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Everyone knows that effective strategic planning involves gathering including outside voices. Determining the strategic direction of a nonprofit is best done through a wealth of input - from those who know the organization best, and from those who know the environment well.

But why wait for the strategic planning cycle to draw people in?
Planning Leads To Doing

Fundraising is particularly ripe for the power of external input. The old saying "Ownership begets responsibility" is apt - when people have been part of developing fundraising strategy, they are more likely to sign on to help implement it. That ownership can also result in them leading you to other resources, now that they understand your needs from the inside out.

Plus, you gain incredible insight into how donors view your organization - if you only ask them. Do donors understand how your work is different from others in your field? And why, say, giving to a local hospital doesn't mean your community-based health center is less important?

Asking prospective event-goers for their opinion is a time-honored way to ensure the event is geared properly to its intended audience. Do working moms want to come to an evening event with their kids - or would they rather show up without them? Ask them! Would they (and their friends) rather come to an exclusive chef-prepared tasting for a $500 ticket price - or a less-swanky beer and barbeque for $65? Ask - and you're on your way to forming the beginnings of a host committee filled with askers in their own right.
A Shift In Perspective

Asking for advice is a way of inviting someone around to your side of the table. They're part of the team now, someone who's invested (even if it's only time and brain-power) in helping you succeed.

Asking for advice is a subtle yet powerful form of cultivation - one in which you're requesting help and in return, the person on the other side of the equation is giving something that's relatively easy for them (their opinion). Once they've said yes to you for this, they're on the first rung of a donor engagement ladder.
Just For Today Or For The Long Haul

Some advice-giving occasions are transitory - a one-time brainstorming session, focus group, or "let me pick your brain" breakfast. But other times the request is for ongoing guidance - a campaign steering committee, advisory board, or a PR/marketing working group.

Asking for help in this way can be tied to a specific occasion - an anniversary, or an impending fundraising campaign - or it can be longer term, as in recruiting non-board members onto board committees.

Organizations that have rigid boundaries (you're either inside or outside), are losing the benefit of consistent group guidance - and most importantly, buy-in. Organizations that are porous - with multiple avenues connecting with diverse opinions - are the richer for the asking.
Gathering Input: Poets & Writers

Poets & Writers, the nation's largest nonprofit organization serving creative writers, fosters the professional development of poets and writers, promotes communication throughout the literary community, and helps create an environment in which literature can be appreciated by the widest possible public. Poets & Writers approached Cause Effective to help raise more from individual donors and to set the stage for a 50th anniversary campaign.

Working with staff and a newly revitalized Development Committee, Cause Effective held a series of three focus groups - with writers, with publishing industry professionals, and with donors and supporters. Board members connected with the target participants hosted each of the focus groups. The focus groups revealed that Poets & Writers' reputation is excellent and its services have been career-changing, again and again - but that many people, even in the industry, have a limited perspective on the breadth of P&W's programming and are interested in finding out more.

As a result, Poets & Writers developed refreshed materials and a more active communications plan to help current and potential donors understand the organization's impact. Board members were energized by hearing people's stories; they began inviting more people to attend cultivation events and followed up with their contacts after events. " Cause Effective encouraged staff leadership and the Development Committee to think differently about how to engage folks." remarked Managing Director Melissa Ford Gradel. " Board members are now identifying who they might introduce to the organization in a more active way." Added Executive Director Elliot Figman: " The process galvanized and focused us. Board members deepened their understanding of our challenges, and we are better able to support them in their role as ambassadors for Poets & Writers."
Cause Effective Can Help

Would you like feedback on your case for support, the clarity of your communications, or ideas on new markets of prospective donors? Contact us - we'd be happy to brainstorm with you how to facilitate a process to turn fans into advisors -and, ultimately, ambassadors. 

Judy Levine 
Executive Director  
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Cause Effective Webinar:
How to Increase Fundraising by Recruiting Great Board Members
Want to recruit potential board members from new sources? Integrate energized recruits into the board? Create a process to onboard new board members? Then join Cause Effective for a Foundation Center webinar on July 12 to learn more.

Click here to watch an off-beat promo video about the webinar. Registrants will receive a 40-page handbook to help guide their board recruitment, along with access to the webinar for 3 months.
Thur. July 12th
Special Thanks to BNY Mellon

For support of Cause Effective's public workshop offerings
New Cause Effective Package: Resource Development Focus Group
Are you launching a major donor program or an anniversary campaign? Have you ever wondered what your key supporters are thinking about you, or what aspects of your work most resonate with them? Ask them!

Cause Effective's facilitated focus groups allow organizations to gather feedback from key stakeholders as well as cultivate the people present in the room.
Special Cause Effective Blog
Recruiting For Change: Building Board Allies

The Foundation Center's Grant Space published a Cause Effective blog in preparation for our Board Building webinar:

Janis approaches her first nonprofit board meeting with both excitement and trepidation. She's energized by the mission and honored by the request to steer the mission forward by joining the board. But at the same time, she's worried about joining a club with longstanding members she doesn't know. Maybe she'll say or do the wrong thing, exposing her ignorance of proper board member behavior.

The safest thing to do, she reasons, is to keep her mouth shut.  [Read more]
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For 35 years, Cause Effective has strengthened the nonprofit sector by increasing the capacity of more than 5,000 nonprofits to build sustainable communities of supporters. We transform people, culture and systems, coaching nonprofits to learn, carry out and sustain new approaches to fundraising and board engagement.

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