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!

 

Making The 3.5% Increase Good News: Responding to Giving USA

winston churchill

Giving is up 3.5%.  Does that give you reason to feel promise?  Or is it cause for continued anxiety?  Either way you look at it, the 2013 Giving USA report reminds us of the fact that philanthropy continues to be an American value and one whose impact is felt globally.

So, as you find time to read through this report or focus on the highlights, here are three things you can do before the end of summer to make this report even more applicable in your work.

  1. Make the data relevant to philanthropy at your organization
  • Understand the percentage of giving from individuals, corporations, foundations, and bequests to your organization:  what does your portfolio look like?  (For our podcast on building a balanced portfolio, click here and find episode 23.)
  • Think about how your percentages compare to national trends:  If giving from individuals is low, you have a case to increase time and energy in building your individual giving program especially since individuals account for more than 83% of giving nationally (this number raises to more than 86% when you account for family foundations).

2.  Create your own Giving USA report focused on your organization

  • Leverage your existing annual report with even more stories – and photos! – of impact.
  • Take the time now to create brief impact statements to share with your donors now. Share stories of recent impact rather than only telling the story of things you accomplished more than a year ago.
  • Find five well-connected champions within your donor base to share your story and their involvement through their social media channels.  Increase this number as you refine this approach.

3. Share highlights from the report with your top donors, prospects and volunteers

  • Have conversations about philanthropy with your current and potential donors.  How does your organization compare to others within your sector?  Sharing that context can generate pride in your strength, deepen understanding of the challenges you face and create motivation to be a part of the solution in your organization.
  • Use this as an opportunity to celebrate philanthropy, not just at your organization but to other causes as well!
  • And use this conversation as a springboard to other specific questions about donor philanthropy.  Where is our organization on your list of philanthropic priorities? How can we move up your list? What type of impact would you like to have with your philanthropy to our organization? Do you feel you are having this type of impact now? Why or why not?

Giving USA is a great resource we have to better understand the pulse of philanthropy on an annual basis. It provides great insight and detail on the type of philanthropy happening around the country and it’s up to us to have that same level of insight into giving at our own organizations. It’s a worthwhile quest and one that deepens our relationships with our donors and the investment they have in impacting our mission. Stay tuned for more perspectives on Giving USA from The Osborne Group.

Real and Lasting Good: A Culture of Philanthropy in Sustainability Planning

The numbers are in.

I know that you know:  Giving USA data was released this week. Researchers predict it will take at least five more years to raise as much as before the recession. When we look at imagesgiving over time, we see that bad economies can wreak havoc on our not-for-profits. Some die. Some cut services. Slashed government support doesn’t return at the same levels. How should NGOs protect themselves from the vagaries of the economy? How can YOU do better than the numbers predict over the coming six years?

Create a culture of philanthropy at your organization.

This isn’t pie in the sky stuff. It is powerful, successful, and sustainable.

First, let’s define our terms: a culture of philanthropy exists when everyone — your staff, your board, mission staff members like physicians, program leaders, faculty members, the CEO and other members of the c-suite – understands, believes in, embraces and acts on his or her roles and responsibilities in philanthropy in an investor-focused and co-ownership manner.

It starts at the top. Your CEO must be the first to get it. Philanthropy is a crucial component of the organization’s resource engine and therefore is everyone’s responsibility. Believe it. Embrace it. Act on it.

Co-ownership is the key. According to Cowan Global Consulting describes five levels of working partnerships starting at co-existing and moving past collaboration to the point five-degress-of-partnership-workingwhere everyone has stake, a share. Working with the fundraising team is an embraced responsibility, not a favor or something ones does when there is time.

That requires the CEO modeling the desired behaviors, celebrating successes, defining metrics, holding folks accountable and stewarding and rewarding outcomes.  Give yourself three years to achieve a true culture: 100% inspired, joyful, and generous giving from all staff, volunteers and board members;  everyone actively helping identify, engage, and steward donors and potential donors; everyone able to participate with adequate skills and understanding. Along the way, however, you will reap many benefits, starting in year one.

Here are seven steps to help you achieve a culture of philanthropy!

  1. Begin with a clear, compelling, aspirational and urgent organizational vision undergirded by shared, stated values. The mission and vision are the reasons the organization desires a culture of philanthropy. A driving institutional vision provides the urgency for change.
  2. Change requires a vision as well. Imagining the organization once it achieves the culture of philanthropy paints a picture all constituencies can embrace. What will everyone do differently with what results? Change is personal. The change vision must speak to what’s in it for the individuals who need to change. Get the word out. Spread the vision often and throughout the institution.
  3. Start with champions and modeling behavior. John Kotter, leadership guru, calls these champions a “guiding coalition.” Who are those influential people who already understand, embrace, believe in, and act on his or her roles in philanthropy and stewardship? We need them to help bring along the others. According to change expert, Jeanie Daniel Duck, “People believe because they actually see the new behavior at work and working.”
  4. Wow your team.  It is hard to make others feel great about giving and participating in philanthropy, if the proposed change agent feels beleaguered or under-appreciated. We must invest in our people first. Demonstrate great customer service internally if we want our staffs to provide it to others. Solicit your board, volunteers, and staff members in personal and inspirational ways. Provide them with impact reports, data, stories, and visuals. How can they help you achieve this with others, if they’ve not experienced it?
  5. Develop a plan. A vision without a plan is just a pipe dream. Assess your current strengths and weaknesses. Develop concrete, measurable goals for achieving a culture of philanthropy and stewardship. For example, if none of the senior administrators give, a goal might be 100% generous giving by a specific date. Strategies and tactics follow. Make sure the strategies include removing obstacles, changing systems, or structures that undermine achieving the desired culture.
  6. Institutionalize the new changes. Kotter stresses this. Document the new policies and procedures. Put philanthropy and stewardship on the institutional dashboard. Include it in performance measures. Make it a stated part of the values statement.
  7. Reward, steward and celebrate success.

The benefits of a culture of philanthropy are awesome: Faster recovery. Sustainability. Increased giving. Higher donor loyalty. Strong donor satisfaction. Viral marketing. Joe Connelly of the Wall Street Journal reported, “Donor retention is the new acquisition and customer service is the new marketing.” Achieve a culture of philanthropy and you’ll be on the cutting edge.

To request a copy of “The Common Thread”, from the April issue of CASE Currents magazine, where Karen speaks on this topic in greater detail, please visit our website.

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!

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

Working in the New Normal: Annual Fund Strategies for Today

As you read this I have probably already sat down to meet with my very first boss, who is hiring me for the second time: first as her annual fund assistant, and this time as her consultant for her school’s annual fund.  As I prepared for our visit, I have been reflecting on how the annual fund that she and I built back in 199…whatever…  has changed from the practices we see our clients implementing today.

thenAndNowFrontHere is my running list of Annual Fund Strategies:  Then and Now (Add a big, booming voice as you say “Then and Now” in your head for added effect… Nice, right?)   What would you add to your list?  How has your annual fund approach changed in the last ten years?  Or the last five?  What happened before 2008 that is just not coming back?  Post comments here or leave your ideas on our Facebook page.  We’ll collect them all and post in a future blog entry.

Then…  Segmenting your mailing was enough.  I will admit to having a 32-segment mailing once, each with their own slightly parsed difference between one letter text and another.  Everyone got fundamentally the same message and everyone was just asked to “give, give, give… trust us and we’ll do the rest.”  Unrestricted dollars that could slop around to every corner of the budget were the only thing to do.

NOW:  There are few programs today who don’t see a higher level of engagement and more inspired giving when donors are given the ability to be activists.  CFOs (and I) still need unrestricted dollars: that will always be the heart of a strong annual fund, but making tangible the impact of giving to the annual is mandatory.   No more “margin of excellence”; annual fund dollars help provide things like the manipulatives underpinning the mathematics program in the after-school experience.  Gone is “bridge the gap” talk about other revenue sources and the annual fund; the annual fund helps ensure that mission staff have the iPads and tech training they need to collect and evaluate data on the efficacy of your program in the field.  These dollars all need to hit your budget directly, but need specifics around them that make it clear and concrete what they accomplish.

An extra idea, building on this one?  Look for three to five “big buckets” within your budget toward which your annual fund gifts can be designated (not restricted!  This makes your CFO happy!).  For schools these categories are often:  financial aid, faculty salaries, library and technology, spaces for learning, athletics, etc…  What would those big budget areas be for your organization?  Allowing your donors to vote with their dollars for the things that most resonate for them not only provides one more good reason to step up giving, but also gives you a clear road map for how to steward these donors.

…which leads to “Then and Now” #2…

Then… Stewardship was something you did for endowment donors, donors of Chairs, building naming, scholarships when they became fully funded and probably only did once:  put the plaque up, name the new Chair holder, have a dinner, and wash your hands of it.

NOW:  That pig isn’t going to fly for even one second.  Not only must stewardship be a year-on-year institutional value that is woven throughout your relationship building with your donors, it is a universal.  All annual fund donors deserve WORLD CLASS stewardship.  Getting used to talking about the annual fund in tangible, specific ways is the first step.  Understanding your donors’ motivation through their gift designation is a second step.  Getting people to help you take on this project – even with its enormous value add – is the third.

Try this:  rather than just asking volunteers to “please make 10 (or 20 or 30) calls” to past donors, thank-a-thon style, let your volunteers know that you have $75,000 (or $500,000 or $5M) worth of thank you calls to make and would they be willing to take $12,000 of that.  Then keep reporting back:  “Your thank you calls valued at $75,000 last year turned into repeat gifts of $83,000 this year.”  Who wouldn’t feel great and motivated to do more?

Finally, a NOW and NOW:

Maybe you saw these two incredible stories about focused giving contests – one at Columbia that raised $7M in one day (ONE DAY!  CloEve Demmer, who spearheaded this is a friend of ours and, no kidding, one smart lady!) and the other that may have helped inspire and guide Columbia’s efforts:  Giving Days.

Among the reason these two focused campaigns worked is that they borrowed the “vocabulary” of gaming to bring fun into the annual fund.  (C’mon.  I had to.  Put the FUN back in the annual fund? A classic knee slapper.  To development officers only.)

  • These initiatives had a near-term, reachable goal for which everyone was responsible.
  • They had a clear beginning, middle and end to their quest.  A 365 day campaign is the AF Director’s reality but soooooo long for a volunteer.
  • They had rules of engagement:  certain volunteers could use any of a variety of outreach tools, but had to do it themselves and accounted back to “home base” with their results.
  • They knew what winning was going to mean:  dollars, new donors, repeat donors.

We play games because we love taking on tasks that are exactly hard enough.  How can you use today’s tools – email, social media, video, podcasting, blogging, etc… to make your annual fund volunteers’ job more fun and more of a game?  And, how about using this to jump start a monthly giving program?  Europeans envy our culture of giving in many ways, but are befogged by why we don’t embrace monthly giving programs more fully.  Deploy your volunteers on a quest for new monthly donors!

Another Now:  these campaigns were terrific, engaging, generated great excitement and energy.  But what do we do the other 364 days a year?  Once upon a time, we mailed a lot of letters, made slightly fewer phone calls and almost never left the office.  Today a robust annual fund program must be anchored with personal visits to top donors in conjunction with the major gift staff (we have a great resource on boosting annual giving in a campaign here.), to leadership donors to explore their passion and focus for their giving, to new potential leadership donors, to lapsed donors and to volunteers.  If there were one more position everyone could add right now, I would vote for a solid individual giving officer who LOVES being on the road, closing $1,000, $10,000, $50,000 annual gifts three days out of five.

Are the fundamentals of annual giving the same?  Yes.  I agree that they are.  Are there so many more ways to be creative and innovative in reaching your community of supporters?  Absolutely.  The annual fund is more fun.

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