But it’s not even Thanksgiving Yet – The Two Most Important Things you Need to Do Before Year-end

With Halloween just passed, and Thanksgiving right around the corner, Christmas decorations now fill retail shelves.  This must mean only one thing for nonprofits – the end of the year is upon us.

Now is the time to start planning your year-end strategies.  For effective and efficient organizations, this means two things, Tax Letters and Year-end Campaigns.

Annual Tax Letters

The IRS requires all donations of more than $250 to any nonprofit (including faith-based) need a written acknowledgement from the organization in order for an individual to claim a deduction on his or her income tax return.  According to Rick Wolfish, CPA, and Partner at Gallagher, Flynn and Company, and a nonprofit tax expert, even items such as church and synagogue dues and High Holiday tickets, which are considered “intangible benefits”, require written confirmation (if in excess of $250). To comply with these requirements, organizations can send a formal thank you letter either at the time of payment, or a special end of the year tax letter. Even when a thank you note (with the required detail) was sent earlier in the year, tax letters can still be beneficial. Putting aside the obvious that some donors may have lost their thank you letters, tax letters provide a wonderful opportunity to once again thank the donor and share your story.

To meet the IRS requirements, the letters must state:

  • The amount of the gift
  • Confirmation that the receiving organization is a 501c3
  • The year in which the gift was received
  • A declaration that the donor received no goods or services in exchange for the gift (items such as coffee cups with your logo do not count).

It, of course is understood that when preparing year-end tax letters, it is imperative that EVERY detail is 100% accurate, not only for the purposes of the IRS, but also, most critically, for purposes of donor stewardship. Double and triple checking is a worthwhile exercise.  When a donor receives an inaccurate statement, non profits lose credibility and often future donations. For further information concerning tax letter rules, please read IRS Publication 1771, which is a simple, but effective resource.

End of the Year Campaigns (including the proverbial question of should you, or should you not include a solicitation in your EOY tax letter).

According to Blackbaud’s 2013 Charitable Giving Report, 33.6% of all annual charitable giving takes place from October – December.  17.5% of it takes place in December alone (as compared to 4.8% in January).  Online donations were even higher. More than 20% of annual online giving, according to the study, occurred in December. The trend is the same in every nonprofit sector.

Whether the end of year donation spike is due to bonuses, the closing of individuals’ books, or holiday season inspiration, it behooves every organization not to miss this opportunity.  If the 4th quarter is when people prefer to donate, organizations need to both provide and be prepared for this opportunity.

While some donors, do not like to receive multiple asks (these people should immediately be removed from this appeal), experience teaches that if the organization truly explains the “why “, the benefits can far outweigh the potential negative reactions.  December solicitations (even as a part of a tax letter) truly do provide a special opportunity to communicate with donors, as well as share the value of its work at a time when donors are most receptive.

Whether it is a dedicated campaign or adding a note and envelope in the year- end tax letter, effective organizations affirm the importance of the donor’s previous gift, while also explaining why they are providing another opportunity to give.  Most importantly, year-end giving provides one more opportunity to help donors feel that they are truly making a difference (while also elevating their holiday spirits).

If you have a year-end plan now is the time to review it, challenge your assumptions, and refine it to make it even more effective. If you do not yet have one, use the next few weeks to create a plan that assists your donors, and enhances your organization.  It is not too late. The Presidents Day sale signs haven’t yet appeared.

The entire Dynamic Change Solutions team wishes you the happiest of holiday seasons. May you truly find holiday joy, as you provide your supporters with the chance to help your organization, and make the world a more joyous place.

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Lou is the CEO of Dynamic Change Solutions, brings over thirty year’s of nonprofit and consulting experience to you.  For a free 30 minute consultation on developing your year-end plan, please email me or to learn more about how we can assist you, please visit Dynamic Change Solutions.

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Is there any option, but to change?

During the merger of US Airways and American Airlines it was reported that several US Airway pilots didn’t allow American pilots to ride in jump seats. These actions should not have surprised anyone. Drastic changes such as mergers often bring out the very worst in genuinely good people.

Change is not for the squeamish nor the faint-hearted. Change goes to the very core of personal identity. It is about disrupting the status-quo and unsettling that which has become the new norm. It is about making different that which has been common and creating a new, undefined future. Most importantly, while change is often about systems and structures, in the end, it is ultimately about people and and their reactions to the changes. As such, one should not have been surprised by what the US Airways’ pilots did.

As the old idiom goes, “change would be easy, if not for the people.”

At the core of any change process is its impact on people’s lives. Whether it is a change to a new accounting system, or a complete restructuring of an organization’s operational divisions, success or failure is dependent on one key element – people. It is thus not surprising that over 70% of all major change efforts fail. Change is tough and not for the squeamish. That is why it is essential for leaders and managers to help those they work with understand not only the reason for the change – but perhaps most importantly, the critical reasons why there is no option but to change.

John Kotter, one of the foremost experts on change teaches, “Urgency is not an issue for people who have been asked all their lives to merely maintain the current system”.

At the core of successful change is the critical work that needs to be done to help people, who have been trained and rewarded throughout their lives to keep the status quo, to now become change agents. This is not an easy task. From our earliest school days, we learned to conform, fit in the box, and maintain the status quo. Students and employees who ask “why” too often, or challenge the norm, are rarely rewarded for their efforts. These are the same people, who we then expect to change from the status quo because we said so.

In order to help overcome a lifetime of training and modify behaviors is incumbent upon leaders to create a true sense of urgency – one that can break down the very walls their systems created. Whereas ineffective leaders utter pithy statements about the need for change, effective leaders recognize this critical dynamic and articulate, and in very real and honest terms help their people understand that there is no option but to change. Only then will people throughout the organization do what is necessary to help the change be successful.

Just saying “we are changing” or “changes are coming” is not a message of urgency. All these messages do is create anxiety and resistance, not urgency. Just saying this is the new structure or system not does ensure buy-in. Creating a very real sense of urgency, is the fundamental key to successful change.

Change is the new norm, but without understanding and embracing the harsh realities of the reason why the changes are necessary, most people will both consciously and unconsciously resist these efforts.

What are you doing to help your colleagues understand the reasons for the changes you are proposing? Only then will they become part of your coalition of the willing rather than one of the legions of resisters.

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Lou is the CEO of Dynamic Change Solutions, and a certified practitioner of the Change Style Indicator ® which can help create a collaborative culture in your organization. For a free 30 minute consultation on preparing your team for change, please email me or to learn more about our company, please visit Dynamic Change Solutions.

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Why should Mastodons mean anything to your organization

Recent studies on the extinction of mastodons appear to have little relevancy to the world of nonprofits, faith-based organizations or any company. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If the research is correct, the Mastodon’s demise is the result of one of the earliest examples of humans learning to collaborate with each other. In spite of innate competitive qualities (reinforced by the message that only the strongest survive), our earliest ancestors realized that in order to persevere in an incredibly precarious situation, they needed to come together, exploit each other’s strengths, and compensate for each other’s weaknesses. Only then could they eat and survive (even when outweighed two hundred  to one).

Paleontology teaches us that these ancestors utilized strategies that capitalized on some member’s speed, other’s strength, others ingenuity and other’s throwing abilities.  Even after the death of the giant mastodon, additional specialists stepped forward with the skills and talents to skin the beast, preserve the meat and hide, and turn the bones into tools. Ancient humanity perfected the art of teamwork and collaboration – and through their efforts, thrived (even if the inevitable end was the extinction of this magnificent creature).

We live in a far less precarious time. Most of our meat is as close as the local market, and few college classes are offered in spear throwing and skinning. Perhaps that is why, so many of us have clearly forgotten, over the past 10,000 years, the most valuable of these lessons.

In spite of our ancestor’s successful collaborative efforts, it appears that in the world of nonprofits (and for profits for that matter), collaboration remains a dirty thirteen-letter word. Thus, unlike our Cro-Magnum cousins who understood and embraced the concept – collaborate or starve – most organizations (and people) focus too much on what they will lose or have to give up and NOT on what can be achieved through effective collaboration.

Advocates (including funders) do not help the situation when they speak only of the benefits of collaboration (e.g., the greater communal good, cost savings) without acknowledging the very real and equally powerful impact of potential loss. Greater good, while important, does not adequately address the very real and human dynamic of WIFM (what’s in it for me).

While on the best of days, most of us believe in the greater good, it takes quite a leap for an organization (let alone a person) to accept giving up something they value.  We forget that even in the best of collaborations, not everyone will derive the same benefits (how many our ancient ancestors literally died for the greater good of providing food). This is reality.

Success requires the need to openly and honestly acknowledge the potential losses that may come from collaboration. They cannot be minimized or ignored. Change management teaches that the ultimate benefits of any change (e.g., the specific collaborative effort) must outweigh the losses by at least four times. As your organization looks to collaborate, it is essential that you identify and clearly articulate the very real benefits that can and will come from the effort.  Only then, can you overcome the primary obstacle of “whats in it for me” and achieve ultimate success.

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Lou is the CEO of Dynamic Change Solutions, and a certified practitioner of the Change Style Indicator ® which can help create a collaborative culture in your organization. For a free 30 minute consultation email me or to learn more about our company, please visit Dynamic Change Solutions.

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Does Your Board Deserve An Olympic Gold

While scoring at the Winter Olympics  is often done subjectively (love those Russian ice skating judges), for many of the Winter Game’s competitors the determination of  who won and lost is as simple as who scores  the most points or went the fastest.  Clear winners, determined through a truly objective means (fastest, farthest, most points) is how most of us prefer  it. Subjective scoring leaves us uncomfortable.  That is of course, unless we are the ones doing the scoring.

In so many ways,  assessing a non-profit Board’s performance  is like judging figure skating at the Sochi games, or gymnastics at the Summer Games.  At the Olympics, we often feel that the judges know who they want to win and score accordingly.  This isn’t that dissimilar from a nonprofit Board, that when self-assessing its performance, gives itself a 9.2 instead of a more realistic 4.8. While many Board members might acknowledge the board’s weaknesses, the average Board  usually sees itself as deserving of at least a Bronze and maybe even a Silver.

The reason for this is obvious. How many nonprofits really want to admit to its most intimate and passionate supporters and funders that they are not doing the job that needs to be done?  Isn’t it easier, and less risky to let everyone think things are just fine? Subjective self-analysis, regrettably ends up painting an unrealistic and deceptive picture of the board’s actual performance.

The key question is not “is your Board worthy of standing on the Olympics podium”?  Rather, the question that really needs to be answered is are you standing there because of self-deluded subjective scoring, or because you have critically, honestly, and analytically scored your performance? Have you conducted a quantitative assessment and benchmarked yourself against the gold standards of non-profit Board performance?

Boards that are worthy of a Gold have one thing in common – they regularly (at least annually) evaluate and assess Board performance  as well as how individual members are doing in their board roles.  If you conduct such quantitative assessments, you are truly deserving of a medal . If not, now is the time to get off the couch and start doing the hard work of building a board of excellence. There is still time to earn a Gold when the Summer Games roll around in 2016.

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Is your Board ready to stand on the platform? If you are interested in receiving a sample Board assessment tool please email me. If you are already assessing your board, I would be interested in sharing your methodology with other readers. 

Lou Feldstein is the Founder and CEO of Dynamic Change Solutions, and is available to help your Board win the GOLD. He is also available to provide training, assessments and motivational speeches.  

To learn more about my services please visit my website.

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Are you one of the successful 30%?

Across multiple industries and sectors, experience and research indicates that when new processes and strategies are deployed, over 70% of them fail to achieve the desired outcomes. In simple math that means that only about 30% of change efforts are ever successful. Not the greatest odds.

Are you one of the 30% who gets to celebrates success, or are you part of the majority who throw your arms up in frustration every time you try something new, and it just doesn’t take?

While recently rereading, Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers (a wonderful book by Robert Kriegel and David Brandt) I came across this powerful description of why 70% of change strategies and processes fail.

“Change is rarely accepted readily. Why? Because when you get right down to it, people are the obstacles. The key to the success of any new process, system or strategy is implementation. And that’s about people. People have to execute. They have to support the new system {or strategy} or it will go nowhere. Processes are easy, people are tough….people naturally resist change.”

During the recent Georgia Center for Nonprofits’ Annual Conference I was invited to provide consulting services to participants in their “1-2-1 Solve-It Sessions”. Throughout the morning attendees would stop by seeking assistance with challenging issues. During my shift the Development Director of a mid-sized nonprofit stopped by to discuss her organization’s problem with getting board members to fundraise. Not an uncommon problem. As she explained it, however the issue was much more complicated.

Board involvement in fundraising had now become critical for her organization, due to increased funding demands.  As we discussed her situation, what also became clear was that the board members neither understood nor embraced why they, and not just the professionals, now needed to raise funds.  While fundraising had always been written as part of a Board member’s portfolio, it was never truly considered an expectation.  Now, however, faced with this critical funding situation, Board members had to actively start raising money.  Even after being told that they needed to fundraise, the majority of the Board members continued to have a laissez faire attitude toward this new expectation.

As we discussed her frustration it also became obvious was that little had been done to engage the Board in understanding why the change was needed, or how to effectively partner with them in creating strategies that would create enthusiasm and buy-in.

To address her organization’s problem, we agreed that the leadership needed to take several steps back and develop a comprehensive board inclusive change process.   While many months had been lost and much energy wasted, it wasn’t too late to reengage the Board and move the strategy ahead in a more effective and impactful manner. She left the table feeling more confident now that she better understood why nothing had happened, and had a strategy for how to successfully transition the board.

There are no truer words than: “If they aren’t there for the take off, don’t expect them to be there for the landing.”

As your organization, or department, looks at new processes and strategies ask these two simple questions:

1)      Do your colleagues accept and believe in the change?

2)      Do your staff and/or volunteers own the change?

If the answer to these questions is “yes”, success is possible (but still not guaranteed). If the answer to either of them is “no”, then experience, across all industries and sectors, teaches that the effort will struggle and valuable time and money wasted.

Every successful new strategy (whether minor or significant) begins and ends with the same common denominator – THE PEOPLE!

If you truly want to succeed and be part of the 30%, it is a lesson you can ill afford to forget.

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Are you interested in successfully managing your next change effort?  I would like to offer you a free one hour consultation. Please give me a call at 404 606 6755 or email me to schedule your appointment or for more information.

As the Founder and CEO of Dynamic Change Solutions, I am available to facilitate your next change effort or help motivate your team through exciting and engaging training sessions and speaking engagements.  

To learn more about my services please also visit my website.

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Do you have the 3 “P’s of an enlightened organization?

Fortune Magazine annually publishes a list of the best companies to work for in the United States. In 2013, eleven of the top 100 companies were nonprofits. Of these eleven companies, nine were health related organizations and one was a credit union. Only, one fit the bill of what would be considered a “traditional nonprofit organization” – Teach for America.

Founded in 1990 (based on a research paper by its founder), in its first year Teach for America placed 500 teachers in schools located in low-income communities. Since then, according to its website, “more than 33,000 participants have reached more than 3 million children”. Today, it has 48,000 applications and places approximately 5600 new corps members in 46 regions. In 2011 they reported $229 million in revenue. Teach for America is doing something right!

We have all heard management gurus, business people, and countless consultants say that “people” are an organization’s most valuable asset. In an effort to invest in and motivate their staffs, many companies and organizations designed and implemented elaborate training programs and performance based metrics. Both have a place if well done, but neither provides the foundation for great performance and amazing staff impact. In fact, often they are modeled on the remnants of a bygone era of assembly lines and time cards.

Even in the non-manufacturing realms of the social sector, Industrial Age management systems continue to frame how we expect jobs to be performed and how we measure performance.  These systems are modeled on a structure in which Vice Presidents do the thinking, directors (e.g. supervisors) do the talking and employees do the doing.  People are provided a litany of functions and then measured based on how they achieved these specific functions. Knowledge, efficiency and effectiveness, the mainstays of Industrial Age service standards, continue to shape performance expectations across most private and social sectors. More often than not, creative problem solving and empowered authority are neither encouraged nor nurtured. Thus it is no surprise that most staff come to understand their work environments as Pavlonian systems of response and reward.

Ultimately, what differentiates great nonprofits from poor ones is the establishment of a professional culture that encourages staff potential, rather than the management of staff functions.

Great organizations establish an environment that embraces and fosters the 3 P’s:

  • Purpose –Every member of the team (regardless of level) has a clear sense of the mission, vision and purpose of what the organization does and how they fit into achieving the purpose.
  • Pride – The people who work in your organization feel proud of their work, their jobs and the difference they make.
  • emPowerment – Your colleagues are treated like human beings with the freedom to act independently and do what is in the best interest of your organization when the situation demands, rather than like robots who must always follow strict policies and protocols.

To grow and achieve maximum impact in today’s economic and competitive environment, successful social sector organizations have learned to fully unleash the human potential of their work forces.  The research consistently shows that great organizations are always those where employees LOVE to come to work.

As humans we grow comfortable with the status quo. We embrace single digit growth in campaigns. We celebrate consistent attendance figures and we rejoice at large one time crowds at one –off events. While we may say we need to innovate, we need to change, we need to try new things, in the end, as long as our organization is still breathing and alive, we accept where we are and how we act.

And yet, while it is still alive…..is it truly living? Is it achieving everything that it can?

Organizations that truly make an impact, like Teach for America, captivate the imaginations of all its constituents by unfurling the wings of freedom, igniting the spark of human emotion and focusing their energies by daily affirming the importance of Purpose, Pride and emPowerment.

Exciting organizations like this are within our grasps. Isn’t that where would you rather work and volunteer?

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As a reader of this blog, I would like to offer you a free one hour consultation to discover how you can capture the 3 “P’s”. Please give me a call at 404 606 6755 or email me to schedule your appointment or for more information.

To learn more about my services please also visit my website.

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Are Your Volunteers Happy? Three Essential Strategies to Increase Your Volunteer Corps

Many years ago, while still a young and developing Executive Director, my President and I were dealing with a complex and particularly challenging legal issue. Over the course of several days and weeks we had to have multiple conversations with each other and our legal representatives.  This was during the time when you needed a U-Haul trailer to carry your cell phone and paid exorbitant rates per micro second. One particular week, after multiple hours of calls, the president, by now exasperated by the whole affair, shared in frustration, “Do you know how much this problem is costing me on my cell phone!!! I thought volunteering was supposed to be fun.”

Her statement (about fun, not the phone) was one of the most important professional epiphanies I ever had.

While fundraising fuels the nonprofit system, volunteers provide the engine, transmission, wheels and body that make nonprofits and faith-based organizations run. Few, if any successful nonprofits exist or thrive without a dynamic, engaged and most importantly, enthused volunteer corps.

We also know, however, that the social sector landscape is littered with disgruntled, disinterested, disconnected and disengaged volunteers.  A peek behind the volunteer curtain (at dinner parties and cocktail parties) reveals significant numbers of volunteers who are frustrated, resentful and even, angry. Deep in the recesses of volunteer social circles there is a toxic mix that diminishes organizations’ abilities to grow their volunteer (and financial) resources.

It does not have to be this way. The delivery of effective and meaningful volunteer experiences is within the grasp of almost any organization. While the most sophisticated should (many do not) have volunteer tracking systems and volunteer managers, the secret to success does not lie solely with computers and specific professionals.  It takes much more to change how volunteers are engaged, worked with and appreciated.

Positive volunteer experiences require a holistic approach that cuts across the entire organization. It requires the involvement of every staff person and multiple strategies to create and maintain an organization that effectively engages its volunteers and provides them with as much, if not more than the volunteer gives.   Organizations that recognize this and implement such strategies find themselves with engaged, and more importantly MORE volunteers.

While there are dozens of potential strategies that should be employed, implementing aspects of these three are guaranteed to bring success:

1)      Treat volunteers’ time as a precious commodity

Most volunteers are very busy people. Successful organizations are clear about what they ask of their volunteers (roles, responsibilities and setting expectations). In respecting volunteers’ limited time, effective organizations ensure that meetings and volunteer activities are well planned out and that everyone’s full attention is focused on the task at hand.  In addition, and most importantly, effective organizations empower volunteers to say “no” without guilt or trepidation when asked to take on a new assignment.

2)      Ensure that volunteering is fun (and meaningful)

While many organizations see the volunteer experience as obligatory (a common theme in the faith-based community) it is truly the rare volunteer who says “yes”, solely because of obligation.  While there is nothing fun about having to deal with embezzlement issues or sexual scandals, we cannot forget that volunteers need to feel good about what they are doing and be reminded of the importance of their efforts.  Making sure that you have the right volunteers working on the right projects is central to this. While the immediate experience may not always be fun it must always be conveyed and emphasized that what the volunteers are doing is meaningful and important.

3)      Thank you, thank you, and thank you!!!

Annual volunteer appreciation events are wonderful, but not enough. A personal note from the Executive Director/CEO or President/Chair to a volunteer after a specific effort goes a long way. Giving free tickets, coupons, etc. as a simple thank you also speaks volumes. Most importantly, developing and operating from a comprehensive annual thank you and appreciation strategy ensures that such efforts are not ad-hoc but rather thoughtful and strategic. You can NEVER thank enough.

According to the Independent Sector, volunteers donated $172 billion in estimated labor costs in 2010 (the most recent reporting year).  It is obvious that nonprofits cannot thrive, without volunteers. Working to ensure that each volunteer has a meaningful, positive, and fun experience is in every organization’s best interest.  To do this, we must always remember and reinforce the message that volunteering is a gift and an offering.

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If you are interested in receiving a sample volunteer system self-assessment tool please send me an email at lou@dynamicchangesolutions.com. 

I am the Founder and CEO of Dynamic Change Solutions, your strategic consulting partner. We can help you enhance your board and volunteer experience and make your organization best in class.  

We help our clients improve their organizations while facing change head on so that they emerge stronger, efficient, effective, and more successful.

Feel free to contact me at 404 606 6755 or lou@dynamicchangesolutions.com or visit our firm on the web at www.dynamicchangesolutions.com.

 

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