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”

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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.”

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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!”

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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”

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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.”

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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!

 

Five Tips to Build Relationships with Corporate Donors

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Ebony R. Lincoln, a 15-year corporate communications and philanthropy veteran who has worked on the teams deciding on and directing corporate philanthropy with major corporations, including State Farm, Ameren and Lundbeck Pharmaceuticals. Ebony had bclc_bizgivesback_skr2some tips on building strong relationships with your corporate donors and we added some of our own.

Remember that corporate giving is driven by relationships… the same as any giving relationship.  Too often, we hear the misperception that corporate giving is simply a well in which the not-for profit world needs to dip a bucket.  (For more on a creating a balanced portfolio, check out this post by my colleague, Laura.)

1)  Make it make sense!

Get to know the company by reading its website, annual report and press releases.  Ask yourself; “Does my organization align with the company’s values, mission and giving objectives?” You must know the answer to this question before seeking to establish a partnership. Corporate donors are looking to connect with organizations that can relate to their services or products. For example, it makes sense for a science-based company to partner with an organization delivering Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs that work to support teachers and students. Once you know the company and understand their philanthropy objectives, guidelines and criteria present initiatives or programs (new or existing) that connect with the company. If it doesn’t fit or make sense, don’t force it.

Then go beyond to ask:  what problems or challenges does this company have that we could help solve?  A company that requires a strong, entry-level workforce who is drug and alcohol-free may seek out investment in an organization that provides prevention or treatment programs.  A corporation facing increasing health care costs, or absenteeism due to health problems in their workforce gets returned value when supporting an organization tackling research and treatment, or focusing on building health and wellness in the community.

2) Develop an authentic relationship resulting in a true partnership.

Checkbook philanthropy generally only works for the short-term. While this approach will support your bottom line, it creates a situation that allows the company to walk away whenever times get hard.  Go beyond the funding application and the company’s financial support:  giving motivation is part of the equation but not the whole thing. Go deep to uncover the values of the company and help to fulfill them.  Anchoring your relationship in their values makes your organization a partner at their corporate table.

If a company is passionate about being green or service-learning, determine if your organization can align to those topics and then make it your mission to infuse that into your partnership with them, and report back to them through your stewardship.  When you seek to connect with the company on a deeper level, you are telling the company that it is important enough for you to make an investment that supports the relationship and understand what values matter most to them.

3)  Provide meaningful opportunities that allow all levels of the company to be actively engaged and long term fixtures with in your organization.

Yes, employee engagement may feel like the “hot, new topic”, but it, too, has long been fundamental to strong corporate relationships.  Not only do opportunities for employee engagement raise morale, it enables you and your corporate donors to leverage all the assets they have available.  Meaningful opportunities can range from having someone at the company serve (not just “sit”) on your board, or speak at a career day or awareness event at your organization.  Short on marketing expertise or resources?  Tap into the corporate marketing department.  Need human resources expertise for an on-going project or short-term advice?  Get to know a corporate partner’s professionals.  Need some laptops and networking expertise to ease registration and check out at your gala?  Ask for help from the IT department of a corporate sponsor.  Look for ways to get as many employees as possible from every level of the company (not just executives) more involved and invested in the work of your organization. Your goal is to create true champions of your organization who live within the company. These champions can play a key role when it’s time for the company to make a decision about continuing funding to your organization.

4)  Build for mutual success and be accountable.

Non-profits can ensure success by developing multi-year initiatives that are mutually beneficial in partnership with the company. Approach your relationship from a long-term perspective and know what your non-negotiables are.  Make the partnership easy for the company by doing the “heavy lifting” for the company, whenever possible. For example, if the company is involved in your organization’s mentoring program, take the responsibility for managing the match process and report on the success and impact in a way that can easily be communicated throughout the company.   Most importantly, be accountable to your corporate partners in when things go well and when things go awry.  By being willing to have an open, frank and candid relationship with the company – talking about how a program has succeeded, how things have gone differently than anticipated, and what the organization is doing to “fail forward” – you build TRUST.  Every company is intimately familiar with “productive failures” and may prove to be a valued partner in helping solve your challenges.  And, of course, provide timely reports on progress as you promise…  under-promise and over-deliver.

5)  Drive exposure and recognition.

Companies don’t want to be seen as self-serving but they do want a return on investment. PR from non-profits gets picked up quicker than PR from corporations.  Look for ways to recognize and acknowledge corporate contributions, initiatives and partnership success regularly. For example, develop a PR plan when a new, significant program is created with a corporate partner or when a company participates in your organization’s major programs or awareness events.  (Not sure how to do this well?  Ask for their help and expertise in building the right PR campaign that meets everyone’s needs!)  Your goal is to demonstrate and promote your partner’s outstanding corporate citizenship, whenever possible.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: Travels in Philanthropy

No, I did not go on a “philanthropy tour” of the U.S. this summer…  As I am sure you do too, I did take notice of the ways that the not-for-profit sector showed up in the community where we were visiting.  And what I found fascinated me and challenged my thinking about the “philanthropy revenue engine” available to different kinds of organizations.  Perhaps some of you saw the companion pieces that came out in the New York Times this week on this very topic?  (We try not to be New York-centric, but hey, most of us live here.)  First this piece on ThinkImpact… and then these thoughtful responses.

Let me tell you about the two wonderful organizations I encountered:

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Asticou Azalea Garden and Thuya Gardens are a meticulously maintained garden preserve in the very tony hamlet of Northeast Harbor, ME.  Planned by Charles Savage, owner of the Asticou Inn, and with the support of John D. Rockfeller, Jr., these two, interconnected gardens that bring together traditional Maine plantings with a Japanese aesthetic can safely be said to rest in the “luxury end” of the not-for-profit sector.

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Common Ground Soup Kitchen overlooks the Seawall in Manset, the last building just outside Acadia National Park, on the “quietside” of Mount Desert Island.  This community kitchen and meeting place serves the year-rounders, offering healthy food from local farmers, feeding those whose work happens seasonally and often have a hard time making it through the long, cold, off-season in Maine, and delivering meals (and companionship) to seniors who may be especially house-bound in the snowy, windy months.  Sounds like the kind of grassroots, “up by your bootstraps” kind of organization that every community has – and needs.

We had a wonderful experience both places:  a sunny, morning tour of the Asticou and Thuya Gardens that delivered on their promise to provide a “quiet and contemplative setting” away from the hustle and bustle of daily life… and a delicious breakfast of fresh popovers and local blueberry jam at Common Ground, with a mix of other vacationers and a smattering of talk about the success of the July 4th fireworks display from other local business owners.

Here is what is so interesting…  How would you assume that each organization supports their work?  What would you guess is the revenue engine of each?

You probably assume that Asticou and Thuya Gardens probably has a membership program and charge an admissions fee for visitors.  And you might assume that Common Ground gets by on fundraising events, gifts-in-kind from local businesses and some “cash in a can” donations from local and out-of-town passers-by.

These two defy expectations.

Though they could easily run as a “fee based” business, the Gardens ask very subtly and gently for a voluntary contribution from those who visit.  Sure, it helps that they have “big money” in their history, but like so many others, that may be more perception than reality today.  And like so many others, “big money” often spawns a well-financed, year-round fund development and membership program.

Common Ground has found a for-profit-like niche that serves them (and served us!) well:  offer vacationers and campers hot coffee, wifi, fresh popovers and oatmeal and the voluntary donations will flow. (It helps that the donations “jar” was a big box with a glass top so we could see what others had given – and Marie, the popover delivery-person, was the friendliest, most assertive gift officer I have met in a long time.)  I know we ended up paying more for breakfast than we would have elsewhere, but did it with a joyful heart, inspired by the posters, pictures, and literature all around us – and by Marie’s persuasive powers – explaining what our popover purchase would support long after we had gone home.

We are challenged by our clients to think about how they can expand and diversify their revenue engine – and all of us in “third sector” work today must think about where our funding streams will come from, what is emerging in the future.  What a powerful reminder to challenge our assumptions of what our funding sources could or should be!  What is your organization best in the world at doing?  Is that something you could monetize?  Is that something you should?  Asticou has decided that quiet contemplation is not to be monetized… while serving those who serve the vacation travelers can be.  Fascinating!

Measuring Social Impact: Does Anyone Get It?

As the fiscal cliff…curb… slope…ravine… whatever… looms large, and calls increase to look to cutting or trimming tax deductibility of giving, I have found embedded in these “conversations” (often turning into diatribes) an undercurrent of judgement about what counts as having social impact.  Which organizations “deserve” tax-advantaged status for donors because they do real good for society?  What I have found is that these articles, posts and opinion pieces (here’s a link to just one of many)  betray much more about the writer’s own philanthropic motivations – what do they consider valuable “social good”? – but also points to the dearth of good, common practice in how we measure social impact.

The “elder statesman” of this world is clearly Guidestar, that was founded to be the arbiter of good practice, setting standards for cost to raise a dollar, the percentage of budget dedicated to program, the main conduit to organization’s 990 form.  What has ended up happening for so many is a massaging not of their programs but of how data will be reflected on the 990 to “rate” better in the Guidestar world.  Additionally, there is no room in this world for organizations at different phases of their development – who need to invest more in infrastructure to get off the ground and do well as they do good.  Does it benefit anyone to penalize organizations for wanting to create a solid foundation?  Must we rush to throw programs out into the world, while keeping overhead painfully low?

New player on the scene is GiveWell, that not only wants to help donors find high impact organizations but highlight those that are under-capitalized now.  Admirable!  I’m in.  But, even a quick tour of this site finds that the folks at GiveWell – who are, to their credit, doing an enormous amount of research – have brought their own prejudices to the table about how work should be done, not just who is doing their work in their own sector well.  Is it really true that those doing work to cure blindness are objectively more important and offer a higher return on investment than those training and deploying seeing eye dogs?  Hogwash.  Of course, this overlooks the fact that not all forms of blindness can be cured, and sets aside the increased earning power of those who are able to reach higher levels of integration and productive contribution into their community with a guiding eyes dog.  This is but one example of the one-size-fits-all approach to how problems ought to be solved obscures what could be truly useful approach.

We can’t allow ourselves to be stymied by the fact that this is hard work, creating social impact take nuance, tremendous focus and strategic thought.  I feel more Scrooge than like one of the Who’s down in Who-ville on this topic… Who is approaching this well?  What is the way to solve this challenge more universally, so that when public arena needs us to stand up for our sector, we are well prepared to do so?