The Janitor Who Became a Major Donor

Randy Vanness

Randy Vanness has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Myocarditis Foundation and as a board member has had brilliant insights.

I have a confession to make. It isn’t pretty and I know better. I thought I would share my failing with you to serve as an example of what not to do.

I tend to judge people by their appearance or job title. I have read and constantly recommend The Millionaire Next Door, I have known people who are a year behind on their mortgages driving Jags and ordering $300 bo…


The World’s Best Board Member

Left: Paul Vitale, CEO of Help/PSI, Helen Vitale, and John Russell.

Left: Paul Vitale, CEO of Help/PSI, Helen Vitale, and John Russell.

In my 42 years of serving on and working with boards, I have met thousands of board members. What makes a truly great board member?

The best of the best of the best is my friend John Russell. Recently I went to an event he sponsored. He had just joined the board of Opera Theater of Saint Louis. Instead of making a big donation, which would in itself have been a wonderful thing to do, he brought 75 friends to a pre-opera dinner. …


12 Questions Job Seekers Should Ask—and Nonprofits Should Be Able to Answer

jobinterviewI have several long-term clients who are looking to change jobs. What a surprise: development staff on the move.

I also have clients who are looking for employees. Some have written job descriptions that are more thorough and complex than if they were trying to hire the CEO of General Motors.

One lists 26 areas of responsibility and pays $35,000. They want me to find someone. I want to weigh 112 and eat 5,000 calories a day. That isn’t going to happen, either.

A friend who is a job seeker asked …


50 Shades of Fundraising

I was coaching two executives at a nonprofit a few weeks ago, and in the course of the conversation, it came up that the development director had accused the executive director of talking too much when they went together to solicit donors.

I asked the executive director if this was true, and he proceeded to blather on about how much he cared about the cause without so much as taking a breath or answering my question, proving the development director’s point.

I suggested that it might be better a…


What to Do When Donors Say ‘No’ or ‘I’m Not Sure’

I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly love rejection. I am just about over my dating experiences of 38 years ago.  In fact, rejection is such a huge issue that most of us are extremely wary of major-donor solicitations. I can’t say that I love it when a potential donor does not come across with an enthusiastic “Yes!” but I do have some tips on how to find out what the issue is and make reluctance work for you.

Here are a few questions to ask if your donor says, “I’m not sure.”

1. What info…


A Board’s Travels Inspire Bonding, Fresh Ideas, and Bigger Gifts

When was the last time you hit the road with your board? Whether you go across town or around the world, a mission trip brings the board together in a unique and wonderful way that pays dividends for years to come.

Last year my husband Frank, and I went to Costa Rica with the board of the Friends of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest. My natural habitat is a mall, and I’m terrified of snakes. But as a board member, I committed to going to Costa Rica every other year on my dime. And on this tr…


What to Do When Board Members Won’t Raise Money

Board membership and fundraising go hand in hand, but all too often, trustees don’t think that way.

Sometimes that’s because they joined when the criteria for board membership were either unclear or didn’t involve fundraising. But times have changed, and raising money is harder than it used to be for a lot of groups:

  • Charities that used to receive significant government financial support, which has decreased or vanished.
  • Organizations that have more competition than they used to. An executive d…

Holiday Giving Traditions—With a Focus on Fun

I love tradition. As long as it doesn’t involve too much decorating, cooking, or detail work. Martha Stewart never loses sleep worrying that I might encroach on her holiday empire.

I heard of the most wonderful holiday tradition at lunch recently. Kathy Meath, president of the St. Louis Arc, told me that a former board member started a tradition of going to a diner a few weeks before Christmas with some friends and each leaving a hundred dollar bill for the waitress. The trick was to sneak out b…


A Recovery Plan for Fundraisers Facing Burnout

Do any of these describe you?

  • You spend more the 50 percent of your therapy session talking about fundraising.
  • Your efforts to get board members to help raise money are so unpleasant, you find yourself daydreaming of the good old days when you were on the front lines in the Vietnam War.
  • You have gained more than 30 pounds, tripled your alcohol consumption, or taken up smoking over the age of 40.
  • You and a co-worker are thinking of leaving together. The only thing you haven’t decided is …

5 Ways to Lose Your Development Director in 2 Years or Less

You hear it all the time: Experienced executives fretting, obsessing, and despairing about finding great development staff. Yet development directors have horror stories about employment situations that lead them to carbohydrates and medication and that eventually send them out the door.

Here are five mistakes I see boards and executives make that ensure their development director will leave.

1. Pay a ridiculous salary. A friend recently pointed out an ad on Craigslist for a development director…