Connecting with Donors Starts with Connecting with Employees

connectionsConnecting with donors on a personal level builds lasting and productive relationships. In much the same way, connecting with employees results in higher staff productivity and retention.

We want our donors and volunteers to feel valued and appreciated.  Joe Connelly of WSJ said, “Retention is the new acquisition and customer service is the new marketing.” Retention of talent is as important as retention of donors.

Attrition hits the bottom line hard.

But how can we hold onto donors by providing thoughtful retention strategies and outstanding customer service if we first don’t “wow” our staffs?

We can’t expect staff or volunteers to deliver what they have not personally experienced.

Thank you is fundamental.  Genuine, prompt, and specific.  “Thank you for staying late Friday.  I know you had plans with your family.  I appreciate your sacrifice.”

Reporting on impact is critical. “I wanted to circle back.  The project you helped us with three months ago, when you stayed late and pitched in has had an enormous impact on our work.  You made a difference.  Thank you again.”  Personal, timely, authentic and concrete.

Survey your team

How valued and appreciated do they feel?  Do the same with your volunteers and board members.  To what degree do they believe their work is making a difference?

Inspiration is also an important component of donor work.  We are seeking inspired, joyful and generous investments of time, talent, expertise, connections and treasure.  Inspiration is equally important internally. If you are interested in surveying your team, asking the right questions that will uncover valuable data and truths, contact us at mail@theosbornegroup.com

Having a Sense of Purpose Motivates

Employees report that having a sense of purpose is the top motivator for work satisfaction according to author and leader Aaron Hurst.

“Researchers have found that the best ways to ensure that employees feel a sense of purpose boils down to three simple things: They need to have opportunities to grow; to build relationships with employees and others involved in the work; and to create something greater than themselves.”

Too often, we don’t start by inspiring our teams before we ask them to inspire potential donors.  CEOs need a big inspiring vision of the future.  Not an internal vision – “We will be the organization of choice in our market, grow our endowment to x and increase our client base by y.” We are talking about a meaningful, outward vision that will result in fixing a societal ill or creating a major societal shift.  Big ideas bring about big gifts.  They also garner internal dedication.  Connect every staff and volunteer task no matter how mundane to the mission, vision and work. Share the vision at every opportunity.

Make sure that every employee and every board member on an annual basis has a hands-on experience with the people, animals, planet you serve.  For some this is easy and others a challenge especially if your work is primarily overseas.  But hard doesn’t equate to impossible.  Be creative.  Remember, connecting with donors and employees is key to outstanding results.

Meaningful and productive engagement is critical for donors.

Research reports that when engaged, annual fund and major gift donors give 24% to 38% more.  Engagement also works for staff and board members.  Ask for advice and ideas.  Share decision-making through appropriate delegation and empowerment.

Are your staff and board meetings show and tell or are folks engaged in meaningful discussions that matter?  Are you listening?  Seeking and providing feedback?

Connecting with donors starts with connecting with staff and board members.  The payoff will be huge.

by Karen Osborne

Leadership Design

Often, people think leadership equals charisma… great public speaking… being out front… just as we think sales is about speaking and making a great case. But you and I know leadership and sales are about having the right strategic conversations, asking the right questions, “listening to understand, rather than to respond” as the late, great Peter Drucker said. Leaders set clear expectations, model the behavior they seek and measure results, impact and the value of the work.  Leadership design means being an intentional leader/manager. Understanding your strengths, weaknesses and blind spots – those things that tend to trip you up repeatedly. You have to know what type of leader you want to be, design it, work toward it and measure the results.

Only you can know what type of leader your organization needs and you want to become. But here are some things to think about as you design your leadership future.

Your attitude sets the tone.  Early in my management career, I learned a powerful lesson. After a very tough day in the office, I packed up my things and dragged myself to the parking lot. Head down, shoulders rounded, I felt and looked beaten down.  To my right, I heard the click of boots on the pavement. “Karen Osborne,” said a strong female voice, “If that’s how you feel, then there is no hope for the rest of us.”

confidence-words

“T” kept right on walking, but her message hit home. No matter how bad things got, I never left my office again without my shoulders back, my head high and smile on my face. Leadership guru Doug Dickerson agrees. Our attitude affects everyone around us. If we are positive, can-do, empathetic, ethical and humble, if we focus on the right things, so will they.

Own and learn from your errors.  My Dad used to say, “I’ve never been wrong. Oh yeah, except for that one time, but then it turned out that was right.” Hmmm. Not the right message. You need your team to try new things and know you have the team’s back. We all have to learn from our errors. “Fail forward,” as David Bornstein calls the learning that comes from less-than-stellar experiences. Learn from the things that work as well.

To achieve fresh approaches and encourage learning something new every day, it starts with you. Ask yourself, “What did I learn from this mistake?” Share the mistake and the lessons with the team. “Here’s what I tried. Here’s what worked and here’s what didn’t.” “This is what I plan to do differently going forward.” If you can be vulnerable, so can they. And be sure to ask what Terry Jones, author of On Innovation calls the “quiet question” of your team members: “What did you learn?”  (Laura and Neesha recorded a podcast on this very topic:  Brilliant Failure.  Give it a listen.)

Ask questions and listen.  If fact, asking strategic questions, listening carefully, and unpacking meaning with follow-up questions is such a powerful skill, it drives success. Getting good at having strategic conversations should be part of your leadership design. If you’d like a list of strategic management questions to help you lead by design, click here.

Measure results.  Ever leadership design needs a set of clear objectives and the right metrics. Consider sending out an anonymous survey to test your leadership skills. Fill out our questionnaire, “Management & Leadership IQ” to see how you do. If you are going to create leadership by design, you have to start and end with the right information and the right data.

Hello. Now What?: Smart Staff Orientation

You thought through the skills, experiences and competencies you need in your next hire. You wrote a great job description and crafted probing questions and scenarios that will help you identify the strongest candidate possible. Your ad is spot-on or you hired an outstanding firm to bring you the best pool of folks. Now you’ve chosen, made an offer and the your new staff person starts in 30 days.

For too many of us, that final decision marks the end of our hiring strategy. We either send the candidate to Human Resources to partake in the standard orientation or we plan a one day initiation – the office tour, donor files, and expectations. Sometimes, we sign the person up for a conference and use that as their orientation.

Then we wonder why things aren’t going as well as we hoped.  There is a better way to create a staff orientation focused on outcomes:

1. No candidate is perfect. We need to have a plan for shoring up whatever is missing. Start by making a list (or take the list you already created for the interview process) of all of the competencies, skills and experiences you sought. Indicate how many the new hire possesses, how many are there but not as strong as you’d like, and how many are missing. Try these guidelines for your staff orientation program. For example:

Slide1You hired this person for their strong competencies and needed experiences but there are gaps. Your plan must address the gaps.

2. Think about staff orientation as a year-long process. Twelve months from now, the new hire should know, have completed, and contributed what? Concretely identify these things. You might arrange them like this:

  • Knowledge about the institution or organization
  • Knowledge about the office – how you do things, how to use the system, knows their colleagues and internal customers and partners
  • Knowledge about the donor pool, met their top 50 and understands their philanthropic profile, relationship with the organization, motivations and so forth
  • Increased skills in (those things you wanted them to learn)
  • Increased experiences in (those experiences they didn’t have)
  • Plan for their work in the second year
  • Plans for their top 100 donors (or plans for building a qualified pool or some other identified need)

Some use a six-month approach.  The suggestions here from the Harvard Business Review are worth incorporating.

3. Now you can design the orientation program. You have your end-points laid out. How will you help your new hire get there? What does she need to do to ensure success? Who else needs to be involved?  We recommend thinking about orientation in stages.

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By month three, you know whether he is going to work out or not…  From this point, have a plan or revise your plan for moving forward, or decide that it is time to part ways and search for a new employee.  If you move forward, at month six:  conduct a formal check-in and make adjustments based on results.  Seek input on your management as well as delivering feedback!  Then at the year anniversary, ask for a self-evaluation and provide a written one.

To help you build a strong relationship with new employees, click here for a list of “Getting to Know Your New Hire Strategic Questions”.

The Three Most Important Board Roles

Type “board roles” into your favorite search engine and you will come up with a wealth of topics and purveyors of The Answer.  Still the question persists:  “But WHAT should my board be DOING?”  With so much information already out there, why is there such confusion, hand-wringing, frustration on the part of the staff team – executive and imagesdevelopment –  and on the part of the board about what a high-performing board should be doing to support the fund development efforts of the organization or institution?  I don’t want to devolve into a marketing pitch here, but we strive to deliver practical solutions here – and I think the problem with many of these resources is that they are not answering the practical question being asked… and maybe we’re not always clear on what we’re asking about board roles.

Here is what the answer is NOT:  the answer is not about whether you have a “hands on” or “rubber stamp” board, whether this board is a working board or a governing board.  In reality, all boards should be hands-on sometimes – and occasionally rubber-stamp a wise strategy.  Governing is hard work so I have never understood that distinction.  The answer doesn’t come from a pretty flow chart (…and anyone who knows me knows that I love a good flow chart – though a less popular approach when making a point with my spouse.  Different post.  Different day.)

The answer is found in discerning what we’re really asking about:  are you looking to understand and agree on the board’s fund development roles or their fund development jobs

Fund Development jobs are relatively simple – and we should keep them that way.  This is not to say they don’t need support and training, but there are just five JOBS we need board members to fulfill, each in different measure, and according to their skills and abilities:

Slide1When board members support the fund development program by doing those five jobs, we’re in good shape.  No matter what size your staff is now, you’ve got “force multiplication” and the potential for peer-to-peer outreach, even if most of the solicitation is done (or supported) by staff members.  It takes training to make sure board members have the skills and abilities to those jobs well.  (Go here for an easy-to-adapt tool on engaging your board in stewardship.  And go here for a past webinar on engaging your board in fund development.)

It is true that you can focus on those jobs and still not get anywhere in your fund development program…  It causes the plaintive cry where I started this post.  In my experience, that cri de coeur often comes from the fact that board members didn’t first embrace the ROLES that enable the jobs to get done well.

We need to allocate the right people to the right specific jobs once we have them.  First we must recruit for these roles, and not be shy about stating explicitly what role every board member must play in fund development.  Lucky for us, there are only three really important roles for you to share with your board:

1)   Give generously and be willing to talk passionately and convincingly about why you invest.  To be a good “fund developer” and carry out those five jobs, every board member must identify with those they are reaching out to, know what a good donor looks like, be proud and vocal about their support of this organization.

2)   Assess the risk of your fundraising approach, creating balance and mitigating risk.  Every board member – whether you are trained in fund development or not – should be able to recognize that holding ONE fundraising event on which all or a significant percentage of the year’s revenue rides is RISKY.  That’s really, really risky.  So, do not do it.   Same goes for relying on one donor, or one source of giving.  Something happens to one donor or one sector and…. pppphhhft.  Equally, every board member should be able to recognize that doing 17 events or campaigns is probably not a good use of resources and splits attention in too many directions.  And, with a little education, most board members can embrace the wisdom of focusing on building a robust pool of leadership donors who provide significant investment each year.

3)  Be available, demand that your availability is used well.  Agreeing to take on those five roles – or some of those five roles – but then neeeeeeever quite getting around to doing what you are asked shirks this role. Promise what you will deliver.  Then, you can and should demand (Staff: talking to you now…) that your time be used well, on the right jobs with the right donors and that everyone measures the effectiveness of what they’re doing, not to punish anyone, but to see what works best and do more of that.

What should a high-performing board being doing?  Embracing three roles that lead the way to five effective jobs.  Practical?  I think so.

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

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.

Capitalize Your Development Operation!

by Robert Osborne

Every organization wants more money for its programs but I am constantly surprised at how few organizations are actually willing to spend money to make money. I know of organizations that have cut back their development staff even as they have raised their fundraising goals. I know of organizations that refuse to do stewardship because they think it is too expensive. And I know of “national” organizations that wish to fundraise across the United States but have no travel budget.

The problem becomes even larger when we talk about capital campaigns. Organizations that wish to raise 10x or more of their annual operating budget and tens of millions of dollars often balk at spending even a $100K to do so!

Your development office is a “profit center”, another way of saying that your development office makes you money. But only if it is properly capitalized. While different types of fundraising have different costs associated with them, a good rule of thumb is anticipating spending somewhere between $.15-$.20 for every dollar you want to raise. Events have the highest costs associated with them with a cost of roughly $.30 on the dollar and major gifts have the least with a cost of roughly $.12 on the dollar. But there is no such thing as free fundraising.

Every organization should ask itself what it needs to be successful to meet its fundraising goals. Do you have enough personnel, not just “front line” fundraisers but also administrative support? Do you have the proper technology to operate efficiently and effectively? Do you have the marketing pieces you need including video? Do you have a budget for any necessary travel? Have you built in contingency?

My suspicion is that organization try to do fundraising on the cheap because they do not have the cash on hand when they begin their fundraising. They realize that they are undercapitalizing the effort but are unsure what to do. Ideally, our supporters would help us in this area as Dan Pallotta discuss in this post in the Harvard Business Review and truly leverage their investment, but lamentably capacity building tends to be way down on investors lists of things to fund.

Sadly, there are no short cuts. An undercapitalized effort may even cost you more than not doing it at all. If you don’t have the cash on hand to properly capitalizing a fundraising effort you need to make raising the necessary capital part of your plan. This may take longer but it will be worth it. To not do so is to spend money on what is likely to be an unsuccessful effort. But the right investment can go a long way.

You can follow me on twitter:  @bobosborne17