Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nonprofit Lessons from the Campaigns

Nonprofits are in a good position to learn from the outreach and fundraising experiments set in motion in this campaign. Regardless of your political leanings, you have to give credit to one particular campaign for developing innovative approaches to raising money and building relationships. In a recent meeting of the Qm2 development directors’ roundtable there was considerable interest in some emerging methods for on-line fundraising and donor engagement.

On-line fundraising may sound one-sided and impersonal, but the Obama campaign has used strategies employed at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and earlier in Hillary Clinton’s campaign to connect to voters in ways that are personal and that could prove long-lasting. One of the simplest innovations is the use of a comment box for on-line contributions.

Penn has used the effectively in the form of a pop-up box that surfaces as soon as an on-line gift is made. It asks the donor why they made the gift. Higher education is one segment of the social sector that knows the importance of discovering a donor’s intentions and interests. The very act of presenting this option sends the message that there is an interest in what the donor thinks and feels. Nonprofits can then link donor comments their giving history. They can use these insights to focus on shared values and turn that into targeted special interest appeals and messages.

For museums of all sizes, understanding donor motivation and what philanthropists at all levels admire about an institution is invaluable. The information can be turned into donor-focused snapshots or full length articles for publication in newsletters, magazines, as well as background material for future solicitations. The compelling stories of why donors make gifts is also useful in motivating staff and trustees. It helps the orgnaization grasp all of the way your mission driven work is perceived.

Another instrument used by the Obama campaign is the instant matching gift. Make an on-line contribution and you will be notified in short order that your gift has been matched by a named individual—not a nameless company or special interest group, but an individual donor just like you. Donors are then invited to do the same--match someone else’s contribution. When they sign on to become a matching donor, they feel good that their gift has been matched, and then they are offered the opportunity to do the same for another donor. A cycle of giving is initiated that seems to be part of a disciplined approach to fundraising that is groundbreaking. And this all happens within minutes. The technique builds momentum.
The campaign website also offers a variety of opportunities to get involved –some without leaving your home. You can participate in a phone bank from your own home by simply, download a list, using the on-line instructions and wedging in calls when it is convenient for you.

The use of You-Tube by the general public to create independent testimonials for the candidate is another vehicle for communicating all the things that the candidate wants people to know without the expense or hype of campaign advertisements. Testimonials from your board chair and your CEO may not strike someone as objective, but there may be other volunteers and amateur videographers who would consider featuring your museum on You-Tube. This is another way of getting messages across and conveying value.

Along with these high tech approaches are the bloggers that are hard at work for their candidates…and reaching countless citizens of all ages. These are just some of the fundraising gems from this campaign season. They have been effective in expanding visibility and making connections that matter, and they could be useful to museums and other nonprofits. Qm2 would like to hear from you about your innovative approaches to the fundraising process.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What's on your mind these days?

I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately.

In August I interviewed community bankers in places like Lancaster and Hershey, PA. They spoke with passion about customer service, enduring relationships, and opportunity. Values before profits.

I spent much of last week’s AASLH meeting in Rochester, NY, asking museum colleagues about their challenges and frustrations. And I got an earful. Which is what I had hoped for after agreeing to share a booth with Dale Jones, a Qm2 colleague whose work involves helping museums and sites make connections with their visitors.

Here’s a sampling of what I heard from the directors, educators, board members, interpreters, site managers, and CEOs who stopped by our booth:

My biggest challenge is...

  • Trying to get a dysfunctional board to develop a plan
  • A CEO who just doesn’t get it
  • Engaging the board, especially in fundraising
  • An inherited staff
  • Dealing with the “founder’s syndrome”
  • Getting return visitation from local, non-members
  • A community that doesn’t know what a treasure they have in their own backyard
  • Money

I wake up in a cold sweat at night...

  • Afraid that the project I’ve been trying to get going just won’t happen
  • Wondering how I can overcome the attitude “We’ve never done it that way.”
  • Thinking about my dysfunctional board—micromanagers who lack commitment
  • Worried about our poor/non-existent marketing and promotion
  • Feeling anguish over the closing of historic sites in the future
  • Because we’re undercapitalized

So, what’s keeping you up at night these days? And, more importantly, what are doing about it?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Qm2 at AASLH in Rochester

Qm2 is in Rochester Sept 9 to 12 for the annual meeting of the American Association of State and Local History. This is where people who work in museums, archives, historical societies and historic properties gather to learn and share.

The theme this year is TRANSFORMATION. Our industry has been experiencing a fundamental transformation from internal to external orientation, from being collections driven to audience driven. This transformation has been playing out in every organization - some adapting more quickly than others - and with every individual - some enthusiastic, some resisting.

The historical profession today is far more open and accessible to diverse audiences than it was 20 years ago, when we first started using focus groups. Now, knowing one's audience is recognized as essential to success. Qm2 associate Dale Jones is a leading expert in gathering and using audience feedback to shape museum programs and exhibits.

Beyond asking the audience what they like or need or want, some organizations have begun to invite audiences in to partner in creating exhibits and programs. Deborah Schwartz, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Historical Society, has been a leader in this. BHS has a community gallery and the staff supports community groups who come in to create their own exhibits. The staff provides expertise, the community brings the story. Deb is in the Roundtable for museum directors that we run in Baltimore, and several other members of that roundtable have also created "community galleries."

Monday, August 25, 2008

Greening Your IT?

How does all the I.T. equipment and services affect the way your organization operates? You probably couldn't do without a lot of the ways of functioning that computer software and tools have made possible. At the same time, the continual requirement to keep software current, free of viruses and other bugs, and ensuring that your staff have the tools they need to do their work, means that you are also probably wondering how to get a better handle on your I.T. budget.

All the talk in the media and elsewhere about climate change, and the rising cost of power, may also be making you think about the ecological footprint of all this IT equipment in your organization. How much power is used to run all the computers? If you have a server room, how much power is needed to keep the servers at an optimal temperature?

Instead of moving money from program funds to cover IT and utility costs, or developing a new grant request to meet operating costs, why not consider ways to reduce both the economic and ecological impact without sacrificing quality and service standards?

We've just published a new article that brings you a report from a recent seminar that identifies three ways in which you can achieve both of these objectives.

Follow this link to learn more

and then tell us what you think in the comments section below...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Civic Leadership: Employee Volunteer Programs

Civic Leadership involves not only the museum's executive director, but also the staff.
The following string of comments was generated by members of the REX Museums Roundtable in St. Louis. (if you'd like to know more about REX Museums Roundtables, email me:

Hi everybody - I was wondering if you knew of any organizations that have an employee volunteer program. Since I think it's important for Villa Finale to be active in the community (following our donor's lead), and so many of my staff are new to San Antonio, I want to encourage them to volunteer at other organizations around the city. I've been thinking about instituting a program where employees can volunteer for other nonprofits during work hours periodically without having to take leave. I'd be interested to see how other programs are set up - whether it's actually a requirement, how many days or hours per year, what kind of reporting I'd need back from the employee, etc.


Sandra Smith Director, Villa Finale
National Trust for Historic Preservation 401 King William, San Antonio, TX 78204

Sandra, I’m considering something similar but haven’t acted upon it yet. We do support select staff in civic organizations and on other boards, but haven’t started a wider volunteer program. I plan to talk with some of the companies around here that have employee programs and get their guidelines to work from. I’d be interested to hear what you come up with and, of course, I’ll share from this end.


Betty Brewer, President & CEO, Minnetrista

Hi Sandra,
First, what a great idea. Talk about being a community leader. Many corporations consider this a plus when it comes to evaluations, but I do not know of any that have benchmarks or quotas for board engagement or community volunteering. I know Goldman Sachs (NY) has a very good program and Deb Schwartz at the Brooklyn Historical Society could fill you in on their volunteerism at BHS.

Just a couple other thoughts on your inquiry. Think about leadership roles they can play by serving on other boards. You don’t want to set them up for an obligatory board gift they cannot afford, but you do want to put them in the places that you see may have ties to Villa F. along the way or those that will give them and Villa F. visibility and connect them to other potential supporters and advocates for your work.

Have you considered contacting the director of your local leadership program and talk about opportunities not only for your employees to take on leadership in the community but also you can use the same visit to ask “who should be on our board.” As part of identifying people who might be good prospective board members, the Leadership organization is often a good source of involved/engaged people. You can test them out over drinks or lunch and get to know them before you explore a real relationship. Another good source is the community foundation—they work with so many nonprofit organizations and their grants often support education, etc.,--they know those who need a forward thinking person.

Great to see you at AAM
My best,


Anita Nowery Durel, CFRE, Durel Consulting Partners, an affiliate of Qm2

The Chickasaw Nation had what they called the Employee Incentive Program. If 100% completed you got an extra pay check (2-weeks) once a year but most people would have done it without the pay. An EIP plan was developed with your supervisor each year. The plan had to have at least 3 activities. It was recommended that one of the activities be civic organization or community based, one be educational, and the others could be anything else. People did things like Relay for Life and volunteering to do story time at schools or day cares, basically any kind of volunteer work. The EIP goals were suppose to be activities above and beyond normal job duties but which contributed to or strengthened your personal development and learning. The activities could be done during normal work hours. Percentages were up to the supervisor but some guidelines were provided. For example, an undergraduate college course was 20%. I used that as a standard to set percentages: 32 hours = 20%, 8 hours = 5%.

Sue Linder Linsley, Director, Trinity River Audubon Center

Hi Sandra:

Our community involvement program is informal but strategic. We encourage staff to get involved with organizations that have complementary purposes to the Children’s Museum, the local chapter of the National Association for the Education of Young Children or the Child Advocacy Center, for example, as a way to extend our reach/credibility. Then there are the various professional associations, American Marketing Association, Association for Fundraising Professionals, etc. Also, I am active in the Downtown Lincoln Association (as we are downtown), and our Director of Development and I frequent the various Chamber of Commerce meetings. Each of these activities requires investment of time, which we track for community responsibility reporting, but not for time off/comp time (even though in Nebraska, technically, there is no such thing as comp time…wink, wink) calculations; it is just a part of people’s jobs. This also only applies to salary; it is not extended to hourly staff.

We have discussed taking a day as a team and serving a meal at the soup kitchen, or pounding nails, or what have you, as a team-building exercise but we haven’t gotten around to that…it’s more of a two to three year goal (I’m still working on filling our bus with the right people…walk before run).

Maybe you already know about this, but there is a national organization that tracks local volunteer coordinators You can use it to find volunteer opportunities, or to list opportunities at your own organization.

Hope this helps,

Darren Macfee
Lincoln Children's Museum

We do not have a formal employee volunteer program either, but now I think it is something I should implement. Our curator and development director are involved in other non-profits and volunteer on our time. I do not think paying them is appropriate as they do it on museum time and reap the benefits of personal developement and friendships. It is a win-win for all.

Sharon Bradham
Executive Director
Cedarhurst Center for the Arts

Friday, May 2, 2008

Museum Leaders must be Civic Leaders

posted by John Durel

I've just returned from Denver where I presented two sessions on the museum director's role as a civic leader, one for ACM and one for AAM.

Museum leaders must be active participants in the civic conversation of their communities. What are people concerned about, interested in, aspiring to? How can you, as a museum leader, help your community create a compelling vision for its future?

The question is not how can the community help the museum, but rather how can the museum's resources be used to help the community achieve its vision.
Drawing on the experiences of four museum directors who participated on the session panels - Julia Bland from the Louisiana Children's Museums, Amy Lent from the Maine Maritime Museum, Shari Buckelew from the Children's Discover Museum in Normal, Illinois, and David Donath from the Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont - here are some guiding principles:
  1. Create a culture of civic participation in your museum. You, board members, and staff should participate as citizens in community activities and organizations. Become a community leader, not just the head of an organization that is in the community.

  2. Choose a prominent platform that will position your organization for opportunities that arise. Shari, for example, joined the Chamber of Commerce and eventually became president, which put her museum in a position to be the lead tenant in a downtown revitalization project. David served on the state historic preservation commission, which enabled him to take the lead in a statewide program to promote cultural tourism and sustainability.

  3. Choose civic conversations that align with your museum's mission. Look for a win-win situation, where the museum gains as the community gains. Make sure your mission becomes part of the civic conversation and community vision. Julia's vision for New Orleans, following Katrina, focused on the well being of children, which has led to the Children's Museum taking the lead in the creation of an Early Learning Village that will bring together several other organizations.

  4. Use the media to position yourself and your museum as a leader in the community. Amy took the opportunity of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown to write to Time magazine, pointing out that boat building in Maine was just as old, and that boat building remains a major industry in her state. Within a week one of Maine's senators was quoting her letter.

  5. Be politically savvy. As you participate in civic life, become aware of the sources of power and influence, and build relationships accordingly.

Some questions for you:

  • What are your experiences as a civic leader?
  • What challenges have you faced?
  • How do you balance the need to run the museum with the need to be out in the community?
  • How do you know when to say no to a request to get involved in a community project?
  • What success have you had?
  • How has being involved in your community helped your organization?
Share your story! Comment on this blog.