A Relationship Lesson from Lemurs

Last month was my friend Chris’ birthday. Chris has a love of lemurs and his wife started a campaign on GoFundMe.com to give him a day trip to a lemur center.  I don’t particularly share Chris’ fascination with lemurs andlemurs it wouldn’t be my choice of birthday of celebrations, but I contributed. In fact, as I look back, I realize that I have given several gifts in the past few months to a variety of things that my friends were raising money for.

Through sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter, I had supported friends in the achievement of things that were important to them, both professionally and personally, but none of them were tied to a not-for-profit organization. I won’t get a tax write-off for these gifts and I don’t care, because I was giving purely because I believed in their individual causes or dreams, the achievement of something special for people that are special to me.

Here at the Osborne Group, we often talk about the “Rights”. Having the RIGHT person ask for the RIGHT amount of money for the RIGHT purpose at the RIGHT time. My experience over the past few months has left me contemplating one of those rights in particular, and that is the RIGHT person.

I hear from a lot of development professionals that are frustrated by the lack of response from current and prospective donors. We’ve all been there, donors that won’t return phone calls or reply to emails (even ones that don’t ask for money) or asks that we felt incredibly prepared for, but just fell flat. It can feel like you’re continuously running into a brick wall when trying to engage people who seem to be interested and supportive of your cause, but are consistently unresponsive.

As you dissect the mystery of why you can’t seem to move forward with a prospect, I encourage you to take a lesson from the lemurs. Instead of focusing on HOW you are reaching out or WHAT you are trying to engage them in, take a moment to focus on the WHO. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • As you conduct research on prospects, employ peer screening with board members, staff and volunteers to find out potential connections and relationships
  • Utilize those connections when making your donor engagement plans to determine the best roles for everyone to play in the process
  • If there are several people connected to the same prospect, take a team approach – determine each person’s strengths and deploy them when most appropriate
  • The WHO isn’t just about making the ask, but is also about making sure the RIGHT people are involved in engaging prospects and delivering personal, high-impact stewardship
  • When in doubt, ask someone who knows. Don’t try to guess what a prospect wants or why they might be unresponsive, ask for advice from people who know them. Even board members or volunteers that are reluctant to get involved with engaging or asking a prospect directly will usually be happy to offer up advice on how to best move forward.

Whether you’re running a Friends Asking Friends campaign online or developing a major gift prospect, the WHO is a critical component of success. While increased personal fundraising might be seen as more competition for dollars, let’s instead look at it as a learning opportunity to figure how we best take their example to harness the power of relationships in our own endeavors.

Fundraising Tips and Ideas via @15SECFUNDRAISING

If you’re an Instagram user, please check out out new tips and ideas show on Instagram, @15SECFundraising.  Every week @bobosborne17 and guests give you fundraising ideas and tips via Instagram for running a strong fundraising program based on best practice and the latest in cutting edge ideas and technology.  You can also check out this blog for the latest installments.

 

 

 

Should You Adopt Radical Transparency?

imgresThe idea of radical transparency has been a popular concept in the business world for around the last decade or so.  The term gets used quite a bit but in the context of the corporate world, it essentially refers to making decisions in public, being open about data, and generally being up front in areas where a corporation has traditionally tried to do the opposite.  The idea is that in the chaotic world of the internet the only way you can influence your own reputation is to be part of the conversation in an open way.  Increasingly, I’m beginning to see nonprofits adopt the same idea.  So, should you adopt radical transparency?

My friend Dora is involved with an organization called Razom.  The organization was formed a little over a year ago in response to the Maidan movement in Ukraine.  It’s been fascinating to watch the organization over that period of time.  First, the fundraising ROI is off the charts at less than $.01 expenses per dollar raised.  But more interesting to me is their philosophy of complete financial transparency.  For instance, their financial books are a publicly viewable google doc.  Sure, it’s in cyrillic but Google will helpfully translate it for you if you haven’t kept up with your Ukrainian.  For most nonprofits, having their finances down to every last expenditure displayed for all the world to see would send the CFO running away in horror.  Additionally, when Razom was first trying to get its books in order it decided to have a “financial hackathon”.  All members of Razom were invited to participate and help get the organization organized financially.  Now, when I say “members” I mean people who have joined their Facebook page, so more or less the general public.

I love that Razom has begun its organizational life with transparency as a core value.  While I am sure Razom faces its share of challenges just like any other nonprofit, I’m going to guess that trust between the organization and its donors is not one of them.  No need for donors to guess how their money is being spent; they can see it any day at any time.  Creating the Future, a social change research and development laboratory, conducts all of its board meetings via Google Hangout, open not only to viewing by the public, but participation by the public.  What a crazy, radical, wonderful idea.

Given how poorly the vast majority of nonprofits steward their donors, we could benefit from considering these and similar practices.  Most of those who are familiar with The Osborne Group know that we consider stewardship of paramount importance.  90% of the time we see a problem with an organization and its ability to fundraise, ad hoc stewardship or a lack of it all together features into the problem prominently.  As a sector, we are bad in this area and we need to get better.  Radical transparency might be the answer.  We are not saying that you have to conduct your board meetings in public; there is a lot of work that goes along with this.  But what if you video taped them and put them on the web?  Or maybe conducted one meeting a year open to the public?  What if you did make your P & L available on the web?  What’s the worst that could happen?

The problem, of course, is that the way philanthropy, especially institutional philanthropy from corporations and foundations, is perceived makes this concept pretty scary.  In essence, we are all terrified that if our funders saw all of our struggles that we risk losing funding.  In this day and age we are all so focused ROI and metrics that we believe deep down that if our donors know that we aren’t perfect they’ll just support some “better” or more “efficient” operation.

But what if the opposite turned out to be true?  What if the best way to show commitment to a strong ROI and social ROI was to have all of our struggles out in the open?  Wouldn’t that show and even greater commitment to being the best organization we can be?  Wouldn’t that build the most important of all bonds, trust?

Given how little most donors trust nonprofits, we would all do well to at least consider the idea.

 

The Foundation Screening List

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.24.46 AMI want to talk briefly about an important but underutilized development tool: the foundation screening list.  When we are first beginning our development careers everything we learn about foundations implies that they are pure meritocracies.  Have a good organization with a good project, write a good proposal and you’ll have as good a shot at getting funding as anyone else.  And to some extent this is true.  If you aren’t a well run organization and you don’t have a good project you probably won’t get funding.  But the reality is that you will be competing against many other meritorious organizations and not everyone one will get funded.  So, how do you stand out from the crowd?

The reality is the business of successful foundation funding is very much a “who you know” business.  I’m not saying that there is any sort of cronyism involved.  But I am saying that your ideas are more likely to be heard if you know the decision makers involved and have had a chance to talk over your work in detail.  I am saying that knowing trustees counts for a lot more than knowing program officers.  And I am saying that trustees and program officers knowing you and believing in your leadership and your ability to deliver on the promises of your proposal is critical.

So, a really valuable exercise for any organization is to know who you know on foundation boards and staffs.  How do we find this out?  The foundation screening list.

The foundation screening list is a packet of foundations (up to 25) likely to fund your organization based on their stated mission and its relevance to yours.  Each foundation gets it own page and on each page, triple or quadruple spaced, you’ll list every trustee and program officer.  If it is a large foundation then just list the relevant program officer.  You can see a sample layout here.

Now, what do we do with foundation screening list once we have one?  Sit down with your staff, your board and other volunteers, friends and anyone else willing to listen to you.  Ask them to flip through the list and see if they know anyone.  Ask them to write in the margins who they know and any important information about them.  Ask them if there is any foundation or anyone not on the list that they would be willing to contact.

Ask them if they’d be willing to help set up a meeting with anyone they know.

Over time you should get a pretty good catalog of who knows who and hopefully have people setting up meetings on your behalf.  Record everything in your database.

Webinar: Employing Metrics for Effective Course Corrections

It’s a great time to asses your development program to make adjustments and course corrections. Osborne Group consultant Laurel McCombs helps you identify key metrics to assess your development operations and walk through how to best put that data to use in developing your plan for the coming year.

Major Gift Lessons From My Grandsons

roundcube.intermediaI’ve had the privilege of speaking all over the world to groups as large as 900. Certainly, my adrenaline would pump. But never once did I feel nervous or worried. That is until my grandson asked me to speak to his second grade class.

“Grammie,” he asked, his face in a serious frown, “do you want me to give you some advice?”

“Absolutely,” I said.

“First, be sure to tell stories.” He gave me an encouraging nod. “You’re good at that.”

Storytelling, as you know, is at the heart of major gift work. Stories that invite questions, engagement and action. As gift officers, we all know how important this is. But are we making it easy for our board members, top donors, champions and influencers to tell our story? One way to make it easier is to have short videos available, under three or four minutes. Your volunteers can have them on their tablets and mobile devices. Make sure they know where to find them on your website. Professional videos like this one works well.

But amateur video is also effective. YouTube has provided us with a high tolerance for amateur video. Use your smart phone to capture your program staff at work or recipients sharing the change in their lives. And don’t forget the importance of making your fiscal story come alive.

The purpose of the story is to invite strategic conversations, not to pitch and sell. Which leads me to his next piece of good advice.

“Be sure to ask us lots of questions. Kids like that.”

We talk a lot about listening and asking questions but are they generative and/or strategic? Have you asked your donors some of these powerful questions? The first three are from Michelle Clarke. They work well at a vision meeting, strategic planning session, high-level donor meeting after your CEO has shared his or her BIG IDEAS.
1. What had real meaning for you from what you’ve heard? What surprised you? What challenged you?

2. What’s missing from this picture so far? What is it we’re not seeing? About what do we need more clarity?

3. What’s been your major learning, insight or discovery so far?

The next few questions, probe for more understanding about your donor’s motivations and values.

1. What do you expect from the charitable organizations in which you are involved?

2. What do you value most about your relationships with the organizations and institutions you support?

3. What values underpin your philanthropic choices?

If you would like a list of strategic and generative donor questions (updated for 2015) and tailored for your type of organization, contact me at karen@theosbornegroup.com

His third piece of advice was, “Don’t embarrass me.” Enough said!

I have a second grandson, aged three. He also knows something about major gift work. We were opening presents this Christmas. Trucks, helicopters, building blocks, and Thomas the Tank Engine trains and tracks. After opening each present, he said thank you and fell to playing with it. We had to move him to the next toy because he was so absorbed.

Every time he visits, we always read stories, which he loves. So also under the tree were three new books wrapped in Christmas paper. As we moved him from his new train and he tore the paper away he said, “Grammie I like books but they are not a good present.”

Reminder. Everyone is different. What we think is wonderful stewardship may not work for someone one else. Books for some are perfect but clearly not for all.

You have to tailor major gift stewardship and engagement. Canned doesn’t work even if it’s lovely.

Top 2014 Blog Posts From The Osborne Group, Inc.

Happy New Year!
Top 2014 Blog Posts From The Osborne Group, Inc.
Definitely worth a read (or re-read). What will you do with this great information? What changes have you made or plan to make? We want to know. Let us hear from you.
Building Great Relationships. Start Here.

The Case for the Fundamentals
Yes, fundraising is changing and there are lots of exciting ideas out there. Check them out, embrace the ones that make sense. But don’t do it at the expense of the fundamentals.

She was a GREAT woman. Smart, talented, generous, gracious. She left us with a treasure trove of good advice. Maya Angelou

High Net-worth Individuals: Your Inspired, Joyful, Generous Donors. Follow the money!

December Glass Balls for Major Gift Teams. Advice for January 2015 as well!

If it were easy, we wouldn’t need you!

Spring is coming believe it or not. And along with spring comes special events – magical or deadly?

Webinar: Building Social Capital to Increase Champions, Advocates & Donors

Join Bob Osborne on December 9th at 2:00 PM EST for an engaging webinar on building social capital.

Authors Shirley Sagawa and Deborah Jospin assert that social capital is our most valuable asset. Those organizations and institutions with a high level of social capital thrive in good and bad times, those that do not, continue to struggle. In this webinar, we define our terms, and learn practical advice for enhancing and maximizing social capital. You will leave the webinar with clear steps for increasing your social capital and strengthening your institution.

Click here to register: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2649097707904065794

Webinar: Ensuring a Successful Year-End Transition

Join Yolanda and Laurel on Monday, November 17th at 2:00pm EST for a one-hour webinar. During this webinar we will share tips and strategies for ending the year strong and getting the new year off to a powerful start.  We will cover topics that will help you, personally and professionally, take on this very hectic, and critical, time of year.  Click here to register now!

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!