7 Tips: Virtual Planning Session

We’ve been living in a pandemic for nearly a year now. I think it’s safe to say, we are all ready for a little more normalcy. One is for in person events to be a normal occurrence again. But if your state, county, city or organization isn’t ready for that step the next best thing is a virtual one. Nonprofits need to continue serving their mission in the community. Strategic planning sessions with boards and committees is a common occurrence for the leadership and help continue to direct new initiatives of the organization. This year, planning sessions may be on a computer screen instead of a board room. Here are a few helpful reminders and tips on how to have a successful virtual planning session with your volunteers.

  1. Send a Calendar Invite AND a Follow Up Reminder
    It is so helpful to send one (maybe two) gentle reminders about an upcoming virtual meeting. For some, each day may still be in flux with personal and professional life adjustments due to the pandemic and the economy. So make it simple to add it to a calendar or find the link to join the meeting. Send a text instead of an email if that helps too.
  2. Build in Time for Virtual Small Talk
    It is very possible that your volunteers have only emailed or texted each other. It might be the first time they’ve “seen” each other in a long while. So allow time for a little catch up with their volunteer buddies. It could set the mood in a positive direction and get your board volunteers ready to work.
  3. Start the Session With a Mission Moment
    Setting the tone for the meeting can be as easy as story telling. Take just a minute or three to talk about what the organization had done to positively impact the community, recently. Start with, Skippy the dog that was saved from puppy mill and has found a new home with a sweet 4 year old boy. Or the family who needed a little help with clothes and food last year. Or the smiles on the faces of the school children who watched, virtually, while the Orchestra played Holiday songs. Whatever the reason your organization does what it does, bring it to life in a story.

    Leverage the technology you are using for the planning session and show pictures of Skippy and his journey to that 4 year old boy. Invite the family to the virtual meeting to talk about how important that hand up was last year. Play the video of the kids watching and dancing to the music of the holidays. Showing your volunteers WHY the nonprofit exists will set the tone and the urgency to continue the mission of the organization.
  4. Use an Ice Breaker (But Don’t Call It That)
    The word “icebreaker” always brings a collective groan to members of any meeting. So don’t use it! They are still important and are a good tool just change it’s name. I like to use short personality quizzes. I recently used a “What’s Your Fundraising Personality?” quiz. Everyone enjoyed learning a little more about themselves and the others on the board. This type of exercise brings a group closer together and can help define the strengths and opportunities for growth of the group.
  5. Don’t Forget to Include a Break
    I am of the opinion that if you are planning to have a virtual meeting longer than 1.5 hours, you should include a break. Not a long one, just enough to fill a water bottle, stretch your legs and maybe check priority emails. Your volunteers will appreciate it and will come back refreshed and ready to start again.

    And if you need 7 to 8 hours of planning to do with your group, consider breaking it up into two 4 hour virtual days.
  6. Use Virtual Break Out Rooms and Polling
    I love the Zoom feature of breakout rooms for large and small virtual meetings. The benefits are the same as when an in person meeting breaks up a committee/board into smaller groups so does the virtual breakout rooms. It provides those who are overwhelmed by a large group an opportunity to be heard in a less than intimidating environment. It deters from group think and thereby allowing creativity to flourish.

    The facilitator or host of the virtual call can also join any of the breakout rooms. Which is helpful if the small group has a question or gets stuck in their discussion. The host can also assign rooms to certain volunteers on the call or the platform with randomly assign volunteers to a room. This is a great feature if you want to allow specific people to gather separately, like providing time for committees to meet during the planning session. Or mixing up the groups randomly to help foster transparency and less siloes of knowledge.
  7. Use an Outside Facilitator
    When the staff of the organization or the full board can participate fully in the planning of the nonprofit, it makes for a better plan. All parties feel they are on the same same boat all rowing together. Moving toward the same objective, together. Using a facilitator gives everyone in the organization a chance to participate as an attendee working hard on the plan for the organization. Not working hard to create the environment and no how to allow for others to work hard on the plan for the organization. That burden is on the outside facilitator.

If you’d like more ideas on how to facilitate your next strategic planning session email me or call Griffin Fundraising and Marketing for a free consultation.

Roadmap to Success in 2021

Recently, Small Shop Fundraising, a podcast hosted by GF&M’s Liz Hack, spoke with the Associate Director at Kentucky Nonprofit Network (KNN), Laura Whitaker. In December of 2020, KNN collected survey responses from nonprofits in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. You can find the survey report and slide links at the bottom of this post.

Admittedly, there were some very dismal numbers from the respondents. For example, 46% of the respondents reported current or expected reduction in services impacting over 900,000 Kentuckians due to lack of funding. 54% of nonprofits reported current or expected increase in the demand for services, resulting in a $13.6 million increase in expenses to date due to Covid-19. So while the need is increasing, the ability to provide services is stagnant or decreasing. How is a nonprofit to survive this environment? Some Kentucky nonprofits haven’t, KNN reported from their survey that 7% of nonprofits have closed their doors for good.

Nonprofits Find Hope

Even in uncertain times, nonprofits find hope through flexibility and partnership. That’s our analysis of how nonprofits will be successful in 2021. Below are four ways to find success:

  1. Willingness to Collaborate with Others
    The saying, “It takes a village” has never been more real for nonprofits than in 2021. In 2020, nearly half the respondents from the survey said they started new collaborations that will be permanent partnerships. My analysis is collaborations were initially formed to help keep costs low but perhaps nonprofits found a new way of providing much needed services. Collaborations, the partnership, can take many forms but there needs to be an openness by staff and board members to allow for partnerships to form. Change is hard especially when being forced to by a world wide pandemic. But an open mind to the partnership possibilities can ease the anxiety of change. How can your nonprofit benefit from collaborations?
  2. Deliberately Find and Recruit Board and Committee Members to Help Build Collaborative Relationships
    Does your nonprofit want to provide services in public schools? Are you interested in partnering with artists, the county jail, homeless shelters, addiction clinics, etc.? My suggestion to you is to then work with your board and volunteers to find ways to connect to those entities and their leadership. Share with them your mission, your goals and make the case for partnering as a win-win for all. And then ask them to join you in bettering the community. They can then champion the idea of the strategic alliance within their organization. What organizations/business entities would your nonprofit find success in partnering with and who can help you get connected to them?
  3. Stay Relevant With Needs In Your Community
    The KNN survey asked respondents what were the top areas of increased need from clients. Out of the 18 areas, the top five in order were:
    – Food Insecurity
    – Housing
    – Mental Health
    – Utilities
    – Employment
    How can your nonprofit support the top needs of your community? Is there a business or nonprofit you can collaborate with to support the increased needs? Collaboration can again provide opportunities for nonprofits to impact growing areas of need in communities. I’m not suggesting to change your mission to try and meet the needs of the now. Rather, creatively consider how your mission can support the growing needs of our communities right now.
  4. Look for Fee for Service Revenue Streams
    As traditional revenue streams, like special events, fail to meet their goals in years past, innovative nonprofits start to build other opportunities. One of them is fee for service or earned revenue opportunity. From the KNN survey many nonprofits are hoping to build or strengthen this income stream as a means to stay open and thrive in 2021.
    How can your nonprofit monetize a program, service or product to diversify your income stream?

These four ways are not silver bullets to success. Merely, four initiatives to consider adding to the mix of other partnerships and other fundraising strategies. With these and other strategies nonprofits can continue to lead communities to better days and creating hope where it was once lost.

A BIG thank you to Kentucky Nonprofit Network for their continued support of nonprofits in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

KNN Website
KNN Survey Slides
KNN Summary Report

Here’s the link to the podcast episode with Laura Whitaker on Small Shop Fundraising! You can now listen on Apple Podcast!

16 People to Thank. Now!

This year has been tough. You’ve learned to adapt and roll with the punches. You’ve gone virtual. Maybe your organization had to go from a staff of 5 to a staff of 2. No matter what, you haven’t done the hard work on your own. So we all have a larger list of people to show gratitude more than any other year.

We should all know that donors should be thanked. But what about other people in your “tribe”? The others that made the hard days bearable and celebrated the good ones. If you don’t know where to start, we made a list. Just below the list are some easy, inexpensive ideas on how to say thanks!

  1. Board Members (current and past)
  2. Volunteers- anyone who’s done anything over the last 18 months
  3. Donors! – Do you have a stewardship plan for them?
  4. Paid staff
  5. Your staff’s family- this year’s been tough on them too
  6. Your boss
  7. Your co-workers
  8. Your non-profit partners- helping you do the important work.
  9. Those you have learned from- be it mentors, speakers, a peer, etc.
  10. Social Workers
  11. Custodial Staff
  12. Sanitation Workers
  13. Delivery Workers
  14. Food Service Staff
  15. Your circle of supporters
  16. YOU! – You have done an amazing job this year!

How could you show your appreciation? Does it need to be low cost? Easy to implement? Here are a few to think about…

  1. If an in person thank you isn’t possible, call or set up a video call.
  2. Record a video on your phone of your leadership saying thank you and add it to your newsletter. You could even segment to your staff, donors, volunteers, etc., and send them a special email.
  3. A thank you card sent in the mail is always acceptable. I found this cool company that takes the card game up a notch. LovePop has some really unique cards that will be sure to put a smile on the person’s face.
  4. Say thank you to your staff or volunteers in public at volunteer and staff meetings.
  5. Connect your mission to the way you say thank you to your communities. If your in the visual arts for kids, have the participants create the cards. If you care for animals make sure you have a cat and a dog in your thank you video.

Thank you for taking the time for reading this and looking for ways to thank people who have been part of the 2020 journey.

Quick Video on LovePop Cards

How To: Plan for the Plan

I just got a survey in the mail from a nonprofit I donate to once or twice a year.  It says it’s an annual survey of all it’s close friends. It also specifically says that amid the current pandemic, my input is very important as “we attempt to navigate through some tough challenges.”

To me, this is a very smart move for this small nonprofit. Instead of guessing at what donors/volunteers want from their favorite nonprofit, they took the time to ask. Taking the time to ask and get feedback streamlines programs, fundraising strategies and marketing later on. It is a very efficient exercise to spend time on planning the plan now and then focusing on what the donor/volunteer/member wants throughout the year.

As we all search for the “new normal” it occurred to me that assuming we (the nonprofit leadership and staff) know what the “new normal” looks like for our donors and other stakeholders is dangerous to the recovery of the nonprofit sector. For example, assuming that your nonprofit should “press pause” on your fundraising annual plan or kicking off a new service or program without getting feedback from those who might support it would be detrimental to the staff who would run it, the participants who would use that program or service and the donors who are passionate about impacting their communities.

Create the time to “take the temperature” of your donors/volunteers and participants before forging ahead on a campaign or program that you think fits the current needs of your constituents. Here are some cost effective ways to implement collecting data and feedback:

  1. USPS- Much like the nonprofit mentioned, you can send a letter with a short (no more than 15 questions) survey. For best response, send a stamped envelope for the surveyor to send back and an option to fill out the survey online.
  2. Online Survey- Email an online survey to your constituents to fill out. With some online survey tools you can add a link to your social media platforms as well. Again, keep it short and simple. No more than 5 to 10 questions.
  3. Facebook Group Poll- Facebook give you the opportunity to poll members of your group. So if your nonprofit has a Facebook group set up, you can poll that audience one question at a time. This is an option for questions and answers that can be shared with anyone since there is no confidentiality.
  4. Face to Face Surveys and Focus Groups- With these types of survey environments, confidentiality can be provided and more in-depth and sensitive questions can be asked without the risk of ruffling feathers.

In all these instances it is important to uncover quality quantitative data and anecdotal evidence of the needs and direction the stakeholders would like to steer the nonprofit. Data that can set benchmarks and begin the goal setting process. Ancillary benefits typically bubble up from a survey process; volunteer leadership and support from unknown sources are uncovered. Unknown but perceived issues, strengths and weaknesses are also uncovered through asking for feedback.

So while we all start to open our businesses and nonprofits again we must take a pause to consider our new normal, learn from our supporters and move forward, together.

Have You Asked the Board?

I was sitting in on yet another virtual meeting a few weeks ago with two panelists who are working in nonprofit fundraising. The topic? You guessed it. The impact of fundraising during a pandemic. The panel was going over the shift in programs, communications and administration and the rapid change that’s had to happen. What stuck with me was that one organization was running so quickly to shift and change to abide by guidelines that they almost forgot to involve and do outreach to their Board of Directors.

At the time I remember being snarky in thinking, “What’s new?” But it got me thinking. Any time, but especially in a crisis, local to the organization or world-wide, continuously keeping your board involved and engaged will lead to higher rates of success. Nonprofits of any size have board members who are passionate and willing to support their cause. Other than staff, they represent the closest constituents to your organization so they should be well informed on how the nonprofit is moving forward through these uncertain times. So remember to include them when it seems appropriate.

Fundraising is not just about asking for money but starting and maintaining relationships with those who also care about the same cause. Here are three social distancing ways you can include your Board of Directors in fundraising:

  1. Educate your board of directors on how the organization has been impacted by the pandemic. Has the need for your services increased? Or decreased? Are you an essential nonprofit? Have you started new programs/services because of an increased demand? How has the pandemic impacted your ability to staff your nonprofit? Do you have anecdotes and stories you can share with the board the shows the impact? The answers and others form the new case for support for your organization’s sustainability through 2020.
  2. Once you have educated them on the new case for support ask them to be part of spreading the word. Donors, volunteers and online followers simply need to know that you are still providing services, still building programs for education or animal welfare or arts and culture, etc. The balance is to make it easy to do at home or socially distant. Here are some ideas based on non-profit sectors:
    1. Environmental/Parks: Ask Board Members to create a “how to” video on how to safely use parks in their area with the new CDC rules.
    2. Animals: Create videos of board members with their animals from home playing fetch, with a cat toy or on a horse.
    3. Arts & Culture: Ask a board member to teach dance, or create art in a video to promote any virtual programs.
    4. Health: Ask a board member to create a video of them making personal protective equipment.
  3. Ask board members to send out thank you cards to donors. There is always time to thank someone for their time, talent and/or treasure. So make it more personal by providing your board members with thank you cards, a list of addresses and stamps to send a personalized greeting from a fellow donor/volunteer.

All of these ideas aren’t just for when the world is facing a very contagious virus and we are all quarantined. Try them out now and see how your organization can implement them in other ways.

Do you have other ideas Board of Directors can do to help promote and advocate for their nonprofit? Tell us about it on Facebook.

2007 National Senior Games #FBF

Happy belated 2015! In the new year, we’ve been reflecting about clients, their supporters and those whose mission focuses on healthy lifestyles. One of our best experiences was working with the Louisville Sports Commission and the National Senior Games. The National Senior Games is a sports competition held every two years for seniors from North America. With more than 10,000 competitors and 20,000 spectators, it the largest multi-sports event specifically devoted to adults ages 50 and older.

Louisville Senior Games logo

The custom made Louisville Senior Games logo.

The Louisville Sports Commission was bidding on hosting the competition in 2007. To host an event of this size the entire community has to be a part of supporting it. So the Commission asked for a planning study to be completed. They wanted evidence that organizations, businesses and foundations in the city and region would support an event that would raise the awareness of healthy living.

The planning study, successfully completed by GF&M, reflected community support, and identified volunteer leadership, sporting venues, along with potential sources of financial support to move the project forward.

The Sports Commission contracted with GF&M to conduct a campaign for the Games. With leadership from the Louisville Host Committee, we were successful in generating over $4 million in local and national support for the Louisville Games. In fact, GF&M’s role with the Senior Games extended beyond Louisville. We created a multi-year sponsorship for Humana and Astrazenaca both of which are still supporting the Senior Games today.

#TBT Hands On Tech Workshop


Workshop title pic

Last Thursday Griffin Fundraising and Marketing hosted our first workshop. We focused squarely on how to make your nonprofit website simple and efficient for donors while providing great content in a deliberate way.

The workshop speakers were husband and wife tag team Liz and Scott Hack. Liz is a Senior Consultant with GF&M and has had over 13 years of experience in marketing, sales and public relations. Scott Hack is a Real Estate Broker at Finish Line Realty and self proclaimed geek who was using email before AOL came out with “You’ve Got Mail”. Through out the morning the two covered tips, best practices and How To make your nonprofit website easy to use. Just one of the many ideas for a more efficient site was to prominently display your “Donate Now” button on your website by making it a different color and a bigger button than the others on the page.

We also talked about why GF&M prefers WordPress as a platform for a nonprofit’s website. Worldwide, WordPress based websites account for 20% of all sites on the Internet today. That’s more than 76 million sites. Plus, it’s easy to use and very inexpensive to operate.

We had a lot of great discussion with the group who attended. Thanks to all who attended. If you have more questions on your nonprofit website send us an email or give us a call at 502-671-0680. We’d be happy to help.

Scott and I at workshop

liz at workshop

#TBT 2001 Intel ISEF

In 2001 GF&M had the honor of working with this fabulous group of volunteers during the Intel ISEF hosted in San Jose, California. Our role was to support the fundraising and event management of the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). This host committee worked tirelessly to create one of the best Intel ISEF’s ever.

‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’ – Winston Churchill

Inte ISEF 2001 host committee

Intel ISEF 2001 Host Committee

#TBT FFA National Convention

FFA National Convention

FFA students march into their annual National Convention in Louisville

As a firm, we are very proud of our headquartered city. As a native of Louisville, I have a personal belief that as a community member it is my duty to be an ambassador for the home team. Every new “transplant” I meet, I welcome them to Louisville and try to provide a few new cool things they should discover about the city and the state.

When GF&M partners with Louisville’s Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), we have that same opportunity, but on a whole new level!  Since 1992, GF&M has had the opportunity to partner with the CVB on many different projects like the Intel ISEF, the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial and the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Associate to mention a few.  In the 1990’s, as FFA was just starting to think about moving the National Convention out of Kansas and possibly to Louisville, GF&M was tapped by the CVB to help develop a strategy for sharing this unique opportunity of bringing “65,000 blue coats” to Louisville with our corporate and civic business leaders. The question that needed a response was WHY Louisville would be interested in hosting an essentially Agri Business property of high school students.

GF&M understood the challenge and proposed a strategy that would showcase the value of one of FFA programs, the leadership training. The idea was to take FFA student leaders into  corporate and foundation offices, letting the students tell their stories of what FFA had done for them, and what they now, as student leaders, wanted to do for FFA and the future membership. This strategy gave Louisville leaders a first-hand experience with the quality of the student leaders. The meetings showcased the student’s ability to meet diverse leaders with a variety of interests and backgrounds, and to respond to their questions in a balanced and professional manner. The response of the business leadership was terrific!

These early meetings provided the basis for the development of future relationship with Louisville businesses and foundations. As the students shared their stories, which were  reinforced by convention attendees, Louisville’s respect for the work of FFA and the quality of the student participants was increased. From the early meetings, a host city committee was identified to streamline FFA’s request for the Convention including their need for volunteers, judges and funding. Today, Louisville is on a three year rotation cycle with Indianapolis. While the rotation offers challenges, it also provides the region with an opportunity to recruit these young students and future leaders back to our communities for college and jobs.

As stated in a recent Insider Louisville article, the FFA national convention comes to Louisville. That convention alone generates a $40Million economic impact for the city. We are thrilled to say that GF&M had a part in supporting that effort for the city of Louisville.

#TBT Independence Day

Waterfront Festival

#TBT 2003 Independence Festival

Way back in 2003 the city was really starting to come together. That’s the year the city of Louisville and Jefferson County were merged into a single consolidated city-county government with the official name of Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government. The official short form of the name is Louisville Metro.

That was the year the board of Waterfront Development Corporation (WDC) engaged the services of Griffin Fundraising and Marketing to help them define the feasibility of their “big dream” for the park and one of their largest events at the time, the Independence Festival.

The Independence Festival (Festival) began in 1989, ten years before the opening of 55 acres we all know today as the core of the park. By 2003, fourteen years later, the Festival became the seventh largest event in the region with an attendance of over one hundred thousand. It was one day of family fun, recreation, music and fireworks. As a free event, the Festival was a meeting place for the entire community to celebrate our independence.

In 2003, the board had a vision for the Festival to further enhance the quality and appeal of the event to both the diverse local audience and the regional tourists.  To roll out that vision and “big dream” to city and regional leaders, Griffin Fundraising and Marketing was tapped to conduct a Planning Study for the Waterfront Independence Festival. From that planning study major changes and suggestions were given to help make the board’s big dream a reality. It was from that planning study that the two day Independence Festival was created. A corporate sponsorship plan was also identified and rolled out to the community. It was in 2003 that the long time presenting sponsor of the Festival was named. From 2003 to 2013 the Independence Festival was an opportunity for every part of the community and region to celebrate the history, government, and traditions of the United States. It is our hope that community support will again allow the city to do just that on our waterfront in 2015. 

Traveling War Memorial

AVTT replica of Vietnam War Memorial

For 2014, a national group has provided a gift to celebrate the history, government and traditions of the United States this Independence Day. The Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, a client of GF&M’s, is holding its national reunion in downtown Louisville this weekend. As part of their programming, they have brought the American Veteran Traveling Tribute’s 80% replica of the famous Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. from July 2nd to July 6th on the South Great Lawn in Waterfront Park. Additionally, the Reunion is setting up a static display of helicopters used in the Vietnam War near the river on part of the North Great Lawn in Waterfront Park that is open to the public on the 3rd and 4th. A Combat Assault Re-enactment starts at 4 pm on the 4th. This promises to be a very special 4th of July evening indeed!