Laura's Blog

Laura's Blog


Subscribe in a reader

Subscribe by email:

Laura's Blog

  • Articles (2 articles)
    • In February of 2007 I had the privilege of writing an article for the local newspaper highlighting the plight of the homeless and the struggle society has in responding and understanding. Fieldstone Alliance has put out some great articles together for nonprofits including Four Key Financial Reports that you can use. Samples of the reports are included in the article!

Facebook Offerings

Monday, November 05, 2012 @ 11:29:00 AM - 0 comments
This is just a quick re-publishing from the daily news at the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

Facebook Tests New Tool for Online Giving

November 2, 2012, 12:24 pm

Facebook users can now do more than simply click "like” to support charities on the popular social-networking site.

As part of its new Facebook Gifts feature, Facebook users can donate directly to an organization or let their "friends make the choice” about which organization they should support.

To start, the social network is accepting donations for 11 organizations: the American Red Cross, Blue Star Families, Boys & Girls Clubs of America,, Girls Inc., Kiva, Livestrong, Oxfam America, Rainn, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and

The effort is separate from Causes, an application that allows users to donate to charity through Facebook and other social-networking sites. It has 7.8-million users, according to its Facebook app page.

Facebook Gifts is not yet available to all Facebook users, but it is expanding, according to the company.

To learn more about the Facebook Gifts donation tool, visit Facebook’s newsroom.

TED in Chico

Thursday, October 11, 2012 @ 9:40:00 AM - 0 comments
Dreamers, Thinkers, Doers. All wanted. Right here in Chico. Next week a group of Chico residents, myself included, are hosting the first ever TEDxChico where TED gets a debut in Chico.

If you aren't a TEDSTER, you need to be. TED is the place to get inspired, learn, cry, laugh, and otherwise be educated and stimulated.

This next week, on the 18th, 100 citizens or TEDizens will join at the Sierra Nevada Brewery to enjoy a full day of talks, videos, and conversations.

What great timing as we near the election and need to practice our best listening skills as we relearn what it means to be a citizen of our democracy. All talks will stream off the TEDxChico website after the event. Check it out!

Know Yourself (Again)

Monday, December 05, 2011 @ 10:53:00 AM - 0 comments
Last week I had the privilege of hosting and participating in a great session with Michael Redman of Half a Bubble Out here in Chico for the North Valley Community Foundation. Just a quick aside. If you think Chico might be behind the times (compared to a cutting edge city like NYC) guess again. Michael brings a passion and a hunger for learning to his craft that I'd put up against any city slicker. Any day!

We talked about what social media and networking looks like today…a few months and years since its inception. Although some of the platforms have changed and will change, I love the fact that the principles of good marketing endure. Take note:

Know your message. If your story is convoluted, irrelevant, or uninteresting, you are going to have some rough days ahead in getting people engaged in your organization.

Know your audience. Who is that you are talking to? Where will you find them? What are they like? Do you know their behaviors, their concerns, their other commitments?

You also need to know what you want your audience to do: buy something, give something, learn something, change a behavior, "Like" you. Be clear. Be concise. Work your story. Vague notions of your value will not cut it in our competitive environment.

Then, you can ask, how will I best communicate with them. Michael gave us a slick tool for determining which online platform to use for what purpose. But, don't forget the website. It is still the epicenter of your online universe. Do I need to take someone for coffee? You cannot accomplish on Facebook, what you can in person with one human. And the reverse is also true.

As we turn the calendar, why not gather your team together and sharpen your message. Don't rush on to strategy…stay with story. Know yourself. There is no better place to begin!

EOY time again

Monday, November 28, 2011 @ 12:02:00 PM - 0 comments
End of Year mailing, solicitation, efforts. It's EOY time again! I'm hopeful that most of you have already watched your mail "drop" in the last couple of weeks. Now, the question is what to do next! We all know (and it's still true) that mail alone is not going to cut it this year. We need to think about how to keep stoking the fire and getting our friends to consider writing a check or going on your website to make a financial gift.

Statistically, the best option you have is to take 20-50 of your recipients and make a phone call. Grab two of your best staff or board members, or an articulate client or end user and make a few calls Monday or Tuesday this week or next from 6:30-8:30 at night. If you are super chummy with your donors, send a note via email, text, or facebook, just thanking them for their love and support and encouraging a strategic end of year gift.

Speaking of social media, it's a great idea to send people to your website...make sure you have a mini version of your EOY letter in the donation page, a recent picture of a happy customer, and a reminder that every gift makes a load of difference. Use Facebook to offer an incentive to first time givers--a book, piece of art, set of notecards drawn by a few favorite clients-- for the first 25 new givers over $25. Blog about a success story or just retell the story you used in your end of year letter. Show pictures, make noise, create buzz. If you are an e-news kinda organization, weave a version of your end of year ask into an E-news.

It would be great if during a 3 week period they got reminded to give 3-4-5 times! That will get their attention. Remember to loop back in January and thank them that many times too. Be sure every gift is acknowledged quickly (within 48 hours) and personally (a note at the bottom of your letter rocks!).

Once the tenth rolls around, then you need to stay calm, check mail often, and send holiday greetings or small gifts to your best donors. Let them feel the love. Without them, you and your employees would be searching for work this Christmas.

Donors as Volunteers

Monday, October 31, 2011 @ 8:52:00 AM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 0 comments
I am often asked to help an organization find donors. I am quick to confess that I have no secret rolodex in my back pocket. No secret list of "friends" eager to give when I call. Usually our best donors are close in already. We just need to identify them. In fact, many of our best donors start as volunteers.

The next question, of course, is "Can you help me get more volunteers?" This blog is too brief to discuss an advanced strategy for marketing for and recruiting volunteers. But, I will make a few suggestions:

1. You need to think about what parts of your organization's life could be enhanced by volunteer labor. And the answer to that dilemma is not: everywhere! You need to be specific, time bound, and descriptive of the person you need and the job that needs to be filled.

2.  Start small. A volunteer can do something meaningful without extensive training, a long term commitment or a uniform. A volunteer can be a sounding board, a shopper, a deliverer, a proof reader, a flower planter or a committee member.

3.  Think strategically. Do you have an ideal donor you'd love to woo to your organization? Find someone who knows them that loves you and then think about how they might get involved. A work day at your housing facility? An auction with a great speaker? A short term strategic task force where her insight could be just what you need?

Trust me. Volunteers often turn into our most loyal donors!

From Cash to In-Kind

Monday, October 10, 2011 @ 9:54:00 AM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 1 comments
In late August, the New York Times reported about the changes in corporate giving under the title "A Philanthropic Recession." Of course this headline in the business day caught my attention. The organization that they highlighted was called Operation Hope who depended in great part on the financial generosity of Wall Street firms for its stockpile of donations. The article starkly reminds readers that although some will say that the financial sector is recovering, many companies are rethinking their giving strategy as they return to "normal." Many firms have limited the number of recipients of funds focusing on ones that best match their own mission. Others have stopped gift-matching programs.

One alternative has emerged out of the ashes…volunteering. "Rather than bankroll expensive projects, some financial firms are offering their employees' billable time, reflecting a broader corporate trend. Nonprofits are receiving a flood of so-called in-kind contributions…" Many questions emerge with such an article. Is this shift actually happening? Are you getting calls from people interested in giving time and not money? Is this a corporate Wall Street-only trend or more widespread? Answers will vary on these questions, but one conviction remains. In this downturn, and for many reasons, highly skilled people may want to give you time and their talent instead of cash. Can you adjust to use their skill? Make use of their energy? And wait out the slow recovery to normal or a new normal? In-kind is not going away. Your retooling to take advantage of great talent will be an investment in the future.

Volunteer Series: I

Thursday, September 01, 2011 @ 4:25:00 PM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 0 comments
Today I'm starting a three-part series on the theme of volunteers. My first calling in the nonprofit sector was to run a Volunteer Center in Somerset County, New Jersey. I had the privilege of directing scores of volunteers each year to one hundred nonprofits large and small to use their talents to help the causes they cared about. Additionally, I ran the local DOVIA (Directors of Volunteers in Agencies) to develop best practices in volunteer management. My love for volunteers has never diminished.

This week I was working with a 30 year old organization that only in the last ten years has employed professional staff. Having once served on their board, I still remember those early discussions, laced with warnings, that if we hire professionals we'll lose our touch with the people, our volunteers, the heart and soul of the organization. And interestingly, this in some ways did happen. Today with the right professionals in place, the organization is ready to reinstate the heart, hands, and community once again. This turn will distinguish this organization from others because instead of just a virtual presence, there will now be a phone call, a personal letter, someone trying to connect a new member with an old member building bit by bit a community of real people.

Less money in the system (thanks to the economy) has forced many of us to go back to our origins. With each dollar less, we are forced to rely on something better-- people. My next post will talk about this shift among corporations and the remarkable concept of "in-kind" giving. The touch of a real person indeed is a lot kinder than a dollar any day.

Donor Trends

Thursday, July 28, 2011 @ 8:45:00 AM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 0 comments
From FundRaising Success
Donor Giving Trends for Today and Tomorrow, Part 2
July 13, 2011 By Joe Boland

According to Russ Reid’s Heart of the Donor report, people research charities in the following ways:
•    talk to someone who supports the charity;
•    62 percent of respondents visit the organization’s website, and 56 percent search the Internet for news;
•    check with watchdog organizations (i.e., Charity Navigator, GuideStar);
•    visit the organization in person.

Despite more research and more demands for efficiency, Holman said, “the No. 1 reason people make gifts is belief in the mission of the organization.” Thus, some traditional trends are still true:
•    Lower-income people tend to be more generous than higher-income individuals.
•    The most generous donors are more likely to give by mail and less likely than average to give online.
•    More generous donors are more intentional about planning their support.
•    Giving still happens because donors are involved with organizations — 42 percent of donors volunteer with their organizations, Holman said, and “78 percent of high-net donors still volunteer — often as board members.”

Thank THEM

Monday, July 11, 2011 @ 10:32:00 AM - 1 comments

Pamela Grow advises us on the 10 components of an ideal thank you letter:

1. Joy. You want, first and foremost, to make the reader - the donor, your friend, your supporter - experience a genuine sense of joy when they open your letter. Envision a tired, working mother arriving home early from the office after stopping by the sitter’s to pick up her sick three-year-old. She’s just listened to 50 minutes of the news on her commute home, all the while worrying about her daughter’s fever and frustrated over the time it’s taking her to reach her. Daughter falls asleep in the car on the way home and, after tucking her baby into bed, mom settles in with her mail, off her feet for the first time in hours. Bills, circulars and your thank you letter complete her pile. Your donor opens your envelope and reads ...

You are creating miracles!
Every day, thanks to your support of blah blah blah organization, a lonely, homebound senior will receive the gift of food and friendship blah blah.

Suddenly your donor is a hero. She’s making your work possible and you've let her know -- in no uncertain terms. Somehow her life seems a little less exhausting than it did 15 minutes ago.

2. Speed is of the essence. You must get your thank you letters out within the first 48 hours. When your dog has an accident on your living room rug, rubbing his nose in it two hours later isn’t terribly effective, is it? What system can you put into place to ensure promptness? 30 minutes a day every day first thing in the morning thanking donors? What will work for your organization?

3. Personalize. Your thank you letter (or any letter coming from your organization for that matter and that includes emails) should be personalized. These days there is absolutely no excuse for the “Dear Friend” letter. No excuses.

4. You should reference the amount in the body of the letter. It’s nice to include the date of the gift as well for tax receipt purposes.

5. Reference what the gift was towards. Was it an in memoriam gift? An annual appeal gift? A matching gift appeal?

6. Is the donor’s past giving acknowledged? If a donor has given every year for the past seven years you’ll want to be sure to let them know how much their continued support means to you.

7. Tax deductible language can be printed in an italic, 8 to 10 point font, centered, below the signature and PS.

8. Don’t forget your PS. The PS can be used to drive donors to something new - a Facebook page or a new Twitter account. Perhaps a new blog on your site or your new enews.

9. Point the reader in the direction of a contact person in your offices. "If you have any questions or you’d like to stop by and tour our facilities, please call Mary Ann Development at 555.555.0055."

10.Never, ever, ever ask for a second gift. Now I may change my mind on this one someday. But I highly doubt it. There are two schools of thought on whether an organization should have what’s known as a “soft ask” in a donor thank you letter.

According to nearly every recent poll, women are increasingly taking the lead in philanthropic decisions. Put simply, women write the checks and are more finely attuned to good etiquette. It simply isn’t good manners to include any ask within a thank you letter - and that includes including a business reply envelope. Your thank you letter’s sole purpose should be to thank your donor.  Period.

Don't miss this before and after article on thank you notes:

Five Important Questions

Thursday, June 09, 2011 @ 7:56:00 AM - 0 comments
The Value of Charting Impact
from Tactical

Posted: 06 Jun 2011
On Friday, Bob Ottenhoff wrote about the new Charting Impact initiative that gets nonprofits to answer five questions as part of a public report that is intended to encourage donations and grants to flow towards effective nonprofits.

But can five questions answered with a couple of pages of text really help donors understand which organizations are effective?

I think they can.

Last year, I created my own list of "five questions every nonprofit should be able to answer” with the same intentions of Charting Impact; to help funders understand which organizations are effective. In developing my questions and speaking about them with nonprofits and donors, I’ve come to the conclusion that with these types of questions, it is how the nonprofit answers them, not the specifics of the answers that matter.

The fact is, there is no short, simple answer that can prove effectiveness. This is true in the for-profit sector as well. Even in a field where the goal (profit) is easily measureable, there are no reliable, simple data that can answer the question of whether an organization is (and will continue to be) effective. But the Charting Impact questions don’t seek to get nonprofits to provide any specific data. The elegancy of their approach is that the questions give each nonprofit the freedom to answer in the way that is best suited to their particular situation while requiring that they respond in a manner that reveals the organization’s strategic strengths and understanding of the environment in which they operate.’

The questions are:
    1.    What is your organization aiming to accomplish?
    2.    What are your strategies for making this happen?
    3.    What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?
    4.    How will your organization know if you are making progress?
    5.    What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

By focusing at the level of goal setting and accomplishment, the questions are applicable to any organization trying to achieve any goal.

Given that the projects backers — GuideStar, BBB Wise Giving and Independent Sector — have such reach in the nonprofit sector, I think it is feasible that Charting Impact reports could become standard reports available on most all nonprofit websites for organizations included in the GuideStar database. Encouragingly, unlike so many external review processes that only add to the burden of tasks that nonprofits must accomplish, the Charting Impact report should be relatively simple for effective organizations to complete. Any organization that finds it difficult to complete will find it a highly useful process to go through in their journey towards becoming more effective.

Most importantly, I think the Charting Impact report helps undermine the fantasy that someday we’ll have a simple, quantitative rating system that will answer the effectiveness question. While the report is only a starting point in a donor’s mission to discover which nonprofits are effective, it does start the journey off in the right direction by asking the most important questions in a standard format while allowing them to be answered in a free form format that recognizes the vast differences between different issue areas and levels of organizational development.

PS: For those nonprofits that think foundations should be subject to the same level of accountability that they require of nonprofits, note that the Charting Impact questions can easily be turned around and asked of funders. In fact, the Hewlett Foundation has already published their report.

Wisdom of Holacracy

Monday, May 30, 2011 @ 8:03:00 AM - 0 comments
Thank you Brian Robertson, the founder of Holacracy™ for this challenging new perspective on accomplishing what we set out to do.

The Insanity of the What-by-When
May 2, 2011 - 8:16pm

When you agree to take an action, do you also give others a commitment of when you’ll do it by (the so-called "what-by-when”)?  As much as this practice is generally recommended in today’s business world, allow me to offer a contrary view:  This practice has big downsides, and obscures a better way that comes from an altogether different paradigm.
The alleged benefit of routinely asking for or offering a "what-by-when” upon agreeing to do an action is simple and straightforward:  It increases others’ confidence that we’ll actually do it, encourages us to consciously own our commitments, and builds trust over time by showing others that we can manage to these commitments.  Sounds great, and sometimes it is – it’s vastly better than an environment where no one can count on anything, because everyone just works on whatever happens to catch their attention in any moment.  I’m not suggesting you throw out what-by-whens and move backwards to this kind of unconscious chaos.

Yet there are times when reality simply dashes our best-laid plans to rubble anyway, despite all the conscious ownership of commitments we might otherwise hold.  And even when we manage to temporarily control the wild whims of reality, there are still significant costs and risks to the what-by-when approach – and we can do better.
To illustrate my point about costs and risks, let’s say I’m in a meeting and agree to take an action.  You ask me when I’ll have it done by.  I think for a second and say "by Tuesday”, which satisfies you, and thus we have a makeshift social contract.  Here’s the trouble with that:  When I agreed to finish the action by Tuesday, I didn’t actually create any more hours in a day to do it, as nice as that would be.  So that means I’ve now got to prioritize this action into a list of other possible things I could be doing with those hours, and thus de-prioritizing something else.

So when I gave you a by-when commitment, I made a prioritization decision that affected many other actions on my plate – and I did it without even looking at them, completely blind, and certainly without weighing the relative priorities of everything on my plate.  My conscious commitment came with unconscious prioritization.  Taking it one step further, I’ve also now introduced a new risk:  That I will end up working on something to meet a commitment – often an artificial commitment – regardless of whether it’s the most important thing for me to be working on in the moment given the organization’s broader purpose.
With by-whens flying around, it’s easy to end up unconsciously chasing commitments rather than consciously selecting and working on the most important action in every moment.  And just because you gave someone a by-when on an action doesn’t make it the most important thing to do; sometimes it even makes sense to drop a commitment in service of tackling a more important task that you hadn’t anticipated when you made the original commitment.

Sure, you can manage that by resetting expectations, but that’s another thing to manage and thus more cost to giving a by-when commitment – it adds rigidity and takes constant energy to hold.  Yet another insidious cost is the weight of a looming by-when: it adds a psychic stressor, and tempts us to get stuck in our own "should’s”, which is really just fighting reality.  Sometimes we try to magically conjure more hours in a day to deal with the stress of a by-when, often by pulling the hours from recharge time, which can be quite taxing and highly unsustainable.

All that said, I get it, I really do – the by-when approach helps us deceive ourselves that reality is more predictable and controllable than it actually is, and that’s among the most comforting deceptions we humans engage in.  And it’s from this predict-and-control foundation that it builds trust – it lures others into the deception so they too can relax in a sense of certainty.

And this works, at least to a point – it does build trust.  Though it’s built on an awfully shaky foundation, it’s still better than unconscious chaos.  Again, I’m not suggesting anyone throw out their what-by-when commitments, at least not until they have an effective replacement.

So what can replace the illusion of control we offer others with our by-when habit?  First, we need a good way of organizing our lives and our work; one which allows us to reliably hold everything we could do, and always be confident that we are working on the most important thing we could be doing in every given moment, fully consciously and without losing anything.  David Allen’s brilliant Getting Things Done® (GTD®) method is by far the best approach I’ve found for this at an individual level, and methods exist for doing the same at a team-level, such as the agile project management methods that developed in the software industry.

Once you’ve got systems in place that support conscious flow, you can now build trust by offering others transparency, grounded projections (not commitments), and a way to influence your priorities.  Instead of offering them the illusion of predictability (while you’re barely holding it all together), you engage them in your process of ruthlessly facing reality moment-to-moment, and always working on the most important thing first.

So what about by-when commitments to clients, or other external deadlines?  Sometimes you do have to make a by-when commitment and manage to it, though there’s much to be gained by making that the exception, not the rule.  And even when it feels normal and needed, there are often other options.   As I’d say to my clients when I ran a software development contracting company:  Do you want me to promise you a date that we both know is a lie, and surprise you shortly before that date with an unexpected change which you’re then at the mercy of?  Or do you want me to give you so much day-to-day transparency and control that you don’t have to trust me, because you’ll see exactly where we are and where we’re headed at every moment, and be able to influence the project’s direction throughout?  Most clients chose the latter, and we had the organizational processes in place to support it.

So what can you do to shift your own by-when habit?  First adopt a good individual organizational system like GTD® that’s built on a dynamic steering foundation – this is a prerequisite to moving beyond the what-by-when without big costs in trust and capacity to deliver.  Then be more aware of the cost whenever you do give a by-when commitment – you’re making a prioritization decision in the dark, tempting yourself to work on something that isn’t the most important thing first, and forcing yourself to use a stressful predict-and-control management process to honor the commitment.  Give the by-when when it really feels important and worth that cost to do so, and whenever possible replace it by offering others more transparency and influence in your work and prioritization system.  And finally, look for ways to embody this at a team and organizational level with practices like Holacracy™ and agile project management, to wean the whole company from its predict & control addiction to ruthlessly facing reality in a sense-and-respond flow.

It's ok to be wrong

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 @ 10:06:00 AM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 1 comments
I just listened to an inspiring TED talk by Kathryn Schulz who is the author of "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error." She talks to us about something we know well: the pursuit of perfection in the midst of our wrongness. She says when someone doesn't see the world the way we do we assume they are wrong based on three assumptions: they are ignorant, they are idiots, or they are evil. Instead, she encourages us to look at our reality and consider that maybe we aren't getting it right. Surely innovation is based on an agreement that the way things are being done is not adequate or no longer adequate for the challenges at hand. These methods or approaches are wrong. Or, if we keep hitting road blocks, maybe we are not seeing the signs or interpreting them well. Its ok. We are humans, fallible, unable to see clearly. This admission of wrongness opens up a world of possibility. Can we let ourselves be wrong? Can we let each other test and try and fail? Maybe its ok not to get an A and go down a trail that leads no where. Because, what we find instead is information we need to get it right, to find the path that leads to the vista. Ah, Kathryn is inspiring. She speaks of freedom.

Brainstorming Becomes Brainsteering

Monday, April 11, 2011 @ 12:34:00 PM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 0 comments
I sometimes like being in a brainstorming session. I sometimes lead brainstorming sessions. I hear about people's opinions of brainstorming often. It's not all good--I'm the first to admit. I am excited for some editing of what we know as thinking outside the box that generates some great ideas and yields no action.

My friends at McKinsey Quarterly strike an important chord with their article "Seven Steps to Better Brainstorming." Kevin P. Coyne and Shawn T. Coyne coin (sorry, I couldn't resist) their own term: "brainsteering." They address the obvious downsides to this management and consultant favorite: brainstorming. And they come up with some nice revisions that I will immediately try in my next group "get creative" session.

Let me describe three elements of their "brainsteering". First, give  boundaries and frame the right questions. We sometimes offer up pie in the sky thinking and truly lead everyone terribly astray into places we will never hope to go. Instead, let's respect this time with some confines that actually keep us in reality and solve real problems. This is not simple, but the most important part of the preparation phase.

Second, group the right people into small groups of 3-5 people around a few of these questions, questions that hopefully they are suited to address. Subgroups prove to be more fruitful and allow more involvement. In fact, they suggest keeping the boss, the nay sayer and the subject experts in their own group. I don't think I need to tell you why.

Third, follow up quickly and let the subgroups decide for themselves which ideas are worth pursuing and then bring those ideas into a room very soon thereafter for further sorting: "move immediately to implementation planning, decide today to implement at the closest appropriate time, assign a group to research the idea further, or reject right away." Then let the subgroups know what's happening.

This all sounds like a vast improvement on the crazy unstructured free thinking of what we've been doing for decades. Who wants to give it a try?

Tech Talk

Monday, April 04, 2011 @ 9:25:00 AM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 1 comments
Increasingly I spend my time on the computer trying to be more efficient, inhale more content, and increase my communication with those I serve. I'm guessing each of you are doing the same. I was reading in the most recent issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy today and discovered a new service thanks to the largess of Google. Sign up for this newsletter, free for you and me, to help us use technology better. The lead article is all about bringing in some simple technology for your board. Here is the link:

A couple of personal endorsements. I get my best ideas from others and here are my reigning two for the moment: Wiggio and Doodle. I've been a Wiggio ( fan since I discovered it almost two years ago. It is a free platform to create closed communities for blogging, document posting, shared calendars, live chats, and simple surveying. I've used it with boards who use it to share documents (ever wonder where those minutes ended up?), with retreat participants to introduce themselves and share advance content, and with an association to share resources we discover together and apart. Check it out. Doodle ( is merely a scheduling a tool. But clean, easy and smooth it is. I use it whenever I'm scheduling 3 or more people and it is beautiful. No more email jumbles in my inbox.

You Have No Choice

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 @ 5:02:00 PM - 0 comments
We think we have choice in the workplace today. We think we can just keep on doing what we've been doing. We think we can change and look to the future. Some of us think things will just go back to the way they were.

Here's the news, folks. The days of burying ourselves  in our work and just staying engaged are over. If you decide to focus and look not to the left or the right you will be left behind. Cowering in the corner hoping for the storm to pass and life will return to the way it was: not a good strategy.

For most of my clients, the past is gone. Those who linger too long looking back, will be left behind.

A few words come to mind when I think about re-tooling in our context. First, flexibility. Your skills, thinking, knowledge all need to expand and morph for the current, ever-changing, environment we are in. Second, clarity. Know what you are good at, how what you do can fit into new contexts, and who you want to be regardless of where you are. Think of yourself in a zero gravity lab--who are you there? Finally, sustainability. Yes, this word is over used, but we use it because it is expansive. This is a marathon not a sprint. The business practices and relationships you build today will change your next sixth months, years, and decade. Working more is not the answer. Work smart with the right partners: this will fuel your future.

The Gift of Giving

Monday, December 20, 2010 @ 1:11:00 PM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 0 comments
It is hard to fathom a month of no blog posts. It seems all I do is read, process, share and read some more. I have had my head in domestic violence, adults with disabilities, theology, collaboration, community organizing, old fashioned people management, encouraging companies to do their part, virtual communications, and the arts. Meanwhile, as a mom, I've hosted Thanksgiving, celebrated the 87th birthday of my favorite father-in-law, rejoiced with my newly minted 16 year old daughter, hoisted the computer across town during finals week to save the documents hidden in the hard drive, bought and decorated a tree, traveled to Kentucky, baked a loaf of cranberry bread, coaxed a Christmas card out of cyber space and celebrated my husband for landing a ridiculously large grant. Ah...I love this time of year! I'm keeping gifts simple this year. For the most part there are none. Who among us needs anything? My girls have the assignment before Christmas to fill a garbage bag to take down to the Arc Store to give away. But the few gifts I'm giving are simple: 1) a chicken, backpack, or water system "in your name" for someone who needs food, an education, water to survive. or 2) a $25 gift card called "the gift of giving" to share the love of giving with friends who have it all, or 3) Mark Labberton's book, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor, for those who want to think long and hard about seeing our neighbor and loving them with new eyes. Ah, this could transform 2011 and many years to come. So, as this is likely the last post of 2010. Rejoice. Be thankful. Take in all that you have and are and the privilege of doing work that matters. Until the new year, Laura

Research Backs up Consultant's Claims

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 @ 5:49:00 PM - 0 comments
From my good friends at Chronicle of Philanthropy on November 12, 2010.    
Study Explores Charitable Habits of Entrepreneurs.
By Holly Hall
Entrepreneurs give twice as much of their profits to charity as more-established companies, according to new research released today by the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and Ernst & Young. Entrepreneurs, the study found, allocate a median of 3 percent of their corporate profits to charity. That is more than double the median 1.2 percent of profits found in The Chronicle's latest corporate-giving survey of the nation's largest companies. Nine out of 10 of the 146 entrepreneurs in the study were male and their average age was 58. Surveyed online in September and October, all had won awards from Ernst & Young for founding viable companies, most of which are privately held and at least a decade old. Their companies generate a median of $100-million annually.
  • The median number of charities supported by the entrepreneurs' companies was 10.
  • Seventy percent of the respondents said that they donate their personal time to charities, in addition to money, with more than half sitting on the board of a nonprofit organization.
  • More than 70 percent of the entrepreneurs said their companies actively encourage volunteerism among employees, and more than half offer incentives for employees to donate money to charities.
  • More than half of the entrepreneurs, 55 percent, said that they personally select the causes their company supports, and 43 percent have formed their own charitable organizations.
  • Nearly 70 percent said they started supporting charities while building their business, before it was successful.
The findings show that "entrepreneurs are not waiting to support charities but giving while they are building their businesses,"  said Sarah C. Libbey, president of the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund. Ms. Libbey said Fidelity has seen some evidence of that trend: Donations of privately held restricted stock from entrepreneurs like those in the study have increased at Fidelity during the first nine months of this year. From January though September, restricted stock accounted for 9.5 percent of donations to the fund, up from 2.9 percent during the same period last year. A press release about the study, Entrepreneurs and Philanthropy: "Investing in the Future," is available on Fidelity's Web site at

Each time I review a prospect list for a client, I observe that the majority of top donors are business owners--people comfortable with risk and in control of their resources. Additionally, I love to note that the majority of top donors also volunteer. This study bears this out as well. So, the take away: find your entrepreneurs...they make effective collaborators, great supporters, and they are fun at a potluck!

Give a Gift Card for Charity

Monday, November 08, 2010 @ 11:33:00 AM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 1 comments
Causes, the company behind one of the most popular Facebook applications, will sell gift cards in California stores that will benefit charities this holiday season, writes the Los Angeles Times. The $25 and $50 gift cards will allow recipients to log onto and choose from more than one million nonprofit groups and make a donation. "This is the only card in the world that says the person you are buying it for wants to do good for the world," says Sean Parker, Causes co-founder and chairman. "There are no other cards on the rack that offer that experience." To read more in the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

E.O.Y. Strikes Again

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 @ 1:48:00 PM - 0 comments
It is closing in on Halloween. One of my clients told me that he dropped (i.e. mailed) his end of year ask letter yesterday. Now we are talking. End of year, is no longer end of year. I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Don't just drop the letter in the mail. Care must be taken as to what it says, to whom, the way it is mailed, and the timing. The most effective mailing is followed up somehow: a phone call, another mailing, an email, a facebook, a constant contact, a web presence. Yes. Better if we do all of the above. My marketing experts tell me it takes a long time to get someone's attention. Your letter may never be opened; you might leave 10 messages and never connect by phone with anyone. Some might find you on facebook. Some might search for your newest and greatest on the web. Give them plenty of ways to be in contact with you...reminding them, sharing with them,  bringing value to them, offering something to them, conversing with them. Yes. Yes. Yes.

So, if you are wondering when to start and when to end. Yes, drop that letter soon. We want to be in their home by Nov. 17 this year. That gives them a few days before they go into full turkey mode. If you call to follow up, call them the week after Thanksgiving. Send your constant contact then too. Start Facebook and web messaging simultaneously to your mail drop. And then do it again...All the way to Dec. 30. They are saying, don't wait til Dec. 31 this year because it is a Friday and people will be heading out of town for a 3 day weekend for the New Year. Please share with us how you will enhance your end of year mailing in 2010!

Leader as Conductor

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 @ 10:08:00 AM - 0 comments
Today, while waking up on Facebook, I ran across an interesting article on Communication thanks to my friend Zack Curry. The article imbeds a link to a TED presentation by Benjamin Zander that I took the 20 minutes to listen to. Good choice on my part. Leadership is instilling confidence in a possibility and doing your part to persuade your followers to believe it. Listen to Ben convince 1600 adults to love classical music and you'll get it.

Virtual Time

Monday, October 11, 2010 @ 1:14:00 PM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 0 comments
People ask me frequently if I am traveling a lot. My answer: not so much. Why: my clients are limiting my travel which limits their costs. Pretty straight forward given the economic climate. So, what's left? A myriad of electronic means of communicating...virtual communication. I have had to learn, practice and continue improving my virtual communication skills.

Just to tease you, I'm going to access the advise of my local colleague, Jamie Grettum, Director of Learning Services for the Ken Blanchard Companies. You Chicoans will have a chance to learn from the source on Dec. 2 at 2:30 for the Nonprofit Council. Anyway, here are a few of her tips. When you are anticipating a call, be sure to prepare: "Before you pick up the phone, find a queit place to speak, away from your computer, cell phone, PDA, or other distractions...have your notes in front of you." Be prepared to listen. The phone in general and conference calls in particular are more complicated than a face to face because silence inevitably seems quieter and longer. "Be comfortable with that silence." Jamie recommends paraphrasing the person you are listening to and asking clarifying questions. If you are on a group call, gently prod those less likely to speak. Of course, like in any productive meeting it is critical to "circle back" and be sure you know what has been said and agreed to. "Also agree on how you will both be kept apprised of actions taken or progress made in the interim." Thanks, Jamie. Any one else have a tip or two?

Where are your core values?

Thursday, June 17, 2010 @ 11:09:00 AM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 0 comments
For years I've worked with organizations to develop a compelling statement of mission and a list of core values that describe who they are at the center of their identity, how they want to do business in the world. I warn them not to park these statements on a shelf, but to test and evaluate based on them. If trust is a core value that you are instilling in the youth you serve, do you trust your employees? Do they trust one another. Are the core values of your organization informing your way of internally working and treating one another? Are the values operative in the ever-tricky relationship between executive and board of directors? Now we are getting personal.

Well, in the summer edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review (a must read, btw), David La Piana, a leadership and management specialist in the nonprofit sector, writes about what he calls "The Nonprofit Paradox."

"Yet in my 30 years working in and consulting to nonprofits, I have come to realize that this was not an isolated
incident: Nonprofits tend to recreate within their own organizational cultures the problems they are trying to solve in society. I
call this phenomenon the nonprofit paradox.

Take, for instance, a human rights organization whose mission was to prevent torture. Despite this laudable goal, one of the group’s leaders left subordinates feeling terrorized. Staff members consequently—and without awareness of the irony—described working in the organization as 'torture.'"
He goes on to discuss the many instances of this showing up in organization after organization. My challenge, is this true for your organization? Or are the core values you live by showing up (getting personal again) in the way you treat your kids? Ok, now I'm getting personal. Certainly worth a little eval-time on this one!

How would you know?

Saturday, June 05, 2010 @ 9:18:00 AM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 0 comments
I've been spending a lot of time recently developing a new service under the umbrella of LRCConsulting. This service will help small to medium sized corporations and high net worth individuals give their money, goods, and time away more intentionally. After all of these years helping nonprofits be intentional about their seeking, it seems symmetrical to look at the other side. Over the next two months, my associate, Katie Raley and I will be meeting with owners of local businesses to see why and how they give. Our hunch is that giving particularly here locally is fairly random and lacks the focus and impact of a more thoughtful approach. My hope is that in working with local companies my firm will benefit nonprofits as they seek donations. They will find companies will clear guidelines and a clear mission that will help a local agency find people that care about what they care about.

Giving Down

Thursday, May 27, 2010 @ 6:27:00 PM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 0 comments

Giving Dropped 4.9% in 2009, Researchers Estimate

By Nicole Wallace

Americans donated $217.3-billion in 2009, a decrease of $11.2-billion or 4.9 percent compared to 2008, according to new estimates from researchers at the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College.

The researchers are more optimistic about giving in 2010. They expect giving by individuals to range between $222-billion and $227-billion, an increase of 3 to 4.5 percent.

The estimates -- which exclude grants made by foundations and corporations and bequests from estates -- are based on a model that uses changes in economic data to forecast charitable giving. The model is designed to be modified every three months based on new data, such as price and market indices as well as information about income and net worth.

The researchers note that the 4.9 percent drop in 2009 was in addition to an estimated 6 percent decrease in 2008.

"It will be some time before we can reverse these declines," John J. Havens, senior research associate at the center, said in a written statement. "Fortunately, charitable giving in the first two quarters of 2010 seems to be on an uptick. However, growth may not continue the rest of the year if the fiscal crisis in Europe brings a second recessionary dip to the United States."

A full report on the study will be published in the July/August issue of Advancing Philanthropy, a magazine published by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Lead With Passion

Thursday, May 27, 2010 @ 10:06:00 AM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 1 comments
I recently gave an address at the local hospital to a group of stalwart volunteers from throughout the region who work to engage dozens of volunteers in the work of caring in our hospitals. So I suggested that volunteerism (fundraising too!) involves both passion and discipline. I suggested a few ideas about how they might lead with passion. I started with the personal side. I asked them: how are YOU going to change your experience as a volunteer?
  • Know why you are there--what do you contribute?
  1. Do an inventory of the why and the what of your involvement?
  2. Write a mission statement.
  3. Check your motives. Do a little soul searching.
  • Think about who will replace you and what might you do next...from the very beginning. Hold your role lightly. You can and will be replaced
  • Diversify your life: don't put all your eggs in one volunteer basket. There is such a thing as "workoholic volunteers."
  • Think of delegating as sharing. Don't hoard your opportunities--INVOLVE others.

Reuters gives Giving advice

Monday, May 17, 2010 @ 9:18:00 AM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 0 comments
-- Focus. Give bigger gifts to fewer charities. This enables your gifts to have a larger impact, and it also allows you to escape the problem of getting too many solicitations from too many groups. Difficult as it might be, try to choose one main cause from each of two or three categories. For example: one main medical charity, one arts organization, one social issue.

This is just one of the pieces of advice given in a recent Reuters article. Check out this link for more:

The Relational Watermark

Monday, May 03, 2010 @ 10:56:00 AM - 0 comments

I say often that the word relationship is the watermark of fundraising. It is under all that we say and do when it comes to fundraising. We can talk about all the practical aspects of the disciplines of fundraising, but you must be relational, act relational, and breathe relational to be an effective fundraiser. I am heartened by the fact that at the end of the day, through all of my work in the nonprofit sector, I have many rich friendships—the fruit of fundraising, strategizing and working together. I'd love to hear from others about the relationships you've built and their effect on your organizations!

Off To Another Universe

Friday, March 12, 2010 @ 8:00:00 PM - 0 comments
It is an amazing gift to be able to give. It is life itself. A group of families and our church have put up enough money to enable a group of 25 Honduran families to have an opportunity of a life time. The chance to own and cultivate their own property. In two days, I will co-lead a group of 12 to go and be encouragers to the 120 plus people working day and night to realize this dream. Amigos Bidwell travel to be just that: friends. We will sweat just watching them work their land, milk their cows, plant their plantains. They will sweat to earn the right to own. A right they are not granted, but they earn. I go expecting to be blessed. Blessed in the giving and receiving more than I ever give.

How to help WELL.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 @ 10:54:00 AM - 0 comments
I remember 9/11 when trucks poured onto the island filled with supplies from all over America. Most of what was inside was useless to meet the needs of the victims at Ground Zero. How did this happen? Pretty easily. People NEED to help so they fill up trucks and drive them. Did anyone ask? Nope. They just came anyway. This doesn't help. Or is that not obvious? Turns out it happens in every disaster. Check out Nancy Gibbs' advice in a recent time article.,9171,1963749,00.html

Everyone is a fundraiser

Wednesday, February 03, 2010 @ 8:28:00 AM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 0 comments
The bottom line is there is a place for everyone in fundraising. Your leaders are all around you. Your team is the volunteer who answers the phone (first impressions are critical), the board member who is a Rotarian, your office manager who inputs your data. I guess my perspective could be considered skewed. The way I see it: everyone is a fundraiser. Everyone can tell your story and invite people by their example and their hard work to be a part of the vitality of the service you provide. 
Now, having said that there potentially is a place for everyone, it is critical to recognize that most people will not agree with you nor will they feel qualified to help in the process of fundraising. So, the answer: proper selection, placement and training. Like any volunteer (or employed) labor, they don't come out of a box with the credentials they need. They may have a willing heart, but they need to have the right place in your system and the appropriate training to be effective. Part of the champion's job is to determine the variety of ways someone can be involved and the needed skills to be helpful.

Not Time To Cry Wolf

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 @ 4:40:00 PM - 0 comments
A great post from the Chronicle of Philanthropy...

April 28, 2009
Keep Dire Talk Out of Fund-Raising Letters

As the recession continues to squeeze donations to nonprofit organizations, fund raisers are feeling increased pressure to refer to their economic hardships in their written appeals to donors.

But is it really a smart idea to mention the recession in fundraising letters?

Two prominent direct mail fund raising experts answer that question with a resounding "no".

"I strongly recommend that you do not complain about how hard the recession is impacting your organization," said Mal Warwick, a consultant and author of the new book Fundraising When Money Is Tight: A Strategic and Practical Guide to Surviving Tough Times and Thriving in the Future.

Instead, Mr. Warwick told participants in today's Chronicle live discussion on direct mail appeals to focus their letters on what they're doing to adapt to the tough times.

"Tell your donors what steps you're taking to tighten your operations, trim costs, and deliver services even more efficiently to your beneficiaries," he said. "Tell them how much further their gifts will go now. And make sure they know that 'the need' doesn't simply continue but is more urgently and more widely needed than ever."

Groups that are facing large financial deficits should also resist the urge to cry poor, says Brenda Helget, program manager for annual giving and communications at Methodist Hospital Foundation, in Omaha.

Ms. Helget says telling donors about a financial deficit doesn't encourage them to give. It sends up a red flag that their donation might be going to support a group that isn't fiscally sound.

"Use emotion," she said. "Make it heartwarming-- numbers and statistics aren't heartwarming."

For more advice from Mr. Warwick and Ms. Helget on direct-mail strategies, read the transcript of the live discussion.

--Peter Panepento

People Give to People

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 @ 10:54:00 AM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 0 comments
This is the oldest fundraising adage out there. Yesterday's Chronicle of Philanthropy referenced a study about giving in the recession. Conducted in January by Cygnus Applied Research, the survey polled 17,365 people who had given in the past to charity. The respondents donated an average of $11,490 last year. These studies are fascinating as they appeal to our desire for tea leaves. Our desire to have a crystal ball and look ahead.

You should check out the post on their site for the full article (, but be aware that there is still glimmers of hope.

Turns out that people keep giving to people in economic hard times.

While a recession may not seem like the ideal time to seek out new donors, many people in the survey (42.5 percent) said they would give to a charity they had not supported in the past if someone they knew was seeking the gift. Many donors (40.3 percent) said they were also willing to give for the first time if the charity was working directly to help people hurt by the recession.

Turns out that generous people stick with people they trust to give to truly hurting people. This gives me hope and reminds me to stick with relational fundraising. It is all about the people.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009 @ 12:50:00 PM - Written by Laura Cootsona - 1 comments

Here is a common dilemma. The board meets for their monthly meeting and comes up with one more great idea. Or, the executive director and his trusted friend step into the conference room for a quick check-in. The result: another new idea. No problem. We'll just add it on to the list of other projects we have too little time, money, or staff to implement. What is a person to do?

Sound familiar. Oh ya.

We typically look around the room and try to rest our spinner on one of the staff or board already assigned to 16 other tasks. Instead, why don't we turn around 180 degrees and point outside? We might just locate the person to champion that new idea or test it or kill it. Even better, why don't we see if there is another organization, team, or committee that might use their expertise to combine with our enthusiasm?

Here's a tangible example. An organization wants to take their expertise and put it into the classroom. The organization with the expertise has no talent in writing curriculum. Now what? Let's find another group, maybe at our local university, to take on the transfer of knowledge to learning tool.

A collaboration is born.