Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Billionaire and the Honor Roll

This Sunday morning, as I do every Sunday morning I was baking for my work colleagues. In the background, I try to have on news or Sportcenter, this week, I tuned into a wonderful program on ABC by Christiane Amanpour on Billionaires giving their wealth back to society. You can find the article here:

One of the most interesting tenets of the show was made by Bill Gates, he said that giving is “contagious” and “"There's a certain momentum in terms of the more you hear about other people doing giving, it will encourage you to do more," Bill Gates said. "And certainly all of us who got involved have been inspired by each other's stories, and that rededicates us to getting this money to have the most positive impact."
This thought led me back to an argument I rehash wherever I go, the good old Honor Roll debate. I must get asked at least once a week what I think of honor rolls and their place in donor recognition and stewardship. A listserv I am a member of just had a three day debate on the topic, with views as varied as the individuals and the organizations they represent. What I think is fundamental in what Gates said is that the STORY is what influences him. He didn’t say that when he sees a list of donor names he gets excited, I can only imagine the hundreds upon thousands of those he has seen, what he mentioned was the story of why people get involved in philanthropy or support a particular organization. I will now tell everyone on this blog what I have been touting and shouting for years in my donor relations life and in my organizations. In my opinion, printed honor rolls of donors used as a recognition tool are for the most part ineffective, a waste of time and resources, and something that is a great example of “but we’ve always done it that way.” I am sure in certain cases people might find them useful, I find them as opportunities to make mistakes, waste time and resources and a list, a list of names, does not tell a story. If an image is worth a thousand words, a donor honor roll is silence. Instead what we should do as a profession is advocate for meaningful recognition, personalized donor relations experiences and as Gates suggests, tell our stories more effectively. Perhaps if we took the time and effort that went into producing these monstrous feats of ineffectiveness, and pooled those resources into a piece on the impact of a gift, the story behind the gift and the story behind the donor, we would be much more effective in recognizing what truly makes philanthropy possible, the people behind the gift. I have yet to meet a person who works at an organization that produces an honor roll that says “its so easy, I just push a button and viola!”, “I’ve never heard a complaint”. I say this because the trend is so prevalent and commonplace that I spend many a dinner discussing this very hot button issue. We need to tell our stories in a meaningful way that allows others to see the benefit of the gift. It is not the list of billionaires and the total of their monies being given away that leads others to give, it is their personal connection to philanthropy and their story about why they give where they give that draws others. What do you think? I look forward to hearing from you…
Next week I’ll be blogging and tweeting live from the ADRP Conference in San Francisco. You can follow me at @donorguru on Twitter or check for updates here!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Women and Giving 2010

Women and Giving 2010

The survey above attempts to ascertain whether or not the women of America give more than the men… the simple answer from their studies, YES. So if women are giving more and having a larger role in the philanthropy decisions of their households, are we then stewarding and providing them donor relations in the same manner? This quote from the report was especially profound for me, “Savvy nonprofit organizations and fundraisers will change the way they approach donors, will include more women in their fundraising strategies, and reach out to ‘half the sky’ to fulfill their mission.” Therefore, if we change our approach to solicitation and cultivation, it makes natural sense that we would do the same in donor relations. It won’t surprise my average reader to find out that donor relations is a heavily female field of professionals, men are like pink zebras at our professional conferences and gatherings. So if we as women are running the programs and doing the work, why then are we not more in tune to our female donors. I quite often listen to people refer to their top donors and trustees as “the big boys” when according to the survey and personal experience, behind each of those amazing philanthropists is a wonderful and philanthropic woman. Most of the time, I believe that these women stand in front of their spouses, as might I remind everyone how often I hear at speeches of building dedications, award ceremonies and honorary degree ceremonies, how often the honoree, a male usually, thanks his spouse and says repeatedly, “I owe all of my success to the woman by my side.” One need only to look at a businesswoman like Darla Moore, She transformed the campus of the business school of the University of South Carolina (my alma mater) with her inspiring gift of 25million dollars in 1998 then again changed the face of female giving with her gift of 45 million dollars in 2004. The Darla Moore School of Business at USC has been transformed and reinvented under not only her volunteer leadership but also through her giving. So herein lies the question… what techniques can we use to help steward and cultivate female donors better? Certainly by engaging female donors in philanthropic leadership roles, much like the one Darla Moore has helped create, but what are the other answers that exist? How differently do we treat them? What strategies have been proven to work? I would love to hear your thoughts, fire away! Cheers,

Sunday, November 14, 2010

#1 factor why donors stop giving to an organization?!!

Too Frequent Solicitation/Asked for Inappropriate Amount 58.9%

Last week I received this report from Bank of America and Merril Lynch, it’s an annual report that comes out every year and the data enclosed is priceless. As I prowled through the 70 or so pages on my subway commute home from work, I read and reread the statistics but one of them was just too powerful to shake from my consciousness. Finding out why the majority of these donors stopped giving to an organization was enlightening and confirmed for me a long held belief of most organizations. We poke and prod our donors to give way too much and this is detrimental to our relationships with our donors and as a result to our bottom lines. At many organizations I have been responsible for drafting communications of all types to donors. Some are aimed to inform, some to steward, some to simply say hello. Always, and I do mean always, I have to fend off an over eager or confused annual giving or major giving officer and say, “no, we don’t need to ask them for another gift in this piece.” Sometimes it is a losing battle, but every time I fight for a space that we can have that is solicitation free. I hope now thanks to studies like this and others that this battle is much easier fought and won at my organizations. Fingers crossed and hoping for myself and others, some might say , “well if we don’t ask often enough they will forget to give to us!” This may a valid argument, but what would happen if we asked less and communicated in a more engaging and enlightening way, I am sure these educated adults will figure out how to give, perhaps on our website with its glowing gold “donate now” button the size of Texas on our homepage. I say this with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek, however in reality I am a strong advocate for communications that do just that, communicate for the relationships sake, if we do that effectively, the money will follow.

Yesterday, I received a fascinating solicitation piece from an international organization, on the front it said, “Give now and we’ll never ask you for money again!” So, I’m going to take that Pepsi challenge and report back to you to see if there is indeed truth in advertising. Finally, since next week is Thanksgiving, be on the lookout for my annual “give it and see what happens” challenge where I pick 10 non profit organizations a year of varying types and sizes and give a donation, surveying their donor relations response and their acknowledgment in the following months. The results in years past have been mixed and very helpful for me as I build my programs, next week’s blog will explore the process and the issues involved.
This study begs the question, what statistic stood out to you? Tell me about it and also feel free to comment on this post!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Great Video

You don't have to speak Hebrew to get the point in this 34 second video!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Students and Gratitude- The Scholarship Question!

When it came time for me to decide on a topic, many many things came whizzing through my mind, would it be events, would we chat about underwater endowments, would we discuss the back office front office tensions? In reality, all of that seems trivial in comparison to the item I have been spending a great deal of my time dealing with and spending a lot of time mentally wrangling with. One of the wonderful things I love most about my career is that, in its finite end, I have helped student receive an education at some of the finest places of higher education this country has to offer. My current workplace is no exception, although the tuition might be expensive to some, the value of the education these students receive is phenomenal. A tiny disclosure here when I was an undergraduate at South Carolina, I was a scholarship student, and without that support would not have been able to attend my alma mater, and be a proud alumnus now, most thankful for four of the best years of my life and an education both in and out of the classroom that I know is priceless.

As most of the institutions I have worked, approximately 70 percent of the students receive some sort of financial aid to underwrite their education, with most of this money being supplied by private donors to the University. And of course, my office, like many of yours, is directly responsible for reporting on these scholarships to donors and ensuring that they feel properly thanked and understand that their monies went to a great student who was much like them when they attended University. The gap comes here in communicating this to the students. Don’t get me wrong, at times I am overwhelmed by their stories, appreciative of their willing participation in the process of those who “get it” and understand that behind every dollar is a human being who believes so greatly in their education that they made it a philanthropic priority. My question to everyone out the reading is what can we do about the rest of the recipients of these scholarships??

As I travel around the country and speak to others in my profession who work with scholarship or fellowship monies, this is one of the most consistent and troubling concerns I hear. “How do we get our students to respond to our requests for thank you notes?” “What ingenious techniques do you have for student participation in the process?” These questions hit home to me on a daily if not weekly basis. I tell people often to go where the students are, educate and tr to explain to them why these notes or gestures of gratitude are important. I am envious of my colleagues at institutions that are able to withhold funds from students until their cooperation is reached (wistful sigh). But should we even have to go to these measures? I think the greater question here is how do we educate those to truly be grateful and not feel entitled? I want to repeat here I’m not talking about every student, I am talking about the ones who ignore my requests for thank you notes for their donor who is supplying them with a $25,000 scholarship, or those who call me and ask, “Do I HAVE to write a note/meet with this donor?” I know for a fact that when they do meet their donors and hear their stories, there is a much deeper level of understanding, but the question remains, how can I make that understanding happen if they refuse to communicate with me at all?

I don’t want this blog post to sound all gloom and doom, I have had amazing success at several institutions receiving wonderful thank you notes, calls and meetings from a wide variety of students, but I realize now that the question is much larger, why is this work so difficult for us on the asking end and what can we do to find a solution? So here are some tactics that have worked for me in the past, please feel free to comment, to add your own suggestions or questions and let’s start this debate off right!

• Find students where they are: Facebook, alternate emails, cell phones, cafeterias, soccer practice, etc.
• Don’t be afraid to use the old guilt tactic- it works! Ask my mom!
• Resort to bribery if necessary- food is especially effective, cash works too-
• Put a face to the donors name, make the story personal
• Use easy methods for submission, online, email, etc.
• Be persistent and consistent If they think it is important to you it will be important to them!
• Obtain help from campus influencers: ie financial aid, coaches, deans, professors, etc.
• Don’t be afraid to engage the naysayers in a conversation and try to educate them about the process
• Be thankful for the fabulous students who write tear jerking letters and who aren’t afraid to wake up early to have breakfast with their donors
• Realize that even though you are banging your head against a wall some days, you are doing good in the world, sometimes that’s enough.