Nonprofits Don't Need Donors

Nonprofits Don't Need Donors

Nonprofits Don’t Need Donors
Change the Conversation to Investors, Not Donors
By: Todd Butler, Causewave Community Partners                                            

This is a heretical concept to the nonprofit struggling to make payroll or cover expenses, investing lots of time in an annual campaign or researching potential givers. In fact, the prevailing sentiment is currently the opposite. In an era of scarcer government funds, many longstanding nonprofits are placing more and more emphasis on seeking new donors.

But humor me for a moment. What is a donation? A common definition might be ‘a gift given without expectation of return.’ Except maybe a thank you note. Or a tote bag.

What’s wrong with gifts? If we’re lucky, we get them once or twice a year, largely from a few people who have an emotional connection to us. But it’s a good thing we don’t depend on those gifts to make the rent or put food on the table. No, the resources we need for those staples of life typically come to us because someone is paying us to achieve something, often between the hours of 9 and 5. These people, our employers, aren’t making an emotionally-driven gift to us every other Friday. They are investing in our work, with a very tangible expectation of return. If they don’t think we’re delivering those results, they’ll find another place to invest those dollars. It doesn’t even occur to us to ask an employer to make a bi-weekly gift. That’s just not the nature of the relationship. But in the nonprofit world, this is very often what we do. “Please give.” “Give ‘til it hurts.” “Become a donor.” “Make a charitable contribution today.”

This construct – where the implicit message to those with resources is “Please find it in your heart to give just a little of your excess money to us, because we don’t have any and we’re doing God’s work” – sets up a very dangerous and self-defeating dynamic. If we agree that the idea of “gifts from donors” come without the expectation of return, we shouldn’t be surprised when a few additional things come to pass.

  • Donors have all the power, with nonprofits feeling a lack of control of their destiny, struggling to find ways to appeal and connect.

  • Donors make largely emotional decisions about their gifts, giving a huge advantage to nonprofits with the most charismatic fundraisers.

  • Because of these emotional decisions, donors are reluctant to allow their gifts to fund the overhead investments necessary to achieve outcomes.

  • The best program models don’t necessarily attract the funds they need to achieve their outcomes.

  • The nonprofit sector fails to deliver its potential value to the community it exists to serve.

Nonprofits don’t need more donors. What nonprofits need are investors. People who are willing to pay for outcomes they care about. When an individual invests in a company, s/he is driven by the idea of expected returns. Companies delivering the best returns attract the most investment. Period. Investors don’t care if the company invests 25% in overhead (the average for the food and beverage industry), 35% (the average for healthcare equipment or services) or even approaching 50%, as the software and services industry does. Investors don’t stop investing, as long as the promised returns are realized.

When nonprofits begin to think of their donors as investors in results, powerful forces can be set in motion to change the very nature of the organization.

  • The nonprofit itself will be more driven by results in all its programs.

  • Investors see the nonprofit as more of an equal – a necessary partner in achieving results, not a gift recipient.

  • Investors build a strong bond with the organizations that give them the opportunity to make change happen.

  • Staff will be loyal and highly motivated. After all, they got into this work because of a desire to make meaningful change.

  • The nonprofit’s brand is strengthened, attracting more high-quality staff, volunteers, and investors.

If my daughter were to ask me for an allowance, I’d be willing to give her a few bucks a week. But if she were to commit to keep her room clean, take care of the dog and the fish, and tidy up the garage on weekends, I’d be digging a lot deeper into my wallet, and happily. The former is what I’ll give because of my emotional connection to her, and the latter is the investment I’ll make in outcomes I care about. She can decide she’s happy with the small resources that come as gifts, or she can decide to fundamentally change the conversation, and change her fortunes. She may not believe it, but she’s in control of her destiny. And so are our community’s nonprofits.

Want to discuss how to flip the conversation with your supporter base from “donor” to “investor” in time for year-end? Email us at We’d love to hear from you!

Don't Let Your Values Sit on a Shelf

Don't Let Your Values Sit on a Shelf

Don't Let Your Values Sit on a Shelf
Bringing Your Brand to Life through Customer Touchpoints
By: Elizabeth Murray, Causewave Community Partners

Your organization worked hard to develop an inspiring brand platform that eloquently captures your unique essence and personality, while setting you far apart from others that have a similar mission and services.  Armed with energy and purpose, you eagerly set out to infuse your new brand into every nook and cranny of your organization!  However, when you start to consider the dozens—even HUNDREDS—of ways that customers experience your brand each day, you stop still in your tracks.  Where to begin?!

We’ve all experienced the exhilarating high that accompanies an invigorating, collaborative process.  It’s the “Now what?!” dread that sometimes follows that can take the wind out of our sails and leave us overwhelmed by next steps.  If your organization is feeling frozen by what comes next, we recommend a process called the Customer Touchpoint Analysis. 

As the name suggests, the Customer Touchpoint program methodically analyzes each touchpoint or interaction that your customers experience with you—and asks the all-important question:  “Are their experiences… big and small… consistently aligned with our brand?” 

Using a highly interactive, systematic process, we work with your team to develop a detailed inventory of your interactions with customers and align them with your brand.  We look closely at current and ideal experiences, then prioritize recommendations that your organization can use as a guide for “living your brand.”  Through this collaboration we carefully identify your biggest opportunities (your “Brand Builders”) and those that drain your resources (“Brand Busters”).

After completing their Brand Development program, the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network (FLDRN) decided to take the next step and embark on a Customer Touchpoint Analysis.  Nancy Ryan, Director of Marketing and Community Relations, shared, “Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network had never considered the full depth of our customer touchpoints, nor honestly judged ourselves on how we were performing in those areas. Putting together our Touchpoint matrix was both eye-opening and helpful in identifying where we should be focusing on energies.” 

After undergoing the Touchpoint Analysis, organizations are armed with prioritized, actionable steps that can immediately begin to bridge the gap between current and desired interactions.  In the case of FLDRN, Ryan explained, “Interactions with Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) was identified as a high impact, low performing touchpoint with the Public Education department. This led to the creation of an organ donation awareness program called “Partnering for Life: The Role Healthcare Professionals Can Play in Saving More Lives Through Organ Donation.” Through specific education and providing a variety of outreach opportunities for PCP offices, FLDRN has established productive and positive connections within major regional healthcare PCP systems. Many of the participating PCP offices have either fully integrated on-going outreach program with patients, or participate in special programing during National Donate Life Month.”

If your organization is ready to take the next step toward “living your brand,” we’d love to help. Contact us at to learn about how the Customer Touchpoint Program can put your organization on the path to full brand realization.

Build a More Effective Board

Build a More Effective Board

Build a More Effective Board
Tips on Developing a More Productive & Engaged Board

Jump-start your organization’s board season with strategic goals and fresh thinking. Whether your organization is looking to build a solid foundation through fundamentals or boost board effectiveness, below are tips gathered from our workshop on developing a more productive and engaged Board of Directors.


Exceptional boards are made, not born. Know the lifecycle of your board and the role it should play. Know the difference between the board managing itself and the board leading the organization. Set and communicate expectations then follow-up! Comprise your board of people who are committed to being partners, listeners, consensus builders, ethical watchdogs, naïve questioners, discreet ambassadors and energetically engaged.


A strong board starts with a strong foundation. When recruiting new board members consider the current board profile (skills & demographics), the next 1-3 years of organizational work and gaps resulting from retiring board members. An annual recruitment calendar typically takes 9-months. Develop clear expectations around attendance requirements, committee participation, financial support, ambassadorship and confidentiality/policy understanding.


Plan strategically. Work from a strategic plan. If you don’t have one, create one. Regularly use your strategic plan to prioritize and manage your organization's work as well as assess how you’re doing. It should be the compass for deciding “what's in” and “what’s out” of scope for the organization. Strategic planning is a key responsibility of the board and should be revised every few years.


Make fundraising a priority. Create a solid fundraising plan and elect a fundraising committee chair with experience. Enlist support from board members to identify donor prospects, make thank you calls, solicit donations and host events. Develop a database to store donor information.


Continually boost your board's engagement. Value your board's time by starting and ending on time and sending materials in advance. Set a clear tone with leadership from the Board Chair. Review board member goals annually and conduct board performance assessment surveys every 1-2 years. Don't allow contentious board members to hijack meetings.

Questions? Let's chat! Email us at with any questions, comments or personal experiences. We’d love to hear from you.

Crafting an Unforgettable Elevator Speech

Crafting an Unforgettable Elevator Speech

Crafting an Unforgettable Elevator Speech
Key Questions to Consider When Constructing a 60-Second Pitch
By: Elizabeth Murray, Causewave Community Partners

You’re waiting in line at a Red Wings game, excited to order a white hot and a cool beverage, when you realize you’re standing next to an old classmate from college.  After exchanging social pleasantries, they ask where you work and what you do.

You take a swift glance to see how quickly the line is moving and estimate that you have all of 60 seconds to answer her question.  Where do I start?  Should I talk about the services we provide?  The clients we serve?  Our mission? How long we’ve been around?  Tick tock. 

As you start to open your mouth, you hear, “Next!” and your classmate waves goodbye. As does the opportunity to make a connection that could help your organization.

We’ve all been in this situation and fumbled our way through a mediocre response, kicking ourselves afterward for not representing our organization (not to mention ourselves) in the best light.

ENTER: the Elevator Speech. 

An elevator speech is a concise but detailed description of your organization that sparks interest and maybe even advances the narrative to a deeper conversation. The idea is that it should be given in the time it takes to ride an elevator, usually 60-seconds or less.

Now, we’re not talking about a robotic, memorized-from-the-company-handbook statement of purpose, full of corporate jargon and industry acronyms.  An effective elevator speech is delivered comfortably and authentically, and contains a balance of emotional appeal, data, and personal connectivity.

When crafting your elevator speech—for work, a board position, or your personal pitch—consider the following questions:

  • What language in the organization’s mission or vision is most meaningful to you?

  • What is the most exciting thing happening at the organization?

  • What’s your favorite mission story (example of someone the organization has helped, impact the organization has helped create)

  • What excites you about working or volunteering for this organization?

Don’t forget, practice makes perfect. This exercise is a great activity at your next staff or board meeting. Or practice it alone and ask for feedback once you’re comfortable.

Once you’ve answered those key questions for yourself and constructed a cogent message, you’ll be ready for that next unexpected reunion at the ballgame. 

Questions? Let's chat! Email us at with any questions, comments or personal experiences. We’d love to hear from you.

It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village
The Power of Collaboration in the Fight to End Poverty in Rochester
By Ebony Eli, Nonprofit Events & Marketing Intern, Summer 2019

It’s never just one person. The best ideas, the most noteworthy inventions, the greatest performances- none of them happen alone. Even though blockbuster superheroes and lore about “the chosen one” might have you believe that there’s one great individual who will save us all, the truth is, it’s millions. Collaboration is an integral part of success. What makes it such an important and valuable component of any effort, is that it brings together people with their own unique perspectives, experiences, and ideas to the table. Collaboration is a powerful tool for solving complex problems like poverty.

You’ve heard this story before: Rochester has a long-standing history with poverty dating back to post-civil war. Poverty disproportionately affects racial minorities, as well as women, people with disabilities, single families, the LGBT community, and the elderly. Decades of research show that education, housing and food security, transportation and much more are deeply-rooted in the poverty issue as well. More recently, the City of Rochester set out to explore the demographic and earning disparities in Monroe County’s workforce and the findings were striking. The report found that minorities earn less than their white counterparts in nearly every industrial sector and that the wage gap persists regardless of educational attainment.

It is a complicated, messy challenge that is not unique to Rochester. Many communities implement a service-based approach, tackling the symptoms of poverty – food pantries, shelters, and clothing drives certainly play an important role in providing real-time, basic needs to people in need. There is also a more comprehensive and collaborative approach, like what we’re doing in Rochester today, through the Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI).

RMAPI was started in 2015, after the city received a grant to help fight poverty. The initiative's primary goal is to improve quality of life by reducing poverty and increasing self-sufficiency. To do this, RMAPI is focused on increasing income, making basic needs more affordable and accessible, and lowering concentrations of poverty. RMAPI is a diverse coalition including community leaders, local and state government, service providers, funders, faith institutions, volunteers, youth advocates, and people impacted by poverty. By bringing together leaders from a myriad of backgrounds and philosophies, RMAPI coalition members have united around a common agenda to fight poverty in an intentional and collaborative way.

The RMAPI coalition is supported by many partnering organizations that provide expertise, resources, and services to fight against poverty, including Causewave Community Partners. Since 1950, Causewave (formally the Ad Council of Rochester) has been working throughout the region to make community change happen, in partnership with coalitions, foundations, community organizations and other nonprofits. Because of this, Causewave recognizes the power of collaboration. And as an expert in bringing diverse stakeholders together, Causewave has been providing support to RMAPI by helping to build stronger relationships with supporters, facilitating results-based meetings, guiding strategic communications, increasing awareness, and so much more.

An organization is only as strong as its members and doers. Building capacity and fostering collaboration is more than just making sure the staff get along and communicate effectively; it also means fostering positive behavior and mindset shifts. Thanks to the support of hundreds of dedicated volunteers, their backbone staff, and partnering organizations like Causewave, RMAPI coalition members have celebrated real success. Projects like the Bridges to Success/Family Independence Initiative, Clearwater Organic Farms project, City of Rochester/RTS Vanpool Project, the Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, Raise the Age program, and housing anti-discrimination legislation are making real progress in the community. This wouldn’t be possible without the community members and leaders who recognize that ending poverty takes time, that ending poverty is everyone’s problem, and that everyone can do something. You can learn more and join the movement by visiting:

Questions? Let's chat! Email us at with any questions, comments or personal experiences. We’d love to hear from you.

To Meet or Not to Meet?

To Meet or Not to Meet?

To Meet or Not to Meet?
How to Save Yourself from Useless Meetings by Asking Yourself These Three Questions
By: Eric Phamdo, Causewave Community Partners

No matter what you dislike most about meetings, you’re probably not alone. Studies show that ineffective meetings result in lower employee engagement, delayed decisions, loss of revenue, and resentment toward management. All of which contribute to loss of productivity, no wonder we all dread a meeting from time to time. Despite that, the amount of time workers spend in meetings has only increased in the last 50 years.

So how can we address this scourge on workplace productivity? The most obvious place to start is to look at whether or not a meeting is even necessary. When should you convene a meeting -versus literally anything else?

Use these three questions as a litmus test for your meetings:

  1. What is the goal?

    Effective meetings are convened for a specific purpose. Whether your group needs to deliver a decision, brainstorm new ideas to pursue, or develop an action plan, this answer will drive all other decisions related to the meeting. Participants are also more engaged when there is a clear objective for the meeting and when they understand how they will uniquely contribute (sending an agenda in advance really helps).

  2. To meet or not to meet?

    With your goal in hand, ask yourself, “Do I really need a meeting to achieve it?” Meetings can waste time and money. But there are plenty of legitimate reasons to hold a meeting. Bringing people together is a valuable activity, when done correctly. Decision-making (with empowered stakeholders) is a valuable reason to convene a meeting, as are creative brainstorm sessions. A good test is to determine whether the results can be best achieved with a meeting or through other collaborative communication tools such as group chat, project management platforms, or simply a phone call. Tip: information sharing is usually not a good reason to have a meeting.

  3. Who must be there?

Effective meetings depend heavily on one thing – the people in the room. For example, if your meeting result is to brainstorm new ideas, does the invitee list contain people with the necessary technical expertise, creative talent and diversity of perspectives to deliver the results? Or if your meeting goal is to deliver a decision, do the people in the room have the authority to do so? There is nothing more disheartening to a group than coming to consensus on a decision, only to have an absent decision-maker naysay the result. Too often, we invite the right people, but settle for whoever shows up. It may seem drastic, but if a key person can’t attend a meeting, reschedule for a time they can attend. This drives accountability amongst groups, letting everyone know that participation is vital and necessary for a meeting’s results. Achieving the meeting’s goal starts well before the meeting – with clarity on what each attendee’s unique contribution to the meeting result will be.

Keep your eyes open for the next articles in this series which will discuss designing and running meetings to produce results, and cultivating trust and relationships among participants. Resources used in this article can be found here.

Questions? Let's chat! Email us at with any questions, comments or personal experiences. We’d love to hear from you.

Victim of Mission Creep?

Victim of Mission Creep?

Is your organization a victim of mission creep?

Mission creep is when an organization can’t achieve its desired impact because activities have expanded beyond the focus of the mission statement. Your mission might be creeping if you’re:

  • Taking on things that aren’t supportive of or directly aligned with your mission

  • Signing on to do things just to get funding

  • Creating programs that aren’t part of your core skills and capabilities

  • Expanding offerings without strategy

  • Filling a service gap that’s outside of your core area or target audience

Can’t relate? Good! But, watch out. It can happen more easily than you might think. Sound familiar? It’s time to get to work.

You can avoid mission creep by having a mission statement that is clear, specific and strategic to help assess your activities and make sure you’re focused on the right things.

Here are 5 tips to help avoid, or fix, mission creep:

Communicate Constantly
It’s easier to correct mission creep at the beginning versus down the road after it’s embedded in the organization. Communicate often and effectively across your organization to reinforce mission-based activity and help prevent divergence. This includes communicating with staff, board members, volunteers, and supporters.

Leverage Partnerships
Who else is serving your target population? Find opportunities for partners to deliver services or take over programs that they can provide more effectively so that you can concentrate on your core strengths.

Align Funding
Chasing funding for the sake of having money is a giant mission creep trigger. Be sure your highest impact opportunities are the priorities for your resources (i.e., your grant applications and other funding requests should be focused on these high-impact areas).

Create time to evaluate  on some regular frequency: assess programs and prune, boost or stay the course based on their performance and impact. Evaluate your results, asking if the progress that’s being made is related to our mission.

 Learn to Say NO
When organizations try to be all things to all people, they risk not doing anything meaningful for anyone. Saying “no” is hard, but the most effective organizations have the discipline to make tough choices to stay on mission and give themselves the best opportunity to achieve the impact they exist to make.

Questions? Let's chat! Email us at with any questions, comments or personal experiences. We’d love to hear from you.