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!

Maya Angelou’s Lessons for Life & Nonprofits

Two weeks ago I got the news… I was sitting on my couch watching the morning news and there it was at the bottom of the screen, “Famed poet and author Maya Angelou died this morning in North Carolina. She was 86.”

Maya Angelou

I felt my heart stop and my thoughts rush through memories.  I could see Maya Angelou reciting poetry on our PBS station in the late 1970’s; her voice so powerful and enchanting. She seemed so regal and wise. I could remember coming of age in high school and believing “Phenomenal Woman that’s me!”  I could see the pride in my grandmother’s eyes when Dr. Angelou recited “On The Pulse Of Morning” at President Clinton’s innauguration and how that poem remained on my grandmother’s refrigerator until her death. I recalled how excited I was when I called Dr. Angelou’s home on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association just three years ago and although I didn’t speak to her directly ; I was overwhelmed with excitement by just the mere thought of reaching Maya Angelou.

As I continue to reflect on how Dr. Angelou has impacted my life, I’d like to share a few life lessons from her that can be used in our personal and professional lives as we  serve the nonprofit world.

 “When You Know Better You Do Better”

maya-angelou

http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/The-Powerful-Lesson-Maya-Angelou-Taught-Oprah-Video

This is a lesson I continue to learn both personally and professionally.  I think the knowing is much easier than the doing. I know to exercise more but the doing it consistently is another story. I see how this lesson can apply to our work with donors. When we learn to focus on building donor relationships rather than rushing to a solicitation we find that our donors are more engaged and inspired to make generous and joyful gifts.

“I’ve Learned That People Will Forget What You Said, People Will Forget What You Did, But People Will Never Forget How You Made Them Feel.”

best-Maya-Angelou-Quotes-sayings-wise-people

As a parent and wife, I practice this every day although there are moments that my ego will allow me to forget.  When we fully embrace this as a way of being, not only does it enhance and deepen our personal relationships but it also takes our professional relationships to another level as well.

 “I Am A Woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal Woman That’s Me!”

phenomenal woman

http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/Listen-Dr-Maya-Angelou-Recites-Her-Poem-Phenomenal-Woman-Video

Like many women, I have found myself on occasions being the only woman in the room. There were times in these situations that I did not own my power and sat in these meetings without saying a word. Thanks to Dr. Angelou not only did I learn to embrace my power as a woman and take my seat at the table , I learned to encourage other women to do the same including my phenomenal 5 year old daughter.  Phenomenal  women also serve  as  leaders, philanthropists ,and volunteers for the causes we serve.

“When People Show You Who They Are- Believe Them”

10356307_788050441214145_5744398656924043606_n

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTiziwBhd54

This lesson calls for an “AMEN!”  How many times have we tried to change people or see only what we want to see? How about with donors? We want them to give this specific amount to this project because it’s the end of the fiscal year and we are praying that we make our goals. Yet, the donor’s actions are screaming” I am not interested in this project but I am interested in having an impact in another way.”  We can avoid this situation by asking the right questions and listening to our donors rather than seeing only what we want to see or hearing only what we want to hear.

 “My Mission In Life Is Not Merely To Survive, But To Thrive; And To Do So With Some Passion, Some Compassion, Some Humor, And Some Style.”

angelou_vert-bc26b934aaca10709208bdfc75d94df518351e83-s6-c30

This is truly how I want to live my life. It reflects my core values both personally and professionally. It takes the concept of “work/life” balance and makes it more tangible and practical. I’ll share more in a future blog.

Finally, I leave you with another Maya Angelou lesson- one that I do every single day, “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”  Every day we have the opportunity to be a blessing in someone’s life both at home and in the workplace.  It’s just a matter of taking the opportunity to do so.

Thank you Dr. Angelou for your wisdom and love for humanity! You will be missed but your legacy lives on throughout the world and through those who serve the nonprofit world.

What’s On The Table?

Chicago-Community-Trust-On-The-Table-2014Monday I had dinner with 10,000 people. Well, not exactly..  But, I did participate with 10,000 other Chicago area citizens in a community-wide “town hall” called On The Table created by the Chicago Community Trust in celebration of their 99th anniversary.

The goal, according to Chicago Community Trust, CEO, Terry Mazany was to have more than 10,000 people “from all walks of life and socioeconomic circumstances” engage in conversation about the issues facing their communities and ideas to make their communities stronger.

“We hope the conversations “generate new ideas, inspire bold solutions and cultivate relationships and collaborations to improve communities region-wide,” said Mazany.

The trust is using social media to capture these ideas and will report back to the community through their website and an idea exchange in October. The trust is also planning to use ideas gathered from On The Table to inform future grantmaking decisions.

I love this idea and loved personally participating in an On The Table event sponsored by PADS of Lake County.  Our group leader, Joel Williams, Executive Director of PADS was funny and engaging. He provided a tasty barbecue to facilitate our outdoor conversation.  Afterwards, many of the participants agreed to continue these conversations on a monthly basis and hold one another accountable for the action steps they committed to during our visioning.

Here’s what we discussed:

  1. What does our community do well?
  2. What’s best about our community?
  3. What can we do better?
  4. What’s our community going to look like 5, 10, and 15 years from now?
  5. What’s the one thing you will do this week to make the above vision happen?

Non-profits can take this On The Table concept to facilitate meaningful conversations with community members, key stakeholders, donors, etc.  Not only does this provide a wonderful engagement opportunity for these groups but it will also provide your organization with new ideas and stronger relationships between your organization and these constituents. Here’s 10 tips to get started :

1)      Check out the On The Table website at onthetable2014.com

2)      Select a date to host these events (perhaps your founders day, a significant date in your organization’s history, or a special date related to the cause you serve. World Alzheimer’s Day is an example)

3)      Identify table hosts who would be willing to provide the location and food. You can also have them host a pot luck or brown bag lunch.  Note the number of table hosts would depend on the overall size you want your event to be. Keep in mind you want small intimate gatherings of no more than 15 people.

4)      Create a website for the event and opportunities for people to engage through social media before, during and after the event

5)      Tailor the above discussion questions to your organization

6)      Engage your local media before, during and after the event

7)      Get your board members involved

8)      Invite some of the people you serve to these events

9)      Develop a plan to collect and share the ideas generated at these events

10)   Report back to the attendees on the ideas you plan to implement and the progress you’ve made

So, what’s “On The Table”  for your organization? We’d love to know!

 

Connecting with Donors Starts with Connecting with Employees

connectionsConnecting with donors on a personal level builds lasting and productive relationships. In much the same way, connecting with employees results in higher staff productivity and retention.

We want our donors and volunteers to feel valued and appreciated.  Joe Connelly of WSJ said, “Retention is the new acquisition and customer service is the new marketing.” Retention of talent is as important as retention of donors.

Attrition hits the bottom line hard.

But how can we hold onto donors by providing thoughtful retention strategies and outstanding customer service if we first don’t “wow” our staffs?

We can’t expect staff or volunteers to deliver what they have not personally experienced.

Thank you is fundamental.  Genuine, prompt, and specific.  “Thank you for staying late Friday.  I know you had plans with your family.  I appreciate your sacrifice.”

Reporting on impact is critical. “I wanted to circle back.  The project you helped us with three months ago, when you stayed late and pitched in has had an enormous impact on our work.  You made a difference.  Thank you again.”  Personal, timely, authentic and concrete.

Survey your team

How valued and appreciated do they feel?  Do the same with your volunteers and board members.  To what degree do they believe their work is making a difference?

Inspiration is also an important component of donor work.  We are seeking inspired, joyful and generous investments of time, talent, expertise, connections and treasure.  Inspiration is equally important internally. If you are interested in surveying your team, asking the right questions that will uncover valuable data and truths, contact us at mail@theosbornegroup.com

Having a Sense of Purpose Motivates

Employees report that having a sense of purpose is the top motivator for work satisfaction according to author and leader Aaron Hurst.

“Researchers have found that the best ways to ensure that employees feel a sense of purpose boils down to three simple things: They need to have opportunities to grow; to build relationships with employees and others involved in the work; and to create something greater than themselves.”

Too often, we don’t start by inspiring our teams before we ask them to inspire potential donors.  CEOs need a big inspiring vision of the future.  Not an internal vision – “We will be the organization of choice in our market, grow our endowment to x and increase our client base by y.” We are talking about a meaningful, outward vision that will result in fixing a societal ill or creating a major societal shift.  Big ideas bring about big gifts.  They also garner internal dedication.  Connect every staff and volunteer task no matter how mundane to the mission, vision and work. Share the vision at every opportunity.

Make sure that every employee and every board member on an annual basis has a hands-on experience with the people, animals, planet you serve.  For some this is easy and others a challenge especially if your work is primarily overseas.  But hard doesn’t equate to impossible.  Be creative.  Remember, connecting with donors and employees is key to outstanding results.

Meaningful and productive engagement is critical for donors.

Research reports that when engaged, annual fund and major gift donors give 24% to 38% more.  Engagement also works for staff and board members.  Ask for advice and ideas.  Share decision-making through appropriate delegation and empowerment.

Are your staff and board meetings show and tell or are folks engaged in meaningful discussions that matter?  Are you listening?  Seeking and providing feedback?

Connecting with donors starts with connecting with staff and board members.  The payoff will be huge.

by Karen Osborne

The Power of Saying “No”

no-2People underestimate the power of saying “no”.  Saying no sounds scary, especially when you are turning down a request from your boss, a volunteer, or a donor. But here’s the thing: we say no all the time by our actions. We work as hard as we can for as long as we can and then stop when we must. Incomplete to-do items roll off our desk and crash to the floor. By saying no, we are strategically choosing what falls. We’re making an informed decision that we can justify.

When a request lands on your desk, don’t commit right away, advises the Harvard Business Review. Acknowledge the request. Ask clarifying questions. Seek time to give the problem some thought. Where does this fit within your priorities? How much time would it take to do it? How might your office (not you necessarily) accomplish this task? Then respond to the requestor with your solution.

Another strategy I like is “Yes, No, Yes.” “Yes, that sounds like an important (interesting) idea (project) (event). Unfortunately, I am unable to take it on at this time. But, yes, I will give this some thought and get back to you.”
Greg McKeown, Author of “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” recommends three steps.

Step 1: Affirm the relationship. e.g., “It really is good to hear from you.”

Step 2: Thank the person sincerely for the opportunity. e.g., “Thank you ever so much for thinking of me! It sounds like such a brilliant project. I am complimented that you thought of me.”

Step 3: Decline firmly and politely. e.g., “For several reasons I need to pass on this at the moment.”

As leader/managers, we also have to empower our team members and give them the power of saying “No.” Katie Beauchamp, co-founder of Birchbox says, “The most important thing I can do is show I really understand the priorities of the business and help people not do things.

By saying no to some things, you create the space and the energy to say yes to other tasks. “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage to say—pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically—no to other things,” said the late Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “And the way to do that is to have a bigger yes burning inside.”

The Four Agreements for Development Officers

4 agreementsYears ago I read the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and was reintroduced to it a couple of weeks ago while watching “Super Soul Sunday” on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). It got me to thinking about how these agreements are helpful not only in our personal lives but also in our lives as professional fundraisers.

In his work, Don Miguel Ruiz describes how implementing these agreements can help us with the relationships we have with ourselves and with one another. When I think of the first agreement, “Be impeccable with your word”, it reminds me of donor stewardship at its best.

Agreement 1 – Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.  –The Four Agreements

When we speak the truth about our work and how our donors have moved our cause forward we are using the power of our words to build a more authentic bond with our donors. When we talk about the true impact our donors’ gifts are having – the lives changed, families transformed, animals saved – we allow it to come from a place of integrity and sincerity about our work and who we are as an organization.  When we use our words both written and verbal, we use them in ways that inspire our donors for continued action while demonstrating gratitude for what they have already done.  By being impeccable with our word, we also speak the truth during times of adversity or when there is an issue with a donor’s gift.

Throughout my career (and honestly, on a daily basis), I have the opportunity to practice the second agreement, “Don’t take anything personally.” As fundraisers, how often do we take it personally (even if for a minute) when a donor says no to a gift request or the donor makes a gift much lower than we asked?

Agreement 2 – Don’t take anything personally.  Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering. – The Four Agreements

Of course, there will be a period of self-reflection when a donor declines our request or a gift comes in at a lower amount. We think about things we could have done differently, such as the timing of our solicitation, or the actual program we thought this donor was passionate about. However, when this self-reflection becomes self-defeating, the concept of not taking anything personally is a tool that can help us move forward and continue to build the relationship with the donor that will manifest into a joyous, inspired gift.

I can recall clearly the day when a donor, whom I thought was ready to make a significant gift, called me “a pest” after months of what I thought was a good relationship. So yes, for a moment… actually several moments, that lasted the rest of the day… I did take her comment personally. Fast-forward three months later, after letting go of that comment and figuring out what she would say yes to, I called the donor. She enthusiastically agreed to meet and she made a joyous, inspired, generous gift of $500,000.  Of course, there was a lot of re-evaluating and strategy that happened between “The Pest Comment” and having this great experience with the donor, but the fact of the matter is, it happened when I let go and resolved to not take it personally.

Along with sometimes taking donor reactions personally, we might also fall victim to making assumptions about the donor’s passion for our organization. The third agreement, “Don’t make assumptions”, speaks directly to this.

Agreement 3 – Don’t make assumptions.  Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life. –The Four Agreements

Our board relationships can often be ones where we make assumptions. For example, one might assume “Of course we are our Board Chair’s top priority. After all he is the Chair.”

But I have experienced both as a fundraiser and witnessed as a consultant, that this is not always the case. When organizations have as a practice to meet with their board members individually with the purpose of engaging and asking questions about the board member’s thoughts, feelings and plans as a volunteer and as a donor, they are able to decrease assumptions and deepen their board relationships.

The Fourth Agreement, “Always do your best”, brings all the above tools together and speaks to the reality that our “Best” varies and gives us the freedom to be our authentic selves.

Agreement 4 – Always do your best.  Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret. –The Four Agreements

It’s the end of the fiscal year and your annual review is right around the corner. While some may use this as a time of reflecting on what didn’t go right or goals that were not made, it can serve you to use this time to reflect on when you truly did your best. About ten years ago, I began collecting examples of when I did my best by keeping a file called “Accolades.” This is where I kept emails and notes from donors, colleagues, bosses, etc. who commented on my work or something I accomplished. I looked at this during those tough times when “to do” lists were long and time was even shorter.  Further, when it was time to do my self-review, I could pull from these examples instead of trying to remember all that I did. This file has served me well as a reminder of doing my best and the value I bring to my organization and the people around me.

I encourage you to take a look at the Four Agreements and experience for yourself how one or all of these agreements can serve as a tool both personally and professionally. You might find that many of these agreements you have already made with yourself and the mission you serve!

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?