Rule 1 of a fundraising board: ask first of yourself

By | Donor Cultivation | No Comments

doodle-1016-money-bagsLast week I was working with a board on their 2014 plan. One of their primary goals is to increase their fundraising capacity.

There were multiple opportunities for this organization to raise more money including developing a scholarship program for participants, connecting with potential corporate sponsors, grant writing and expanding special events.

What, I asked, was their goal for board giving?

They looked at me. Board giving?

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Inspired donors? How about inspired askers?

By | training | No Comments

The impact of a motivated fundraising team

volunteer_fundraiserFundraisers are familiar with this scenario: A volunteer is set to make a well thought out call on a potential donor: armed with knowledge about the prospect, a great case, illustrations, and budget figures. Then he hesitates. Is this the right person to ask? The right amount? The right time?

The volunteer suggests going back to square one, tweaking the proposal, pulling together more numbers, more details, more stories. Reluctant volunteers sometimes reveal their anxiety by over-planning and never getting to the call. Read More

Staying on top of the game: A New Year’s Reboot

By | planning | No Comments

AFP_seminar_croppedResolutions for the Development Professional

Tis the season for resolutions, and one benefit of work-related goals is that they seldom have to do with making it to a crowded gym or avoiding what’s left of the holiday fudge.

I’m not a big one for making goals in connection with the holiday. I agree it’s good to set goals, but traditionally, New Year’s resolutions are doomed by Valentine’s Day. I’d rather not jinx an important goal by pegging it with such an auspicious start.

But, it’s good to have a goal or two, so I’ll commemorate the start of 2014 by throwing in on the whole resolution thing.

My goals for this year as a development professional include:

Dedicating Time to Creative Work – In my line of work, as is probably true of most professionals, there are always multiple urgent items competing for my attention. In 2014 I resolve to include an activity or task each day that is important, but isn’t deadline driven. It’s not that I’m against deadlines, but when I focus every day only on what’s immediately coming due, I miss opportunities for creative, strategic thought that happens when I’m not under pressure.

This year, I’m going to give myself permission to work for at least an hour a day on something that is important but not urgent. Maybe that way when the task is actually scheduled for completion, it will have had the benefit of some productive forethought and need not be rushed to completion by virtue of its backing up to a deadline.

Developing as a Professional – There are always opportunities to learn new things in philanthropy and development, even as old as the profession is. This year I’m going to dedicate two hours or more every week to developing my skills as a professional: taking a class or training or simply spending time catching up on periodicals and blogs. I’d like to become a better meeting facilitator, for example, and become better versed on planned giving. and trends in technology are always developing and expanding. Learning new things doesn’t happen for me unless I deliberately set aside time for it.

Spending more time Networking – The opportunity to interact with other professionals is one of the joys of working in this field, and is also extremely helpful in keeping abreast of current trends in philanthropy, the local giving climate, and upcoming campaigns. I’ve learned so much from my colleagues and love the opportunity to share what I’ve learned with them. In 2014 I’m going to dedicate time each week to attending a networking event, mentoring a new professional, or kvetching with a colleague.

In the Treasure Valley area these opportunities have been expanding in recent years. Organizations like the Association of Fundraising Professionals have implemented quarterly workshops with networking events. Idaho Nonprofit Center is continuing its Resource Thursdays offerings at the Boise Public Library and have announced new webinar sessions. The Boise Metro Chamber Nonprofit Council meets regularly to talk about development issues, and share resources and events.

As with anything I hope to accomplish, I’m much more likely to meet my goals if I give them specific parameters. I also encourage my clients to set SMART goals: making each one Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely wherever possible. Parameters help me track my progress and stay motivated even if that progress is incremental, so with each goal I’m going to spend time developing a schedule and specific objectives.

Are you spending any time mulling over your 2014 to dos? Do any have anything to do with your professional life? I’d love to know.

Marketing v. development: don’t forget the donor

By | Donor Cultivation, Marketing | No Comments

dylan_thomas_quoteLast week I had to be a wet blanket.

I had written some copy for an organization’s year-end appeal letter and asked for feedback.

I wasn’t excited about the response: “I sent it over to our new marketing guy to see what he could do with it, and I’m impressed! Now people might read it!”

I didn’t even have to open the document to know I’d probably disagree, but then I thought maybe I was being thin-skinned because I wrote the letter in the first place. So I opened it.

It was beautiful, with action photos, color blocked text and all the right words and statistics highlighted. And, yes, I read the whole thing. It wasn’t hard – lots of easy words, bullet points, bolded text.

The flyer outlined three programs that had served impressive numbers of children throughout the course of the year. It called out the recognition I would receive in response to my contribution. It highlighted the goals of the organization…. And all in a pleasing layout.

It made me think, what is the difference between marketing and development?

Marketing can generate brand recognition and excitement, and can be part of the development process. Development goes a step further to build a relationship that provides the incentive for people to take initiative even though they may never benefit personally.

Marketing is a precursor to a process wherein a transaction takes place to benefit the customer and the seller. Effective marketing can aid in making your fundraising effort visible, but ultimately, development is about a relationship that is not based upon a transaction, but on a common purpose.

This common purpose is about taking a stand and affecting change. It’s about ‘raging against the dying of the light,’ in other words. About not accepting things as they are but doing something about it. As a potential donor I need to know I can affect change through your organization. And because I know I can’t be a big enough donor to do this by myself, I need to know I’m being invited to be a part of a group with a common focus. Tell me a heart-warming story about the change I’m helping to affect and I will take it to heart and share it with others.

This rework of the annual giving letter outlined the product of the organization, but gave me no context. Who were these kids? Privileged children of community leaders or disadvantaged youth? Starving waifs or juvenile delinquents? Where had they come from and what were we celebrating in these pictures? What had their journey been?

It lacked the gravity a first hand account would have given. A story about a person, not a number, someone with whom I could identify whose life was changed because people like me gave last year.

It included no personal invitation. Was this flyer directed at me? From whom? It could well have been posted on a telephone pole for all the personalization it contained. As an established donor, I had to wonder: were the results outlined on the piece ones that I helped accomplish?

Where was the passion in this letter? The call to make a stand? To do something good, with no thought about our own benefit?

Would I give money in response to this? Would I be motivated enough to write a check? Click a button? Be moved to any action at all?

When it comes to inciting people to give, it’s not about how pretty the package is, but about how the message is delivered. Don’t be afraid to be the wet blanket when it comes to development. Make sure your donor is included in the discussion.

Confessions of a Control Freak

By | Teamwork, Uncategorized | No Comments

Not every fundraising effort is a smashing success. There can be any number of reasons an initiative or campaign doesn’t meet its goal; from a message that isn’t compelling enough, to unfocused leadership, to poor management. One major handicap for any fundraising effort is having too few members on the team.

Edward was not a fan, but that shouldn't stop you.

I’ll admit, when I was a Development Director on staff for a mid-size regional nonprofit, I was frequently caught trying to do everything myself. I wanted to deliver the right message and the right materials to the right prospective donor at the right time. The prospect of managing a big group meant that anyone could be out there saying something that was slightly wrong, requiring follow up I didn’t have time for. I didn’t want to delegate.

There’s a problem with this kind of approach within the context of almost any fundraising effort, and it’s more than just the truth behind the old standard: “many hands make light work.” There are many reasons to work with a team:

  1. The larger the group, the more legitimate the cause in the eyes of some of your prospective donors. More people want to back a winning horse, be part of the “in” crowd, than want to be the early adopters with all the risks that come with that.
  2. The bigger the mass the larger the pull of gravity, and the bigger the pool of people, the more you’ll garner enthusiasm, social media “buzz” and people wanting to get in on the action.
  3. A dream that belongs to just one or a small group lacks opportunities for buy in. A dream that encourages feedback and the exchange of ideas encourages action, and ownership.  Engaged members of your campaign team are some of your first and most enthusiastic donors.
  4. Each member of a team brings a different skill set to the project, and each can be of some help at some time or another.  Think about how much your board treasure likes explaining a P&L report, or how well your fundraising chair can get in to see almost anyone when the need arises.  A diverse team of volunteers can accomplish more when each is given a set of tasks appropriate to their skills.

The word “campaign” means a series of operations undertaken with one objective in mind.  I have come to realize that one can more readily predict the likely success of a nonprofit marketing or fundraising campaign or project based upon the amount of focused activity that is going on.  If only one or two people are making calls on prospective donors, very few calls will be made and donations will be few and far between. Momentum won’t build. Ripples won’t spread.

If you are a control freak, gathering a cadre of excited volunteers is a terrifying prospect.  What if someone says the wrong thing, or talks to a reporter? What if more than one person approaches a prospective donor? What if things get out of control?

But the result of only one person or a small group of people working on a project is that multiple tasks will wait for someone’s attention, missing important deadlines or windows of opportunity.

If you share my control-freak tendencies, consider:

  1. Remember the KISS principle and keep it simple. Create job descriptions for all volunteers that include five or fewer bullet points. Then work with the individual to carve out specific additional duties and tasks appropriate to that person.
  2. Let go, a little bit, of the message.  Everyone has a slightly different way of telling the story of why your organization is important. You can’t control everything they’re going to say when they’re in public, just make sure they know one or two key points to hit while they’re telling their story.
  3. Keep in touch, or enlist a committee to do so. Have them call and or email volunteers regularly. If someone is not accomplishing what they’ve told you they would, gently suggest going another route.  Keep short intervals between check in times, and meet with your core group often to keep tabs on the momentum.

Remember that ultimately there is very little to be gained – except possibly a significant therapy bill – by trying to manage everything yourself to the tiniest detail. Share, delegate and collaborate and you’ll ultimately be more likely to celebrate success.