Sunday, June 30, 2013

Was it Enough?

Was it enough? 

This is the question that haunts me.

Lying in his hospice bed, as he wandered through the haze of his 89 years of life, this is the question my grandfather posed - "Was it enough?" 

I loved this old man deeply.  I loved his humor, his delight in talking to strangers, his love and hoarding of chocolate.  The way he could become deeply passionate about a leaf of lettuce or a cool refreshing glass of water, but I was dismayed and angered by his insecurity. 

Was it enough?

My grandfather's life included a tour in the British Foreign Service.  He enlisted and helped to evacuate Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  Princeton Theological Seminary followed and he served for 8 years as Rector of an Episcopal Church in Roxbury, Boston. During the Civil Rights Movement he became Treasurer of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) - which changed the future for so many African Americans by helping to end American Apartheid.  To this day, my mother complains about missing the opportunity to meet SCLC's Founder and President, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..  While my grandfather hosted a press conference for Dr. King at their house, my mother and her sisters were (of course) sent off to school. :(

In addition to his career, he celebrated 60 years of marriage to my amazing grandmother. He is survived by an talented brood, (including me!) - four children, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

His perfectionism was his driving force and his greatest weakness as is so often the case with us humans. 

He felt called to right the injustices that he saw in the world AND worried deeply that there was more he could and should do.

When he started to decline, my aunties began to audit his donations to the many nonprofits who solicited his support.  He was forgetful and gave every time he was asked, assuming every renewal letter was a new request for support.  He became friends with telemarketers.

Don't misunderstand.  He was a man of pleasure too. He took great pride in watching the Anglican Church elect Katharine Jefferts Schiori their first female bishop. And Obama's election to President of the United States made him weep.

His deep spirit of caring for others, particularly the forgotten and oppressed, and his desire to leave the world better was a powerful and destructive force.  He spent too much time away from family.  He became over-absorbed in work.  He missed important signals. He got sick.

Living a good life is complicated. 

As my dear friend Qui Moede likes to say, when quoting E.B. White,“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."

This is the conundrum.

I hope my grandfather made peace with the fact that he was not perfect and never would or could be. I hope he also realized that his contributions mattered.  They mattered very much.

Yes, Grandpa.  It was enough.


Monday, June 24, 2013


I've been thinking about email marketing lately. (I know.  Slow news day. :)

Raising money via email is still the primary way to raise money online.  

But how the heck do you do it well?

Here are my not so secret tips!

Acquire email addresses!  

You are doing this through your site, right?  But also consider acquisition through channel partners, like corporate sponsors and Care2. I've written a lot about this.

Write great copy!  

I'm a big fan of "1 email, 1 ask." Think Obama campaign. People are busy and don't have time to wade through rambling e-newsletters.  Also, giving your donors, advocates, volunteers, and clients CLEAR instruction on the 1 thing that they can do next is helpful.

Design a good email.

The great thing about email is that it costs pennies to test. Try including different images to boost response rate. Try killing everything but SHORT text.  See what happens!

Measure results.

At my organization, we track 4 metrics:
  • Open Rates - What % of people read our email?
  • Click Through Rates - What % of people were interested enough in our content to follow a link?
  • Response Rates - What % of people did what we asked them to do?!
  • Unsubscribes - What % of people never want to hear from us again? (Hopefully, this is always LOW)!

Check out the great infographic above from NTEN and M+R Strategic Services to see how your email efforts stack up!

What are your tips for better email marketing success? Reply in the comments.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Like many leaders in the nonprofit sector, I have long considered overhead ratios - comparing the amount your nonprofit spends on administrative expenses aka fundraising to the amount you spend on programs - as a flawed way to measure the impact of nonprofits.

I'm pleased to see that Guidestar, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, AND Charity Navigator have all teamed up to take a look at this maniacal metric.

Check out the Overhead Myth below.

No one is suggesting that nonprofits be frivolous with our donors money.  Quite the contrary, we're suggesting that we - the leaders of charitable organizations - be empowered to make the best and highest use of our donors' investments by allocating donations such that they make the biggest IMPACT on critical issues, like ending global poverty, curbing climate change, and eradicating HIV.  

Sometimes this will mean investing programs and outreach and sometimes this will mean investing in infrastructure to run better businesses.


Friday, June 14, 2013


I'm terrified of flying.

Anyone who knows me well, knows this about me.  

It's embarrassing.

For the day and hour and minutes leading up to launch, I dissemble.

I feel sick. My palms sweat. My breath goes bad. 

My heart races. I yawn and yawn. For all intents and purposes, I feel like I'm falling apart.

I literally forget all that I know about being safe.  

I can't reach out.  I can't connect.  I can't remember who I am.

I go inside this very small, dark place where I wait and breathe and hold my belly to make sure that I AM still.

Leadership is like this sometimes .

It is painful and scary and vulnerable-making.  

As Pema Chodron says, "It brings you to your edge."

It makes you weep. It makes you lonely. It makes you FEEL your smallest self. It can also makes you soar.

Here's the deep irony.

I work for a global organization.

Literally and metaphorical my job demands flight.

I have to be in two places at once. 

I have to imagine and experience the world across borders.

I have to take off and touch down in foreign places.


This is a post about the POWER of being uncomfortable.  About living life on the edge. Of taking risk. Of dissembling. Of touching the dark places.

If you lead well, if you care deeply about any project, person, or place, you will experience terror. 

You will find your edges and in the darkness you will not meet rainbows and fairies.

And yet there is POWER in experiencing your most fragile, fearful self. In noticing and honoring just how weak you can be.

From this experience, you can die a little.

You can find the truth of your own humanity. You can connect with all of the other sentient beings out there who suffer just like you.  And you can enter into a deeper, kinder relationship with yourself and others.

Come fly with me. Come lead with me. Come find out who you really are.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Lose the Lipstick: Your Brand is More Than a Cosmetic

I have the privilege of speaking again this year to the fabulous fundraisers at Women in Development of Northeastern NY.

Our topic?  Branding.

Branding causes undo confusion in the nonprofit sector.

My experience is that when you start talking about branding people assume that you've wandered off into the wilderness of marketing, technology, and design.  

Worse. They assume the conversation is beyond them.
  • "We know our website is out of date but we just don't have thousands of dollars to fix it."
  • "We'd like to create more video and use more pictures to describe our work but communicating is not our strong suit."
  • "We know our logo stinks but what can you do?"
These are the conversations that ensue and unfortunately, they miss the point because they focus solely on brand IDENTITY.

While presentation IS an important component of branding, the TRUTH is that your brand is NOT and NEVER WAS simply a cosmetic.

As my frolleague (friend and colleague) Larry Checco, author of Branding for Success and Aha!  Moments in Brand Management says,

"Your brand is no less than your organization’s DNA, not a cosmetic you apply to your organization to make it look pretty. It’s a true reflection of who you are and what you do. You can spend millions of dollars on marketing, and say anything you like about yourself. But if you don’t live up to your ‘brand’ in everything you say and do, then all you have is sizzle and no steak, and it won't take long for your target audiences to see the smoke and realize there's no meat.”
In other words, your brand is your organization's REPUTATION.

It's what people say about you and your organization behind closed doors.

You may have a slick website but are you making a real impact in the world? 

You may throw beautiful events but do you treat your employees, patrons, and volunteers well?

This is what people want to know and remember!

When we have conversations about branding for nonprofits, these are the questions that we have to answer BEFORE we change our fonts!

Great nonprofits think carefully (and spend money) to COMMUNICATE their impact and value.  But they also view branding as an exercise that starts from the inside out and involves soul searching.

Want to develop a great brand that garners more resources, relationships, and "real estate?"

Answer these questions first!
  • What does our organization do better than anyone else?
  • What is our impact in the world?
  • Why should anyone else care?
Then add the lipstick. 


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

To Video or Not to Video?

Video, video, video!  We love it.  We can't get enough of it.  Most important, we know that video can be a powerful tool for MOVING our stakeholders to ACTION for our causes.

Then why don't nonprofits use video more and make it the centerpiece of our marketing communications strategies?

Thanks to the kind folks at See3, YouTube, and Edelman, you can find the answer to this question and more in Into Focus: The First-Ever Benchmark Report and Guide for Nonprofit Video.  It's FREE!

Here are the key takeaways:
  • Nonprofits believe that video is important, and getting more important every day.
  • Organizations want to make more video, but aren't allocating the funds to do so.
  • It's hard to measure the ROI of video and that may be one reason that we don't use it more.
  • We have to change our cultures to embrace the importance of video.  In the same way that we had to be convinced to adopt online tools (like websites!) for marketing communications, we now need the buy-in to adopt video.
My addition: We need to know what we want our videos to DO!  See the great, graphic above from the report.  I hope you'll check it out!

Want some inspiration?

Watch the video below we did to thank our donors at The Global Fund for Children and share your best videos in the comments!