Several Random Pet Peeves

Several Random Pet Peeves

Recently, I conducted a training session with a land trust. I had to fly to get there, so whereas I brought a projector, handouts, and so on, I did not bring flip charts or a projection screen – too big for my suitcase. When I was communicating what I needed for the workshop, the Executive Director said, “We have the screen. I’ll see if we can get some flip charts.”

At the time, I didn’t think anything of it, but what he actually meant was that flip charts were not in the budget, and he would need to get permission from the Treasurer.


So that got me thinking about pet peeves. Everyone has them. Things that get under your skin and irritate you more than they should. Here are several of mine:


Not having the spending authority to do your job.

My story above really happened, but it’s hardly the first time. Another client couldn’t send out an email renewal request, because the organization had maxed out its free email service account. How much would it cost to upgrade? $88. Another land trust had its prospecting mail budget slashed in 2009, following the recession. In the following few years, they lost close to 60% of their membership base.

We’ve gotten so paranoid about spending too much on fundraising that we are not budgeting enough, and even then, we’re second-guessing every expenditure. We’re holding the fundraising staff accountable for the return, but we’re neglecting the investment.

Meanwhile, one of my Conservation Consulting Group land trust association clients recently did a survey of its member land trusts. The overwhelming priority concern of the member groups? Funding for conservation.

It’s become a vicious circle. You would think the client above with its slashed prospecting budget would have seen the light and started reinvesting again right away. But they didn’t, because they didn’t have the money!

First of all, Fundraising should have its own budget, and that budget should be sufficient to yield long-term results as well as short-term results. When the budget is approved, the spending authority within that budget should be assumed. That means if priorities change during the year and unforeseen expenditures crop up, the staff person in charge (the ED or the Director of Development) should have the ability to shift priorities within the budget without having to return to the board or the Treasurer for permission.

The Board’s job in this case is to ensure that a budget exists and is consistent with the organizational (strategic planning) priorities – not to micro-manage each expenditure. The Board’s job is also to evaluate ED performance, and to some extent that performance is reflected in the ED’s ability to manage the budget and deliver on the priority goals.

To hold the staff accountable for meeting goals without giving him/her the spending authority to do so is demeaning and unfair.


Part-Time Staff

Non-profit organizations are notorious for sucking every ounce of energy their staff will give them. I was told when I was hired by The Nature Conservancy that the organization based its personnel policies on a 35-hour work week. What a laugh! But at least 35 hours was considered full-time, and my position was salaried. My job was to get my job done. Theoretically, if I could do it in 35 hours, I was welcome to take myself home afterward.

But how many times have I seen Part-time staff stay overtime to get something done just because they are so committed to it? And how many times have I seen organizations more than willing to keep piling work on those same people?

Too often part-time staff just means part-time pay. And that’s not ethical.

If you hire staff on a part-time basis, you need to give them a workload that can reasonably be completed in the time you are paying for, and then kick them out the door when the time is up.


Use “fewer” more and “less” less.

Two grammatical errors that I hear all the time aren’t getting enough attention from the grammar ranters out there. So I’ll help fix that here.

Somehow, everyone finally got it that you use “I” instead of “me” in sentence subjects. “My wife and I drove to Indiana last week.” But now lots of people use “I” preferentially everywhere.

Hello! Sometimes “Tony and me” IS correct! I hear this all the time now: “It really didn’t matter to Tony and I.” “Just send it to Deb and I by email.”

The other is one I see all the time in print: using the word “less” when “fewer” would be correct.

To those who might be confused: use “fewer” with stuff that is being counted and use “less” for stuff that is not. “Fewer people attended the party this year than last year.” “Less mud gets tracked in when people wipe their feet.”

Don’t write: “Less and less people visit every year.”

Like nails on a chalkboard!


Want to share some of your pet peeves?





Photo credit: Photo by Pawel Kadysz courtesy of

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Fundraiser’s Almanac
Here’s what I’m thinking about for March. What are YOU thinking about?

  • Spring Appeal Planning – I could print all of my Spring Appeal letters NOW, even if they won’t be mailed until April or May. Getting ahead is GOOD. I’ll need a great project to raise money for, a four-page letter, something to add texture to the envelope, and a segregated membership list (so I can ask for different amounts from each sub-audience).
  • Editing Appeal Letters – The secret to good writing is good editing. I will want to draft my Spring Appeal letter any way it comes out – just to get it done. I’ll make it long enough to work with – 4-5 pages at least. I’ll tell a story and weave the story all the way through. Then, when I’m mostly happy with it, I’ll follow these steps to editing. Much of it is counter-intuitive, so I’ll close my eyes and trust the advice – at least this once – against all objections – and most especially my own. Why? Because I’ll raise more money!
  • Print the First Renewal Letters Now – Right now, I know every member who will be renewing this year. I know what they gave last year about this time. And I know what I will be asking them to give this year. In other words, I have everything I need to merge their letters and print them – right now – in March. Why not do it?
  • Researching Foundation/Corporate Grants and Calendaring Due Dates – I’m going to take some time now, in March, to schedule and conduct a brainstorming meeting with three or four colleagues – including program staff if possible. Specifically, I’ll be reviewing current grantor relationships and going over where I might be with current funding. I’ll be using volunteers to conduct foundation research, so it will be helpful if that volunteer can participate in this meeting as well. We’ll make a list of grantors and grants of which the group may have personal knowledge. Also we’ll brainstorm a list of key search words the volunteer could use in the research.
  • Donor Strategies: Good News, Save the Date – The most persistent barrier to successful major gift fundraising is that board members do not know the donors and donors don’t know the board. Two underused strategies for donor cultivation are Good News and Save the Date events. Good News is just something that has recently happened that I can share before it becomes more commonly known. A project closed, a preserve opened, a nesting pair discovered, a key staff member hired, a child delighted. It can be small or huge. I’m going to make sure that my board members are the conveyors of that news. What matters is that we thought highly enough of the donors’ role that we chose to deliver the news personally. And let’s face facts. Some donors and prospects can’t or won’t meet personally with us. So sending a Save the Date message may prove helpful instead.


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Will I see you at a conference this spring? This spring I’m heading to state conferences in Wisconsin, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania. I’m also planning to attend the River Rally in Mobile, Alabama.

Will I see you there?

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