Fri, February 26 2010

Nonprofit Blog Carnival: Nonprofit Gurus Share Highs and Lows of Their Careers

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Nonprofit leadership •

Welcome!  I’m delighted to be the host for this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival.  I asked some of my favorite bloggers to hold forth on the topic, “Highs and Lows” - great successes or flaming failures of their nonprofit careers.  Jeff Brooks of Future Fundraising Now, Kivi Leroux Miller of NonprofitMarketingGuide and Jake Seliger of Grant Writing Confidential came through big time.  Plus, I’m adding one of my own failures in this post.

Before I get to the great entrants, a quick thanks to and Joanne Fritz for sponsoring the carnival.  And in case you’re waiting for me to start selling you cotton candy and funnel cakes, I should explain the carnival is simply a monthly roundup of themed blog posts hosted by various bloggers in the nonprofit world. (What’s a carnival?) 

Here is this month’s roundup of wisdom:

1. My Nonprofit High and Low: Both on the Same Day by Kivi Leroux Miller

Kivi Leroux Miller of NonprofitMarketingGuide has this wonderful post on a low point in a nonprofit job that led to her current incredible career as a thought leader and consultant.  I am a fan and friend of Kivi, and I’ve got to tell you, that low was a real gift to all of us who now benefit from her wisdom.  ( I should also add Network for Good - where I am COO - regularly turns to her as a consultant, too.)

She has such good advice:

Don’t stay in a job you hate, especially in the nonprofit world, where you have so many opportunities to do work you truly love. When you see people keeping secrets from or gossiping about other staff and board members, either shine a bright light on the situation or get out fast. Change is always hard, but in my experience, it’s nearly always good.

2. Fundraising failure shows you can’t take donors where they don’t want to go by Jeff Brooks

Like Kivi, Jeff Brooks is one of my favorite bloggers and thinkers.  You should read his Future Fundraising Now blog regularly.  (I should add Network for Good also uses Jeff as a consultant.  I know there’s a pattern here but what can I say, I like to have smart people on our team!)

Jeff writes about a fabulous fundraising piece that fell flat.  And he has some terrific counsel for all of us:

Turns out you can’t just raise funds for anything you want. If you go to your donors with an offer they don’t associate you with, they just might ignore you in droves. No matter how great your work is.

Charitable giving is complex. It works when a lot of factors all come together. When you change one or more of those factors—like talk to donors about something they don’t feel signed on to support—you can actually lose money in direct mail.

3. True Believers and Grant Writing: Two Cautionary Tales by Jake Seliger

This is a wonderful post from Jake’s Grant Writing Confidential blog, which was new to me but now on my must-read list. If you’re not familiar, you must check it out.

Jake has great stories from toiling in the grant salt mines for over 16 years, a few of which he shares with us.  I love this post, which describes how zeal can derail your chances of getting a grant. 

My favorite part of the post is:

It’s pretty tough to keep a nonprofit going on bratwurst, car washes, and hope. You’re not going to reach as many people if you don’t have the organizational capacity to do so. Put aside your passion long enough to write proposals that are aimed at the funder’s guidelines, not your parochial view of the universe.

And that’s the truth.

Thanks Kivi, Jeff and Jake.

Last, I’d like to add one of my lows that also turned into a high.

A couple of years ago, I led a session on fundraising at a major conference.  Midway through the presentation, I described Network for Good to the more than 100 nonprofit professionals in the audience.  A man in the middle of the room raised his hand.

“I have a DonateNow button from you,” he said.  “But it doesn’t work.”

It was a dark moment for a staff member from Network for Good.  A real low.

So I said to the man – and everyone else in the room - that I was anxious to fix the problem and would get to the bottom of why people could not make donations from his website as soon as I finished my speech.

“No, that’s not the problem,” the man responded.  “You can make a donation.  The problem is, no one is clicking on the button.”


The story of the “broken” button was an incredible epiphany for me.  I realized that in my work to help nonprofits with online giving, I was assuming that giving them Network for Good’s functionality was enough.  It wasn’t, which made me a failure at our mission of getting more resources to nonprofits online.  There are limits to technology.  You can have a huge donate button on your home page – or a snazzy Facebook page – but that does not mean anyone is coming or clicking.  A DonateNow button is not magic and social networks aren’t money machines.  You need great messaging and marketing to make effective use of these tools. 

So I worked with our great team at Network for Good to create our Learning Center, marketing and fundraising Tips and Nonprofit 911 calls.  I feel like this is a huge high - and it would not have come without that low. 

In fact, lows almost always beget highs, if you learn from the low.

Thanks everyone for showing us how true this is in this month’s carnival.

PS: Last minute entry alert!  Beaconfire made this video on learning from failures.


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