The Tortoise and The Hare: Aesop Had Major Gifts Officers In Mind…

This morning I came across my copy of Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. My friend Tom Wick, a fellow development professional gave it to me and said it’s one of his favorite books because it is full of lessons for major gifts officers. I’ve been thinking about those lessons the most popular being “slow and steady wins the race.”

But what does this really mean? And how can this help us now as many fundraisers are under pressure to close end of the fiscal year gifts while knee deep in budgeting for the upcoming fiscal year?book title

Before we begin, here’s a quick refresher on The Tortoise and the Hare: 

The story begins with Hare teasing Tortoise and bragging about how much faster he is than Tortoise. Hare then challenges Tortoise to a race.  Hare sprints away at the start, taunting Tortoise for being so slow.  Soon, Hare becomes very tired and looks back to see that Tortoise is so far behind him.  He decides to rest under a tree eventually falling asleep. Hare is so comfortable that he dreams of his victory against Tortoise and is later awakened by the cheers of the crowd watching Tortoise approach the finish line. Rabbit jumps up screams at Tortoise to slow down but it is too late. Tortoise wins the race and they both learn a powerful lesson:  goals are achieved with hard work and perseverance.

We know these words to be true, but many times we find ourselves as fundraisers feeling like the hare rather than the tortoise.  We are given goals at the beginning of the fiscal year and we pursue them with fervor yet the pressure to produce and unreturned phone calls from donors can make us feel tired and sometimes feeling that our goal is unachievable.  On the other hand, it’s just as easy to become disenchanted with our goals when we slow down to strategize and develop our fundraising tactics especially when building a major gifts program or going into a capital campaign.  We’re excited about the future but want to see results now.  When they don’t materialize as soon as we had hoped, it’s easy to think that we will never raise the money.

Slow & Steady Wins the Race

As fundraisers we have multiple goals to balance – donor visits, solicitations, stewardship pipeline building, donor communications and follow-up, internal meetings, database entries, staying current in our profession and the list continues.   How do we balance achieving our overall fundraising goals with everything else on our plates without burning out like Hare or plodding along Tortoise? After all, you can’t really say to your boss: “ I am the tortoise.  I’ll achieve these fundraising goals slow and steady.”

The fundamental task in achieving our goals is breaking them down into many smaller goals and assigning “tortoise” or “hare” characteristics to them,” Tyler Tervooren, founder of Frugally Green, a website dedicated to helping people live green while saving money. I’ve adopted Tyler’s observation and make it specific to our fundraising work below.

The Role of Tortoise

In the fundraising world, Tortoise represents our organization’s overall vision and the planning that is required to achieve it. This could be anything from eradicating childhood obesity or becoming the number one engineering school in the country. It’s the “fire” that is going to move our donors to action. Whatever our vision is, Tortoise represents the strategic and deliberate planning that must take place to realize it.  A vision is not something that can be completed tomorrow but is something that if we strategically pace ourselves can be achieved. We achieve this by breaking our vision into smaller, more easily attainable goals often dotortoise_harene in a written campaign plan. It is through this slow and strategic process that we will build the framework that will guide our actions toward our end goal. The same is true if we look at our overall fundraising goal and break this goal into small manageable pieces with milestones to make at specific times. This allows us to see if we are on the right track or if there is a course correction that needs to take place. This is why writing our goals with specific actions steps and completion time is so vital to our success.

The Role of Hare

We all know a fundraiser or two who has burnt out while trying to balance multiple goals under what appears to be an incredibly fast-ticking clock. I’ve been there and know that it can feel like you are on a constant treadmill, racing to finish a marathon of goals and demands.  So where does the Hare and his hyperactive and boastful tendencies come into play for us?  Well, since we took our time when we started tortoise-and-the-hare_metromomsoff and carefully pieced together an outline that breaks down our goals into bite-sized pieces, we can now pursue each of them, one by one, with clarity and strength.

If we look at our example of achieving our overall fundraising goal, a first step could be to make a daily commitment that, no matter what, you reach out to five donors a day. This could mean calling potential donors, executing a stewardship touch for an existing donor, sending a personalized invitation to an upcoming event, etc. The point is you make this a habit and you do this when you are at your Hare peak energy of the day. This is a habit I started about five years ago and it transformed the way I was able to keep myself on track to achieve not only my overall fundraising goals, but the related goals as well. There are times when we go through the day feeling that we have not had any time to connect with donors because we have been in internal meetings all day… we are working on a solicitation piece… we have to attend an event. It feels like there are not enough hours in a day to actually talk to donors. But by taking the energy and the confidence of Hare, we can form daily habits that allow us to achieve our overall goals and vision while ultimately strengthening our donor relationships.

Putting It All together

The lessons taught in The Tortoise and the Hare are relevant throughout the day and the life of a fundraiser. Sometimes we face seemingly contradictory goals: closing end of the fiscal year gifts, while planning for the coming year’s fundraising goals.  We can tap into our Tortoise and Hare characteristics to meet these goals by understanding how to use these characteristics for our success. Our Tortoise nature allows us to take the time to be strategic in our work and not githe-tortoise-and-the-hareve up. Our Hare nature gives us that quick burst of energy and confidence we need to see some immediate results of our efforts. We’ll build on these in an upcoming blog.  But for now we’d like to know what are some other childhood lessons we can learn from and incorporate into our fundraising work?

Share them by posting on our blog. We’d love to hear from you!

 

Build the Better Budget: Non-Profit Budget Tools from Consultant-Land…and Reality.

An old friend and I were catching up the other day and she observed, “Your approach to philanthropy has really changed since you joined a board, hasn’t it?”  While I’m not sure that it’s been a change in only one direction, I do know that leading a board has made me a better consultant, more cognizant of the tough realities of non-profit management and tied into the calendar.  And that means it’s budget planning time…  I’ve been diving through the waves and waves of non-profit budget planning tools available, both to make sure we’re doing the best possible job as a board, and to take a look at what’s out there, as I wear my “consultant” hat.  But first, a few thoughts on the budget process before the tools are needed…

It may be cold comfort for those who recognize themselves in these situations, but here are the budget and goal-setting processes we hear too often:

  • The budget is set as a mandate from on high and the goal is delivered, Moses-like on tablets carried from the top the mountain.Buried-in-Paperwork-300x200..
  • The year’s impact goals are never really set and the budget is forced to fit the fund development projections…
  • …and that projected goal is developed with a shrug of the shoulders – “Who knows what we can raise next year?  We’ll know when we do it…”
  • …or the budget and goals for the coming year are dictated by donor interest, “We’ll do what our donors support.  How should I know what our budget should be until our donors tell us what they want?”

Being a responsive organization that can build visionary plans and achievable goals does not involve carrying stone tablets, delivering divine proclamations.  And being a donor-centric organization stops considerably short of doing whatever “The Donor” – whoever that mythical being is – wants accomplished.

On to the ideal!, says the consultant side of me.

Ideally, the organization’s leadership will begin with an annual review of the strategic plan:  where has progress been made?  What progress is next?  Which strategic goals need adjustment?  Which have been accomplished?  And from this review of the agreed upon, multi-year strategic plan, the year’s tactical goals for creating impact and outcomes should emerge.  Then the team asks themselves:  what is needed?  What investment of time, equipment, or resources is needed to achieve this goal?  Is it new staff?  New phone system?  And a first pass at the budget is developed from the strategic goals to the impact goals sought in the next fiscal year.

Simultaneously, the fund development team is building their goal from their gifts received and name-by-name projections (you are doing name-by-name projections on your table of gifts, right?!).  The projected goal is hand-built and movement toward key thresholds like reaching 20% of the philanthropy goal from board giving is established. This name-by-name projection is added to the projections for the broader channels of funding, based on program tweaks or overhauls (and the budget costs for those factored on too!) to arrive at an achievable goal.

THEN, these two are compared and any gap is discussed calmly, with a spirit of “Can Do!” give and take.  Cuts are made or more cost-efficient ways to do things are uncovered and the goal grows with innovative ways to increase giving and other revenue sources.

Isn’t that exactly the way it happens every year?  Riiiight.  Perhaps in consultant-land…  Back here in reality, it is seldom that tidy.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t strive for it.

Here are the TWO things (just 2!) we can’t cut corners on:

  1. You must create impact goals tied to the revenue needed to achieve them.  We are doomed to bad business planning and low sights when we don’t know what it costs to deliver the change we seek to make.
  2. You must hand-build that philanthropy goal from the ground up, person by person at the top of your table of gifts and campaign by campaign

If you find yourself applying a flat percentage increase to your fundraising goals or to build your new budget number:

STOP RIGHT NOW. 

TURN AROUND AND GO IN ANOTHER DIRECTION. 

Success in impact and in fund development requires that your goals must be tied to reality.  If you’re having trouble writing a persuasive case for support or convincing donors to give, it’s probably because you don’t have a great answer to this question.

So, to those tools to get this done:

I mentioned in an earlier blog piece, the embarrassment of riches that the wonderful folks at the Wallace Foundation have provided through their new Financial Planning Toolkit.

  • For those going through the budget planning process – especially board leaders – here’s a practical, step-by-step guide for leading this in your organization:  Five Step Guide to Budget Development from the FMA.  This readable .pdf is suitable for sharing with the whole board.

I was also happy to find a thoughtful piece on when to run a surplus budget, break-even budget, or deficit budget from Blue Avocado written by Jeanne Bell called “Nonprofit Budgets Have to Balance: False!”. Did you know you had a choice?  You do.

Need even more?  The National Council of Non-Profits has an extensive toolkit specifically on the budget building process.

A final thought:  my board experience has also taught me that it is just as important that your fund development committee (and fund development staff!) be conversant about your 990 – the ultimate reflection of this entire process – as your finance committee.  Donors deserve to know how your budgeting and spending choices will carry out their giving wishes – that’s the best stewardship and the right way to be donor-centric.

Lean In or Lean Over? Leading with Balance

No one has time.  Everyone is super busy.  In fact, in today’s world that seems to be a badge of honor.  Think Angie’s List ad:  “I’m busy, busy, busy,” says the spokesperson.  “Ask anyone.  Well, I’m super busy, but I guess that’s good, better than the opposite.” Making time and finding time for the RIGHT tasks and meetings are requirements for leading.

Consider this: we could work 24/7 and never be finished. To add to this problem the fact that success breeds more work.  With the new book by Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In putting women’s leadership and balancing act all over the news, we are once again reminded, in our female-dominated profession, that making time for what is “urgent and important and just plain important,” (as Stephen R. Covey taught us) is critical toTime1 our success.  As male and female leaders, this is not only essential to getting our work successfully completed, but also to modeling what we expect from our teams.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment, recently told the Harvard Business Review (and reported in CASE Advancement Weekly, March 11, 2013) that “many managers feel guilty that they are in so many meetings, and so they try to compensate by having an open-door policy for their staff.”  But leaving the door open is a bad solution to a real problem.

Here are some tips for making time and finding time to lead.

  1. Get a handle on what is important and what is devouring your time that isn’t important. Fill in the grid! imagesMost of us handle pretty well those activities that are either “Urgent and Important” or “Not Urgent and Not Important”.  We get into trouble by ignoring or giving short shrift to important items that are not urgent like: thinking, strategizing, writing contact reports, planning, donor strategy development, and staying current.  And spending too much time on “Urgent but Not Important” activities like some emails, meetings, phone calls, and other people’s urgent priorities can cause additional problems.  Identify what’s not working and make a plan.
  2. Perfect balance isn’t achievable.  Balance tends to be uneven and messy.  Balance3Sometimes, life needs more of our attention; sometimes having the door closed all day is the right thing to do.  Leadership requires us to figure out and set clear priorities for ourselves and for our team so we are making time and finding time for the RIGHT things.
  3. Learn how to say, “No.”  This is a tough one but probably this most important. We tend to be “Can Do!”, people pleasers.  “Yes, I can do that.” “Sure, I’ll make it happen.”  We over-promise which can lead to burn-out and/or under-delivering, both of which lead to a work-life balance so out of whack we become ill, or drop a “glass ball” that breaks.  “No” isn’t a bad word.  Saying no to other peoples’ urgent but not important activities, to meetings that will be too long or not productive, to a 30- minute conversation with, “I’d love to speak with you.  I have ten minutes.  How can I help?”  That allows you to say yes to you, yes to making time and finding time to what really matters.

By Karen Osborne

Stretch – Don’t Strain – Your Conative Style

Picture 3by Beth Herman

Spring is nigh, and we’re dusting off our free weights, trying out Pilates, buying new running shoes.  Can you feel the promise in the air?

What a great time to talk about learning to understand and flex to your Conative Style.

My what?

Conation (koh NAY shun) relates to desire, volition, and striving.  Conative Style is our natural mental tendency that produces an effort.  It’s your own instinctive mode of action, the way in which you would tackle any new task given no instructions, on your own.

“Everyone has an indomitable will that powers our instincts to act,” says Kathy Kolbe, developer of the Kolbe A Conative Style Index (Conative Connection, Acting on Instincts, Kathy Kolbe)

“No matter what combination of talents we bring into play, we make the biggest impact when we solve problems in ways that are most natural to us.”  And doing jobs that inhibit our natural modes and require least preferred actions?  That produces “conative strain.”

We all know that it takes more effort, more commitment, and perhaps more vitamins to learn a new upper-body weight training regimen than it does to jog the same route you’ve done for years.  By understanding your preferred style of doing, you can capitalize on your strengths and gently broaden your range of motion—without tearing anything or pulling up lame.

How it works

The Kolbe A Index rates the strength of your preference on a scale of 1-10 (10 is high) for each of four Action Modes.  (You might notice some overlap between these descriptions and those of the DIsc Inventory or Ned Herrmann’s Whole Brain Model.  If so, fellow psych nerd, let’s get coffee later.)

  1. Fact Finder:  Precise, judicious, thorough, and appropriate.  Loves detail and complexity and facts.
  2. Follow Thru:  Methodical, systematic.  Focused, structured, ordered, and efficient.  Planning, programming, design, predictability.
  3. Quick Start:  Spontaneous, intuitive, flexible, and fluent with ideas.  Deadline and crisis oriented.  Need challenge and change, can be impatient.
  4. Implementer:  Hands-on, craft-oriented.  Strong sense of 3D form and ability to deal with the concrete.

(My Kolbe scores are Fact Finder 5, Follow Thru 3, Quick Start 8, Implementer 3.  My top Kolbe strengths:  explain, adapt, improvise, imagine.  Note that I have no pull to learn Excel or troubleshoot—OK, break—printers and smartphones.

My Kolbe Career MO+ ™ Report lists these examples of jobs that have brought satisfaction to people with an MO similar to mine:  sales, on-camera TV, comedian, therapist, alternative program educator, copywriter, fundraiser, and interviewer.  Spooky accurate.)

The Kolbe A test costs $49.95 and this author receives no kickback, but I do help clients apply this new knowledge with their teams.

The resulting career report defines why a particular job role may—or may not—work out and even suggests question to ask a prospective new boss.  (The best ones from mine:  “Would I be able to work on several tasks at the same time?  Will someone be able to assist me if my equipment is not working properly?”)

Here’s how to leverage your Conative style to cover more ground with less strain:

  1. Know thyself—and thy team
  2. Maximize the time spent using your preferred modes of action
  3. Bag, barter, or “better” the tasks that most strain and pain you.  And, to help you do that…
  4. Knowingly choose colleagues whose preferences complement rather than mirror your own.

You can make your workplace a safe, open playing field where positions and strengths aren’t a secret, and everyone gets to be a star.

In my next post:

Improve donor visits by understanding different “conversational styles”

Beth B. Herman is principal of EBH Consulting LLC

Incredibly Helpful Financial Management Toolkit

Image-the-Wallace-FoundationTime for us to practice what we preach and deliver a little stewardship to an organization that is truly building capacity in the not-for-profit sector.  A huge thank you to The Wallace Foundation for their leadership in creating strong education in the United States – and most particularly for their newly unveiled financial management toolkit:  StrongNonProfits.org.  I admit that I haven’t personally discovered the Foundation’s motivation, values and philanthropic preferences but I think it’s not a wild guess to say that they value creating useful, practical tools for the non-profit sector.

They have done exactly that.

The financial management toolkit brings together resources in four key areas:

offering links to free-standing tools and resources from other websites (like another of our favorites: Blue Avocado) to help support best practice in a variety of areas where non-profit leaders – or Board Chairs, like me – may be looking for addition support.

Among my favorites:

  • A Non-Profit Dashboard and Signal Lights for Board:  this terrific resource from Blue Avocado has strongly influenced how my board reports and reflects on our progress in our strategic plan.  It’s mighty useful too in identifying the most important metrics to be reviewing monthly.  As Judy Vredenburgh, CEO of Girls Inc., reminds us: “We do what we measure.”
  • Also in the Monitoring section:  “Understanding Auditing Financial Statements” and “Understanding Indirect Costs”
  • From the Governance section, one of the many valuable tools in this section:  “Maintaining Operating Reserves: An Organizational Imperative for Non-Profit Sustainability“.  This one wins no awards for catchy title but given the Kellogg Foundation’s findings in 2009 about on the “Quiet Crisis” that found that the vast majority of organization have fewer than three months cash reserve, this white paper is imperative.
  • The Operations section is so chock-a-block with great resources, I couldn’t choose just one:  accounting basics, choosing accounting software, internal controls, fiscal management activities calendar, and a program budget template – these are just a few from this section.
  • From the Planning section:  who would not welcome a “Five Step Approach to Budget Development” from Fiscal Management Associates?

My favorite of all?  An interactive tool called “Go or No Go” –  a tool that walks you through the steps to decide whether a contract or funding opportunity is a wise, strategic choice to pursue.  This one also comes from the good folks at Fiscal Management Associates.

Wallace Foundation:  you have done a great service with this fiscal management toolkit.  You identified exactly what’s on our minds and delivered.

Everyone:  go share this with YOUR board and use this!

G. J. Hart’s Six Steps of Leadership Translated For Fundraisers

GJ-Hart-1G. J. Hart is the CEO of California Pizza Kitchen.  In an interview reported in New York Times he discusses each of his steps – fabulous steps that we can all use to lead with courage and effectiveness.

  1. He starts by saying we should all be the best we can be.  But what does that really mean? “You have to be honest with yourself.” This I definitely believe.  We have to start personal assessment which means seeking feedback from others.  My mother-in-law has a great expression.  “I talked it over with myself and decided I was right.”  If we only listen to ourselves, we’ll miss a lot. Take a management and leadership assessment.  Email Karen@theosbornegroup.com and I’ll send you one.  Then ask trusted others to fill it out for you as well.  Find a way to get a 360 degree review from above, peers, and those who report to you.  Then choose those areas you want to improve and set achievable timed goals.
  2. Dream big.  Love this one.  As leaders, we need big ideas.  We need to be ambitious for our missions, for our departments, for our teams.  Our job is to inspire action, loyalty, and advocacy.
  3. Lead with your heart.  Don Gray, major gift guru, identifies courage and consideration as top qualities for major gift officers.  In a study reported in The Harvard Business Review, empathy and professional will were cited as the top two competencies of outstanding salespeople.  Jim Collins in “Good to Great” found humility and professional will as the top qualities needed in leaders.  Empathy, humility, and consideration. Heart.
  4. Trust the people you lead.  Stephen M. R. Covey in “The Speed of Trust” points out how important it is to extend trust to others if you want to be trusted.  Leading by allowing others to try their own ideas, let them “fail forward,” as David Bornstein describes it.  This all sounds right to me.
  5. Do the right thing.  Sure.  We all think we do, but how do we know what is right?  Hart’s example is about giving people a second chance. Yes. But I also think, in our business, it’s about the grey areas we find ourselves in, or members of our team stumble into.  Conflicts connected to good donors, or powerful trustees, or presidents who make missteps.  One of the smartest things I did as a new VP was to form a small group of trusted other VPs.  We used each other as a sounding board, sought advice, shared.  Doing the right thing was a lot easier when I had smart people to weigh the issues with.
  6. Serve the people you lead.  This one is really important for us.  We are donor-focused, outward looking.  But as leaders, must also serve our teams.  They need us to fight for them, secure the resources needed to be successful, invest and believe in them.  As Mr. Hart says, “Create an environment where people can grow and prosper.”

by Karen Osborne

 

 

We Can Create Our Own Best Fundraising Leadership

Jerry Faces 11_10_2005_nonamesI admit it. As a fundraising professional, I am probably a mix of Pollyanna and Sherlock Holmes. My inner Pollyanna made me believe we could achieve even the most audacious of fundraising goals while my inner Sherlock Holmes propelled me into action for the desired results.  I think all in fundraising leadership need to blend these two characters to be successful.

Once again my Pollyanna and Sherlock personas emerge after reading the recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Half of Fundraisers in the Top Job Would Like to Quit and the report from which the article is based:  Under Developed: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising.pollyanna

We’ve all heard it time and time again that fundraising is a revolving door: it’s hard to find good people and that fundraising goals and expectations are nearly impossible to achieve.   This is not news to many of us; but it should be a wake up call and one that drives us to immediate action.

The study’s authors suggest ten actions to address this issue including setting realistic goals for development; sharing accountability for fundraising results, and elevating the perception of fundraising as a worthwhile and rewarding career.

I offer some additional actions specific to fundraisers as they approach a new work situation.

  1. Be sincerely passionate about your organization’s mission.  The test I use is if the organization and cause doesn’t personally inspire me to give then it’s not the place for me to give of my time and talent. Being internally committed to your cause can help you get through those tough days when the nights are long and the to do list is even longer.
  2. Get a feel for the organization beyond the interview visit.  When I looked for a new home, I visited the neighborhood day and night and also the weekends to get a feel for the area and to see the people. It’s the same when looking for a new workplace. Take the time to walk around before and after the interview, visit their website and social media pages; learn what their clients and donors are saying about the organization.
  3. Ask the tough questions.  Inquire about your predecessor and the history of the fund development program.  Ask for examples of how leadership and the board is involved in fundraising.  Ask about resources and support for the fund development program, and before making your decision spend some time with your potential boss both inside and outside of the office.

Even the PollyAnna in me knows that this shift won’t happen overnight and my inner Sherlock Holmes is committed to help in the national effort to figure this out.

By Yolanda Rahman, CFRE

Glaring At Each Other Over the Divider: Fundraising Leadership in Crisis?

This one dropped like a ton of bricks, didn’t it?  When you saw that headline in the Chronicle of Philanthropy this week that half of the top fundraisers in a survey of 2,700 (!) organizations are actively contemplating leaving their post, did you think: “Yup, that’s me.”?  Or did you think, “Geez, I wish ours would…”?  This story and the survey results themselves paint a pretty bleak picture about the state of fundraising leadership nationwide.

Before even getting to the introduction to the survey results themselves, one of the underlying issues emerges.  In her preamble, Linda Wood, representing the study underwriter – The Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund – says, “While familiar to fundraising professionals, the term culture of philanthropy is not yet well understood nor commonly used across the sector.”  Amen to that, Linda Wood.  If we’re being honest with ourselves, I’m not sure we would all say that the term “culture of philanthropy” is well understood and commonly used within the fundraising profession.

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So why are we glaring at each other?  Why are organizational leaders so dissatisfied with their fundraising leader – and vice versa?  (And why is this mutual disregard even stronger among organizations with budgets under $1 million?)  More importantly, what can we do to fix this crisis in fundraising leadership?

Solution?  We need to get over the idea that one staff member makes a fundraising shop.  Maybe, but not in the way that both this survey and the Chronicle’s coverage seem to be suggesting.  It is folly to expect that a highly-skilled, externally facing fundraiser who is passionate about being out with donors will be good at – or satisfied with – database maintenance and the detailed planning of special events.  A gut check on performance metrics is in order.  However, the additional reality is that many, many organizations are going to have one or maybe 1.5 team members to devote to development.  Simply hiring a bigger, more specialized shop isn’t the answer if it is years from reality for many.

Three other results from the survey suggest the resolution:

  • 75% of executives say that they don’t have a board meaningfully engaged in fund development
  • 25% of these executives will admit that they aren’t very good at fundraising
  • And 20% will cop to not enjoying this task very much.

There’s a whole lot of finger pointing in the headline of this survey, but there’s the heart of the matter:  nurturing a culture of philanthropy is everyone’s job, not just the chief development officer, not just the CEO, not just the board… And, not just these three entities working together.  A real culture of philanthropy exists when EVERYONE on the staff, among the volunteers, among the donors understands the role that philanthropy plays in the organization and what role they must play in creating resources.  

One of the CEOs at a Big Brothers Big Sisters agency with whom we worked puts it this way,  “When I interview anyone – from a match support specialist, to a member of the finance team, to a member of the partnership development team – I say to them ‘We are all fund developers here at Big Brothers Big Sisters. So what role do you see yourself playing in that?'”  He asks that during the interview process and sets a powerful tone for anyone coming aboard.  If this happens at all staff levels, imagine how much more intensive the expectations setting is for board members!

(Bob and I talked more about the process of setting expectations in the podcast called, “Take this Job and Shove it“… a podcast with more positive recommendations than the title betrays!)

Solution?  We just need to become “donor-centric”.  Again, maybe.  I certainly believe that donor-centric organizations are stronger than those who view and treat their donor base as a “mass of revenue to be acquired”.  (That’s a fun meeting to take: “Hello, revenue generator.  What transaction might we offer you to most quickly and efficiently get you to cough up more bucks?”)  Just as “culture of philanthropy” means as many things as the number of people you ask, “donor centric” is in danger of being a term in search of a definition.

This survey by CompassPoint is excellent – it really is.  But I think it misses one critical point:  being donor-centric and focusing on building a sophisticated, investment-minded, collaborative approach to philanthropy doesn’t solve the underlying crisis:  lack of shared bold vision.

  • A culture of philanthropy exists not when everyone can recite the case for support, but when everyone embraces the vision for what this organization is doing in the world.
  • A culture of philanthropy that encourages fundraisers to stay happens not when everyone is involved in relationship-building (though that’s really nice too!) but when everyone building relationships is guided by a desire to find others are are inspired by the ability to transform the world.
  • A true culture of philanthropy exists when everyone attached to the organization shares in boldly – but not rashly – staking a claim about “Here is the problem; here’s the role we play in creating a solution; here’s what happens when we make a mistake; here are the outcomes we’re aiming at achieving in the world.”

We are passionate about moving the needle on this challenge – creating a practical, “lived” approach to creating a culture of philanthropy – and helping solve this fundraising leadership crisis.  Here’s resource from our “Most Requested Tools” to help you get started.

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