Welcome to the Fit Fundraising podcast, where we bring you game changing fundraising topics direct from our meetings with major donors and nonprofits nationwide. While most consultants are busy giving advice, Fit Fundraising stays on the front lines with non profits and major donors. This podcast is a glimpse into our world of work with non profits as we get on the field with them and successfully model fundraising. Get ready to get fit with the hottest show in fund development, Fit Fundraising.

Roy Jones: Well, welcome everyone to the Fit Fundraising podcast. We’re having so much fun interviewing some of the top fundraisers in the country. And today we’ve got another legend. I can’t tell you how excited I am to have Penny Keviet on our program. I’ve worked with Penny in my previous capacity, I’ve worked for her and then she’s hired me to actually come in and help train her team. We’ve had a long relationship. She is no stranger to the nonprofit world, having spent her entire professional career as a teacher, principal, college professor, trainer, executive with American Management Association, Executive Director at the city rescue mission, where on December 31st, 2020, after 12 years of service she decided to retire, but thank goodness she didn’t retire. She’s been helping lots of nonprofits all over the country with board governance and training. She does amazing work, I am so excited to have her here. She has served in numerous capacities at all levels of nonprofit organizations for the past 47 years, she’s got more experience than I have forgotten over the years, and I am so honored, Penny, that you’ve joined us today. Thanks again for joining the Fit Fundraising Podcast. 

Penny Keviet: Roy, it is my pleasure to be here and I am just so excited to be able to talk about boards and CEOs and mission work and all of those good topics. Thank you for asking me. 

Roy Jones: Oh, it is our honor and we’ve known each other a lot of years. I love Jacksonville, I love any excuse I can to get over there, it’s just a beautiful place the world. Your work at the city rescue mission. Take me back a few years, tell me what drew you to mission work. 

Penny Keviet: Actually a move for my husband, his employment moved us to Jacksonville. And during that process, I was working for the American Management Association up in New York, four days a week, home three days a week. And they got to the point where young daughter was getting ready to go into middle school and I turned to my husband and I said, I need to be here, I think seven days a week working, but here’s seven days a week. So interestingly enough about that point in time, or actually a little before that, I had been asked by city rescue mission and a former executive director, if I would come and help them with their strategic planning process, which was part of what we did at the American management association. So we’ve joined a church at that point and a friend of mine at church said, would you come and help us with development? And here we go Roy this is where you and I first got acquainted. 

Roy Jones: Yeah.

Penny Keviet: And I said, maybe, I think God’s hand is in this kind of a miraculous thing that’s happening right here, I’ve been toying with staying put here in Jacksonville. And so tell me a little bit about what you’re looking for and that’s what took me to City Risk Commission, so I was the development director there for three years before I became the CEO. 

Roy Jones: Interesting, so obviously the development program had a little something to do with the strategic plan. Talk to me about how those two connect. 

Penny Keviet: I have to admit, I had a hand up in that one, I think, because I had helped them with their strategic plan, so I knew exactly what the goals were for development and what the challenges were, they were pretty serious because they had not had anybody actually lead that development effort in the past, so it was exciting, so the very first thing I did, of course, was sit at my typewriter and create a development plan which looks a lot like a strategic plan, right? With goals and objectives and all of that and, that’s where we kind of solidified the relationship we had with our fundraising group out of california that you worked for at that time, and that’s exactly how that happened and why that happened and it was pretty easy because i’d had that previous experience, yes. 

Roy Jones: Yeah, wow I do want to get to talking about board governance just a little bit in just a moment but walk me through how you built the staff, a lot of times people think that development is just something you can do by hiring some agency to press a button and direct response happens and you don’t have to do anything else. It doesn’t work that way, does it? 

Penny Keviet: No, sir. 

Roy Jones: Talk to me about how you staff up internally. How big should a development staff be? Talk about that process. 

Penny Keviet: I think it depends on how much money you want to raise and what it’s going to take in order to do that. So, like I said, I believe that the first place you start I’m working with a newly selected development director here in Florida, actually right now, helping her get organized and part of that is you start with the plan. And if you don’t have a plan the work and work the plan. Old saying, right, but still very true so we need to be focused on that. What I did was I started with all of the, I knew how much money I had to raise. Let’s say it was 6 million dollars. I knew that in order to do that, here’s what we were currently bringing in, and the easy part is that, when you use direct mail you have a good sense of what that’s going to be and you know what the expense is, so it’s pretty black and white and it’s a marketing tool also and that’s the whole purpose of it is to bring in new donors, right? 

Roy Jones: So, wait a minute. You’re telling me your major donors come from those little gifts that come in in direct mail. 

Penny Keviet: Oh, if we’re wise at the end of the mission or the organization, you bet that’s the greatest challenge in the whole wide world that gets to be very exciting from my opinion and that is taking that person that might’ve written a 50 dollar check, or might’ve written a 25 dollar check. But when you look at their capacity, they don’t belong in that bucket they belong in another bucket, right? So we’re going to groom them and develop them and work with them and teach them about the organization, there was something that drew their heart to it to begin with. We just need to find out what that is and let that grow, bloom, blossom, multiply, all of those good, good things that at the end of the day and three years later and you get a gift of 250, 000, a pretty daggone good investment, wasn’t it?

Roy Jones: Worth the investment. 

Penny Keviet: You bet. 

Roy Jones: So you start out with that staff, obviously you got to have somebody

Penny Keviet: No, I don’t have a staff yet. I have a plan. I have the paper. 

Roy Jones: Somebody’s got to open that mail. And do the donor services piece and thank donors. 

Penny Keviet: That’s exactly right, and I chose to put that in the finance department. I jsut didn’t have time to do that. I wanted to be out with people taking that 25 or 50 dollars and turning it into $25,000, right? So I knew that part, but I knew I needed a major gifts officer.  I had churches, I’m just telling you now the pieces you’re asking me. I am having to think back to a long time ago, over 15 years ago. So I had churches there, I had direct mail there, I had major gifts there, I had events there, they had done like 10 events that each brought only $5,000 dollars. I said, that’s not right. No way. Well, here’s what I promise you a mission. I promise you that I’m going to do two events, and I promise you that for that $40, 000 dollars that you’ve been making over 10 events, that we’re going to turn that into hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

We watched that grow. We had marketing. We had PR. We had all of those pieces and I’m looking and saying, I cannot do all of that by myself. So where do I start? Who do I need to hire first? 

Well, because I knew the dollars were involved, the first thing I did was hire a major gifts officer. The second thing I did was hire a marketing and a PR person fresh out of college. She was awesome. She was just so excited to be there and she would have worked her fanny off if I would have allowed that to happen. And then the third person that I hired was a volunteer coordinator because we needed volunteers. So, it just becomes a measuring stick then once that plan is actually drawn up so that you say, what are my priorities?  My priorities right now are to bring money intp the mission. We were not doing well financially. We need some help there, and part of it was because there was never a plan. And so, like I said, plan the work, work the plan!  

We built a three year plan to begin with.  The board was blown away when I took it into the first board meeting and said, here’s our plan. 

Roy Jones: You scared them to death, didn’t you?

Penny Keviet: Oh, yeah. Who is this woman?

Roy Jones: Because you’re talking about scaling the staff and the internal support to grow at the same pace as the revenue. And making those investments, that is a board decision when you start getting into not necessarily who you hire, but the number of hires that you make. Talk to me about that process of working with the board.

Penny Keviet: I disagree with you. 

Roy Jones: Okay, tell me. 

Penny Keviet: This is where, well, you and I love this. 

Roy Jones: I might actually learn something.

Penny Keviet: I doubt that. But you know what? It’s always fun to have people that don’t always agree to converse about it. So what I would say to you is that under board policy governance, no, it’s not the board’s decision to decide how many employees are going to be hired to do development. Rather, it’s the CEOs and the development directors in tandem to decide to do that now, I was a debate coach. Now that should go ding, ding, ding, ding, ding for anybody that knows anything at all about educational debate, right? Was at the high school level, was at the college level happy to say we beat UCLA in the finals of the National Collegiate Debate Tournament in Los Angeles, California. So I know how to create a plan and sell it. That’s the bottom line. And I know that that’s a skill that not a lot of people have, but it’s something that comes naturally to me and so you take to the board, not for their approval, you take to the board saying, look, I’ve been here two weeks and look what I’ve done. And now it’s easy. Now the CEO and I are gonna sit, we’re gonna talk about how we’re going to fund those positions, which positions we’re gonna put in place first. I already have an answer to that. And we’re ready to go. We’re ready. So I don’t think it’s the board’s decision on how many people you can hire. I believe that’s an internal piece, and that has no bearing on the board whatsoever. 

Roy Jones: I love it. Talk to me about

Penny Keviet: I’ll talk more about that later. 

Roy Jones: Well, no, let’s go ahead and jump into the board stuff. I think, it’s clear that, you love board work, you love being involved in boards. You do a lot of training now and as you’ve just demonstrated, you can give practical hands on examples of how you work with a board. What do you give boards? How do you help them when people ask you to get involved? Where do you start? 

Penny Keviet: Well, I think I need to know why, first of all, I love the phrase when we went through the COVID stuff here in Jacksonville with all the shelters that we have here and all of the city employees that are, were involved with that, plus all the health department people and, and my frustration always is when people say, well, let’s do this. We’re not going to take them to the hospital if we have somebody at our shelter that is, has COVID where my key question always has been when it comes to strategic thinking and planning. And then what? It’s very simple, that’s three words that lead you to a very healthy conclusion of, and then what. And not always will it work, but at least you have a guidepost again that takes you on a journey, so that’s one of my very favorite things to ask when people say our board doesn’t get along, and then what? How does that impact you? What’s happening with the CEO? Here’s what I’ve found, I’ve been around long enough in this world that served on lots and lots of boards. Most CEOs will complain about their board, and most boards will complain about their CEO. Isn’t that interesting? Now why do you think that is? It’s because they’re on two different pages, and everybody’s unsure of what their job is. Which is one reason why I love policy governance. It is the clearest form of governance that a board can have and I’m going to, let me tell you a story. One of the boards I’m on, I was coming up for renewal, every three years, you can have another three year term and then you take a year off and blah, blah, blah, but we’re all used to that right? So I went to the CEO and I went to the chairman of the board and I said, you know what? I just can’t stay on the board unless you all are willing to move this board to a policy governance board. Now I’ve been talking a little bit about it, and in fact I had done a board retreat on the topic of what is policy governance. And so anyway, the three of us sat. We all talked and we said, you know what, we need to do that. And here’s why, the CEO kept calling it a policy board without any of the pieces that need to be in place for it to become a policy board. 

Roy Jones: So what happens? Let me interrupt you, don’t lose your train of thought. So, 

Penny Keviet: Well, that’s a challenge. 

Roy Jones: Don’t lose it because this is good stuff. So what does a board look like is not a policy governance board. What does that board look like? 

Penny Keviet: It’s the majority of the boards that are out there. First of all, and that’s what we need to understand that’s why policy governance is a critical piece, but it takes a lot of training and it takes a lot of Engagement with new potential board members, but I will tell you this potential board members love it, because it’s so crystal clear about what their role and responsibility is. So, to answer the question specifically, here’s what happens that other kind of board is called an operational board. I’ve been a CEO. You’ve been a CEO. I’m hoping that there are a whole lot of people that are listening to this podcast that have been and are CEOs. The worst thing that can happen is for the board to start interfering with what the CEO was hired to do. I didn’t want anybody breathing down my neck. I wanted to know what I could and couldn’t do, period. I needed a board to be proscriptive, not prescriptive. And so it’s easy to tell if a board is a policy board because much of the policy and we’ll talk about that later, a lot of the policy is written in the negative. It tells the executive director what they can’t do.

Roy Jones: Interesting,

Penny Keviet: In other words, it’s very freeing. So I can do anything that the policy is telling me I can’t do right makes sense. And it makes it very very exciting for a CEO. They bloom, they blossom the most important thing a policy board does is hire a good CEO. Hire, walk with, evaluate. That’s one of the most important things that a policy board does.

Roy Jones: Wow. Penny, time has flown by. I mean, flown by. And thank you so much for joining us today. I’m going to have you back, and we want to really drill down on this policy governance board stuff. I’ve learned so much again, we’re going to pick this up and take off running with it. If someone wants to reach you, they’d like to talk to you about their board or other parts of their organization and how you could help them. How do they do that? What’s the best way to reach you?

Penny Keviet: The best way is through my email and that is K I E V as in Victor E T P E N N Y at gmail. com or my phone number 904 545 9985 and I would love to share my excitement with anybody that would like additional information. 

Roy Jones: Well, Penny, thank you. I’m so excited about having you back and again. We’ve learned so much so much so much when I think about the strategic plan and how that leads to the development and staffing and scaling the staff and working with a board and truly setting up a policy governance statement and one that they live by it’s so exciting and I look forward to really drilling down on that in our next time together again, everybody thanks for listening to the Fit Fundraising Podcast today and come back and join us, you’re going to learn something. I promise.

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