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How to Communicate with Donors & Supporters

IMAG2832Do you know Ron Barb? Chances are you don’t, unless you’re from Logan County Kentucky or you work in the plastics industry. I didn’t know about Ron until today, when I read an article on newsdemocratleader.com that referenced him and the great work that he’s leading in Logan County. I was so impressed that I decided to share the article with the world – particularly those that work or volunteer in the Not-for-Profit, Independent Sector.

You may be wondering what can not-for-profits learn from a plant manager in the plastics industry. More than you realize my friends, more than you realize. You see Ron is the chairperson for the allocation committee for the United Way in Logan County. This isn’t his full time job – it’s a volunteer position that he assumes, like many others across the country, that are committed to doing what they can do to positively impact their local communities.

There are a few things that Ron and the entire team at the United Way of Southern Kentucky got right with this article that I think needs to be highlighted for the benefit of others in the sector – and not just United Ways, but anyone that’s attempting to communicate their value to stakeholders:

  1. The messenger is just as important as the message. Notice, the article isn’t referencing the CEO of the United Way or the other staff. They’re talking about Rob Barb, the volunteer committee chairperson, who has a full-time job as a plant manager. Sure the CEO could have been featured, but there are times when all organizations need to be strategic about whom the message is coming from. Last time I checked, plant managers are pretty busy people and the fact that Ron Barb devotes a portion of his valuable time to the United Way’s efforts speaks volumes to others regarding the importance of servant leadership.
  1. Thank donors/supporters in a meaningful manner. Ron does a phenomenal job thanking them and connecting them to the work of the United Way and their partner agencies. Consider this line from the article, “Your contributions have helped reach 7,956 individuals in Logan County last year alone, out of a little over 27,000 people in the county. You should be proud of yourselves.”  His message is directed to the Fiscal Court – a public body within the county – and Ron is thanking them and showing the impact of their contribution in a public forum. This is a meaningful “thank you” because public bodies get their fair share of public disgruntlement and disagreement, therefore it’s nice to appreciate them in public and give them a space to show the good they do.
  1. Quantify the good that was done. In this article, Ron is giving an update to the Logan County Fiscal Court on the impact that the United Way and their partner agencies are making through the supported allocated via the Fiscal Court. He’s telling a story where their involvement extends beyond a contribution; they are part of a solution, a story, and can be proud of their efforts.   He doesn’t just give them abstract statements like, “you made a difference” or “you helped change a life” or “the community is a better place” – he quantifies the difference, the better and the change.   Some examples include:
    1. 1,040 youth in Logan County received sexual assault prevention education services through United Way partner agency Hope Harbor.
    2. 293 nursing home residents received visits and complaint resolution services from the Barren River Long Term Care Ombudsman program resulting in improved quality of life, quality of personal care, interpersonal skills, and socialization.

Thanks to Ron Barb and the entire United Way of Southern Kentucky family for reminding us of how to communicate with our donors and supporters – great lessons and reminders for all of us. I suggest you read the full article at the link below – you may find some additional lessons.


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A Change is Gonna Come

Change is:







Call change what you like but there’s one thing we all must agree with – funders of all types pour money into communities everyday seeking change in some form or another as the return on their investment (ROI).  Some organizations and communities are successful at implementing, managing and navigating change; while others struggle with the mere thought of change.  I started wondering what’s the difference between those that successfully implemented and sustained long-term, positive, effective, healthy changes in our communities and those that didn’t.

Based upon my observations and conversations with leaders in the Social Sector, I’ve discovered 4 keys to successful change efforts, the keys that separate the “change agents” from others:

Purpose:  You’d think this is a no-brainer, but it’s not.  Simple question, why??  Why are we doing this?  To what end? What’s the core purpose of this initiative, effort, or project?  I’ve seen instances where the sole purpose was to “spend money we had to spend”.  Guess what?? There was no long-term, positive, effective, healthy change.  Why?  Purpose drives passion and provides direction.  If we’re just trying to clean the books before the end of the fiscal year, all we’ll change is the balance sheet.  Clearly defining the purpose gives everyone involved a framework for their engagement.  We know why we’re here.  We know the end we’re striving for.  We are able to see beyond the tasks at hand to the vision at the end.

Patient Persistence:  Successful change agents recognize that “it didn’t get this way overnight and we’re not going to change it overnight.”  This has been a huge issue with government and foundation funding.  We expect to break generational and cyclical patterns of poverty and despair in one grant cycle – Not going to happen.  I applaud those foundations, government agencies and other entities that recognize the strategic advantage of committing to longer-term funding.  Some of the proverbial “needles” we want to move are going to take a while to move. We shouldn’t hastily select “symptomatic” indicators that can move the needle easily, but don’t change reality.

Participation:  We’re not going to make a difference in anyone’s life or any community without the active, up-front participation of all stakeholders.  I’ve seen far too many “needed” programs and projects fail because the “smart people” making the decision, knew what the community or target audience needed and decided to deliver it without their buy-in. We’re not there to work “for” “to” or “at” anyone, we’re there to work “with” and “through”.   This notion that we’re going to ride into a community on a white horse in our shining armor and save people from themselves is played-out.  By the way, participation is more than inviting people to an event announcing what’s already been decided upon.

Pain: As necessary as change may be, for a target audience or community, we must acknowledge that any time we disrupt the status quo it results in discomfort for somebody.  The process of change can create conflict and resistance.  Think about it, when faced with pain most of us want to “pull up”, “pull back” or “pull out” (think about working out at the gym for the first time.) The first step to handling this is to be up-front with all stakeholders – talk about the process and challenges.  This applies to all stakeholders, including service providers.  For instance, collaborating can be a painful process – it’s different, it can become uncomfortable and disruptive.  Talking about this “pain” will help everyone manage the pain when it inevitably arises.

This is not an exhaustive list, it’s just 4 simple ideas that I believe can positively change the “culture of change” in our organizations and communities. 


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How Does the ATM Feel About That?


Do you have a favorite ATM machine?  I know it sounds a little crazy, but think about it.  Is there an ATM machine that you tend to stop by more than others.  Maybe it’s convenient, near your home, job, or a common route you take.  If you’re like most people there probably is a favorite ATM in your life.  Let me ask you a question.  Do you ever stop by to check on that ATM machine when you DON’T need money from it?  You just want to stop by and make sure the display screen is clean, it’s plugged in, and hasn’t be vandalized.  When’s the last time you stopped by just to check on the ATM machine when you didn’t need anything from it?  Again, if you’re like most people you haven’t.

So how do you think the ATM machine feels about that?  I mean after all it does for you,  you never check on it just to check on it.  Of course, the ATM doesn’t feel anything – It’s just wires, plastic, and computer chips – the ATM doesn’t care and we don’t care because the ATM is there to serve us at our convenience.   It’s perfectly acceptable to treat an ATM machine this way isn’t it?  Sure it is.

Let me ask you something – Is it acceptable to treat people this way?  No it’s not.  Do we treat people this way? For some of us, yes we do.  If the only time  donors,  customers,  volunteers, funders, board members, partner agencies, and key stakeholders hear from you is when you want something, then you’re treating them like an ATM machine.

What’s the lesson?

  1. Talk to people when you don’t need anything.
  2. Build relationships based upon a healthy appreciation for each other, not your needs.
  3. Have a plan to keep key stakeholders informed, during good times and bad.
  4. Some of your most fruitful conversations will take place when you remove the pressure of  “needing something”.
  5. Strive for mutually beneficial relationships.  What value do you bring to the other person?

People aren’t ATM machines, they have feelings, and it’s disrespectful and insulting to think they’re just sitting around waiting for you to come push a button when you need something.

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