t have a relationship with someone who doesn’t trust you. While your supporters might feel scared to follow you as you jump, make sure they trust you enough to feel safe going skydiving with you in the first place. They’ll be more willing to take the risk and your mission will reap the rewards.

Cultivating Major Donors Workshop Next Week at CVNL

I’m looking forward to talking to the good folks doing major gifts fundraising in Marin County next week at the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership in San Rafael, CA. I was a member of their 1st “Emerging Leaders” training class several years ago and they did a great job. I definitely feel…emerged.

But seriously, I prepared this workshop for an earnest group of Executive Directors, Board members, and fundraising staff last spring and it was rewarding for me to be a useful resource. I believe so strongly that developing closer relationships with donors results in a big win for everyone – most importantly the people and causes you’re serving. Here’s the info:

Cultivating Major Donors
January 13: 9:30am to 12:30pm
$55 for Members / $75 for Non-Members
Presenter: Cassie Gruenstein

Are your supporters happily “stuck in a rut”? How can you build your donor relationships to raise more money? In this workshop, you’ll learn best practices and practical solutions for ways to:

• Use the resources you have
• Find your best next major donor prospects
• Build systems for success
• Stay connected to your top supporters
• Increase the number of face-to-face meetings with donors

This workshop is designed for professionals from small- and mid-sized organizations who are ready to grow a major donor program to the next level.

Applications now being accepted for TEDx Manhattan, “Changing the Way We Eat”

I had an exciting email in my inbox this morning from my favorite pro-bono client:, TEDxManhattan, “Changing the Way We Eat”: starting today, they’re accepting applications from academics, researchers, health professionals, farmers, foodies, chefs, advocates, foundations, public figures and TEDsters who want to be attendees of the one-day event.

About TEDxManhattan: On Saturday, February 12, 2011, TEDxManhattan “Changing the Way We Eat” will be held at the Prince George Ballroom in New York City. This one-day TEDx event will explore the food system — from what happened, to where we are, to what we are doing to shift to a more sustainable way of eating and farming. The goal of “Changing the Way We Eat” is to create new synergies, connections and collaborations across disciplines, to unite different areas of the food movement and to introduce the TEDx audience to the exciting and innovative work being done in this field.

I’m an enormous TED nerd and I love that TEDx events – independently organized, but following TED’s format of highlighting short, cutting edge, inspirational talks – have been cropping up everywhere recently.

I’m helping out with sponsorship development, so if you want to support this shindig and have your name in lights in front of an international audience of sustainable foodies, then let’s talk.

William Li will give an encore presentation of his TED talk, “Can we eat to starve cancer?” at the Feb 12 event in NYC.

Why Major Gifts Fundraising is Like Hosting a Dinner Party

10 Reasons Why Major Gifts Fundraising is Like Hosting a Dinner Party

Do you have a major donor program yet?  I know how much spare time you have before December 31: none. But not only is it not too late to plan a few thoughtful phone calls and visits with the people who love your organization the most, it’s essential you do. Why?

During the holidays, we reach out to friends and family and celebrate our connections, often over a meal. Over the years, wouldn’t the people closest to you begin to wonder why you’d never  invited them to a holiday dinner to get to know each other better, face-to-face?

Not asking your closest supporters to engage at a higher level during the season of giving is similar. They’ll wonder why they’re not being asked. Eventually, they’ll go elsewhere for nourishment.

So pretend you’re throwing a dinner party and the same rules apply to your major gift outreach:

Your first major donor effort doesn’t need to be a banquet. It’s easy to convince yourself your organization doesn’t have the capacity. Who has time for fancy moves management and extensive donor research? Forget about all that and just do what you can. If your home will only accommodate a few guests right now, then start small. We often have the most intimate and satisfying dinner parties – or successful major gifts efforts – with a few select guests.

Thoughtfully compile your guest list. You want invitees to respond favorably, i.e, make a major gift.  So only invite the people most likely to join you. Do you have a strong connection to them – are they a volunteer, long-time donor, Board member or Board member’s best friend? Or, are they interested in the kind of delicious food you’re serving – your programs? Make sure your guest like has either 1) a connection or 2) an interest, plus the ability to make a gift of significance.

Consider having a co-host. You know if life-of-the-party Uncle Jack comes, then your other invitees are more likely to sit down at the table. Ask whomever your organization’s “Uncle Jack” is to help plan your party and encourage other guests to attend.

Craft your invitation carefully. You must give invitees the information they need to make an informed decision about your invitation. You wouldn’t invite someone to dinner and after they’ve eaten, boldly ask them to pay for the meal AND next year’s party. Have the same respect for your prospective donors, and tell them you’d like to meet with them to talk about a gift.

If you send an email or a letter, DO call them to follow up. If your prospective guest knows how important it is to you, the host, that they’re valued and wanted, they’re more likely to join you.

Put your house in order. Doing major gifts does mean being prepared to answer honest questions about why you’re asking, who else is a supporter, and how you’ll use their investment. But when planning for a dinner party don’t renovate your dining room – just ensure it’s organized, doesn’t smell bad and is warm, comfortable, and inviting. Make sure the materials you bring and your answers are the same.

Prepare something delicious and serve it beautifully. The actual meal represents 1) the ways the work you’re doing benefits the community 2) an ask for a major gift and 3) a discussion of how their gift will advance the mission. Whatever you’re cooking, make it appealing, easy to swallow, and tailored to their individual tastes as much as possible. It can be appropriate to offer them range of portion – or gift – sizes, or ask them if they’d prefer one dish – or funding opportunity – to another.

Make sure you know who your server is and that they’re trained at their job before they dish up an ask for a major gift. The ask is just one moment in an entire evening. But if it doesn’t get served right, everyone walks away hungry.

Sit back and enjoy the conversation. Be mindful you don’t monopolize the discussion. As the host, it’s important to listen to your guests, acknowledge their questions, and invite their input.

And remember: you’re offering to satisfy their appetite for having their philanthropy make an impact in a satisfying way.  Sharing stories of success and your passion will feed their excitement and invite them to be insiders. Be honest about your specific need, but don’t make “need” a focus – your general need for support is not unique: your relationship with this donor is, so focus your conversation around that.

Send guests home with your appreciation and a gift. If all goes well, your in-person get together with a prospective major donor will result in a promise for a gift from them. Whether or not it does, make sure they know you appreciated their time and their company. Give them a  gift: more information about what you just discussed, and possibly a small token that’s valuable to them – something your organization or constituents make might be appropriate.

Keep the connection through the New Year. Once you’ve deepened your organization’s relationship with someone, stay in touch with them. Major donors want to hear how things are going. Even if the investment of time didn’t result in a gift right away, your effort won’t be unnoticed. You’ve likely made a new ally for your organization and you’ve opened your door to future possibilities to sit down at the table together and talk.

Post originally published on Wild Woman Fundraising