Right and Left Hands

I read a lot of fiction. One thing that strikes me is how often the characters go off in strange and unlovely directions simply because they fail to communicate with each other, or at least, fail to communicate fully.

Of course, I’m struck by the same thing in real life, but who pays attention to reality anymore (unless it is televised)? Certainly not those who think that there really is a fund raising magic bullet.

But, surprise!, I’m not going to rant here about the lack of understanding of certain board members and CEO’s who are sure that everyone is just dying to give them some money if only somebody (else) would ask. I am going to rant about communication gaps.

Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is more irritating than finding out that you are the right hand who doesn’t know a thing about what the left hand has just done. I wish I had a dollar for every time a program officer informed me that someone in my organization just submitted a proposal for $5,000 so they could not consider the one for $50,000 we had been discussing until the next funding cycle. I wouldn’t be rich, but I could buy a pretty fancy dinner. And let’s not even mention the Board that decides that instead of the one-on-one major donor solicitations they had agreed to, they’ll throw another “fundraiser” event instead. So what if that will net very little?

Complaining, however, is one thing. Communicating so that complaining is less necessary is another. You’d think that in a world so full of noise, communication wouldn’t be such a hard thing to do. But it is.

The first step is to make sure that you are not part of the problem. You are only allowed to complain about how they don’t tell you what you need to know if you are telling them what they need to know.

Speaking of reality as we were a few paragraphs back, recognize that not everyone communicates and the best response to that is to communicate with that person.

My husband, who is an engineer and we all know how well they mix with communicating, used to have a bad habit of not telling me if he was going to be late or if he was bringing someone home for dinner. I, a sales type with motor mouth who informed him of everything I might possibly do that day, decided that two could play the no communication game.

Instead of making things better, it made them worse because now neither of us had a clue what was happening. It was so bad that my dogs too often did not get their evening walk as because the one who was home was waiting for the one who wouldn’t be home until 10 but hadn’t bothered to inform the other. And instead of learning from my lack of information, he decided that it was now completely OK to forgo telling me anything. That notion, I might tell you, took a lot of work to undo.

With fundraising, communication is even more important. Fundraising is much like a dance, and if both partners don’t know the steps, you are liable to stomp on each other’s toes. Practically speaking, that means that your organization needs to have a plan of action and that action must be communicated to everyone. Everyone.

Communication can be even more basic. Recently, I was conducting a workshop to help board members make the case for giving. The first step, I told them, is to define the situation, the problem or the need.

”Everybody knows the situation,” the ED snapped. “We don’t need to belabor that to everyone.”

Beyond setting my teeth on edge, that attitude is exactly the one that (a) too many nonprofits have and (b) is guaranteed to keep donors away from you. YOU may know what you do, how you do it, and what all those acronyms nonprofit and educational organizations are so fond of, but I guarantee that most of your prospects, many of your donors and even a large percentage of your board, don’t. If they do, it’s not necessarily on the top of their thoughts and they will (silently) thank you for being communicative with them.

Besides, you won’t necessarily be saying “Homelessness means that someone doesn’t have a home.” Rather, you will talk about why homelessness in your community matters to your community and by extension to your prospect.

Communication in the dictionary of Janet is defined as the fine art of including people into your world so they will want to be involved. Or, as businessdictionary.com so eloquently puts it:

Two way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants no only exchange information but also create and share meaning.

Think about it. Give and take. Sharing. Creation. Aren’t these all things that good nonprofits practice? And aren’t they all the things that move your good mission forward?

So, talk to me and to each other. Make sure that the right hand does know what the left is doing and vice versa. But also, perhaps especially, listen. Hear what the other is saying. You will be astonished at how much more you can do—how much better you will do it—if you communicate.

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations. She can be reached at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com. Her online grantwriting class is available at www.janetlevineconsulting.com/classes.html.

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About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at http://courses.lmlearningstation.com/. In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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