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Terry Axelrod

Recent Posts by Terry Axelrod:

Mission Envy vs. Mission Impact

Mission envy—most nonprofits have at least a minor case of it. Thinking that another organization in your community has it "made." Knowing that the reasons they are so successful are because they have the perfect board members, the easy-to-sell mission, the broad base of community support, the beautiful building(s), the smart and outgoing executive director, a strong development staff. In short—they clearly have it all!

Perhaps there is another side to that story. If you were to talk to the nonprofit's board members, executive director, or staff, you might find that they have their own unique challenges in overcoming that perception that they have it all. They may be grappling with such issues as how to balance funding cutbacks, how to keep their board members engaged, how to convey their most urgent needs in order to fulfill the next big chunk of their mission.

Even if the illusion of that perfect organization were true, so what? How does that pertain to your organization?

I believe that mission envy is merely a justification for putting off dealing with the core issue—how to fulfill your organization's mission impact.

I recommend, rather than spending time comparing your organization to others in your community, that you spend time looking at the broader impact you intend to make in the community, and then take stock of where you currently stand in relation to that goal.

This will take some serious truth telling. In fact, the sooner you can get everyone on your team to tell the truth about your unique challenges, successes, and the next gap to be filled on the path to fulfilling your unique mission, the sooner you can get on with the real work of engaging your community in helping you to fulfill that mission.

You may soon realize that the very reason those "perfect" nonprofits (the ones you are seeking to emulate or envy) got where they are is because they began focusing on mission impact long ago. They set clear goals for the fulfillment of their missions. Then they put their noses to the grindstone and, rather than looking up to compare themselves to others, they got to work on attaining their goals.

Mission impact answers these questions: What specific variables in the world would be altered if our mission were fulfilled? Which of these variables do we choose to track and measure our success on? On each of those variables, what is our current baseline? How far do we want to move the needle, and by when?

It's time to take the envy and comparison out of the picture. Those are merely distractions that keep you from buckling down and focusing on the challenges your group is facing right now. That same valuable time could be spent working with a group of dedicated people—and a smart strategic planning consultant—to clarify your mission impact, determine the metrics you will use to measure it, and make your plan for getting on with attaining it. Focus on mission impact.

Terry Axelrod, Benevon
© 2013, Benevon. Reprinted with permission.

Terry Axelrod is the founder and CEO of Benevon,, a Seattle-based organization that has trained and coached more than 4,000 nonprofits to build sustainable funding from individual donors.

Ten Tips for Staying Sane While Fundraising This Holiday Season

Reprinted from Benevon

Ten Tips to Make Donor Cultivation Personal

  1. Your time is valuable and so is your donor's. If you are going to take the time to cultivate donors, do it in the most personal manner possible.
  2. Apply the "personal equals special" test. If the contact doesn't make your donor feel special and unique, it's not personal enough. Make every donor feel that you are speaking only to him or her, even though the donor will know that is not actually the case all the time.
  3. Consider eliminating most of the time-consuming, impersonal "cultivation" you are now doing, such as the hard-mailed newsletter and the invitations to the entertainment events, and free up your time to work smarter.
  4. Think about yourself as a donor. Notice which cultivation contacts get your attention—mail, phone, e-mail, or fax? Notice how you connect personally with people in your everyday life. Is that how you're treating your donors?
  5. Notice that you have preferences for how people contact you—via which medium and which phone calls and e-mails you return, versus which ones you delete. Notice how flattered you are when the right person calls you or even sends you a note, yet how offended you are when someone else shows up at your door unexpectedly.
  6. Notice that you can discriminate between those "bulk" group e-mails and the smaller group ones that feel like a real person actually wrote them and meant them for you. Notice how you realize that some people are so busy, you're willing to cut them a little slack if they send out an e-mail to a small group of people. Notice that sometimes you even hit "reply" to those e-mails and send them a note in return.
  7. Notice how people who know you well get your attention these days. Blackberry, computer, phone, fax, or in person? (Granted, there will never be any substitute for an adorable child coming up to you and saying, "Hi, Daddy.")
  8. Notice that you get annoyed when people take too long to respond to you or, conversely, when they bombard you with several responses in a short period of time.
  9. Notice how quickly you switch modes of communication. You may reply to an e-mail message with a phone call or reply to a phone call with an e-mail. You may talk with someone via voicemail back and forth for weeks and accomplish quite a bit before you ever speak to them in person. Notice that you have adapted to multi-media communications.
  10. Notice that the people close to you know how to get your attention and how to use your time well when they need it. They know when they can find you on your cell phone in the car, when you check your e-mail late at night, when you shut down that hand-held computer before the flight takes off.

This is the level of personal you need to be at with your donors. You need to get to know them well enough (and in the process gain enough permission) to earn the right to communicate with them like a good friend would. And that is going to take a lot of contact!

Ten Signs Your Donors Are Ready for "The Ask"

Adapted from Benevon, "Current Feature: Ten Signs of Donor Readiness"

What's Your Donor Value Proposition?

Have you noticed: not everyone is hurting these days? The discount places are doing great. Wal-Mart's, the "dollar" shops, and thrift shops are booming. It's "in" to be thrifty—to get as much "bang for your buck" as possible.

Call Your Donors

Those three words say it all. In these uncertain times, nonprofits are asking, "What do we do now? How do we survive, manage, or even thrive in this economy?" I've spent this week calling about 50 CEOs from some of the groups in our Five-Year Sustainable Funding Program. I called to listen, to see how each group was faring, how their fundraising was going, what more they might need. Granted, their teams have had the benefit of our training and coaching, some for several years. What I heard was heartening.

Top Five Ways to Appreciate Your Donors Now

Reprinted from Benevon

Top Five Ways to Show Your Board That You Value Them

Reprinted from Benevon

Ask yourself this question in every interaction that you have with each board member: is this how I would treat a major donor whom I was cultivating to ask eventually for a large gift? Here are five ways to show your board members how much you value them:

  1. Honor their commitment to your mission. Even if you occasionally question their passion for your work, give them the benefit of the doubt. There are plenty of other nonprofit groups that would love to have them on their boards, so if they have chosen to serve on your board, it's pretty safe to assume that at least some part of your organization's mission appeals to them.

  2. Honor their time. Board members are volunteers—not paid staff. They weren't signing on for a job when they agreed to serve on your board. Be respectful of the other things they have going on in their lives. Don't bother them with the small stuff. Before asking them to make phone calls, fill tables, come to meetings, or sign letters, ask yourself: would I bother the biggest donor in town with this sort of thing?

  3. Honor their brains. These folks are smart—technically smart, people smart, and financially smart. In some cases they are just plain wise. Use their time to gather their input on the strategic issues that will help shape your future, not on the smaller tactical details. They will naturally offer to help you on the tactical pieces if they have helped to create or shape the larger strategy and direction. (And they will also be more likely to fund it!)

  4. Honor their contacts. Board members know that you know who they might know. Respect those relationships by asking board members to invite their friends and colleagues to events at or sponsored by your organization, rather than rushing in to ask their friends for money. Treat your board members as distinguished ambassadors, not as salespeople for your work.

  5. Honor their privacy. If this were the biggest donor in your community, perhaps you'd use a little more discretion. Leave messages with their secretaries—don't call them at home or e-mail their private address unless they've given you explicit permission to do so. Any information you have about their lives that could be regarded as private must remain confidential. Err on the side of discretion and courtesy. Be respectful.
Terry Axelrod, Benevon
© 2007, Benevon

Terry Axelrod is the founder and CEO of Benevon (formerly Raising More Money), a Seattle-based organization that has trained and coached more than 3,000 nonprofits to build sustainable funding from individual donors. For more information, go to

Recognize Your Donors with Results

Even though most donors will never bring up the topic of recognition, you should assume they want it.

Take a moment to think about yourself. Think of times you have been a donor, a board member, a volunteer, or a staff member. Think of the times you have been recognized in any of these roles. What did the organization say or do to show you that they appreciate you? Did it work? Did it get the job done? How did it feel to you? Think of the very best example of a time you felt fully appreciated and recognized as a donor. What made it feel so right?

In fact, you may be surprised and embarrassed by how petty your responses seem. This is when the little things matter. Although each group may have genuinely tried their very best to recognize and appreciate you, they may have missed the mark.

How to "Missionize" Your Events

In the final episode of The Apprentice last year, you saw a perfect example of how not to raise money. In case you missed it, the two finalists each received a designated nonprofit to raise money for.

The runner-up, Rebecca, raised nothing for her cause—the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Rebecca's task was to put on the Yahoo! All-Star Comedy Benefit. She lined up comedians, served Yahoo-tinis, and paid a lot of attention to conveying the Yahoo! brand and entertaining her guests (Yahoo! VIPs).