Research and Writing | Ideal Tasks While Working from Home

Read a Little Every Day!
This image was used in my PowerPoint for Qgiv on prospect research. See the YouTube recording below.

I have worked from my home office since 2014. Austin has been for many years a fast growing metropolis. Its heavy road traffic made commuting to and from my nonprofit project’s office back then a lengthy and stressful burden. And because that project focused on K-12 sustainability education, the concept of working from home was appreciated and readily adopted.

It was then that I began working collaboratively in the “cloud,” researching prospective partners and writing grant proposals, uploading them to the cloud for review by our Executive Director. Fine tuning continued until the time was right to hit, “submit.” Social media writing, posting and management was easily and better done from a quiet, distraction-free work space. One weekly meeting in person in our office was part of the regimen, but that is all.

Hence, with the onset of COVID-19 in 2020 and “stay-at-home” restrictions, nothing has changed for me. I have continued to work smoothly and efficiently from home where it is relatively “germ-free,” quiet, and my “desk” is located not far from the coffee pot and refrigerator. For me, this is the perfect work environment. Don’t tell: I get more work done, I work longer hours than required, and I am healthier and happier overall. 

The chagrin expressed by corporate and nonprofit leaders accustomed to working in traditional environments where office employees are housed in the same physical space falls on deaf ears here. I believe it is time to adapt and move to a remote working model for almost everyone, except of course those needing staff to greet and serve visitors in person, to conduct occasional group meetings, and to actually manufacture/produce specific items. But to get comfortable allowing more employees to work from home, society will have to let go of the basic human trait, “seeing is believing.” Our times require greater trust and faith to succeed in a remote working world.

Carolyn's Prospect Research Talks
See the links in this post to watch and learn more.

One of the ideal activities I conduct while working from home is research online and grant writing. In April and May 2020, I spoke online to two organizations about research specifically, and you might enjoy watching the recordings. The first was for Qgiv (below).

The second talk had more of a Texas slant and was designed for NTEN & NetSquared Nonprofit Tech Club Austin. It can be found by following this link. The recording and the slide deck are both downloadable from that page.

You may also have read my blog post from last March, “Habits of Mind in Challenging Times … And Remote Locations,” where I discuss my work in South Texas during the 2000s with the ranching community. In hindsight, much of what we accomplished seems quite glamorous. Certainly, the donors with whom I worked are still among the leading philanthropists of Texas. But the truth is, the majority of my work was done in a quiet office with few visitors, thinking, researching, organizing, writing and the like.

Rolls Royce
Rolls Royce is known as one of the finest automobile brands in the world. The high standards for which it is known remind me of those also expected of major gift fundraising professionals.

Major gift fundraising is often wrongly perceived by outsiders. Regardless of the quiet, methodical and hard work involved in successful major gift fundraising, people sometimes think of it as a field where one “hobnobs” with wealthy donors, attends luncheons and galas, and other superficial activities. This false impression can also give rise to jealousy. If they only knew how much “unglamorous” time is actually spent working tirelessly alone on a computer. I would say 95% of my job is actually done in this fashion.

If you are working from home now during COVID-19, this is an excellent time to fine-tune your research and writing skills. As I mentioned during my spring presentations, if you take the time to do this thoughtfully and well, it might turn your organization’s entire fundraising focus upside down, and in a very good and productive way.

I would also suggest that you take the time to learn new skills, including setting up and better managing your social media platforms. Our favorite platforms continue to evolve: learn how they may have changed (be sure to check, “the back end”). If you are already active on social media, now is also an excellent time to clean up (and clean out) old information. Request that your Facebook profile be formally verified by Facebook. Claim and update your GuideStar profile to the gold or platinum seal level. Ask volunteers, clients and board members for testimonials you can share online. Set up an online gift processing platform that provides a variety of options for making charitable donations. Make it easy to give!

Looking sharp online continues to be essential to inspiring trust and to engaging the interest of donors and potential donors in the good work of your nonprofit. And as always, make sure the messages you convey in those carefully-crafted grant proposals are mirrored on your website and on social media. In other words, this stay-at-home time is the perfect time to do some nonprofit “housecleaning.” Dare I say it: the nonprofit sector might actually become smarter and stronger if it deals successfully with the stay-at-home restrictions resulting from COVID-19.

Best wishes for your fundraising success!

Notes

For women working in the field of nonprofit development with family care giving responsibilities, I want to acknowledge working from home might be tougher for you. I fully support care giving incentives and entrepreneurial approaches as outlined by Melinda Gates in her article for The Washington Post, “How Rethinking Caregiving Could Play a Crucial Role in Restarting the Economy” (May 7, 2020). We can do this!

Having trouble trusting remote workers? Turns out, remote workers sometimes have trouble trusting their Executive Directors. You might enjoy reading Adam Hickman, Ph.D. and Tonya Fredstrom for Gallup, “How to Build Trust With Remote Employees” (February 7, 2018). “Gallup asked a random sample of more than 10,000 individuals, ‘What leader has the most positive influence in your daily life?’ With that leader in mind, Gallup had the respondents list three words that best describe what the leader they named contributes to their life. The responses sorted into four categories: trust, compassion, stability and hope.”

 

Habits of Mind in Challenging Times … and Remote Locations

Horses

In 1999, I was recruited to South Texas by a headhunter. My task was to manage a multi-million dollar major gift campaign for three years. By myself.

While there are many affluent landowners and ranch visitors in South Texas, at the time there were relatively few people with major gift experience to work with them. Many of the office support available back then included well meaning but inexperienced staff when it comes to working with major gift donors.

I set up shop with the help of the local Walmart. A spacious rug, floor lamps and an artificial plant gave my office a quiet, comfortable and professional look. Culligan Water installed a hot-and-cold water dispenser. I brought homemade food to work for lunch and kept my office well stocked with coffee, tea and dry soup packets (and a candy jar for visitors). There were mostly fast food outlets in the area back then. However, I would like to put in a good word for the delicious potato-and-egg soft tacos with green salsa that I would sometimes pick up on my way in to the office at a local taco stand. Those were the best, and I still miss them.

With the Internet readily available, I was “good to go.” I came to call my office, “the air traffic control tower.” 

The institute for which I was working was mostly privately funded by a foundation, and minimally funded by the local university. I kept wondering – given the stellar board and advisory board members involved with this little institute – why outside consultants said it had no chance of raising major gifts. The institute had paid upwards of $80,000 for a feasibility study and case statement by a consulting firm, all of which were tossed out as being unhelpful. I had my job cut out for me.

On my own for three years, I literally lived on the Internet. I searched online and read from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every work day. My findings yielded not only major gifts for capital and endowment purposes, but also for research projects. I developed habits of mind that involved disciplined, factual research online. Many new donors were brought to the aid of the institute’s work, and many detailed grant proposals were formulated.

Cabin

I find outsiders to the field of nonprofit development mistakenly perceive people like me are focused on organizing luncheons and “schmoozing” with donors. But the fact is, organizing and managing meetings and events comprises perhaps 5% of my job. Most of my work involves thoughtful research, the development of inspiring case statements, writing and designing communications pieces, developing mailing and emailing lists, grant writing, stewardship and the like. This requires “quiet time” and a focused, detail-oriented mind. For those contemplating development as a career, this paragraph is one of the most important I have ever written for you.

The fine art of nonprofit development – honed in remote locations like South Texas – helped prepare me for other major gift projects involving little or no staffing, and for challenging “work at home” times like the COVID 19 pandemic we are currently experiencing. What I discovered is the Internet is an invaluable nonprofit development resource. I remain glued to it today. There is no such thing as being “bored” when you have the Internet at your fingertips.

Working mostly without additional staff support in prior positions means I have also experimented with technological solutions to accomplish more done with less. When told something is “impossible,” I always believe there is a solution. And I have always found one! I occasionally find traditional fundraisers who still shun technology and social media. But I have found them invaluable components of my major gift activities today.

Tech Clubs Can Help

For the past several years I have been one of the lead volunteers for NTEN & NetSquared Nonprofit Tech Club Austin. My involvement with NTEN began ten years ago when two nonprofit organizations asked me to help identify constituent management software to manage their donor databases. I admit, I was stumped. But I contacted NTEN and was directed to a donor management system review co-sponsored with Idealware. I was so elated by this helpful resource that I became an NTEN fan and volunteer.

A few years later when I relocated to Austin, I agreed to volunteer for #NPTechClubATX. Being involved with the club means today, I have the privilege of meeting similar problem solvers focused on social good, and learning about their innovative solutions. I am hooked.

For me, being “home bound” with a computer is a heavenly predicament. I recently sent out an email to our club members with information about club programming and helpful partner links to COVID 19 support resources. I wanted to share it with you, too (follow the link).

As I state at the outset of the email:

“The mission of NTEN & NetSquared Nonprofit Tech Club Austin is to help nonprofits find cost-effective tech solutions and techniques to make their work easier, more secure and efficient. That means for the past several years, we have offered educational programs that involve digital solutions to daunting challenges like being unable to hire extra staff (but needing to get the work done anyway), raising donations easily and creatively online, better managing board meetings, volunteers, accounting functions and more. We are #ready.”

Join your local club – or start one yourself. Some clubs benefit from online broadcasting and recording services that enable programs to reach a much larger, global audience. Locally, we thank startup hub Capital Factory for its support in this regard. But Zoom and similar video conferencing services can also help. You can learn more about nonprofit discounts at TechSoup.

Here’s wishing you good health, a trustworthy laptop, and a strong Internet connection!

Check out these directories:

NetSquared | TechSoup | Global Network of #Tech4Good Meetups

NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network | Nonprofit Tech Clubs

Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog includes many stories about doing more with less and technological solutions for the “remote” worker. If you have questions at any time, please let me know

Photographs illustrating this post are courtesy of Adobe Spark.

 

 

 

Baby Boomers and Older Adults: Go For Startups

Despite the ups-and-downs of my experiences in the nonprofit sector over the course of thirty years, I remain optimistic about the future. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on LinkedIn about the Millennial generation. There, I reference an article by Jean Case, in Forbes (June 18, 2014), “The Business of Doing Good: How Millennials Are Changing the Corporate Sector.”

“Many in this generation are known for being well-educated, entrepreneurial, tech savvy and idealistic. They take risks, are bold and want to change the world. Unlike past generations, they want to make their passions, inspirations and desire to do good part of their identity—and part of their work. The lines between personal passions and professional engagements are already rapidly disappearing. As a result, this commitment to doing good in the workplace is quickly becoming the new norm that will define the generation.”

#2030NOW

My experience is that Millennial and younger generations following on their heels are committed to a fixing the problems of society and to creating a better world at all levels. They are unafraid of tackling difficult challenges with creativity and conviction. And, they are already dominating the workforce. Their impact will continue to be far-reaching for decades to come. Hardly any American corporation today can afford to ignore them.

As I note in, “Nonprofits and Boomers: Are We Missing the Boat,” nonprofit organizations must also be mindful that Boomer and older generations are key for successful fundraising, for their knowledge and their valuable life experiences. Boomers are a generous generation and highly supportive of nonprofit endeavors, yet they are often seen as being stodgy and old fashioned.

Marketing professionals continue to focus on the young and the aesthetics of youth. And while many older adults do strive to be “younger” in some ways, as time moves forward and the aging population explodes worldwide, we are seeing a growing pride in being “older” and in the aesthetic preferences of older adults.

Go For

A few months ago, I approached a large national foundation that also has a substantial number of donor advised funds. I wanted to submit a proposal to fund an outstanding nonprofit project. But the nonprofit’s annual operational budget – being “under $1,000,000” – meant the foundation declined support based solely on that criteria. They would not take even a cursory glance at what the nonprofit is accomplishing, at how well it operates and how worthy it could be as a partner. On a personal note, what that foundation’s professional advisors also missed is that some of the Board members and donors of that nonprofit were capable of establishing donor advised funds. They would have been thrilled to receive even a modest grant and might have themselves become donor advised fund clients. But the “under $1,000,000” rule supplanted all other considerations. But why is operating budget size so important?

Since returning to Austin in 2013 and helping nonprofit “startups” bolster their infrastructure and credibility in order to secure more substantial donations, I have noticed some of them are reluctant to support younger nonprofits because they are, “too small.” Potential donors cite the nonprofits have not been in existence long enough (i.e., five years or more). Some decline because these smaller and younger initiatives have not had formal audits, which are an expensive undertaking for most small nonprofit organizations (and there are reputable alternatives). I visited with one foundation a few years ago that required every nonprofit applicant to have four consecutive years of professional audits. That is way over the top. I advised focusing instead on gold-level or higher GuideStar profiles, and GreatNonprofits reviews by those actually involved with and volunteering for the nonprofits applying.

The fact is, many of these startups and young nonprofits are lean staff- and budget-wise, and they operate highly efficiently. They accomplish amazing things with relatively little and the staff are deeply loyal to their missions. In my opinion, there seems to be a disconnect between the donor and professional advisor sectors, and the vast majority of nonprofit organizations, which are in fact smaller in size.

From the GuideStar Blog comes, “What Does the Nonprofit Sector Really Look Like?” (January 6, 2017):

“The majority of nonprofits (66.3%) have annual budgets of less than $1 million. From there, as organization size increases, the number of nonprofits decreases. For every 1 powerhouse (annual expenses more than $5 billion) nonprofit, there are thousands of grassroots organizations.”

My hope is for deeper, long-term partnerships between younger and older generations, the latter holding significant disposable income to make charitable donations. Boomers and older adults (and their professional advisors), often focus their charitable giving on tried-and-true nonprofits that have been in existence for many years. That is certainly their choice to make, but having seen nonprofits large and small in some detail as a professional fundraiser, I can say without hesitation many of younger and smaller nonprofits, startups and social good enterprises are more efficient and more likely to create positive change in society than the older, top-heavy ones. But these younger initiatives are often seen as being, “riskier.”

Boomers and Younger Generations Are Each Part of the Puzzle

Lose your fear and support startups and smaller nonprofit organizations. Younger generations are – and will be – driving much of the social change ahead. We need to trust and encourage them. But also, younger generations need to engage older citizens and tap their knowledge and enthusiasm for social good, as well as their charitable donations. Together we can change the world for the better.

You might also enjoy reading:

“Furthermore, demographic trends make it clear that over the next decade increasingly greater numbers of Millennials will be elected to office, giving them the power to enact laws that can change how corporations are governed and what responsibilities those entities owe to all of their stakeholders. When that happens the entire edifice of corporate governance constructed on the idea of only maximizing shareholder value will come crashing down and a new foundation for American corporations, built on trust and the values and beliefs of Millennials will arise in its place. Those companies that dedicate their future to changing the world for the better and find ways to make it happen, will be rewarded with the loyalty of Millennials as customers, workers and investors for decades to come. Those that choose to hang on to outdated cultures and misplaced priorities are likely to lose the loyalties of the Millennial generation and with it their economic relevance.”

Thanks to the Adobe free image library for the photographs used to illustrate this blog post.

During Good Times, Don’t Forget to Prepare for Rainy Days

“A recession is a significant decline in economic activity that goes on for more than a few months. It is visible in industrial production, employment, real income and wholesale-retail trade. The technical indicator of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth as measured by a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), although the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) does not necessarily need to see this occur to call a recession.” – Investopedia

This post on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog was written in the fall of 2018. I continue to update it with important discussions as they become available. See the links at the conclusion for more information.

I have read quite a few articles and watched videos featuring leading financial experts who are discussing the possibility of a recession. White opinion remains divided, the thought that several predict a recession causes me to revisit the idea of nonprofit organizations establishing “rainy day,” or reserve funds.

From USLegal, “A reserve fund is a fund of money created to take care of maintenance, repairs or unexpected expenses of a business.” 

Having watched nonprofits suffer intensely during the last recession of a decade ago – the magnitude of which we all hope will never be repeated – my advice for nonprofits during this busy year-end fundraising season is to be prepared.

Take some of those year-end charitable donations and sock them away into a savings account or other fund where you can get to them easily if and when needed.

Rainy

Food for Thought | Noteworthy Media Coverage (Most Recent First)

Brainy
Thomas Fuller, English clergyman (1608-1661)

National Council for Nonprofits, “Operating Reserves for Nonprofits” (timeless advice, helpful resources)

I have an article on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog called, “Economy and Philanthropy” you might also enjoy. It dates back to when I launched my blog during the economic downturn of the late 2000s and early 2010s. Looking back to those days, I would also say, not every business nor philanthropist suffers during a recession. Adjust your fundraising accordingly and do your research.