Ten Things Great Relationship Builders Do

Our goal is inspired, joyful, generous investments by our donors. We want them to be “all in.” Ambassadors, volunteers, providers of expertise and wisdom, networkers and connectors and of course stretch financial givers and fundraisers on our behalf.

To get there, we build relationships that are strong, life-long, productive for the organization and meaningful for the donors.

Here are ten things great relationship builders do:

1. Strengthen and use your emotional intelligence –
Emotional intelligence consists of our ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. It is critical for effective fundraising relationship building. In fact, it is critical for managing others and having strong and happy home and work relationships. What’s your EIQ? What steps are you taking to nurture and strengthen this essential competency?

2. Foster strategic conversations about mission, vision, and values
Our ability to ask strategic questions about attitudes, values, and feelings is more important than new information chitchat. We need to understand philanthropic motivations, passions, and interests. Who makes the decisions and how. How best to engage and communicate with our donors. Just as important, is to engage them in conversations about our mission, vision and values. We want them to TELL US about the impact we are having in the community, why our vision is the right one for the people and causes we serve, why we matter. Click here for our latest list of strategic questions.

3. Be thoughtful, intentional and strategic
People often ask me if our work is manipulative. Are we tricking people, pretending to care about them just to get their money? Yikes. No. Intentionality is respectful of both the organization that pays you and of the donors’ time. We are not in the friend-raising business. None of us should be. Not alumni relations or engagement specialists, or event planners. We are not developing friends; we are nurturing productive, meaningful and satisfying relationships. What are you trying to accomplish with this contact? How will you achieve it? That’s the job. It is a wonderful, noble profession. And an honor and privilege as a volunteer.

4. Be donor-centric by paying attention to both the little as well as the big things -Yes, every conversation and experience should be strategic and intentional with clear and measurable goals but we also need to remember the little things. Birthdays, anniversaries, favorite flowers, names of pets, children and grandchildren. Get that information into the database along with the big things. Capacity, inclination, giving readiness, engagement and stewardship preferences and so forth. And think like a donor. See your organization though donors’ eyes. Not through your silos, turf and needs.

5. Engage donors and potential donors and volunteers in meaningful and productive work
We know engagement leads to increased giving of time, treasure and talent. All the research supports this. I hate the expression, “We want our donors to feel engaged. No. We want them to be engaged. Engagement is two-way, it taps into personal capital (human, intellectual, network and financial), it has a think, feel and do component, it’s experiential, and mission infused. No one wants to be wanted only for his or her contacts and money. Do you have a suite of engagement opportunities that meet these criteria? Drop us a line if you want a list of potential engagement opportunities for your type of organization. mail@theosbornegroup.com

6. Steward all of the donors’ personal capital in tailored ways that demonstrate IMPACT
People give their time, energy, expertise and money because they want to make a difference. Stewardship includes thank you and recognition. But more importantly, it focuses on demonstrating IMPACT. Three, six, nine months after an investment and BEFORE the next solicitation or volunteer request, demonstrate the difference I made. Thank you is not enough. You lose points when you don’t say thank you. It is expected. What inspires greater investment is when you engage me, share with me, the difference I’ve made. You promised I would save or change a life. Now show me!

7. Inspire
Don’t offer donors a shopping list of giving and naming opportunities. Share the societal problems you are solving, the lives and conditions you are saving and changing. Lead with mission and vision. Who cares about your campaign goals, or your desire to be best in your market? Everyone, from the security guard to the admin to the mission staff to board of directors – everyone, has to be able to tell the story in a compelling and authentic manner. Work in this one! It is so important.

8. Think big 
“She won’t join our board. We’re small potatoes. Plus we’re a working board. Let’s just ask her to lend her name.” “Please join our board. I promise. You won’t have to do much.” “He doesn’t have the time to give. He’s too busy.” “We can’t compete with the big organizations. No sense in asking.” Turn around. Look at all the people standing behind you who are counting on you to achieve the mission, vision and work of the organization. They deserve the best board, the biggest inspiring ideas, and the most enthusiasm. Don’t let them down.

9. Believe and give
Work for, volunteer for organizations you care about deeply. Know the story. Meet the people you are helping. Have personal stories. Understand the cause. Care deeply, passionately. Be a generous investor. Generosity is not about wealth, it is about stretching, giving with a full heart, doing the very best you can.

10. Enjoy
Your energy and enthusiasm is catching!

Giving USA 2014 Spreecast

 

 

In this Spreecast, Laurel and Bob break down their first impressions of the new Giving USA statistics.  Giving levels are nearly back at pre-recession levels but what does it all mean?  Give Bob and Laurel a listen to find out!

The 72%ers: Individual Giving for Everyone

I admit it.  I wait for the Giving USA numbers to come out each June with perhaps more excitement than is due.  What will they tell us?  Are things really looking up, or does it just feel that way?  Will there be any big anomalies?  A big swing one way or another?  And then they come out and…  well, I’m not ever that surprised by the results, honestly.  At the 60,000 foot level, they tend to say the same thing every year: images most giving to religion and education; 72% from individual giving, outright with about 7-8% more through bequests each year.  I guess that what does surprise me is the conclusion that more organizational leaders do NOT take from these findings, year after year:  despite the fact that $227.7 billion dollars were given by individuals last year, and individuals gave $8.67 billion more than last year, so many anchor their growth strategy in corporate giving, the smallest part of the giving pie.

My hunch – from conversations with many of these organizations – is that the instinct is to go where the money is:  okaaaaay.  And the perception, often from the board, is that corporations are where the money is.  But, of course, we don’t have to go digging very far to find that the many millions of giving individuals in the country give about 2% of their disposable income each year while corporate giving has fallen and stagnated at levels not seen since 1977 – a mere 0.8% of corporate profits last year.  So, clearly individual giving IS where the money is, but building an individual giving portfolio feels unattainable to many organizations.

Why?

The reason I most often hear is, “I/we don’t know ‘those’ people”.  And with the proliferation of the Philanthropy 50, the Most Generous lists, the Forbes Titans of Philanthropy, the press on those who have taken the Giving Pledge, it is easy to understand why accessing “those people” does not feel like it is within the purview of the thousands of small and medium-sized organizations around the country.

But, who do you really need to know?  For sure, knowing and engaging high-net worth individuals who can and will give major gifts is critical and wonderful.  Giving USA confirms again that having volunteer opportunities that attract, inspire and engage these individuals is key:  88.5% report that their giving follows their volunteer involvement.

Leadership donors – those who can give between $1,000 and $10,000 or $25,000 a year – are the bread and butter not only of these Giving USA numbers, but of strong, small and mid-sized organizations around the country.  (After all $1,000 is $83 a month.  $83.  How much was your cell phone bill?)  The “big dog” organizations have known that for years and have invested staffing and fund development strategies to find and keep this cohort above all others.  What can the little guys do to catch up?  The details in Giving USA this year point the way:

  • Leadership donors report that they often give to inspire others.  Do you give your current leadership donors (at whatever level) a voice in your communications?  Do you seek out some who are willing to be showcased to share their story of inspiration with others?  It’s not just about finding those who will be solicitors for you (nice though that is!) but those who are willing to tell your story to others… or have their story told.multi-channel-marketing-fueled-by-crm-increases-member-giving_16001162_800926552_0_0_14057469_500
  • 66% of individuals report that they give regularly to a few organizations they really care about.  Are you offering the opportunity to give multiple times a year?  Through different channels?  To many parts of your core mission that matter to your donors?  I am not advocating a constant, unceasing barrage of mail and email to your donors, asking and asking, always with a hand out.  But, I do know that small and mid-size organizations can cut back – waaaay back on the number of times they invite people “to the table”, either because of fear or just a lack of staff or volunteers to get appeals out the door.  Could you divide the impact of what you do into four or five different pieces and send an appeal, an email, a link to a video on your website quarterly or about every other month?  What and who would it take to do that?  $200 at a time builds up quickly.
  • 90.8% report that they have some or great confidence that the not-for-profit sector can solve problems in society.  That’s HUGE confidence, especially given the much more dismal numbers we were seeing just five or six years ago… (And much greater confidence than Congress currently enjoys, yet they don’t seem to have pulled back the political fundraising…hum.)  Here’s the “But” and it’s big:  the Fundraising Effectiveness Project found that the not-for-profit sector has a crisis of donor retention.  Those who believe in your organization give regularly; however, there is a huge number – on average, 59% of donors – who are getting passed around from organization to organization, year after year.  Notice that I say “passed around”, not “jumping around”:  so often we’re complicit in letting them go by not paying attention to donor stewardship and reporting back on the impact of giving in a way that matters and gets noticed. (Check out our podcast #7 and #15 for more on stewardship.)  Recoiling at the thought of soliciting four times a year?  What if you communicated a powerful stewardship message in between each of those appeals?  Much more palatable, right?  And your donor retention will move closer to those few who top 70% – and you’ll build stronger leadership giving along the way.

In the end, I know what keeps a commitment to individual giving off the table for many organizations:  the reality is that individual giving is a “people to people” business and that can be messy, it doesn’t have a tidy recipe that bakes up every single time.  It is like cooking – you throw yourself into it with good ingredients, you tinker with what works and what doesn’t, you ask others how they’ve made it come out so well and try again and again.  Lots of people know how to cook.  You can too.

Why Not More Peer Learning at Conferences?

IFF2013

Last week I spent the last leg of a two week European business trip “presenting” at the International Fundraising Festival in Prague. I put presenting in quotes because so much of the value of this conference comes from the participants learning from each other. The festival, held every two years by the Czech Fundraising Center over three days at the Villa Gröbe, spends the entire second day in “open” sessions where the participants decide which topics they would like to discuss and facilitate the sessions themsleves with us presenters and experts participating and providing tips and guidance where we can.

At The Osborne Group we are privledged to work with many different types and sizes of NGOs including some very large organizations with affiliate structures that hold their own large scale conferences, both national and international. Interestingly, when surveyed, they all very consistently say that while they get lots out of the more formal sessions, they get equal value out of the conversations that develop in the hall between sessions, at dinner, at the bar, and around the coffee dispenser. Anyone who has attend a conference understands the basic truth in this. The IFF has very successfully created a conference that duplicates this informal experience formally, a conference in the spaces and gaps of a typical conference.

photoSo while I did present on Crowdfunding and Fundraising and Activism during the first and last days of the conference, I think the bulk of the real learning took place during the open sessions where topics were as myriad as dealing with stress in fundraising, running a social enterprise, the nature of and limits of corporate social responsibility, and many others. Overall, at least 16 different topics were discussed.

So, why don’t we consultants and conference organizers employ this technique more? I think we tend to find it hard to loosen the reins when we feel that more basic and fundamental areas need to be addressed. In other words, there’s no way I’m going to let these affiliates decide to talk about the ins and outs of crowd funding when none of them have a table of gifts or can even tell me their year to year donor retention rates! I get it and there is merit to this. The fundamentals must be taught but I also think these fundamentals can come out in a more organic way when suggested and organized by the participants themselves. I had a great session where when ended up talking about many fundamentals including metrics, A/B testing, and discussing impact over just reporting news. The original topic centered around how the an organization might do better prospecting.

Many of us presenters use case studies and audience exercise in our workshops. This is admirable but I would like to take this further and again let participants really have more of a hand in the topics that get covered. This can be done in the format that IFF has done it but it would be fine I think if there was just time and space reserved at a conference for participants to organize themselves and talk about topics of their own choosing. So often at conferences there is almost no unstructured time between the formal workshops, dinner, and other “official” “must attend” events. Let’s build in some time for informal learning.

Moreover, when a group takes reponsibility for its own learning and participation (as opposed to just listening) is understood to be part of the format, participants are much more likely to ensure that their own questions get answered, that they will take practical and implementable advice back to their office with them, and that they’ll actually remember what they’ve learned for a much longer period of time.

We “experts” need to do more to promote this type of learning. I’m hopeful that the next time I encounter peer learning won’t be at the IFF 2015.

The Four Best Predictors of Major Gift Success

Projected Table of Gifts

A core part of our work here at The Osborne Group is helping organizations build fundraising capacity.  Very often our clients want to build a major gift program or strengthen their existing major gift program and our job is take a look at the best way for them to create major gift success.  This involves a detailed understanding of what makes major gift programs and efforts tick and taking a close look at how any given organization measures up. While we take a very comprehensive look at data provided by our clients, we interview staff, board and investors, and we look at marketing materials and marketing collateral, etc. we have found that the likelihood of major gift success boils down to a few factors.  I’d like to share four of them with you here.

Do you have sufficient prospects?  Fundraising is a very quantifiable business; there is no reason to ever guess at projected results or be surprised when your numbers fall short.  How many gifts do you need and at what levels do you need to make your goal?  How many prospects do you need to close each gift?  What does that add up to and do you have enough prospects?  It really is just that simple.  I am continually amazed at how few experienced chief development officers and major gift officers fail to have or make active use of a projected table of gifts or the more accurate name by name table of gifts.  If you have enough prospects, there is a good chance your major gift effort will be successful.  If you don’t, it probably won’t.

Do You Have a Vision?  Vision is a fancy word for answering the question “why should I give you any money?” or saying “this is what will be different tomorrow because you gave money today”.  A good vision promises specific outcomes within a specific period of time (usually 1-5 years), is a stretch for your organization requiring increased generosity by your core supporters, and is articulated in terms of the impact it has on the community and society in general.  Let’s be clear, most major donors have a clear sense of the amount of money they are going to give away in any given time period and when you ask for a major gift you are either asking that donor to not to give to something else or give more than they intended and thus make some other interest of theirs less of a priority.  People and institutions are open to this but only when the impact is clearly and specifically defined.  This is your vision and you need it or your major gift program is dead in the water.

What does your leadership level annual giving look like?  Typically leadership level annual giving is defined as gifts between as gifts from $1,000 – $24,999 or $1,000 – $49,999 depending on the size of the organization.  You can think of it as your mid-level gifts for your organization or your highest level gifts that you receive on an annual basis.  Another way to think about it is the level that a potential donor will give prior to making a major gift.  Explicitly or implicitly high capacity donors who give at this level are saying “let’s see what you do with this money.”  They are evaluating if they hear from you on a regular basis, if you’re communicating the impact of their gift to them effectively and regularly, and if they are appreciated.  If they have a clear sense that their gift made an impact and what that impact was they may start to consider a major gift.  If they don’t, they won’t.

This work is usually only effective if you have an actual plan.  What does your stewardship calendar look like for this group?  For your major gift prospects in this group do you know how they prefer to have you communicate impact?  Do you have an individualized cultivation plan for each?

Do you have a sufficiently large, motivated, affluent and influential volunteer corps?  Many organizations approach the creation of, or enhancement of, a major gift program as a exercise in strategic staffing.  Having well trained and high quality major gift officers certainly is very important for major gift success but the best major gift officers in the world can do little if they are not surrounded by sufficient affluent and influential volunteers starting with the board.  You don’t hire your hire major gift officers and development staff based on their personal connections (at least you shouldn’t).  You hire them because they are skilled at working with large numbers of people and getting them moving in the same direction in a motivated manner that results in large gifts.  But they need prospects to work with and those prospects must be generated by an army of volunteers.  The more volunteers you have with high levels of social capital the more prospects you have.  Again, it’s that simple.

There are many other factors such as engagement, culture of philanthropy, sufficient staffing, sufficient capitalization, etc. that go into major gift success but I would consider the above fundamental.  Without them, no matter how good everything else is major gift success will be difficult.  These four predictors are in many ways the hardest areas to develop but by far provide the largest payoff.

you can follow me at @bobosborne17

50+ Donor Engagement Ideas

Picture 3Engagement and involvement are critical to succesful fundraising.  As fundraisers, we must go beyond simply telling people how strong our work is, how effective the methodology is, etc.; we must show them.  Messages that are delivered by active engagement are far more credible and memorable than messages that are delivered orally or written.  People believe and remember their own experiences.  They tend not to believe or remember what they have simply been told.

Here are 50 ideas for engaging your donors and potential donors and inspiring true belief and buy-in to your mission, vision, leadership, plan and projects.

  1. Invite to have a private conversation with your CEO on a matter related to your mission or organization
  2. Do the above but with your head of program or a person in the field
  3. Invite to listen in on a conference call where your CEO discusses a matter related to your mission or organization
  4. Invite to speak at a conference or meeting
  5. Invite to attend a conference or meeting
  6. Invite to speak to the people your mission serves
  7. Ask to host a parlor or vision meeting within their home or office
  8. Ask to provide space for a vision or parlor meeting and then report back to them on the results
  9. Ask to speak at a vision or parlor meeting
  10. Ask to introduce the organization to others within their corporation
  11. Ask to provide feedback on your case for support
  12. Ask to provide feedback on your vision statement
  13. Ask to provide feed back on your website
  14. Ask to provide feedback on your Facebook page, blog, etc.
  15. Ask to provide commentary on your strategic plan
  16. Ask them to serve on your strategic planning committee
  17. Ask to serve on your stewardship committee
  18. Ask to serve on your campaign committee
  19. Ask to serve on your board or advisory board
  20. Ask to provide advice on a matter facing your organization
  21. Ask to provide expertise on a matter helpful to your organization
  22. Invite to a briefing in your office on a issue related to your mission
  23. Ask them to interview a staff, donor or board member for your newsletter
  24. Interview them for your newsletter
  25. Ask them to be a guest blogger on your blog
  26. Ask them to review your marketing materials
  27. Invite them into the field to see a demonstration of your work
  28. Invite them to take pictures of the people you serve when they are in the field- use the pictures for your marketing, send them a nice montage of the pictures too
  29. Ask them to mentor a client
  30. Ask them to meet a parent, student, or someone else you serve
  31. Ask them to volunteer at your event
  32. Ask them to review your finances
  33. Ask them to take part in a panel discussion
  34. Invite to a panel discussion that takes place of Google+ Hangout
  35. Ask to shoot video for you
  36. Ask to edit video for you
  37. Ask if they will look at a screening list and make introductions to foundation officers on the list (or individuals or corporate officers)
  38. Ask them to interview other effective organizations within your community for insight
  39. Ask to help make a PowerPoint presentation to be delivered to another potential donor
  40. Invite to attend a fundraising training with your staff
  41. Invite to attend activism training with your mission staff
  42. Invite to listen in on a staff meeting
  43. Invite to be part of your campaign video or other video
  44. Ask to provide an endorsement quote for your organization
  45. Ask to start a Facebook campaign
  46. Ask to participate in a crowdfunding campaign
  47. Ask to call a list of donors to thank them for their gift
  48. Ask to organize a “thank you-a-thon” where the whole organization calls donors to thank them
  49. Ask to call a list of new donors to thank them for donating
  50. Ask to help your clients find jobs, internships or other relevant experiences
  51. Ask them to host a party for your clients to congratulate them on an achievement
  52. Ask them to visit other potential donors that live in the area on a business trip

 

What A “Logo Bag” Taught Me About Donor Engagement.

157906_187585961371380_1407222229_nJoanie will tell you – insist, profess, and swear – that she is only just learning the most basic things about raising money.  Joanie also raised more than $50,000 for the organization where she serves on the board last year.  How did this happen?  Yes, Joanie is way more humble about what she knows than she needs to be, but Joanie is also, innately, masterful at donor engagement… whether she knows to call it that or not.

WHAT JOANIE DOES TO RAISE $50,000 A YEAR:

Joanie carries her “Logo Bag” everywhere.  No, not a designer logo, Joanie carries her organization’s bag with their giant, easy to read logo on the front everywhere and she flashes it around – on the train, in line, at meetings.  And of course, she gets asked, “Oh, what’s that?”  Here’s where the important part comes in:  Joanie has a story – her own, easy-to-tell story about what her organization does and why she thinks that’s so important.  She doesn’t recite statistics; she doesn’t fumble for a business card with the FAQs she’s supposed to share on it.  She tells her story about why she got involved and why she invests.

Would you trust the friend who says, “I love this product; you should get one too…” and then recited a bunch of facts to you?  “This toothpaste makes my teeth 20% whiter than the leading brand!”  Geez, no.  That friend is a nut.  You trust the friend who says, “I really like my new toothpaste; it solved the pain I was having in my teeth.  You should try it…”

Joanie has options.  Once she tells her story (and it’s really a story, with characters and funny parts, emotional parts, personal reflections), she can pull out a bunch of options that we would call “deepening donor engagement and motivation”.   Joanie just calls it “options”:

“Come with me to see our program in action – we have a great program coming up on Friday.”  (Or, “Give me your card; I’ll email you with the best times to come see us in action!”)

“I’d love to bring our Executive Director (…or board chair… or program leader…) to tell you more.  Would you take a meeting?”

“Here – you can read this about us and the work we do.  And, would you also pass one along to someone else you know who might be interested in this?”

Joanie uses her team.  The culture on this board promotes each member having a personal fundraising goal that they raise WITH each other, not FOR the organization.  (Though, of course, it’s for the organization…)  Joanie is fearless about involving others in the act of donor engagement; she’s more successful because her Executive Director and Director of Development (and fellow board members) are all ready to go on meetings, get introduced, help her close these gifts.  So often, we’ll meet folks from great organizations who are struggling to get their board “activated in fundraising” but have set the tone where every board member (or volunteer) is on their own… “Here’s the tools, here’s the rules, go raise some money.”, but don’t really approach this as a team sport, where everyone has a role to play in developing passion in others or demonstrating the difference that giving makes.  And that – no surprise – is important!

Earlier last fall, Blackbaud published a study that focused on the modes of giving preferred by different donors.  Embedded in this study was quantitative confirmation that Joanie’s approach has been right all along (and could even take it on the road to the UK or Australia):

Top Three Reasons Cited by Donors (in the United States, the U.K. and Australia) Who Become Regular Contributors to A Favorite Organization:

  1. They achieved an improvement in their personal financial situation
  2. They find passion about an organization’s mission
  3. They gain access to information that proved the impact of their
    contributions

Joanie can’t do much to change the fortune of others… but she does a lot to kindle passion and provide information (herself and through her team) on the impact that giving has on an organization.

THINGS YOU CAN DO, EVEN WITHOUT YOUR OWN JOANIE:

  1. Think about how you are using your “promotional products”: use them to inspire specific action.  Do you treat your as “gifts”, that you gift in thanks for generosity?  That’s nice, but you know what?  I have enough mugs, stickers, magnets, whatever else you’ve got with your logo on it to last a lifetime and a half.  However, give me a mug – or one of Joanie’s “logo bag”s – and ask me to carry it where others will see it and talk about my involvement… now we’re getting somewhere.  A client recently asked everyone attending a gala to use the stack of note cards in the goody bag they were receiving on the way out the door to write to three people they knew who would have loved to have heard what they did at that event, that night.  And, they took the added step of dropping in some suggested language that could be used to write those cards…  Website traffic spiked from first time visitors.
  2. …which leads to… Don’t be afraid to prompt action.  Think about Facebook and the insidious “hey, your friend likes this product, service, page…”  or the unceasing  advertisements you see, all prompting you to take action.  This Christmas, Santa gave me a gift to DonorsChoose and when I helped Mrs. Hranzanek get e-readers for her Kindergarten, DonorsChoose prompted me to share that on my own Facebook page.  THEN, they sent me an email I could forward to others.  THEN, Mrs. Hranzanek sent me a personal (two lines!) thank you note… and prompted me to post this to Facebook and/or forward it to my friends via email.
  3. … and then… Redefine engagement.  Engagement isn’t board service (though board service had better be engaging.)  Engagement isn’t volunteering in a formal way (necessarily).  Engagement needs to be a lot of different things… Joanie’s “options”, but all of them needed and all resulting making a difference.  Sometimes it’s signing a petition… sometimes it’s making snowflakes to decorate school hallways as kids in Newtown, CT return to class… sometimes it’s judging a competition of young entrepreneurs… sometimes it’s just asking someone to join you in giving too.

Having that kind of relationship with an organization keeps donors happy and giving…

Measuring Social Impact: Does Anyone Get It?

As the fiscal cliff…curb… slope…ravine… whatever… looms large, and calls increase to look to cutting or trimming tax deductibility of giving, I have found embedded in these “conversations” (often turning into diatribes) an undercurrent of judgement about what counts as having social impact.  Which organizations “deserve” tax-advantaged status for donors because they do real good for society?  What I have found is that these articles, posts and opinion pieces (here’s a link to just one of many)  betray much more about the writer’s own philanthropic motivations – what do they consider valuable “social good”? – but also points to the dearth of good, common practice in how we measure social impact.

The “elder statesman” of this world is clearly Guidestar, that was founded to be the arbiter of good practice, setting standards for cost to raise a dollar, the percentage of budget dedicated to program, the main conduit to organization’s 990 form.  What has ended up happening for so many is a massaging not of their programs but of how data will be reflected on the 990 to “rate” better in the Guidestar world.  Additionally, there is no room in this world for organizations at different phases of their development – who need to invest more in infrastructure to get off the ground and do well as they do good.  Does it benefit anyone to penalize organizations for wanting to create a solid foundation?  Must we rush to throw programs out into the world, while keeping overhead painfully low?

New player on the scene is GiveWell, that not only wants to help donors find high impact organizations but highlight those that are under-capitalized now.  Admirable!  I’m in.  But, even a quick tour of this site finds that the folks at GiveWell – who are, to their credit, doing an enormous amount of research – have brought their own prejudices to the table about how work should be done, not just who is doing their work in their own sector well.  Is it really true that those doing work to cure blindness are objectively more important and offer a higher return on investment than those training and deploying seeing eye dogs?  Hogwash.  Of course, this overlooks the fact that not all forms of blindness can be cured, and sets aside the increased earning power of those who are able to reach higher levels of integration and productive contribution into their community with a guiding eyes dog.  This is but one example of the one-size-fits-all approach to how problems ought to be solved obscures what could be truly useful approach.

We can’t allow ourselves to be stymied by the fact that this is hard work, creating social impact take nuance, tremendous focus and strategic thought.  I feel more Scrooge than like one of the Who’s down in Who-ville on this topic… Who is approaching this well?  What is the way to solve this challenge more universally, so that when public arena needs us to stand up for our sector, we are well prepared to do so?

 

Stress and the Whole Human Fundraiser

Overheard in an advancement office near you:  “It’s business, not personal.”… “A pro learns to compartmentalize.”…“A bit of fear keeps them sharp.”  Is that true?  Or are we whole humans whom fear makes dull?  What impact does stress have on our ability to be not just good, but truly great at our important work?

Do you try to avoid messy emotions in the workplace?  Make goals and metrics scary- ambitious to drive effort in yourself and your team?

I get it—I’ve done it—we got here honestly.  From first grade on, we learned to ignore discomfort, focus on our left verbal brain, and ignore the wisdom of our right brain, our bodies, our emotions.  But advancement work requires that we learn to engage both sides again.

Living exclusively in the left, verbal brain ignores a big chunk of an advancement professional’s whole human system.  Anxiety results when our bodies get left behind.  As we pursue enormous campaign goals in competitive times,  neuroscience and positive psychology have much to share about the corrosive effects of unacknowledged anxiety in our development shops—and much to teach about learning to work with mindfulness and ease.

Human beings run on three operating systems—cognitive, emotional, and physical—that are designed to work in sophisticated synchrony.  When your mind has a thought, it creates an emotion that is felt in the body.  The body reacts.  The mind may overlook this response or heed its message.  We can learn to use this finely tuned system of checks and balances to achieve delicious productivity—but only if the system is kept healthy, open, and clean.

As a lifelong fundraiser, now a consultant and coach, I help my clients ensure that their thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations are not ruled by toxins like fear and harsh self-judgments that can inhibit their performance and cause exhaustion and pain.

Many campaign consultants sidestep the emotional and physical components of the human machine, providing benchmark reports and prescribing big jumps in total gift income and visits per month before fully understanding why fundraising progress is slow.  At organizations that anticipate this approach, my first visit can suck the air out of a room—until I breathe, make eye contact, and state my purpose.

I find in many under-performing advancement shops triple, intertwined threats: diffuse focus, insufficient training, and subterranean fear.  Sadly, the pervasive, contagious anxiety often starts within the very person who cares most about success—that dedicated leader semi-consciously driving herself with punitive internal messages every day.

You know that deer-in-the-headlights feeling that wears you out over time?  It starts in a flash.

Richard E. Boyatzis and Annie McKee (2005) and others have shown that in stressful situations, fear-based thoughts activate the oldest, most primitive part of our mind—the limbic system or “lizard brain.”   The almond-shaped amygdala at the base of the brain sounds the alarm and the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, releasing Epinephrine, Norepinephrine, and Cortisol that prepare us to fight, flee, or freeze.  Blood flow is directed away from the cerebral cortex to the large muscles, inhibiting memory and the creation of new neurons.

Living in our sympathetic nervous system erodes thinking and health. Ironically, the first casualty in the development operation’s stress fest quite often are those courageous, delicate major gift conversations we need most.   Survival anxiety keeps us busy rewriting metrics and churning reports instead of seeking out those crucial conversations that spell campaign success.   To the lizard brain, big solicitations seem black or white, all or nothing, win or lose.  Even if we know that solicitation is a process, not an event.

This energy impacts the donor interview.  Without proper preparation, those subconscious “win/lose, make/break, do/die” messages can narrow your visual field and aural acuity so timing suffers and subtle feedback is missed.  Adrenaline spikes blunt your ability to remember details and feel the donor’s truth.  The human body easily confuses excitement and anxiety—this is true for donors, too.

There’s a better way to build transformational gifts.

Joyful, stretch gifts are inspired by love, not fear—and they are born in the present, whole-hearted conversations that only become possible when the fundraiser’s thoughts, emotions, and feelings are calm, clean and clear.

Understanding and improving work teams’ emotional experience—their inner work lives—can seem a daunting investment.  But it pays off big both on, and off, the road.

It may feel risky to explore internal messages and odd to intentionally engage the parasympathetic nervous system at work – but the payoff is huge when your team gels, trusts, and stays.  The payoff magnifies as your committed team facilitates aspirational gifts that delight donors and heal the world.

So next time you sit down with a potential donor or a new hire, slow down.  Notice, with presence and compassion, how he is a whole human, and so are you.

You can follow Beth at: @EBHermanCoach

By Beth Herman, Principal, EBH Consulting   Guest blogger Beth Herman is an advancement consultant, advancement trainer and personal coach.  She specializes in how organizations can build their capacity by focusing on the individuals within the team.