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We have the Greatest Job in the World

Behind every successful program a nonprofit does, there’s a fundraiser.

Behind every political campaign, there’s a fundraiser.

Behind new buildings and programs and scholarships and endowments, there’s a fundraiser.

Behind every donor, there’s a fundraiser.

And fundraisers make it all about the donors.

How awesome is that?  What other profession gets to see dreams come to life, stand back and say, “Wow! I helped that happen!” (Teachers is the answer to that question; their job is pretty incredible, too).

It’s hard.

It’s not for the faint-hearted or the weak.

We have the power in our hands to shape the future.  We get to help people realize their passions.

We get to change the world – sometimes $10 at a time.

So, when it looks bleak, when hope is fading, when it’s all too much, remember . . . we can be the change.  We have to be the change.

When its darkest, we will keep finding the ways to shine light into it.

We’re the bridge, the conduit, the go-between. We get to bring together the people who WANT TO with the people who NEED.

We’re fundraisers.  And we have the Greatest Job in the World.

At Home in the Annual Fund

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C’mon, sing with me now, “Our house.  In the middle of the street.  Our house . . . ”  Or we could have gone with, “Our house is a very, very, very fine house . . . ”  This is a multi-sensory blog; great info and musical ear-worms.  You’re welcome.

If you don’t know Helen Brown, I’d encourage you to get to know her.  Really a leader in the world of Prospect Research, super smart, writes a great blog and a couple of months ago had a mic drop moment with “Why wealth screenings – and prospect researchers – are so reliant on real estate.”

Go read it; I’ll wait.

Right?  Wasn’t that good?  She’s so on point.  My favorite bit:

You may be right, you may be wrong, but at least it’s something to go on in this business where we’re all operating on uncertainty, every single day. We attach ratings to and hang our hopes and our cultivation strategies on people who may or may not support our organizations. It’s a guessing game to which we apply the most solid things we can to a sea of uncertainty.

The rating is a just starting point anyway.

Preach, sister.

I reached out to Helen and got her blessing to riff on this a little bit.  I love prospect research.  I think it’s one of the coolest things in our arsenal, but it’s certainly not my forte.  Nor is it the end-all, be-all panacea of solving all our fundraising issues.  Research and predictive modeling take the guessing game out of the equation and turn a shotgun approach into a laser focus.

The Rating Is Just a Starting Point Anyway

Folks, there’s no certainty in Fundraising.  OK, there’s one – nonprofit organizations will always need  to do it.  Other than that, anything’s possible.  Every technique, best practice and sacred cow is just there to help reduce some of the variables.

That’s what prospect research does.  Especially in higher-end major gift work.

But we don’t often use it in the Annual Fund, especially in segmentation.  Why?  Because usually all we have is real estate.

If you’ve done a screening of a whole bunch of names – 300 or 300,000, doesn’t matter – you skim off the top tier, those with the highest ratings.  Funnel them into Major Gift portfolios for next steps – identification, cultivation, etc.

SOAPBOX MOMENT:  Major Gift folks, please, when you’re done with your identification/qualification process, pretty please release those unqualifieds back into the Annual Fund pool so we can get ’em solicited and not let them stagnate.  We all know you can’t manage a portfolio of 500+ prospects, even though you’re a Fundraising Rock Star.  #pleaseandthankyou

Typically what you’re left with is a whole mess of mid-range prospects and donors that have one piece of data from public information – real estate. (And then a whole lot more that have no publicly available data at all).

Sometimes Some is Enough

To Helen’s point – it’s something.  It’s something we now know about this individual.  We have an idea of what they’re like because we know what real estate they’ve purchased.

Does it tell us what to ask them?  No.

Does it tell us what their capacity is?  No. (Although you can surmise a capacity based on real estate, there’s no way to tell what their debt-to-income ratio is).

Does it give us a clue on response?  Possibly.

In a direct response acquisition or renewal campaign, prospects with real estate can out-perform those with no rating at all.  Most likely in average gift vs participation.  There have been many tests and programs that have shown that those with higher real estate values tend to give a higher level gift than those without it, especially when you’re using an ask string.

Because it’s something.  It’s something that says, “Hey, there’s some capacity here.”  And sometimes some is enough to make a difference.

As Helen said, “We can use it to form well-educated guesses.”

It’s worth testing.  It’s worth the investment of having, and using, that data – at all levels.

It’s worth not dismissing just because “it’s just real estate.”  If you’ve got nothing else, it’s at least something to help an educated guess.

Donor-Centered or Data-Driven

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Google “Fundraising Buzzwords” or “Nonprofit Buzzwords” and you’ll get a whole list of the phrases we like to kick around the industry.  Fortunately, “Donor-Centered” is one that’s stuck around for quite some time.

Data-Driven seems to be losing some of its popularity.  “Big Data” is taking on different connotations (really, Big Data refers to databases so large that most computers can’t process them – most of us aren’t really working with true Big Data, no matter how large our database is).

But you can’t be donor centered AND data driven.

At least, that’s the common misconception.  We tend to think of these two things as being different parts of the brain – left-brain/right-brain, science/art, emotional/rational.

How many DODs or MGOs do you hear say, “I’m just not a data person!” Or, “I can’t even deal with that – it sounds so boring, I’d rather talk to people!” Or “What’s my password for Raiser’s Edge?”

So, what is data?

This one’s the best.  From www.mathisfun.com

What is Data?

Data is a collection of facts, such as numbers, words, measurements, observations or even just descriptions of things.

“Or even just descriptions of things.”

At its very basic level, data is simply another word for “information.”

So, data-driven means “Guided by Information.”

Think of a donor, one you know well.  Don’t look at your CRM.  What do you know about them?  Or think of a group, a segment, a subset, something – what do you know about them?

You just conjured up a whole bunch of information – kid’s names, home address, giving status (Current, Lapsed, LYBUNT, etc.).

Data – information – can also be very unconscious.  You’re not thinking about it right now, but when I say Your Birthday, the date immediately pops to mind.  Or if I say, “Your Mother’s maiden name,” boom, there it is.

We’re processing data all the time, without even thinking about it.

When we’re truly being donor-centered – stewarding their gift, cultivating them, listening to them – we’re processing a lot of information about them.

Being Donor-Centered means putting the needs of the donor at the forefront of our relationship.  In order to do that, we need to know what their needs are – we need to know who they are.  And, of course, we can’t do that without information.

Even simple information – data – helps get us there.  Spouse name, kids names, their job, their last gift, who they’re connected.  That’s all data is and most of us are just carrying that around in our heads all day.

Donor-Centered and Data-Driven are two sides of the same coin.  Can’t have one without the other.

Just, please, for the love of all things, get that data into the CRM.

 

Rest

Did you take some downtime this holiday season?  Rest is good.  R&R is required.

It’s good to get away, think about other things, give the gray matter time to chill and rejuvenate.

If you didn’t – do.  It’s worth it.  You’ll be better for it.

And so will your donors.

We talk about resting lists periodically.  But do we really rest them?  Do we really let a list just chill out for a bit and not hear from us for awhile?

Too often, it’s a numbers game.  Multiple hits, multiple solicitations – the more we solicit, the more we communicate, the higher our return will be.  And we do it because it works.

We get responses and hit goals, but for every gift, how many non-respondents opened our third/fourth/tenth email, rolled their eyes and thought, “Just please stop!”?

Sometimes we need to rest.

Maybe it’s time to let all those year-end donors and prospects chill out for a bit?  Let ’em have a break.  Or maybe let them rest by communicating with them but not asking them?  We hit them pretty hard at year-end.  Say thank you (yes, you can thank a prospect as well as a donor).  Send an update.  Wish them Happy New Year.  But maybe give them a rest.

And you take one, too. Urgency is one thing; exhaustion and fatigue can be the by-product of it, though.

Rest takes a risk sometimes, too.  A risk well worth taking.

What I Won’t Do Is Subscribe to Fear

2016

My whole social media feed is FULL of comments about how awful 2016 has been.  It seems everyone is ready to kick this year to the curb and usher in a new one – “It can’t get worse, right?”

Personally, I’ve had a fantastic year – probably one of the best on a personal and professional level.  And I know that puts me in a fortunate position; I’m tremendously grateful. The world outlook?  Not so much.  I agree, it’s been a pretty wretched year.

In a moment of complete candor, I’ll express my abject terror over what could happen in our political landscape in the coming months and years.  Like many, I am still in shock and numb.  And I’m afraid.  For my family, for my community and for many who I am lucky to call friend.

But what I will not do is subscribe to fear.

I will not allow fear to control me or my actions.

Fear of failure.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of what may be.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of taking a risk.  Fear of standing up and saying, “NO! This is unacceptable.”  Fear of standing up and shouting, “YES! This is wonderful!”

I will not subscribe to fear.

What I will do is champion change.  What I will do is my best.  I will be relentlessly passionate and I will commit.  If there was ever a time to not sit on the sidelines, this is it.

What I will do is love and acknowledge the people who are creating change, who are making a difference.

What I will do is own that our profession, the profession of fundraising, enables people who care deeply to be engaged with their passions.  I will own that we, fundraisers, have one of the greatest responsibilities in the world – how awesome is the charge that we have been given?

And I don’t mean in a “Dude, that’s awesome” way. I mean in a, “We should stand back in awe” of what we get to do.

There’s no room for fear in that responsibility.

 

 

Fundraising is Paper Towels

Thanksgiving was wonderful and I hope yours was, too.  So many things to be thankful for – like making new friends!

We met a lovely couple who are both donors and volunteers at various local nonprofits, so of course the conversation turned to stories from the trenches.

Our new friend spends some time volunteering at a local homeless service agency and went in recently to serve lunch.  Here’s how she put it:

I was asked to make sandwiches for bagged lunches they distribute, so I gloved up and headed into the kitchen.  In the process of preparing to make sandwiches, I spilled something on the counter.  “Where would I find paper towels?” I asked and the response I got was, “We are out of paper towels and they won’t be delivered until next Tuesday, so just use one of these kitchen towels.”  And, with that, she handed me a kitchen towel that had clearly been used before and, even with anti-bacterial cleaner, I didn’t think was very sanitary.  I was just so shocked they didn’t have paper towels.”

So, instead of making sandwiches, she hopped in her car and went to a bulk supply store and bought paper towels.  Great!  Thanks to a great volunteer and donor!

When she asked, though, why they didn’t just order more, the response she got was, “We just can’t afford them – it’s not in the budget.  We can only get x amount per year and we can only get what’s in our standing bi-weekly shipment.”

What potentially stood between a hungry person and lunch was a lack of paper towels.

Paper towels.

Because buying more wasn’t in the budget.

This is the Overhead Myth in action.  This is a highly reputable, well-respected, tightly run organization.  And yet one of their front-line people knows that sometimes what stands between a hungry person and a meal is a paper towel.

There is no metric in the world that measures Paper Towel ROI (PTROI).  There’s no report that indicates the ratio of paper towel to less food insecurity.  But I’m willing to bet Paper Towels never show up in any program budget or case statement.

Paper Towels are the Annual Fund.  (Which is not Annual and not a Fund, I know, I know.)

Paper Towels are operations, they’re overhead, they’re not sexy, they don’t generate results.

And yet . . . sometimes the lack of a Paper Towel stands between a hungry person and a meal.

And if that isn’t the most powerful case for general operational support, I don’t know what it is.  Fundraising is (very often) paper towels.

How to Write a Thank You Note

I’ve just finished signing 617 Thanksgiving cards.

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My own name has taken on semantic satiation.  BUT, I really became aware of the phrases we use to express gratitude:

“Thank You”

“We are grateful”

“Thanks!”

Those are all first-person statements.  “Thank You” is a truncation of “I/We Thank You.”  So even gratitude becomes about me and not you.  It’s about how I feel.

When, really, especially in a donor-centered annual fund (which isn’t annual at all), our gratitude needs to be about them . . . about the donor . . .

That’s tougher than it sounds when it’s a note on a card, but here’s a few to try:

“You’re Wonderful.”

“You are the best.”

“You made it happen.”

“We are grateful for you.”  (Still a first-person statement, but it’s about them).

“You are so thoughtful/generous/kind”

Don’t tell me how you feel, tell me about me.  It’s my favorite story.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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National Philanthropy Day

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Here in Las Vegas we’re technically a day late – National Philanthropy Day is officially celebrated on November 15th.  Hey, the space wasn’t available – Blessed are the Flexible.

Feels like it couldn’t come at a better time.  We are looking forward to pausing for a couple of hours and honoring the great work in our community and those who give of themselves so freely, generously and tirelessly.

I have Wordsworth in my head lately:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
The World Is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth

The world IS too much with us – too much news, too much election, too much divisiveness, too much to do . . .

It’s good to pause, stop, look around and see that there IS good in the world.  Great, wonderful, powerful good – people who make a difference in their little corner of the world, people who are showing kindness, patience, love.

Find those people and honor them.  Philanthropy literally means “the love of humankind.”

Maybe we need more than a Philanthropy Day?  Maybe we need a Philanthropy Year?

Or maybe we need to cling to and honor those little philanthropic acts we see every day, every moment.  And recognize ourselves for those times when love of humankind far outweighs “the winds that will be howling at all hours.”philanthropy-jobs.jpg

Implementing Inspiration (Or How to Keep that Post-Conference High)

I attend a fair number of webinars, training sessions and conferences.  I find them rejuvenating, encouraging, stimulating and I always walk away with something I can use or put into practice.  And I really get a lot of energy from being around other fundraisers, annual fund people and smart, energetic, passionate people.

The Nonprofit Storytelling Conference is, wow, an incredible one.  It’s less of a conference and more of a Two-Day Master Class on Steroids and I learned a ton on both Day 1 and Day 2.  I came home with pages of notes and ideas and inspirations.

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During one of our sessions, a fellow attendee asked the presenter, “This is all great, but won’t our donors start to recognize these techniques?  If all of us start implementing all of these ideas, won’t we see donor fatigue because everyone’s using the same tactics.”

There was quiet for a minute.

The presenter (I really think it was Tom Ahern), very professionally, replied, “Let’s be honest.  MOST of you aren’t going to go home and change anything.  And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just the reality. You still have boards and CEOs who want to write by committee.  And you still have brand managers that you have to convince.  And you still have 1,000,000 things to do and not enough time or resources to get them done and despite your best intentions, you won’t change a thing.  Some of you will.  But most of you won’t.”

He’s right.

How many GREAT conferences, meetings, webinars, classes, training sessions have you been to that you were all inspired and didn’t actually change a thing?

I’m totally guilty of that.

But that post-conference high is SO GOOD and you REALLY believe you can have the happiest donors on the planet!

And AS SOON AS YOU GET BACK you’re going to get it in gear and MAKE IT HAPPEN!

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Then life happens and Boards and CEOS and Committees and TIME and . . . we all know this story.

But you really want to implement all that great stuff.

So . . . . pick one.  Just one.  Do one thing you learned.  Implement one inspiration.  Change one process.  Add one habit.  Just one.

And commit to doing that one thing every day (or week or whatever makes sense for that one thing).

At the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Conference in Boston this year there was a lot of emphasis on saying Thank You – on exhibiting gratitude. T o donors, volunteers, colleagues – all over.

I can’t remember now what session or speaker it was, but I came away with the idea to spend one hour a day in gratitude.  DO SOMETHING that exhibits gratitude for one hour a day.  Whether that’s writing thank you notes, sending thank you letters, making calls – SOMETHING.

Fortunately, thanking donors is part of my job function, so it worked well for me to implement that one thing.

I get to work, have coffee (because if there’s anything I’m grateful for it’s coffee), review the day’s calendar/to do list, and then spend the first 30 minutes on Thank You.  Sometimes its email, sometimes its written notes, sometimes its letters/receipts.  And if there are calls to be made, I do those either mid-day for 30 minutes or at the end of the day.

It’s now become (almost) habitual.  Do I do it every single day?  Nope.  Not perfect.  But now 7 months on, do I do it MOST days?  Yup.

So, pick one thing that you want to implement and DO THAT THING.

This is from Glennon Doyle Melton, the “Love Warrior” and she’s right.  Go do that one thing and keep your high.

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What I Learned at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference – Day 2

No preamble, right to the list on this one . . . 

  • This really is the best conference out there.  Other conferences look at it and go, “Dang, that’s the conference I want to go to;
  • A human brain can only handle so much Tom Ahern in one day because it just cannot process that much information
  • To wit:  “It is criminally inefficient to suck at Thank You because it’s all you have to offer”  damn
  • What is your SMIT – Single Most Important Thing (to say, tell a donor, etc.).  From Tom Ahern quoting Sean Triner
  • I had a whole mini coaching session with Sean Triner before I knew Who He Is and when I found out it left me a little gobsmacked.  He told me I bored him to tears. It’s true, I did.
  • Sean Triner should absolutely be on your ‘Run, Do Not Walk’ list 
  • The nonprofit space is full of brilliant, caring, compassionate, kind people who are doing great work and are an inspiration. I spent two days with 600 of them
  • We all have very similar challeng . . . er, opportunities . . . And if we tackled them, really tackled them, we could elevate the NPO/fundraising space to incredible levels
  • We all struggle with a lack of respect and understanding of what fundraising is – by our communities, our colleagues, our leadership.  And we have a responsibility to own that fundraising is a specific skill that is learned, trained and honed.  And we have to get much, much better at speaking truth to power on that and claiming our space.  #hallwayconversations
  • FUNDRAISING IS NOT MARKETING AND MARKETING IS NOT FUNDRAISING.  Didn’t actually learn this, just reinforced it
  • I probably “ConferenceTweet” too much, but I get excited.
  • “If you’re not making friends, you’re doing it wrong.” – Andy Crestodina.   Made some friends this week.
  • Andy Crestodina – online strategy.  Seriously incredible.
  • Marc Pitman says, to extroverts, that people won’t think you’re mad if you close s sentence with a period and not an exclamation point.  I do not believe this.
  • I miss my dogs, now, so that’s the sign of a good trip and it’s time to go home.  
  • Oh, and #FundraisingDogs needs to be a thing – the dogs of fundraisers and a virtual conference for them when all their moms and dads are at conferences.  Who’s in?