Reflections from Massachusetts Nonprofit Network Conference - Solutions 2013: The Intersection of People and Technology

On October 29th, more than 500 nonprofit and business leaders from across New England gathered at the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network's annual conference. This year's conference theme was “Solutions 2013: The Intersection of People and Technology.”

By Danielle Kempe

On October 29th, more than 500 nonprofit and business leaders from across New England gathered at the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network's annual conference. This year's conference theme was “Solutions 2013: The Intersection of People and Technology”.

In listening to feedback from past attendees, MNN worked in a lot more networking time this year, and replaced an opening speech with a “Lightning Problem Solving” session, facilitated by Jay Vogt, Consultant at Peoplesworth.

Attendees were asked to pick a table based on the budget size of the nonprofit they worked for, and share a problem with the table for others to give suggestions to. (Personally, I wish MNN would get away from defining things so much by budget size, including their membership fees, but that’s a tangent for another day.) We were asked to keep the problems shared at our table confidential, so I can’t share the details, but it was very enlightening to hear different ideas on how a problem could be solved from other professionals in the nonprofit sector.

After the Lightning Problem Solving, we were given time to browse the exhibit tables before our first workshop session.  It was fun to walk the halls and run into friends from across the nonprofit sector.

The first session for me was “Fundamentals for Stewardship to Engage Your Donors” by Anne Peyton. Anne started by showing some slides on the “Good, Bad, and Ugly” of nonprofit fundraising.  Good – Donors want prompt, personal acknowledgement of their gift. Bad – Nearly 1/2 of nonprofit donors are lost between the first and second ask. Ugly – Every 100 donors gained in 2012 was offset by 105 donors lost through attrition across nonprofit sector. The big take away for me about how to change to good was, “"Humans are hard wired for storytelling. Use it to cultivate your donors!" (Anne Peyton).

Charles Rucks, Executive Director for Springfield Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc., received MNN’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Charles shared his personal story of why he became involved in the nonprofit sector, and ended his speech with the powerful message, “The Lord didn't give up on me. I don’t have the right to give up on these young people.” Attendee, Tricia Vaccaro Coburn, tweeted after the speech, “That was one of the most moving speeches I have ever heard. Thank you Charles for the truly invaluable perspective.”

The second session I attended was “Talk to Your Donors: Groundwork for a Major Gift” by Diane Remin from MajorDonors.com. This session was not about asking for money from your donors “the ask” but instead focused on setting up visits to get to know your donors and what interests them about your nonprofit. Diane was a very engaging presenter, and two of her side points stuck with me - If first time donors are called to be thanked for their donation, it increases retention by 40%. When deciding if you should hold a fundraising event, ask “is the juice worth the squeeze?”

Other take-aways included, “If a donor asks you why you’re involved with your organization, it means they’re engaged. Give them a real answer!” As fundraisers, “We are in sales to some extent. Volume is good. Call your donors to set up visits! ” When asking to visit with a donor - “You’re trying to get a date. If the person is endlessly busy, that’s a hint!”

Finally, a prospect should do 70% of the talking at a visit. Ask strategic questions and listen. Don’t grill!

I was very happy with my experience attending the MNN Annual Conference for the third time. I highly recommend you attend the 2014 conference, and hope to see you there!


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