Three Things that Drive Momentum

Today, we're going to talk about the three things that you need as a nonprofit fundraiser. This is a little personal to me and kind of some of the things that I've observed over the last 20 years of working for nonprofits. And it's really kind of centered around one idea. And the idea is that you need to be aware of momentum, how it develops, how to encourage it, and also how to work with momentum, whether it's momentum that you see with staff members, board members, donors, but to recognize that momentum is cultivated really by three main things.
Episode 13
June 17, 2020

Today, we're going to talk about the three things that you need as a nonprofit fundraiser. This is a little personal to me and kind of some of the things that I've observed over the last 20 years of working for nonprofits. And it's really kind of centered around one idea. And the idea is that you need to be aware of momentum, how it develops, how to encourage it, and also how to work with momentum, whether it's the momentum that you see with staff members, board members, donors, but to recognize that momentum is cultivated really by three main things.

Today, we're going to talk about the three things that you need as a nonprofit fundraiser. This is a little personal to me and kind of some of the things that I've observed over the last 20 years of working for nonprofits. And it's really kind of centered around one idea. And the idea is that you need to be aware of momentum, how it develops, how to encourage it, and also how to work with momentum, whether it's the momentum that you see with staff members, board members, donors, but to recognize that momentum is cultivated really by three main things. If you are unsure how to move forward or feel stuck, schedule a free "No Shame Strategy Call." We are here to help you move from surviving to thriving over the next 18 months (yes, even in this crisis situation). Schedule your FREE call here:
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Show Notes:

This is Dave Sena with And this is your Bold Leading Podcast. Today, we're going to talk about the three things that you need as a nonprofit fundraiser. This is a little personal to me and kind of some of the things that I've observed over the last 20 years of working for nonprofits. And it's really kind of centered around one idea. And the idea is that you need to be aware of momentum, how it develops, how to encourage it, and also how to work with momentum, whether it's momentum that you see with staff members, board members, donors, but to recognize that momentum is cultivated really by three main things.

And those three things are God, good fortune and hard work. And the first two, God and good fortune, you really can't control. And depending on what you think religiously, you could say the universe or faith or something along that line, but an outside force that is not under your control. I choose to think about it just because I have a faith background as a Christian that I think of God. And then I also do think of good fortune that there are opportunities that come about because of that third piece, which is what you can control, which is hard work.

And the areas that I think about hard work is that we want to make sure that we honor the efforts of our staff members, our board members, volunteers, and also of your donors. And I think about a concept that I call mirroring. When we see energy and effort happening, we want to mirror or meet that energy with the same type of pace and speed that's coming at us. And so, I know for me, I like to think through things and be a little bit more ... I'm very curious. And a lot of times that curiosity gets me into trouble.

But when I see staff members that are really engaged in particular processes that are really moving the needle in their particular area. And if they're waiting on anything from me, those are the areas that are prioritized. So, I will stop some of the things that I'm trying to do in order to make sure that I meet their actions with the same force that they're giving it. So, if they're waiting for a project that I need to review, then I need to make sure I do everything to review it quickly, whether that's an email or whatever it may be. But as staff members, I want to be aware of where their energy is. And I don't want to steal energy from them because they were constantly waiting on me to do something.

And I learned this from my director, one of the first directors that I had when I was a young chaplain. I was probably, I think at the time, 29 to 30 years old. And we would try to schedule meetings with him, or we would try to ask things from him and he just never got back to you. There was just always the sense of there was something else that he had things going on, and it was just very difficult to build any momentum. We didn't have any staff meetings. We just didn't have any kind of conversation.

And so, even just him matching my tasks or the things I'd like to do with his input or energy or review just didn't happen. And I just remember how frustrated I was because of that. And I've decided that I wouldn't be that kind of a leader, that I would always try to recognize staff and people around me that are giving a full head of steam in their work and their efforts and their diligence to be able to match it.

And that's really done me well to develop organizations and teams that have a lot of momentum, because I'm always trying to make sure that I'm not the person dragging it down. The worst thing in the world you have as an employee, having a lot of effort, doing a lot of great things but you feel like you're always running uphill, that you don't have a wind at your back. And if I can, as a leader, create wind behind the backs of my staff members to encourage them so they feel like they have more grace or blessing to do the things they need to do, the better off I am.

And so, if I need to find ways to give them more equipment or more programs or more leeway or more trust or whatever it may be that really encourages them as a person and also as employee, the better off I am. So, I'm always trying to figure out ways to build loyalty into the people that I work with by me doing things that are loyal to them first, and to do that over and over again. And if I see them respond or reciprocate, then I know that we have the chance of having a really good team dynamic because we're both respecting each other. And both of us are really just trying to move the needle as far as trying to trust and encourage one another through this loyalty factor.

So I really want to make sure that as a leader, that I'm taking care of my staff in that fashion, that I'm making sure that I'm watching what they're doing or not doing and ensuring that I am not allowing them to wait too long. Now, as an executive director or CEO of an organization, there's always going to come things that are going to be pulling at your time. And you're always trying to balance who gets your time. And that's a real concern, and that's where you have to make decisions day to day on who's going to get your time and attention.

But as much as possible, you really want to prioritize your staff because those are the people that are really going to double your efforts. Those are the ones that are able to take things off of your plate. Those are the ones that are able to do more things for you to free up more time to do all the other things. And so, the more you can invest that early on, especially there's different stages of growth that you may run into where you have team members that are growing and doing things that you really want to encourage them go to that next level. So, you really got to watch that.

So, when we think about how to develop momentum, we think about what's under my control which is the first thing I think about is God, and then good fortune and then hard work. And we're talking about that hard work, but that's what's really under your control and you want to mirror what your staff members have. But you also want to think other people or groups in your organization. I think about volunteers in the same way.

If you have volunteers that are trying to open doors, they do new activities or do things that are new or different for your organization, you want to listen and try those. You want to allow them a certain amount of resources whether that's time or energy from your staff members to explore new projects or do different things, because you just never know that those things might all of a sudden blossom to something really big and great for your organization.

And I'm always intrigued by the idea that the best ideas and the greatest ideas that we will have as an organization are going to come from us listening to the feedback of donors and volunteers and people outside of our organization. And for me, that says that our organization is listening, that it's flexible, that it has the ability to take great ideas and take them from being an idea into an action. So that's really interesting to me. And so, I'm always trying to think through that as well for myself and hopefully train my team to do the same thing. So, we want to mirror that energy and the effort from staff and volunteers and listening to those great ideas.

And that third group that you want to think about is donors. As a fundraiser, going out and meeting with donors, it's really, really important. And I always have to be prepared to take notes and to really kind of listen to what my donors are telling me because they will often give me tasks or things that I need to do in order to come back and have a better conversation with them about our organization. A lot of times, I'll have a donor that'll have objections about why they should give or should give to particular project.

And as I do that, I don't take those objections as no's. I take those objections as assignments to go back and look at what they told me, listen to  what they told me and say, is there truth to what they're telling me? Is there ways that I can answer that question mark, or what they're doing by giving them more information, by clarifying things that I hadn't thought about in the meeting and coming back to them or verifying things.

I had one donor that said, "I really want to kind of help you out." But what I had one donor is that they really wanted to help me out. And what they did is they told me, "I want you to talk to my brother who is actually about an hour away. And I want you to tell him that I sent you to him so that he can actually give you a bull and that they would actually ..." Not a bull, I'm sorry, but actually a buffalo. And I worked at a homeless shelter and that they would actually give us buffalo meat, a whole buffalo.

And so I did, I had to drive the hour, meet the brother, explain who I was, tell him that his brother had sent me to ask him for a buffalo, that they could deliver it and butcher it, deliver it and actually bring to our homeless shelter, which he first said, "Well, only I can give you half." And as I told him more about what we were doing and the fact that we need meat, that was one of our biggest expenses, and that cost cash because we just don't get meat donated very often, he relented and actually gave us the buffalo.

And so I was able to go back to the original donor and say, "Hey, I did take you up on what you just told me to do. I went to talk to your brother, and lo and behold, because of what you did, we actually got some buffalo." And what that does with the donor is it builds trust that you're willing to go to sort of do the hard work of fundraising, and they're not alone. That donor is not alone in helping your organization, but you're willing to spread the wealth so to speak, that you're actually willing to go out to not just one or two donors expecting great things, but you're willing to go to 10 and 20 and a hundred donors expecting great things from all of them. And so, the pressure is not on one or two donors.

And when donors know that you're willing to do those sorts of things, it takes the pressure off and it allows them to keep joyful about the way that they give to you. And so, that's one of the things that I think that you really want to do, as you're trying to develop this hard work ethic and think about how do you really help those that are trying to help you, is to make sure that you're following up on the task, especially with donors of what they're wanting you to do, whether it's clarifying or giving them data, whether it's meeting with somebody or whatever they may be.

There's hundred variations of tasks that I get from donors. And you have to just be aware of what's going on there and take that seriously, to take the note, take the task, go do it, come back and then tell him you did it and then develop the relationship further. And it may be awhile before you could ask for a project or something, but you have to do the hard work with them based on what they're telling you.

And so, when I think about maintaining momentum as a fundraiser, as a nonprofit leader, you have to really watch who's doing the work around you whether it's a staff member, a volunteer, a donor. It could be a board member, people that are taking a lot of interests in what you're doing. And a lot of times, one of the things that I found is that people that had made the most objections, people that were always asking tough questions and just seemed like every time you get around these individuals, they just create a lot of static, a lot of frustration. And you're like, "Ugh."

In a lot of times, if you're not careful, you can turn that off and you can be frustrated yourself and create a lot of chaos there. But if you just stick it out, listen to what they're trying to do, work through with them, you will find out that more often than not, you're able to actually win the day. There's a couple of people that come to mind. One was a banker, and he was a treasurer on one of our boards when I was early in my career. And he was just always giving me heartache in our board meetings. And he would take our numbers, change the numbers, add them differently and explain to the board why the numbers I was giving them weren't correct.

And it was very, very frustrating for me until I finally sat down with him and asked him, "Hey, can you explain the numbers that you're doing and kind of what calculations?" And he explained them. And I found they were really good. They were really actually good methodology for explaining how to develop nonprofit organizations, kind of your financial status. And so, I said, "Would it be possible for me to just take your calculations and actually make them into a one pager that I can give out to all my board members? And how about if we meet ahead of time to go over to make sure I'm doing it correctly?"

And then I started doing that on a regular basis and it was amazing. As we started to do that, we built trust and what was originally difficulty, I learned from them and they were able to get communication that they knew that I cared about this particular issue as much as they did. And all of a sudden, they started to really advocate for the budgets and the things that we're trying to do because they knew where I stood, that I really cared about our financial wellbeing of the organization and really developed a very strong relationship between that board member and myself that really maintained for years until they kind of got off the board and did other things, but it was a really great partnership.

And I knew you've even seen that in other nonprofit boards that I've been a part of that people that seemed to be really difficult to work with, that if you just stay working with it to kind of find that out and build that trust really that you're willing to work as hard as they are to understand what they're trying to say, understand the concerns they have, and to go do the work of mitigating those concerns and explain it to them that I get what you're trying to say. And I think it's important.  

And if you're able to do that hard work, people will trust you and they will then continue to work for the organization. And you will start to build really great trust because you're willing to do that work to kind of get through the things that you thought were chaotic or even difficult but it turns out they just really cared about your organization and weren't sure that you cared about it, and that's what caused the friction.

And so, when we talk about God, good fortune and hard work, some things you can count on and that's hard work. I mean, you can do that work. And of course, that only takes you so far, but I do think that, at least for me, that prayer and watching to see where those things that were outside of my control have energy and put my time there to watch and to learn what's going on and then put some effort in there.

A lot of times, you could see a spark in somebody or spark in a conversation or a little bit of extra work somebody did, or a little bit of interest, even if it's on a phone call. A lot of times, I tell people that when I train them to call donors is to find out, is to be aware of those donors that are lingering on the phone call. And that's a little bit of extra energy that they're giving to you because they're interested. And if you could pay attention to that and do the hard work of listening, then it's going to be something that you can really take advantage of because you're mirroring their energy level and mirroring their activity.

And so, even like when donors give $25 or a $100 or $1,000, we want to mirror that activity. So, we want to send thank you letter, thank you card. And if they are willing to meet, then we meet with them. If they're willing to have a second meeting, we do that. If they respond to an ask that we have or sponsorship, you're just consistently mirroring their activity. And it's not that we're trying to give better preferential treatment to people that give more money to an organization, but we're mirroring their energy and their activity.

So if we have somebody, like I had one donor that I drove like two hours to meet with them. They were $5,000 donor at the time, which for our organization at that time was a pretty significant gift. And they said to me, they worked on a farm and they were very busy. And I remember they said, "Don't come out anymore. Don't call us. Don't thank us. We're going to give you this amount of money every year. And we don't need you to take the effort to do that," which I sort of honored. I didn't go out and visit them anymore, but I would leave a voicemail. And I would periodically send a thank you card or sign them a little extra saying, "We really appreciate you guys giving. And I hope everything's going well with the farm."

So, these are some of the things that you have to kind of pay attention to and listen to what's happening around you that you didn't initiate. So, you have to kind of think about the things that are going on around you that you didn't initiate and put the hard work to discover what's going on in that situation and put a little bit of extra effort. And you will see over time that it will develop.

And so we went, when I first started my first nonprofit, we had about $340,000 a year that came in off of individual donations. In the last year, we actually raised $1.6 million in the last year that was with them. And the way we did that was to match the energy level and put the hard work out, thanking donors, connecting with them, calling them and matching their efforts with our efforts. And the amazing thing is, as we gave them energy, they fed off our energy and it was just kind of going back and forth where there's just this tornado of activity where they're feeding off us, we're feeding off them. And it just becomes this wonderful synergy because we decided to match their hard work.

And so, there are some things that we can't control, but we have to fully pay attention to them. There's just these little sparks of energy that you will see over and over again and just put your effort. Not all of them will pay off and they won't all pay off immediately. But if you do it over time, many of them will pay off whether it's a $500 gift or an extra board member or they open door to something. You just never know what's going to happen.

So if you're feeling overwhelmed today as a nonprofit leader or a fundraiser, and you're maybe uncertain as to what's the next big thing you should do, maybe it's a small thing. Maybe it's that donor or that person that's kind of giving you a headache that you needed to take him out for a coffee and find out what's going on. Maybe it's doing the extra phone call, looking at your donor list and calling the last 20 people personally that gave to your organization and calling them. Whatever it may be, it could be some small things.

If you just stick with it on a consistent basis, then you can see some really amazing things happen. So, we can't control what God or outside forces do for us, whether you call it God or good fortune, but we can control hard work. And we can control the effort that we give to our staff members, to our board members, to our volunteers and especially the donors. It's amazing we do that.

And I did this also for media, making sure that the media knew we have a small market. I mean, we have ... Our town is less than a hundred thousand, our area. So, anytime a media wanted to talk to us about something, I just told them just give me a call where we'd be glad to be on camera or to be interviewed. Whatever it may be, we'll make whatever effort we can to satisfy the needs you have as a media person, as a journalist or radio or TV, whatever it may be. Again, trying to match that energy level and to do that.

And so, if you want to develop momentum and energy in your organization, you got to be aware of God, good fortune and hard work. And that hard work part of it is the key. And you say, "Well, Dave, I'm feeling overwhelmed right now. I feel like I'm already working hard." Well, maybe it's redirecting the hard work that you have in the areas that others are showing interest in what you're doing and that you redirect some of your efforts to do that. And maybe that you need an extra help from volunteers or staff member or board member to let them know and ask them, would they help you to sort of water this energy and that another  people are giving this spark to take care of it.

And so, if you're feeling overwhelmed, it may be that you just need to redirect some of this effort. And yes, that sometimes it means that you have to go the extra mile and you have to really dig in deep to do some of this stuff. I know when I was a first time director, I would sort of laughingly tell people as long as there's two people inviting me to come speak and the place that we were speaking was a little bit larger than a closet, I would come. But I traveled a 75-mile radius around our organization. As people were interested in learning more about our homeless shelter, I was trying to get out there and tell people more and more. And as more people got to hear about it, there was again, there's just synergy about what you're doing.

Now the great thing about today compared to when I first started, and that would have been about 2001 is the internet has really taken off. So you can create some of these sparks a lot easier through social media, watching people who are responding consistently, who are retweeting and sharing and being aware of those sorts of things. So, there's ways that you can do this even through social media and create little videos, or social media posts and different things, and see what people are responding to and putting your energies in that level. So there's lots of different ways that you can find out how are people responding to what your guys are doing. And if they're responding to certain areas, move in that direction.

And so, a lot of times I found as a visionary that I might be two, three, four years ahead of what my staff or my board or others might be ready for. And I need to be able to shift gears to find out what are the things that are giving them energy now. And I'm like, well, what we're trying to do in the future is bigger, better, and will be more beneficial than what we're doing now. But if people are not with you with your vision, it can actually be detrimental of you trying to pull people in the direction you want to go as opposed to riding a wave of the energy in that direction and then trying to then maneuver it and guide it as opposed to force it in the direction you want to go.

So I just want to encourage you as you think about this year, when you think about you doing fundraising and your nonprofit activities, especially in the fall when there's a lot of energy anyways, especially for donors and volunteers, is to pay attention. Do all the hard work today of trying to develop your systems, trying to make sure you have a plan for the fall, that you have stories and stats that you can easily share with people that want to share your information.

And this will be the last thing that I would encourage you to think about is how do you make it easy? So, how do you make it easy for donors or board or staff to share your organization, to put their energy around what the hard work you're doing? How do I make it easy for them to be involved, to add their energy, their hard work to help us get where we're going? And that's where we really encourage you to develop, how to ask for money or to ask for volunteers without asking for money or volunteers kit. And if you do that, you can visit our website, and schedule a meeting with me. I'd love to explain it to you. And we actually have another podcast if you search for it that talks a little bit about it.

But the idea is really simple. The idea about how to ask for money without asking money, or if we are asking people to help without asking for help, is this idea of sharing the importance of your organization to doing it in a way that's simple and doing it in a way that others can do it on your behalf. And so, you can have a simple card, business card. It could be just a word document but something that people can easily gravitate to that has information about what you guys are doing, they can add their energy to it and they can actually give it out very easily without them being put on the spot.

So, one of the things you want to do around these God, good fortune and hard work, is to make it easy for things to happen for your organization. Number one, you do that through hard work and paying attention to the energy around you, but you also allow opportunities for people to come alongside of what you're doing. And the way that you can do that is to develop simple systems for them to come alongside you whether it's just sharing a social media post. It could be a peer-to-peer campaign, fundraiser. It could be just a card that you develop and say, here, just hand out 20 or 30 of these.

We did this with what we call the a $10 and two $1's. What would you do with $10 and two $1's? With $12, you could actually feed somebody for three meals and give them a night of shelter, and that was for our homeless shelter. And we had an individual take those brochures and work with their church and they raise over $20,000 with us because we gave them a tool that they could easily share what we were doing, didn't have to think about it, didn't have to get it confirmed or approved. They could just share it over and over again on our behalf. And because of that, they could raise a lot of money, which they did for us.

And so, that's one of the things you want to be able to do is to multiply your hard work by encouraging other people that have come alongside of you, but you have to have a system or a mechanism to do that. Whether it's an online giving platform or a peer-to-peer fundraiser, whether it's a card that you're doing or a talk that you do where you get 10 different speakers to come and take your talking points and share across your city. There's lots of ways that you can kind of replicate your hard work by franchising your mission for other people to then get a piece of it, to be able to use your mission, to change your community under your umbrella in a way that's already been authorized by you because you develop the systems and the cards to do it. And that's the other way that you can develop momentum to get you from here to where you would like to be in the future.

So if you're a nonprofit CEO starting out or you're very experienced, maybe this is just a reminder for you. I really encourage you to think about God, good fortune and hard work. That as a nonprofit leader, you need to be aware of all three, because all three are what develop momentum for your organization. If you can manage that well, you can do amazing things for your community, especially for the people that you serve.

This is Dave Sena, And if you're facing complexity and confusion in your nonprofit and you need a trusted friend, we're here to help you. And you can visit Sign up for your No Shame Strategy Call and we would love to be in contact with you and just kind of see how we could help you out. Whether it's through a quick phone call or a long- term relationship, we're here to serve you nonprofits that we love so much, doing great work in the world, developing momentum, putting in the hard work and expecting great things to happen.

This is Dave Sena from