National Philanthropy Day 2017

Opening Remarks at AFP Las Vegas’ National Philanthropy Day Celebration
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

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Good morning and welcome to AFP Las Vegas’ celebration of National Philanthropy Day.

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Las Vegas chapter and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, I want to thank you for being here and extend our deep gratitude to the sponsors of today’s celebration – Bank of America, Nathan Adelson Hospice and Lou Ruvo Cleveland Clinic Center for Brain Health.  Their generosity and thoughtfulness has made it possible for us to honor and recognize the power of philanthropy in our community and we are deeply grateful.

Representing over 30,000 individuals and organizations worldwide, AFP’s mission is to empower individuals and organizations to practice ethical fundraising through professional education, networking and advocacy.

National Philanthropy Day is just one of the many ways in which we do that, both at the local and national level.  We are proud, this week, to stand with our fellow chapters across the country who are recognizing the heroic acts of philanthropy in all of our communities.

What is perhaps most powerful, to me, is that the award recipients are nominated and chosen by the community – we, here at the chapter, don’t know who they are until they’re announced.  This recognition is truly one that comes from the people and organizations who have been impacted most by our Honorees’ generosity.  These truly are a recognition from a grateful community.

And if there is any community that has truly shown what philanthropy – the love of humankind – looks like, it is certainly Las Vegas in these last few months.  I don’t think any of us have been more proud to call ourselves Las Vegans and none of us have been unaffected by the profound stories  of both unspeakable tragedy and limitless love that we continue to see every day.

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I first moved to Las Vegas in 2002 to work for Diane Carlson and Bill Freyd at IDC and it was a little tough explaining to people in a city like Chicago, where I moved from, that, yes, I’m moving to Las Vegas to work as a fundraising consultant.  Their response was usually, “And just how are you going to do that?  Hit people up for their buckets of change at slot machines?”

Their second response was typically, “Vegas just isn’t a town with a sense of community.  There’s no philanthropy there, people just don’t give.”What I found – what all of us, native and transplants alike have found – was, of course, completely opposite.

My first apartment was a wonderful two-story townhouse that had been the model home, so it had mature landscaping and these beautiful, tall mesquite trees.  Walking out onto the second floor balcony was like living in a treehouse.  I would sit there at night and listen to the wind in those trees and I could see the light from the Luxor.  I thought it was the coolest thing, being able to sit there and see this iconic beacon that represented a town I’d already come to love.

Luxor Hotel at night - Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, 5.10.2013

 

My colleagues, who are here today, will tell you that I’m not always great with complex statements; things that are confusing throw me off.  Statements like:  “Just head North on Lake Meade and you’ll be right there” or “Head East on Tropicana.”  It did take me a little while to get my bearings and I finally realized that if Sunrise Mountain is over there to the right and the Stratosphere is up there, then . . . . there’s no way that can be the light from the Luxor I’m staring at every night.

It wasn’t.

It was the light from the Von’s parking lot at the intersection of Pecos and Windmill.

But it didn’t matter.  It really wasn’t about the light itself, it was about what it represented.

Hope.

To me, that light represented a new beginning, a new career, a new adventure.  The Hope of a New Day.

And isn’t that what philanthropy is?  Isn’t that what our honorees today have shown us all?

Hope.

Philanthropy is all about hope.

Philanthropy is the light at the intersection of Hope and Action.

And that is what we celebrate today.  So, thank you.  On behalf of the children and families and organizations and community who have been the beneficiaries of your philanthropy, of the hope that you provide – thank you!

Welcome to National Philanthropy Day.

And welcome to FABULOUS Las Vegas – this is where love lives.

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Advice to a Young Fundraiser on His 23rd Birthday

The older I get the more grateful I am for the mentors I had when I started fundraising.

More and more, I find myself remembering their advice and understanding why we did things the way they did, lo, these many decades ago.

Those of us that have been doing this for awhile (remember 3 x 5 cards and carbon paper? Good times, good times) have, I think, a responsibility to pass on what we’ve learned and encourage young fundraisers as they advance in their career.

So, when a friend posted that all he wanted for his 23rd birthday was for people to share what they’d tell themselves at the same age, I had a few thoughts:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
— Samuel Beckett

The successes you have will inform how you do you work in the future, but you’ll learn more from your failures.  Embrace them.  Success makes you complacent.  Success leads to “This is the way we’ve always done it” because you just keep repeating the steps that made you successful.   Your failures hurt, but growth ALWAYS comes from pain.

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Read.  A lot.  Everything You Can.

There’s a lot of REALLY good information about fundraising in print.  Read it.  Learn from it.  Sure, I’m gonna offer my own list of favorite books as a starting point, but there’s a ton of great information out there.  Dig in.  Ground yourself in the solid principles of the profession – then break the molds that created them.

Learn The Alternatives

It’s not all about gala tables and silent auctions and grant writing.  It’s also not all about data sets and direct mail.  It’s about all of those and everything else.  It’s a big, beautiful, wonderful profession, full of great people doing amazing things in a million different ways.  Experiment.

Go Ahead and Do the Stupid Thing

If I could do anything over again, it would be to do the things I DIDN’T do because I was too scared, too conservative, too worried what people might think.  You won’t regret the things you did do – you’ll forgive yourself for those.  It’s the things you didn’t do that will keep you up at night in your 40s.

Love Wildly and With Abandon

Fundraising is about relationships.  To paraphrase RuPaul, if you haven’t learned how to love people how in the hell are you gonna learn how to love a donor?

” . . . love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.”
—Ronny Cammareri (Nicolas Cage), Moonstruck

Let your heart get broken, let friends disappoint you, be betrayed – but don’t let it make you hard and cold.  Let it open your capacity for love even further.

If You Love Something Else More and Can Do It Better, Go Do It

This is why I’m a RECOVERING actor.  Best advice I ever got.  I found something I could do better and loved more.  Is the thing you love ridiculous and doesn’t pay well?  Do it anyway.  You’ll be so much richer if your soul is happy.

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You Will Have Multiple Careers

Don’t pigeonhole yourself now.  Learn as many skills and gain as much experience in other things as you can.  Your values won’t change – unless they need to – but your interests and your passions might.  Be prepared.  I failed college math . . . twice.  Now I’m kind of a reluctant data geek.  What a world . . . .

Be Amazed

The world is an amazing, wonderful, messed up place.  We fundraisers get to see a lot of sides of it – some good, some bad, some ugly, some beautiful.  Never become complacent in your amazement of the world around you and the people you encounter.  Be a part OF it, don’t just observe it.

Call Your Family, Drink Lots of Water, Use Sunscreen, Eat Well

All that stuff they tell you to do like eat healthy and get lots of exercise and, whether or not they drive you crazy, love on your family?  Yeah.  Do that.  It’s high price to pay later on if you don’t.

Don’t Wait

You think you have time right now.  You don’t.  That thing you want to do but you’re putting off until you have a better job, more money, more time . . . you never will.  Do that thing now.  You’ll have PLENTY of time to find the perfect job, the better car, the dream home.  (You won’t have plenty of time to save for retirement — start doing that now.  Srsly.)

Dream

The world has plenty of people who punch the clock and get the job done.  What we need are dreamers, the big idea makers, the challengers, the rabble rousers, the ruckus-makers.  And the dreamers who aren’t afraid to fail.

With all of that said, if I could say ANYTHING to my twenty-three-year-old self — and what I say to you on your birthday?

You got this.  You’re awesome.  Stop worrying so much.  Go do the thing.

Happy Birthday, friend.  Here’s to many, many more.

 

What I Learned At #TLCC2017

I have a confession to make.  I’m a conference junkie.

Fundraising and nonprofit conferences, specifically.  I’ve been fortunate to attend (and blog about) a couple recently:  the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference and the AFP International Conference.

I’m just home from the Tessitura Learning and Community Conference in San Diego. Five full days of talking about software.

Or so I thought.

Yes, it is full days of sessions on getting the most out of the software – which, by the way, is incredibly robust and offers some fantastic functionality – and it can get very techy/geeky/nerdy in a wonderful way.  But, it’s so much more than that.

It’s about connecting with other people who are doing the same work as you, feeling the same pain and celebrating the same successes.  It’s about what’s going on in Arts & Culture around the world.  It’s about sharing a work and a commitment with 2,000 other people who share the same passion as you.

So, here’s what I picked up:

Community is Critical

There’s something about being with other people who walk your same walk.  I love being at conferences and comparing notes with other fundraisers, but to be with other ARTS fundraisers?  That’s phenomenal.  We fed off of each other and stole ideas and gave ideas and validated each other and offered suggestions.  And that thing in my world that I think is so terrible was actually a good idea for someone else.  And vice versa.

Fundamentally fundraising is fundraising, but each niche – Healthcare, Higher Ed, Social Service, etc. – has its own foibles, its own idiosyncrasies that others can’t necessarily relate to.  It is energizing to be among other fundraisers from other areas – the Arts can learn a lot from Higher Ed and vice versa.

But there is a palpable energy that connections with similar-minded people in similar functioning roles with similar passions create.  It’s explosive, it’s exciting, it’s exhausting – and it’s critical.

Isn’t that, fundamentally, what we all crave?  To feel connected and not alone?  Isn’t that what our donors crave?  To be a part of something that fits with their personal interests and needs?

And sharing knowledge on how a software works leads, inevitably, to how you use it to further your message.

Deviate from the Agenda

One of the greatest offerings this conference has is the Open Sessions.  Pretty much anybody at any time can put up a topic of discussion and they provide space and time for anyone else interested in that topic to gather.  I went to two and they proved to be the most impactful conversations of the week.  A group of performing arts annual fund people sitting around talking about how to maximize their membership programs?  Yes, please!  Several performing arts fundraisers comparing notes on launching a major campaign?  Sign me up.  To have the freedom to go off script and really compare notes and share notes?  Priceless.

Know the Tech to Let the Tech Do Its Job

I spent a lot of time in sessions going deep into software functionality – picked up a lot of great tricks and techniques.

It really drove home, for me, though, that the technology is there to support the messaging.  You can have the greatest, highest functioning technology in the world and if your message is off its sound and fury signifying nothing. (With apologies to Bill S.)

We are way – WAY – past the point where front-line fundraisers and Chief Development Officers can afford to not be able to use technology.  I’ve heard too many “Oh, my VP isn’t allowed to even log in. S/he’d just mess it up.”  Nope.  That puts too much pressure on other staff to provide info and I’m willing to bet they spend most of their time running and re-running reports for higher ups.

Get to know the tech and get to know data, otherwise you’re at somebody else’s mercy and it’s your organization – and your donors – who lose out.

The Arts Might Just Save the World

Sometimes it’s hard as an arts fundraiser to maintain your purpose, especially when you have friends and colleagues who are raising money for causes that are literally saving lives.  We know we are not feeding the hungry or housing the homeless or healing the sick and some days it can feel a little less . . . important . . . than other NPOs.

And then you get together with 2,000 arts administrators and fundraisers and you realize that art is happening everywhere – large-scale, small-scale, in parks and public places and in gorgeous performance halls.  And children are learning to express themselves, and cultures are being preserved and honored and . . . the list goes on and on and on.  And suddenly you feel like you’re a part of a massive, world-wide phenomenon that brings joy to millions daily.

And I was reminded of this quote:

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Unfortunately, snopes.com has debunked the attribution of this quote to Sir Winston. Regardless of who said it, it’s still true.

What are we fighting for?  What are we saving lives for if not to celebrate the beauty of humanity and our world?  What are we living for if not to find ways to express our joys and fears and triumphs and tribulations?  What are we saving our cultures for if not to remember them and honor them?

Keynotes

The sessions at TLCC are very tactical, very hands-on.  And for direct software users, that’s phenomenal.

What they do so, so, so very well is the daily keynote.  You come out of some very technical sessions into beautiful, inspiring discussions on the arts and the profound impact they can have.  Two of my favorites, courtesy of Tessitura’s YouTube channel:

Phenomenal discussion from Nancy Yao Massbach, President of the Museum of Chinese in America:

And this from Network President Andrew Recinos on “Thriving in Displacement”:

More on Community

It was impossible to experience the week of the conference without acknowledging the backdrop of Charlottesville.  Big screen TVs all over the hotel and conference space had any number of news channels on, and it was coverage of those events on UVA’s campus nearly nonstop.

It was never spoken of.  At least not in conversations I was in.  But it was the ever-present, unwelcome visitor.

It was impossible to miss the juxtaposition of seeing the worst that humanity can be at a conference celebrating the best of the human spirit.

The arts might – just might – save the world.  And we will keep creating them and our donors will keep supporting them just as long as we continue to breathe life and place in center stage the absolute best of us all.

Happy New Year’s Eve

For all of you celebrating the end of the fiscal year today, June 30 . . . Happy New Year!

May your goals be reached and exceeded.

May your thank you letters be on time.

May your stewardship game be strong.

May your gift entry be swift.  And accurate.

May your finance department be supportive.

May your donors be delighted.

May your beneficiaries be served.

And may your new (fiscal) year be wildly successful, full of joy, promise and hope.

And remember, your mission doesn’t end tonight at 11:59 and start again tomorrow.  The annual fund isn’t annual.  But you?  You’re awesome and doing great work.  Finish the fiscal year, take a moment, pat yourself on the back, pick yourself up and do it all over again.  Here’s to a great year!

Every F***ing* Thing Works

They do.  All of them.

Every Fundraising Thing Works

 

There’s a lot of great advice out there about fundraising – countless blogs, webinars, articles, white papers.  And they all have very, very good guidance and examples of a program that worked.  And they leave a lot of front line fundraisers thinking, “I should REALLY do that, but . . . ”  And it becomes daunting and de-motivating, when experts disagree with each other or the realities of your shop de-rail the implementation of that Really Good Idea.  And we grapple to implement THE thing that’s going to make our fundraising better.  Because whatever it is you’re doing, somebody else is doing a different Thing that is generating better results.

And so we try to implement everything to make our fundraising better and we become the masters of Widespread Mediocrity vs. being the champions of Strategic Excellence.

In so many ways, implementing a fundraising initiative is about context.  What can you do, really well, with relatively few pain points?  Which technique is the most important thing you should be doing?

So, here’s a definitive list of the fundraising strategies that work best:

Direct Mail
It works.  In context.  People are still sending in gifts in response to direct mail acquisition.  Direct Mail is not dead.

Telephone/Telefund/Telethon
Not everybody’s gone to cell phones.  Some people LIKE to hear from the charities they support. Some people are still answering their phones.  And many organizations are still raising great dollars on their telefund programs.

You Should Be Focusing on Planned Giving
Yes, you should.  But not to the exclusion of everything else.

If You Don’t Have a Major Gift Plan You’re Failing
That’s true.  As long as it’s in context of your overall strategy and not your sole focus.

Focus on the Mid-Range
Absolutely! But to have mid-range, you have to have an entry level and a high end, so . . .

Donors Respond Better to Restricted Funds 
True story! But what are you supposed to do? NOT raise money for annual operations? Good luck.

You MUST Tell The Donor How Their Funds Were Used
Yes. You absolutely must.  It’s in the Donor Bill of Rights and a whole bunch of other stuff, too.  It is the ethical thing you must do.  But, breathe.  Tell them how their gift fulfilled your org’s mission. We kept the doors open and the lights on and we fed people.  That’s what donors want to hear.

You Have To Be Digital
Yeah, you really do.  At minimum you need internet presence. But not to the exclusion of everything else and if you throw all your energies into digital, what are leaving behind?

Get Your Thank You Letters Out in 48 Hours!
Absolutely ideal.  But could you shoot for a week?  Maybe a quick email within a day or two that says “Your letter’s on the way! Here’s a quick THANK YOU/YOU ROCK before it gets there!” Just please say thanks as fast as you can, set expectations with your donors and cut yourself some slack.  Make it a little simpler.

Get Your Board Engaged if You Want to Succeed!
Oh my god, yes!  Oh, wait, you’ve only been there 3 months and your predecessor only lasted 16 months?  And the Board Members weren’t recruited to give?  OK, chill.  You’ll get them there.  Can you focus on other donors and show them how much people love your org?  Do what you can in context of the whole; the love will follow.

Major Gifts, Major Gifts, Major Gifts
“You so suck if you’re not doing major gifts right, what the hell is wrong with you?”  Yeah, shut that voice DOWN.  I know an org who considers $500 their major gift threshold and they do really, really well.  Bravo, I say – Bravo!

Make Your Donors Give Monthly
Please do!  They can give more by making a monthly/recurring gift, they’re easier to renew, you can focus more on stewardship.  Ohhhh, but your CRM doesn’t support it and/or your payment processing system gives you nightmares?  You WILL be ok if not all your donors are on a monthly gift.  Don’t force it if you don’t have the infrastructure to do it well.

You Have to Be Data Driven Or You Ain’t Jack, Jack
Yes. Data will help you.  A lot.  Wealth screenings are sooooooo much better than they used to be.  But not to the exclusion of everything else.

We Should Do Another Event!
Do you already have a good one in your arsenal that generates good money AND encourages attendees to continue giving after the event?  Then no.  No, you don’t need another event.  Stop.

But I Just Went To This Great Event and They Had Bendy Acrobats!
Fabulous.  I’ll RSVP for you for next year.  Don’t do another event.

We’ve Got to Get On Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding sites and programs are great tools, a wonderful addition to our toolbelts.  Do you have time to manage one?  Do you have the resources?  It’s ok if you don’t.

Get on Social Media
Stop thinking the intern can manage social media just because they’re a Millennial.  If you can’t do it really well and have it support your fundraising efforts, it’s better to not have presence than to have weak or intermittent posts just when you’re trying to hit goal.

Focus on Millennials!
And Gen-Xers and Boomers and every other generation.  Focus on identifying the people, regardless of their generation, who are passionate about your organization, tell them great stories, encourage them to get involved in other ways (i.e. volunteering) and they will come along for the ride.

Here’s the ONE f***ing* thing you must do.

You must love your donors.  All donors.  Even the corporations and foundations.  It’s their vision, it’s their passion, it’s their concept of how they see themselves that they’re putting on the line.  Your job is to steward that with love.

You must cultivate them, you must ask them, you must thank them, you must steward them and you must Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.

And it must follow, as the night the day, your fundraising will be a lot easier, a lot less painful, a lot more full of love and you’ll be able to use what you can from the list above as effectively as possible to nurture the great relationships you have with all those donors.  Whose information is stored in a CRM and not an Excel file.  Because that’s another must.

Create the best possible plan from everything we know about fundraising that works, do those things you can do REALLY well, focus on the donors and it WILL happen.  I promise.

*Fundraising.  Geez.  This is a family blog.

p.s. It’s also really hard when you have leadership or boards saying, “What you SHOULD do is this . . . .”  You’re the expert.  Learn what really works for your organization (TRY doing a direct mail appeal – if it fails, now you know) so that you can respond with, “Yes, we should, but right now we’re focusing on this, this and this that are generating great results for us.  Let’s talk about investing in additional staff and resources to make that great suggestion of yours work.”

p.p.s.  I am very proud to serve on the Advisory Panel for Rogare, who has launched their Theory of Change for Fundraising today.  A key component of this theory is helping fundraisers ask the right questions.  Same is true for implementing the best fundraising program – ask the right questions of your organization, implement what’s best for you and let go of the things that don’t.

 

What I Learned at #AFPFC 2017

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), of which I am a member and President of the Las Vegas chapter, hosted its annual International Conference on Fundraising this week in San Francisco.  It was a long and powerful three days, full of inspiration, great insight and comparing notes with some of the smartest, finest people in the industry today.  I’ll be honest – it didn’t light me up like previous years have.  It was a little flat and didn’t pack as much depth as I’ve seen before, but it is always, always time well spent and you do come back feeling like you’ve been on the mountain and had a chance to recharge your fundraising batteries.

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So, my top takeaways:

1) Fundraisers are the kindest, warmest, most lovely people on the planet.

Everywhere I went people were smiling, talking, engaging with each other – introducing themselves and shaking hands and hugging.  Walking around on the streets near the conference center, everyone was open to conversation and willing and interested in talking.  The energy was high and the love was flowing.

2) There is a movement afoot and we’re ready for change.

There was an undercurrent, both from the stage and in the seats, that we, the fundraisers, aren’t just blindly accepting status quo anymore.  Maybe the donor retention message is finally getting through or maybe we’re ready to claim our space, but more-and-more you hear “This isn’t working, we need to do better.”

3) That said, we’re still talking about the same stuff.

We are still talking about:  how to find more donors, how to keep more donors, how to get more donors to give more.  There were a couple of times that I wanted to stand up and scream, “WE KNOW HOW TO DO THIS!!!”  Sure, there were a LOT of first-timers this year – and that’s GREAT!  Whole troves of college students coming to learn about fundraising . . . but there were a lot of people, too, who are seasoned development professionals drinking from the same fire hose. Why are we still having the same conversations?

4) We need more mentors and leaders on a one-on-one level.

Nobody has time; everybody’s busy.  But we make time for the things that we believe in and are important to us – somehow we find the time.  If we want the profession to advance, if we want to lead change, we have to make the time to mentor and be mentored.

5) You can’t live on the mountaintop.

Theory is great, but the practical day-to-day doesn’t always live up to theory and best practice.  We all have limitations – Executive Directors who MUST read every letter, Boards who aren’t interested in fundraising, co-workers who just will NOT update the CRM.  Our jobs are, more often than not, to create phenomenal, donor-centered experiences in spite of the limitations.  And implement the best practices we can.

6) Speaking of Best Practices – Get Rid of ‘Em.

Some of the best nuggets of info & inspiration can be found in the Rebels, Renegades & Pioneers track.  Simone Joyeaux dropped this little bomb during one of them and if I take nothing from this conference but this, I’ll consider it time and money well spent:

  • Follow the valid research
  • Do away with best practice
  • Always ask why
  • Be a critical thinker

Then she grabbed me by the lapels and blasted, “I HATE THE PHRASE ANNUAL FUND.”  I blacked out after that, don’t remember a thing. #FanBoy

Point is – stop doing things because it’s the way we’ve always done it or that’s the ‘best practice.’ If we stuck with best practice we’d still be fundraising off of 3×5 cards.

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7) Stop Fund Raising

Raising funds is transactional, singular and financial-based.  Develop relationships.  Develop boards.  Develop institutions.  Develop capacity.  All of which have a side benefit of bringing in the revenue needed to do those things, but stop fundraising.  We’re bigger than that.

8) Always Be Sure Your Tech is Functioning Order

My phone died halfway through day 1.  Not died as in had no power, but died as in:

This iPhone is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! Its metabolic processes are now history! It’s off the twig! It’s kicked the bucket, it’s shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX iPHONE!!

(With deep, deep apologies to Monty Python).  It was acting up, I thought it would hang on.  It didn’t.  I lost a lot of pictures, a whole bunch of texts and missed a whole session.

9) Data Remains An Opportunity

I was, truly, honored to be chosen to present a session and even more honored that people actually came! “Data Got You Down? Simplifying Donor-Centered Data Analysis for the Data Allergic.”  Phenomenally smart questions during and after the session, but even the other sessions I went to point out that we really have an opportunity to improve how we use data, what we do with it and being far more strategic about how we implement information in our fundraising.  You can tell the greatest story in the world, but if you’re telling it to the wrong people, you won’t get very far.

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10) Diversity and Inclusion 

There seemed to be a stronger focus on Diversity and Inclusion and the strengths of our differences was evident.  AFP Las Vegas is very proud to have received the Friends of Diversity designation, but I was even more encouraged by visibility at the conference and the acknowledgement that only in celebrating our differences – as people, as nonprofits, in our experiences – do we truly gain equity.

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To Sum Up:

At the end of the day, the biggest takeaway is the connections with people – with other professionals who are in the same trenches, fighting the same battle and doing phenomenal good.  We feed each other and uplift one another when we’re together.  And that is what I’m most grateful for.   Go do good, wonderful, powerful things!

P.S. My favorite fundraising message of the week?  This:

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Fundraising or Money-Raising?

Clerk:  Your total is $blahblahblah, would you like to add a dollar to support children puppies hungry old homeless high-school band?

Me:  Uhhh, no, not today.

Clerk:
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Yeah, cheers, thanks, thanks a lot.  *sigh*

I know these kinds of programs raise a lot of critically-needed money for a lot of great organizations – and the beneficiaries who need them.  I totally get that.  But I think they detract from the profession of Fundraising & Development, create a false sense of “do-gooderism” and make it harder, ultimately, for us to do the real work of development and advancement.

Plus Ca Change . . . 

We live in an age where just about anybody can engage in any profession as long as they have a device and an internet connection.  You can diagnose your own illness on any number of health sites like WebMD, be your own accountant on TurboTax or TaxAct or act as your own travel agent on hundreds of different platforms.

My photographer friends tell me their jobs are much, much harder now that everyone carries a pretty decent camera in their pocket.  EVERYBODY’S got an artistic filter.

Fundraising is the same.

Fundraising has always been this way, though.  Bake sales, lemonade stands, change jars at checkout counters, taking up a collection for Sally Sue at work . . . . as long as we live in a money-based economy, somebody will always need to raise money for something.  It’s just now we have – like other professions – more sophisticated online tools to do it.  GoFundMe, Kickstarter, Indiegogo . . . . the list goes on.

Here’s where I get worried . . . more worried . . . when nonprofits (read: Board Members/CEOs, etc.) start saying, “We need more donors and more dollars; we should do a GoFundMe.”  And fundraisers do it. Because LOOK AT ALL THE MONEY COMING IN!

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Maybe we need to start differentiating now between Fundraising and Money-Raising.

Take a moment, sit down, pour yourself a nice cup of whatever relaxes you because I’m about to commit blasphemy:

Money-raising is easy.  Fundraising is hard.

What?  What’s that you say?  Raising money is easy?  If it’s so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it?  If raising money is so easy why are we working so hard at it?

Getting money for something is pretty easy . . . put something out there that tells the world what the need is and SOMEBODY will give money to it.  And they might give a lot of money or they might give a little, but then they’ll got and give their spare change to someone else.

But what’s hard – really hard – is building sustainable, long-term relationships with people and organizations who are deeply committed and passionate enough to give of themselves to fund the causes they care about.  That’s hard.

That’s day-in, day-out.  That’s technique and experience and trial and error and great success and wild failure.  That’s strategic excellence vs. widespread mediocrity.

There are days when I think professional fundraisers should rail against the bake sale and the change jar and the GoFundMe for Baby Jimmy’s college fund.  And sometimes I think we should shake our fists to the heavens and decry the latest gift-wrap/car-wash/cupcake sale/give-a-dollar-at-the-register program.  But, no, they have their place.

And sometimes they have their place in a well-developed, comprehensive professional fundraising program.  Part of, not instead of.

But we should hold our heads up high and say what we know is fundraising.  We know Development and Advancement and we know how to be strategically excellent.  We know how to use an online giving tool in the context of the whole, not just a “if you code it, they will give.”

We know the difference between money-raising and fundraising.

 

 

 

Rant on Retention

I like to think that professionals in all fields get together and rant and complain about their profession.  I have to believe that there are forums for pipe fitters and physician’s assistants and marketers to get together and go, “They’re hiring people with no experience as experts! Nobody takes the profession seriously!  These CEOs think they can hire somebody with Fundraising experience and that’s as good as 25+ years in Marketing!”  Grumble grumble, rant rant, etc.

Because it can’t just be us.  Can it?

And every other rant lately is about Donor Retention.  It’s the most significant problem facing the profession today.

I agree.  It is.  Based on the data and reports we’ve all seen.

But . . . .

BUT . . . . . . .

First – can we just stop beating each other up?  Please?  “The worst fundraising mistake you can make!” OR “Fundraisers aren’t paying attention to the fundamentals!” or any other number of alarming headlines.

There’s a lot of fundraisers doing really great work, making great relationships and helping find the funding to tackle some of society’s toughest issues.  Should they be paying a little closer attention to their retention rates?  Sure.  But let’s praise what they ARE doing.

And just because a development officer is not measuring specific retention rate, doesn’t mean that they’re not conducting great donor stewardship, wonderful relationships and hitting goals.

Objection:  If development officers are doing great stewardship, why are renewal rates across the industry so low?!?

Me:  I haven’t seen the actual data those reports come from, but I do think they’re approached with pretty broad brushstrokes.

Second – some donors aren’t MEANT to be retained.  And most CRMs and reporting tools just take a straight, one-shot look at it on a year-to-year basis.  I have yet to see a report that said, “Retention rate was 47% for annual fund donors.”  Maybe there was a whole lot of campaign giving or specific project funding that went on last year and those donors very specifically gave a stretch gift and that CDO is already working the next gift for five years from now.  Some gifts, some giving just ISN’T multi-year.

Is a fundraiser a failure because they didn’t renew their capital campaign donors?  They are if you take a one-shot approach to measuring retention.

Third – and most important – measuring retention is not as straightforward as it seems.  The CRM that I use is possibly the #1 or #2 most popular.  It does not have an extant donor retention report, but recommends you compare the results of a query of last year’s donors to this year’s.  Just compare the counts in each query and you’ve got it.  Indeed, the instructions for this do not factor the fund/allocation of the gift – JUST the year it was given.

Another way to do it is to export the data into Excel and run a VLOOKUP (after pivot tables, the fundraiser’s most useful analysis tool, but I digress).  VLOOKUP will compare Unique IDs (or names or other fields) between two worksheets.

Hang on . . . . first is the time, here.  I’m pretty decent with Excel, but that takes me about an hour or so to do.  And so many shops don’t have a dba or analyst to run these kinds of reports, or the Excel skills to do it.

“But if you knew your retention rate and focused on retention, you wouldn’t have to work so hard acquiring new donors.”  True.  That’s truth.

But . . . let’s look at an example from real life (true story – names changed):

– In 2014, Jack Spratt made a personal $1,000 introductory gift, God love him;
– After some extended cultivation, Jack made an additional $10,000 gift from his family foundation, later in 2014;
– In early 2015, Jack’s wife Eileen leveraged a $5,000 gift from her company restricted to a specific program
– Later in 2015, Jack renewed his $10,000 and made it through a donor advised fund
– Eileen did not renew her $5,000; Jack, however, increased their support to $20,000 which he made through a mixture of soft-credit from a corporate gift and a gift from a different source . . . . .

Guess who doesn’t show up in a retention report?  Jack and Eileen, because they change the source every year and Accounting requires gift entry to be tied to the actual source of the gift and soft-credited to the donor.  Every year they look like new donors and would get “lost” in a direct unique identifier comparison.  But guess who was also the subject of intense stewardship and cultivation – isn’t that focusing on retention, too?

Unless the retention report recognizes soft-crediting OR the query/export combination you use appropriately designates soft-credited gifts to the donor . . .

Does this account for a lot of gifts?  No, not on the overall whole.  But I’ve seen situations like this be 5% – 6% of a database, so it has an impact.  And I’ve seen it – a lot – at lower levels.  One year one person in a household gives, the next it’s the spouse who writes the check.  (And householding (how a database looks at individuals in the same household, i.e. spouses, domestic partnerships, etc. ) is a massive problem in fundraising CRMs – that’s a whole other blog post.)

The point?  Donor Retention is incredibly important and we should be doing everything possible to hold on to the donors we have.  We DO need our Boards and Leadership to understand that keeping a donor is a far, far better investment than seeking new ones.  And, yes, that is our job to tell them.  More importantly, it’s our job to show them.

 

What we’re really saying is, “We – as a fundraising industry – NEED to take better care of our donors.  We need to thank them more, get our arms around them more and treat their giving with the respect and care and awe that it deserves.”  Like all things, if we focus on the metric and not the action, we miss the point.

So, yes, absolutely – focus on donor retention.  But spend less time tracking the number and more time loving on donors.

Why Data Like a Lab – It Just Wants to Make You Happy

We had to take a tough break from blogging for a little while.  We lost one of the Buck-White Boys on February 15.  The original Buck-White Boy, the lab by which all others will be measured and the Dog That Started It All.  Tucker.

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Tucker was the best.  He was the best part of a Pet Partners  Animal Assisted Therapy team.  One of the sweetest, kindest, most joyful animals you would ever want to know and he took a huge part of our hearts with him.

On his therapy visits, Tucker didn’t do well sitting still – he did better in situations where he could go from room to room and visit with people.  He’d turn a corner and walk into a hospital room, where someone would be desperately ill, and the whole room would just light up. He’d smile and wag and soon everybody was smiling and wagging.

He just wanted people to be happy.

That’s labs, man.  They just want everyone to be happy.

Now, I’m not going to anthropomorphize data so much that I’m going to compare it to a therapy dog, but . . . your data pretty much just wants you to be happy.

Data doesn’t want to be difficult, it doesn’t want to be messy and complicated and tough to deal with.  It just wants you to be happy.

Your fundraising data is the single greatest tool you have – well, other than your rock star personality, amazing charm, superior intellect and dashingly good looks.  Without good data, all of that goes to waste because, without information, who are you sharing all of that awesomeness with?

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Clean, structured, secure data makes your job 1,000 times easier.  If you don’t have to worry about your data, you can spend your time loving on donors.

That’s what I mean by your data wants you to be happy – it wants you out there changing the world, not sitting in the office crunching data sets or cleaning up salutations.

We were fortunate to get Tucker as a nine-week-old puppy and we invested a lot in his training and development.

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The older he got, the fewer bad habits he had and we could always revert back to that training to remind him what good behavior was.  He ultimately passed the AKC’s Canine Good Citizens Test.

Invest in training your data, keeping it clean and up-to-date and don’t let the bad habits accumulate – that’s a happy database.  And a happy database = a happy and successful fundraiser.

 

 

 

Why Data Is Like a Lab – Needs Love & Attention

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Have you seen this labr-adorable gem kicking around the interwebs?201601_1534_hgadg_smJust too sweet for words, right?

And anybody who’s ever raised a Labrador puppy knows that was a split second of cute amidst a fury of scrambling, petting, biting, jumping and many other gerunds as well.

Last time we talked about data needing rules and structure. Now we talk about data needing love and attention.  Just like a Labrador puppy in training.

Once the rules – a Data Styles Manual or guidelines – are in place, it’s not enough to have them if nobody’s following them and making sure they work.

Data, left to its own devices, will get unruly.  It’ll misbehave.  And I hear you thinking, “It’s not a really a thing.  Data, or a database, is an inanimate object.”

Entropy, though.

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(theory)   A measure of the disorder of a system. Systems tend to go from a state of order (low entropy) to a state of maximum disorder (high entropy).

The more information you add to a system, the more likely it is to begin to degrade.  The more you expect of it – or don’t keep up with it – the more likely it is to re-create the messiness that caused the issues to begin with.

The more you ignore a Labrador Retriever, the more likely they are to misbehave.  The more instructions you give (No! Stop! Don’t! Quit! GET DOWN!) the more likely they are to just do their own thing.

Both need attention – love and caring.  TLC.

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Training helps.  A lot.  When you work with a reputable dog trainer, you start by learning how your dog processes information – they’re not born speaking human.

Neither are databases. Know what you’re doing when you dive into a database.  Beginning to think the same way a database processes information is a huge help.

And both can smell fear.

Other ways to show some love to your database?

  • Keep it clean – always follow the standards for entry and clean up
  • Keep it limited – only a (very) few people should have actual access to enter/edit data
  • Keep it Up-T0-Date – whenever there’s a patch or an upgrade to the system, do it.  Your CRM provider is doing that for a reason.
  • Keep it Current – when you get new information about a record, don’t wait.  Change it then.
  • Regular NCOA and email appends
  • Regular wealth screenings

They say when you’re training a dog to set aside one block of time that is just you and the dog.  It builds trust, bonding, sets expectations.

Data’s the same way.  If you’re at all fearful of your data or your database, set aside a block of time once a week, twice a week, whatever your schedule will allow and show your data some love.