Don’t Tell The Story Before You’ve Heard It

imagesDuring a recent client visit I was talking to the VP for Advancement about major gift strategy and the importance of truly understanding donor motivations and values.  She told me that when she meets with major donor prospects she tries to ask as many questions as she can, and in her words: “I try not to tell the story before I’ve heard it.”  What a great phrase!  So many times in an effort to come up with an effective cultivation strategy we make all kinds of assumptions and speculations about our donors.  Does any of the below sound familiar?

“Our research shows that she gives to the local Boys and Girls Club.  Children must be her biggest cause and we don’t work with children so she’s not a good prospect for us.”

“He’s the CEO of his own manufacturing company so he’ll probably want to work on the finance committee.”

“She created an endowed scholarship for her university.  Scholarships aren’t our main priority but it seems like that is what she likes to do.”

The reality is that in each of this cases, based on the information provided, we know very little about our donors in terms of their values, giving preferences, and how they might wish to engage and give to our own institution.  About ten years ago if you were able to look at my own giving history you’d see that I gave to quite a few organizations that helped people with disabilities.  Is this my main philanthropic priority?  Not really.  Did I give to those cause because a friend asked me to and it was his philanthropic priority?  Yes.

The only way to truly know what a donor’s priorities are, what their values are, and what their priorities are within your own institution is to ask the donor directly.

“I know that you are an ardent supporter of the Boys and Girls Club.  Are children a philanthropic priority for you?  What are your other priorities?”

“With your business background we’d love to have you involved with our finance committee but tell us, how do you best like to be engaged with the organizations you work with?  What was your best volunteer experience and why?”

“What was your motivation in donating an endowed scholarship to your university?”

Asking strategic questions will give you the most accurate information from which to design an effective cultivation strategy.  It will also result in a far more satisfying experience for your potential donor.  Finally, asking strategic questions will also set a tone of open dialogue and information sharing.

If you find that you are speculating and filling in information that is based on anything other than what you’ve heard directly from the donor, stop, realize that you don’t truly know the answer to the question you are asking, and make a point of asking it the next time you meet with your potential donor.  The results will be a far more interesting story than the one you’ve made up in your head.

 

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!

Empowering Others Through Generous Philanthropy

Picture 3Recently, I was in Albuquerque, NM speaking to 300 women and girls at Sandia Prep about the power of leadership philanthropy.  I framed the discussion by discussing the overarching goal – life-long inspired, joyful, generous giving of all our innate gifts, talents and expertise, time, networks and treasure.  The goal is important.  Too often, we only seek a volunteer’s talents and time.  Or, we think about the individual as a donor and only seek treasure and contacts.  True philanthropy is about giving one’s all so that together we change the world.

Once we all agreed on the goal, we discussed the importance of being inspired and inspiring. As philanthropy leaders, we seek causes that engender passion within us – causes that have touched us, moved us, worry us.  We look for problems we’d like to help fix.  Similarly, as not-for-profit leaders, we most offer big ideas that address important societal issues and thus inspire deep and lasting commitment.

Next, we spent time on the notion of joyful giving.  How we, as donor/volunteers, are engaged, solicited and stewarded matters. When done well, we do feel joy.  I can remember being solicited by Don Jackson when he was with national Easter Seals. The conversation was so empowering, personal and fun that I said yes with joy and gave more than he requested. A great solicitation is a wonderful thing.

But joy also comes from within each of us as leaders and donor/volunteers.  Yes, we need information, and facts, and trust.  But we must also come to the charity with an open mind, giving heart and smile.  It is an honor and privilege to help the people, animals, communities, faiths, ideals and environments the not-for-profits serve.

We then moved to the concept of generosity.  I asked the audience to share at their tables, “How did you learn to be generous (or how are you learning to be so)?” The spoke with each other for about five minutes – five minutes out of a 75 minute session.  Although we spoke about many things after this exercise, it was the discussion about generosity that received the most feedback, tears, laughter and action.

At the end of the program people queued-up to speak with me. One woman asked for advice about starting a scholarship fund for nurses. She wanted to make a difference a difference for others – the potential nurses but most importantly, all of the people the nurses would touch throughout their careers. Thinking about generosity and leadership empowered her to take action.  She didn’t have a hospital healthcare organization, medical school or community foundation in mind, but was ready to find the right place and make an investment.  That five minute conversation inspired a new and wonderful gift.

Another participant told me she was moved to tears because her colleague told her, “I learned to be generous from you.” She didn’t know her actions had been observed, admired and emulated by her colleague until they shared at the luncheon. Sometimes we don’t know we are empowering others.

A student from Sandia Prep said she learned from one of her teachers. Good for Sandia Prep. Many said their parents or grandparents taught them.  Others spoke of religious leaders, neighbors and friends. Everyone said the conversation got them thinking, feeling, wanting to do more or just made them feel proud that they already did so much.

Perhaps the above examples have you thinking.  They got me reflecting and I thought I’d share several things worth noting:

  1. The reason I love the work we do.  Everyone at The Osborne Group is a philanthropist and volunteer. We love our clients’ missions.  We love teaching.  What a gift to be able to do work that is both meaningful and enjoyable.
  2. How smart it is for an organization to open its doors to others for a conversation not about the institution, but about societal topics with broad appeal. Yes, the room was filled with friends of the school, but also with people with no connection.  The Albuquerque AFP chapter, United Way, local businesses, fundraisers and board members from other organizations filled the seats.  They all left seeing the school at its best, and the experience created social capital.
  3. Asking provocative questions and listening to understand is one of the best ways we know to inspire action.  I asked them to think about how they learned to be generous and look at the results.  Asking a question is so much more effective that pitching and persuading. Great questions get people thinking.  If you would like our latest list of strategic questions tailored for your sector, contact me at Karen@theosbornegroup.com
  4. Modeling behavior is one of the best ways to teach, inspire and empower.  I remember reading an article about raising children who are avid readers.  When my children were little, I read to them every night, long after they could read the books themselves.  I attributed their excellent reading and writing skills to that nightly habit.  It turns out that reading to a child is the right thing to do, but what actually creates readers is seeing us enjoy reading. In the same way, by being joyful and generous investors ourselves, we inspire others to do the same.

So, don’t hide your generosity. Share your passion, joy and commitment.  Be an empowering, generous, joyful philanthropic leader and let your light lead.

by Karen Osborne

Stop Cultivating Your Donors!

by Karen Osborne

Radical thinking?

“What’s happening with Mrs. Jones?”  “We’re having coffee; I’m cultivating her for a major gift for endowment.”

“What are you doing in New York next week?”  “I have five cultivation visits.”

“When do you plan to solicit George?” “He needs more cultivation.”

“Why didn’t that gift close?”  “I think I asked too soon.  She didn’t have enough cultivation.”

Yikes!

The word cultivation is a rubric that covers a long list of sins – but the biggest one is failure to be strategic. We need smart, intentional, measurable ways to advance relationships to joyful, generous, inspired yeses.

“I’m going to increase Mrs. Jones’ motivation to give an unrestricted endowment gift by sharing some of the big ideas we’ve brought to fruition with endowment gifts from the past.  Overcome her worry about how the money is handled by bringing the chair of our finance committee with me. Get her more deeply engaged, by asking her to review an endowment case for support.”

I know we need to code things, make it easy to track by using the software you use to manage donor relationships, but somewhere there needs to be an explicit strategy noodled on first, then written down, and regularly reviewed and adjusted after each strategic donor step.

When someone asks what’s going on with George, we need a thoughtful, strategic answer based on information you gleaned by visiting with the donor, asking great questions and listening.

“Our organization is number six on George’s list of charities.  In order to get the size gift we want and need, we have to move up to at least number three.  I think the tour will get him excited about our work.  Our CEO is going to ask him for advice at the end of the tour, testing his willingness to get more involved.  If that goes well, she intends to ask him to serve on a marketing task force.  Lois is chairing it, and she will be sure to keep him connected. Meanwhile, I need to find out more about his wife Carol and their oldest daughter.  Both seem quite involved with the decision making.”

Now you’re talking!