Hoarding: Buried Alive – The Donor Prospecting Edition

hoardersMany of you have probably seen or heard of the show, “Hoarding: Buried Alive” on TLC.  Each episode tells the stories of people struggling with hoarding behavior that has made everyday life unbearable for both them and their loved ones. Many of these individuals have piles and piles of objects and even garbage taking over their homes and eventually their lives.  For me, donor prospecting took on the same epic proportions.  I will admit it.

As a fundraiser, I have been guilty of donor hoarding – not being able to let go of donor names on my prospect list. I’ve seen these prospect names grow and grow and grow to eventually take over my work life (not really… but you get the point).   So as a former and now-recovered donor hoarder, here are a few tips for overcoming this condition:

Tips to Overcome Donor Hoarding:

1.  Assess the donor relationship beyond asking the 2 C’s (capacity and connection)

Ask yourself, “Does it truly make sense to have this person on my prospect list?” You might say to yourself, “Well, they gave $100,000 to another organization; why not ours?” But capacity alone doesn’t qualify someone to stay on your portfolio, nor does it establish a relationship. Here is where internal ratings and asking specific questions beyond capacity make a huge difference.  Case in point: I had Donald Trump on my major gifts prospect list for an organization I worked for. Yes, “The Donald” had the capacity to give to my organization but he wasn’t personally connected to my cause nor did we have true access to him. Needless to say, Donald Trump remained on our events invitation list but was removed from my major gifts portfolio.  Ask yourself these critical questions when determining whether or not to move a donor name off of your prospect list:

  • Is the person personally connected and engaged with my organization?
  • Are they philanthropic?
  • Do you or someone in your organization have access to the person directly?
  • During the next 6-12 months can the relationship move to the point where the person is ready to have a conversation about their philanthropy to your organization?

If the answer to most of these questions is NO and you don’t have a strategy you can implement immediately to move this relationship forward, then it’s time to move on and release this person from your portfolio. You can give this person a new home in your annual campaign or with your special events.

2.  Face Your Fears

You might fear that if you drop the name off your list they might not ever give…or worse you find out they gave a multi-million dollar gift to another organization. I know from experience how this fear can place you in a holding pattern, just waiting… waiting… waiting.  However, I learned that I couldn’t let the fear that the donor might give to another organization keep them on my list (just in case). The truth is if you have done the work to engage this donor and connect them to your organization and the relationship has not moved, it might not ever move in the way that you want it to and you have to be OK with that.  It’s not about our wants but the interests of the donor. Like the movie, “He’s Just Not Into You”, the donor might just not be into your organization.

Stop worrying that you might lose a potential big donor.  Let it go and spend the time on those donors who are into your organization. Focus on those donors who want to be engaged with your organization. They are out there!

3. Stop Allowing Names to Pile Up.  Get HELP!

A couple of years ago I inherited a list of 400 suspects.  That’s right: suspects, not qualified relationships.  It was overwhelming to say the least.  It took me a good six months to finally come up with a process to evaluate these relationships and be fine with moving a majority of the names off my portfolio. The process was simple: in addition to asking myself the critical questions listed above, I asked for help from my peers and colleagues.

The good thing is that you are not alone in this process. Even if you are a one-person development shop, you still have a group of people to assist you.  Start by rating the list of names internally.  Program staff, long time employees, the CEO and other members of the development staff can all help by adding what they know about the prospective donors. Share these names with them often and develop an internal rating system to assess for capacity, affiliation, inclination and readiness. Then make a decision to either move the relationship to another part of your development efforts or implement a strategy to move the relationship forward. Do this at minimum on a quarterly basis.

There’s Hope!

It is possible to overcome donor hoarding. I promise! Remember your task is to engage the most promising qualified donors with your organization and authentically move these relationships forward. Unlike the TV show where people hoard objects, the reality is that we are talking about people and our relationships with them. While watching a “Hoarders” episode, I go into massive cleaning attack.  I clean absolutely everything in the house.  I hope this episode inspires you to do the same with your donor prospect lists. It’s OK to let release these names allowing for time spent building relationships resulting in more enthused, inspired and generous donors to your organization. For more information to cure donor hoarding and a complimentary tool for donor prospecting and pipeline building,  please contact us.

Balance Your Act with People Who Complement Your Competencies

I once worked for a charismatic and highly successful major gift fundraiser.  His most outstanding competencies included ego strength, intelligence, a driving force to succeed, quick decision-making, and verbal agility.  He liked being in front of the crowd rather than being a team member.  On the down-side, he tended to bulldoze rather than finesse. A quick-silver temper could leave the team reeling and a lack of good listening skills made it hard for the team to recover.  When it came time to hire leaders under him, he picked people who “looked” like him — same competencies and skills and many if not most from very similar backgrounds.

It’s natural to want surround oneself with people who share our strengths and point of view.  But it’s often not the right path for sustainable fundraising success.

  • Know your strengths, weaknesses, communication and leadership style.  Figure out your “blind spots” – those areas that trip you up but you don’t see coming.  Seek honest feedback. As your peers, team members and supervisor about your strengths and weaknesses.  Listen! We recommend taking a personality profile like DiSC or Myers Briggs.  Email us for a free copy of our Management and Leadership IQ™ assessment tool at Karen@theosbornegroup.com
  • Then, when it is time to hire or form a working group, look for people who complement your skills, experiences, competencies and style rather than have the same set.  If you are an idea person, for example, like I am, you have a new “great” idea at least once a day.  If everyone around you is an enthusiastic follower, or focused on the how to get the idea implemented, you need someone nearby who will ask, “And why is that such a good idea?” “Is that the right thing for us to do at this time?”
  • Diversity makes us all better.  Seek diversity in backgrounds, experiences, ethnicity, geography, worldview, and communication styles.
  • Strengths overused often become weaknesses.  A hard driver often needs someone on the team who has the courage to say “whoa.” A quick decision-maker often needs a thoughtful investigator as a partner.

Ask strategic questions that help you uncover the qualities of the possible team member, board member, volunteer, or new hire. Remember to “balance your act” for greater fundraising success.

By Karen Osborne

Three New Year’s Resolutions That Will Pay Off in More Major Gifts (and a happier you)!

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We do this: the annual New Year’s Resolutions to do more, be better.  We make a list of things we want to accomplish and hope sheer will power will overcome all the reasons we didn’t get there before. This list is different.

  • The payoff for each one is huge
  • You can start small and still win big
  • You can make each one fun, collaborative and personally rewarding
  1. Make February Donor Appreciation Month – 20 days, 20 personal “Thank You” calls.
    • If you’re in a small not-for-profit, get everyone involved.  If you’re in a large, complex institution get a small group from each school or division to participate.  Definitely enroll the mission staff (i.e. program, physicians, or faculty) and senior staff.
    • In January, identify your most important donors as well as your most loyal donors at each leadership and major gift level ($500+ for small shops; higher in bigger shops with more robust fundraising).  Put together a very short, quick brief on each — name, address, phone number, relationship (i.e. donor for x years, parent, trustee, alumnus, volunteer).  That’s all.  No research.  It’s just an appreciation call. 
    • Recruit your team.  Make it a contest, something fun.  Big announcement. Start with a few champions and go from there.
    • Assign 20 to each participating team member.  All they have to do is call and say, “Thank you again for all you do for our organization” – one person each day.
    • For the fund development staff, make 25% or more of them personal visits.
    • The results – happier donors, more leadership and major gifts, more staff members participating in fund development.

    2.   Make March Staff Appreciation Month

    • Say “Thank You” to every member of the “Thank You Calls Team,” to everyone who helped in fund development in any way.  “Thank you for your help.  Your contributions helped us serve and transform the lives of more people.  We appreciate you.”
    • The results – more collaboration, therefore more staff members participating in fund development resulting in more leadership and major gifts.

3.  Make 2013 Your Year to Say “Yes” to You (and therefore “No” to some other folks)

    • You know you should make more visits to more major gift donors and prospective donors.  Or maybe you have a hard time getting those contact reports written.  Perhaps you work too late in the office and therefore can’t workout, or date your spouse, or read to your children, or go to a movie with a friend.
    • What are you saying yes to that is neither “Important and Urgent,”* nor “Important but not Urgent?”* (*Stephen M. Covey). Is it a priority of someone else, a constant interrupter, meetings that drag on without clear outcomes, emails that are not important?  Pick one thing each day that falls into Covey’s “Not Important but Urgent”* box and just say “No.
    • The results – you will get more done, have better work/life balance, feel better, and, yes, therefore, raise more leadership and major gifts.  Guaranteed!

By Karen E. Osborne, President




How to Never Hear No Again

by Karen Osborne

Asking is only a sentence. “Please join me with an increased investment of $x.” What inspires a generous and joyful response is all that went before the solicitation conversations.  Here are some sure-fire tips.

  1. Make sure you know the Right people from the beginning.  Who makes the philanthropic decisions? For many of us, we work with the person we know, our alumna, grateful patient, board member, check signer.  In today’s marketplace, more families (not just spouses) are making decisions together.  Research tells us women seek out many inputs before making a decision. Corporations and foundations often have multiple decision makers.  Ask, “In my family, we make our decisions together.  How does that work in yours?”
  2. Engage them all before you ask.  We know engagement leads to more giving.  Engagement is not the same as showing up, or helping out.  It is meaningful and contains a thinking component, feeling aspects, and most important doing.  Engage my mind, not just my time.  Seek my advice and professional expertise, not just my money and contacts.  Ask, “What engagements with other not-for-profits have you found the most satisfying?”
  3. Identify the Right purpose or impact.  Purpose drives amount and BIG IDEAS inspire big gifts.  Our task is to reach the point in the relationship (even if its short term for a leadership annual gift) where the donor says, “I want to make that happen.” Or, “How do we make that happen?” It’s about impact and outcomes, not a shopping list of giving opportunities.
  4. Bring the Right solicitation team.  Who inspires these donors?  Who can ask, “Please join me?”  If the solicitation is made by staff alone, invoke an admired colleague who has stepped up.  You are not pitching an amount or a project, you are engaging your donors in a discussion about outcomes that the project or amount will achieve.  Bring along virtually or physically a believer.
  5. Start with THANK YOU AGAIN. Steward past gifts.  Don’t just thank immediately after a gift (but do thank within 24 to 72 hours).  Take it to the next step and connect the donor, three months, six months, nine months, after the gift with the IMPACT she had or the collective had (everyone who gave to the event, or to the annual fund).  People repeat joyful experiences.  Make your donors say “Wow.”  The next time you ask, you’ll receive an inspired, generous, joyful, “Yes.”

You can follow me on twitter: @kareneosborne