Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Let's talk events...

 I thought it was timely to post on events. Some of you do events as a part of your daily duties and others of you volunteer or attend or give feedback. Below are my tips and tricks, some tried and true, some may be new to you and some may confirm your philosophies. I would live to hear from you.

1. In 2011 there is no excuse for a hand written name tag. EVER. There are Dymo name tag printers, Brother label makers, and portable wireless printers... Simple, cheap, effective ways for you never to use a sharpie for name tags again.

2. I have NEVER had a drop of alcohol at an event I was working or volunteering. Don't get me wrong, I've had plenty after, but never during. And, for that matter I usually never eat unless seated with guests. That's what tastings are for. If a crisis or medical event were to occur, I want a clear head and the ability to transport someone and meet their needs should something happen. If you need to appear like you are drinking, have a tonic or ginger ale with lime. Seriously, not worth it.

3. If I am doing a seated dinner, I Always negotiate a complimentary private room from the hotel or space. If something happens, you will need somewhere private to be able to take a guest so they aren't publicly embarrassed or for done elderly or those who have overindulged, having thought ahead about a place for them to rest is priceless.

4. Being prepared is necessary. I always have the following with me: Sewing kit, safety and bobby pins, Shout wipes or tide pen, first aid kit, hairspray, cuff links, and pony tail holders... Believe me, I have rescued many a million dollar donors' evenings with one of those items and amazed them in the process.

5. I spend good money on food, sometimes sacrificing flowers or other items because the food is memorable, especially in certain crowds. When you plan the food you should always have a tasting, any caterer that won't let you isn't a good caterer. Take it from a former pastry chef here, it matters. Here's why... It may sound delicious and the photos of it may be grand, but what is the actual eating process going to look like for your guests? Will it be awkward? Will the dipping sauce drip on my new Versace? (I HATE dipping sauces at events, they're landmines) I don't know any society lady that wants spinach or poppy seeds in her expensive veneers... I could do a whole post on food... Hmm good idea...

6. If you are responsible for the entire event, don't work registration. Staff your event wisely, have someone with a meh personality? Don't have them serve as a greeter...
put them somewhere useful but don't let them be the first or last impression of your event. When staffing your event, make sure to communicate your expectations to your volunteers and follow through.

7. Invest in some communication devices. Buy good walkie talkies/ radios with the neat secret service headsets. You won't regret it. Don't forget to give one to the venue and the caterer for clear communication, then train your volunteers to find someone with a radio for questions or situations... Amazingly helpful, and discreet...even in small venues... And you get to look like a spy talking into your lapel or wrist... Ha! You can co purchase with the team that does commencement and share, they will really appreciate it!

8. For your president, CEO, host, whoever is your key person, have a tray made with dinner and some fresh fruit to go. Most of them don't eat, they are busy with the schmooze and presentation and will really appreciate your thoughtfulness.

9. Don't let your decor go to waste! We spend good money on flowers... I order a bunch of the below pictured poly vinyl vases (at a dollar a piece!) and have the florist arrange them so at the end of the night I can treat some of the ladies to beautiful take home flowers! MUCH better than a silly tchotchke... If you have to do a giveaway, I am strongly opposed, think edible, like a chocolate die cast of your logo or symbol... Or you can do what I do now, take 1/2 of your budget for gifts and give it to your general scholarship fund. How will you let donors know?? See #10 the next year you can have the student who received the money from your event speak... Donor relations full circle moment... And your attendees will love it!

10. Stop wasting money on printed programs, menu cards, scrolls of honor, and table place cards. Go green and Invest in technology and wow your attendees. I invested in digital photo frames with my logo and place two on each table or on cocktail tables with the slide show of program, menu, and notes about forgoing the giveaway, etc... Now I would purchase tablets on sale or use iPads.... You can reuse them over and over and at the end of the night aren't throwing away money on printing. And it is so green!!! Take it a step further and buy individual gobos with company logos to project onto their tables so they know where to sit, you can even project individual names on to tables to prevent those pesky name card swappers.... Hard to move yourself if your name is projected on a table!!! Muahaha!

I hope that not all of these ideas were old to you and that you feel invigorated for your next event....
I would love to hear your comments or questions and if you need vendors for the items I mentioned, email me.

And as a parting holiday present to you all, here is a cautionary tale why tchotchkes are dangerous and why checking your data on your list is VITAL....

Happy Holidays, Lynne

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

'Tis The Season!

It's that magical time of year again, a chill in the air, holiday parties, and the most magical thing of all, year end solicitations... Ha ha. I jest, but in all reality I am very serious here, at the end of the year we ask, ask, and ask some more.
Which leads me to ask YOU, are you thanking as much as you are asking, if not more?? Don't misunderstand, I know you are doing your best keeping up with acknowledgments and holiday party eggnog and such, but outside of that, what are you doing to let donors know you appreciate them??
Holiday cards are nice, I guess, but they're ridiculously expensive and time consuming... How many people need to see that list?? I still chuckle here at Yeshiva every time I get a Christmas card catalog and samples... Talk about mistargeted direct mail! Ok, I digress, back to the point, what are you doing at the end of this year, the beginning of next to appreciate your donors?

Here are some ideas:

1. How about a lovely holiday video or a tour of campus? Could be for new years as well- here are some samples 1 2 3 4 5
2. At this time, some orgs send a screensaver download that donors can use year round

3. We send the following card for Haunakkah, as part of my high end blanket stewardship program, inviting them to has a personal tour of our museum.

4. We turn that around and for our mid level donors, send them a link to a virtual tour of our exhibits

5. We are also planning our annual thank a thon for January, where we call and thank our donors... Look for an upcoming post on its execution soon!

6. For monthly or direct eft donors an email profiling one thing that happened at your org each month, a simple paragraph or image, that wouldn't have happened without private support!

I think the point that I am trying to make here is evident, are we thanking as much as we're asking?? Notice that none of these gas a tangible IRS FMV benefit, so I avoid jeopardizing their tax deductibility status as well... Hint hint!

In turn, you are showing donors that you think of them as more than a transaction, they are engaged partners in your success and they are appreciated. So what are you going to do???



Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thank a Donor Week

Hello everyone!

I am writing this from my desk after leaving my thank a donor week tables in the capable hands of other staff and wanted to let you know what an amazing experience it has been! I generously stole the idea for thank a donor week from my friend Paige Eubanks-Barrow, the brand new AVP of donor relations at Oklahoma State, previously of Carnegie Mellon… she blogged about it here for me.

Basically, my goal was to collect 1000 hand written thank you notes from students in a one week period. We set up tables on both the boys’ and girls’ campus and made it easy for them! We offered a ticket to a raffle for $100, kosher candy, and wonderfully cheap tchotchkes!! On day one we had 444 notes!!I was overwhelmed by the student outpouring!! By day two we had 703 notes and on day three, yesterday we met and surpassed our goal, we were at 1012 notes!! I am eagerly awaiting our final numbers but am thrilled to say I took a calculated risk and it worked. Final Numbers are in!! 1428 notesin four days!! I think this is a program I would love to see cropping up at organizations everywhere. In addition to boundless meaningful notes from students, we also had the time to spend with them educating them about what private philanthropy means to them and to the university as a whole. It was inspiring. We got coverage in the student news papers and on our website here.

So here are some things I learned this week:
1. Most students are VERY grateful for donors, they just don’t usually know how to spell it! Ha!
2. The boys out wrote the girls 3 to 1… I was shocked by that!! Maybe it was the chance at the money
3. Some students faithfully came by every day to write a note and some took cards with them and returned with multiple notes completed!! (My guess is that they did them in class but if you ask me I will deny it!!) The most notes written by a single student was 15!!!
4. We received many great compliments from students about the idea, being innovative and inspiring them to think about their supporters.
5. Next week we will sort the notes and scan them and then mail them before thanksgiving, hitting the homes of donors at a particularly meaningful time.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about this effort, it was truly invigorating and exhausting but so worth the effort of myself and my team!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Story Telling Through Video

As many of you know, I love technology; but did you know I collect fundraising and stewardship videos all the time?? Well I do, now that the secret is out of the dark, I thought I would share two videos I recently received and tell you why the storytelling in each example is so effective and powerful.
The first video came to me through ESPN and also through my friend John Taylor at NC State. It is from Bowling Green State University and is absolutely cutting edge and brilliant. It takes risks, and does some very good storytelling using tactics that can be applied anywhere in any medium. Here is the link to the story and video. Now, let's examine a few of its best features:

1. It involves students- the rapper? He's one, the producers too... Brilliant!

2. It involves the donors directly- the older gentlemen in the jerseys? Yep, that's them, and I bet if you asked them they had the time of their lives!! Who needs a bronze bust when you have YouTube?? How fun! I bet there are other donors out there who would love to have this happen to them so they can tell their grandkids to "find me on YouTube".

3. The lyrics are on target and tell the story while having fun with an exciting new piece of campus! You might say, "That will never fly at my organization." Really? Have you tried taking a risk lately?? I bet not

4. Its catchy and educates all generations on philanthropy- brilliant!! - Do I sound like a Guinness commercial yet?

The next video comes to me locally from our friends building the new Chabad space serving NYU. Click here to see the brilliant storytelling.
This video tells a powerful story in a completely different manifestation than the BGSU video.

1. What it does, most brilliantly, is call the viewer to action- I want to go hop the subway downtown and sign the Bowery myself!!

2. It also involves students, those who will benefit from the gift. This is a powerful tactic that draws you even closer to the story.

3. I think far too often we all focus on the end version, the artistic rendering, or what could be, and we often forget that supporters want to be involved and see the project during its "ugly" construction phase, to see the reality in action. This video shows us the space as it undergoes transformation in real time! I often recommend to my clients that if they are building to do a time lapse video or slide show or even live web cams(if you REALLY trust your construction company folks) because the donors see the progress and can watch their gift literally come to life.

4. Finally, both videos tell their stories in a unique and refreshing manner. It makes you think, react, laugh, enjoy the time and want to share them. That is effective and brilliant!!

So what do you think of these two samples from my collection?? I always look forward to your comments. If you have a video you want to share and proudly add to my coffers, email me the link:

Don’t forget to catch me on the upcoming November 15th ADRP webinar on Acknowledgments click here for more information!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Quid Pro Quo-Oh No!

Last week a hot topic flew across the listservs I am a member of. Yesterday, I brought it to my home base listserv to the surprise and sometime delight of some of my professional colleagues across the land. The IRS has just released its section 526 ruling for 2012. And lo and behold, there in tax-ease for all of us to misinterpret is a stricter ruling on the giving of "token gifts" to donors.

---The quid pro quo benefit limits for 2012 have just been announced by the IRS. They are as follows:

For gifts IN EXCESS OF $49.50, you may provide insubstantial (token) items, containing the organization name or logo, without reducing the gift amount as long as the cumulative low-cost value is LESS THAN $9.90.

For gifts below $49.50, you must fully disclose the value of all such benefits - and reduce the gift accordingly - if that benefit value is less than $1.
Below that gift level the token benefit exclusion no longer applies.

Therefore, for a gift of $25, the highest cumulative FMV of benefits you can provide without having to disclose/reduce the gift is a whopping 50 cents. A $10 gift = 20 cents in benefits without disclosure.

For more substantial benefits, like events not items, you do not have to disclose the value as long as the cumulative value of all benefits does not exceed $99 or 2% of the amount given - whichever is LESS.

This is why, on every solicitation some organizations send, they include a check box for: "Please waive benefits so we can deduct the full amount of donation for tax purposes."

See page 17 here for further clarification.

The "receipt" of the benefit does not have to be at the exact second the gift is made - getting it in the mail or in person a few weeks or months later as a direct result of a gift means that the donor "receives" something in exchange.”

These limits are right on trend and have made many of us in the donor relations world that abhor tchotchkes very happy. But for many of my colleagues the panicked question remains, "I'm supposed to follow these rules!?!" The answer is simply YES. Not only are we stewards of donors funds and the builders of relationships, we are also their advocates. Think of us as nurses in this sense, whatever is best for the patient/donor we MUST advocate for. This includes helping to protect them from losing their deductibility of their gift because we just HAD to give them another pen set. We must advocate and ensure that these IRS rules are followed to the letter.

I think from an internal perspective this means a sit down with your counsel and having them make a definitive ruling on this tax code for your organization. The next step involves your communicating with your internal constituents and explaining this to them. Making sure that they understand that this isn't just an idea you came up with so you can get rid of that closet full of gifts in your office(ahem)... Complete understanding and compliance is a must, it is our pleasure and duty to at all times keep the donor in mind.

According to Penelope Burk, who I will quote here, this directly aligns with what donors are telling her repeatedly in her studies and jives with what some of us have been preaching for years. Donor relations is not about an exchange of money for items or perks, it is a relationship building, appreciative, strategic, and holistic view of a relationship.

Penelope says,
"On this issue, both the IRS and donors are in complete agreement. Donors don't want these token gifts and sending them makes fundraisers' jobs much more difficult, especially in tough economic times. Why give donors one more reason to question the cost-effectiveness of fundraising appeals and the sincerity of not-for-profits who solicit with a sense of urgency, then refund some of the donor's gift in the form of a trinket that they never asked for and don't want.

There are, however, gifts that are truly appreciated by donors, which positively contribute to their retention and higher gift value, and which have no negative implication. They are:
• beautiful, original thank you letters -- considered to be the ultimate in donor recognition and often referred to by donors as "gifts";
• thoughtful, impromptu calls that acknowledge a recent gift or simply the ongoing loyalty of a donor -- stunningly effective at furthering donor retention, a source of tremendous information about donors for the purpose of cultivating them into major giving, and highly effective as a motivator for volunteers and paid professional fundraisers, reminding them why they do this job.

It's not often that I am able to say that the IRS got it right, but they certainly have on this issue. They are doing the fundraising industry and, in particular, our stewardship profession, a favor."

So, my challenge to you is, what are you doing to advocate for your donors? Are there other cases in which you have protected their interests? I look forward to your comments.

Until then, I'm having a garage/closet sale, anyone want a branded paperweight?? Ha.



--- Upcoming is another swap brought to you by the makers of the acknowledgment and solicitation swap...Get your best INVITATIONS ready!!---

Friday, October 14, 2011

Professional Development!

I just finished my final conference of the year, and I have to tell you, I am exhausted. I apologize for the radio silence the last few weeks but the world caught up with me. That and for once I took a real vacation to my parent’s house. That time away from my plugged in, constant driving world was a wonderful form of professional development for me, and a rare one at that. I did a whole lot of nothing, except for appreciating family, wilderness, and peace, something that all too often we forget to do for ourselves.

Then, I hopped right back on the road 24 hours later and did two conferences back to back and my full time job in between. I LOVE speaking and conferences; I really do. I believe that for your professional development dollars, there is no better investment. One might ask two questions though; 1. What is so great about a conference other than the sessions, and 2. If I don’t have conference budget money, what can I do? So here we go- tips and tricks from your guru friend.

1. Conferences are not all about the sessions. True, those of us that speak would like you to believe that our educational offerings are the end all be all, but in reality, it just isn’t true. I often learn more outside of the sessions than I do in them. Here’s how: I am constantly networking. There is no better teacher than hundreds or even thousands of people who do the same thing you do for a living. The shared bonds there are priceless and when you need a second or third opinion, what a great resource!
2. TALK to the vendors!! Most of them are great industry resources and have been around a while; they have a perspective that some of us cannot grasp as we are so deeply entrenched in the day to day.
3. Spend time at the bar. I’m not encouraging you to drink, well kind of, but ginger ale is perfectly acceptable here. Most of the leaders like to unwind at the end-or in the middle!- of a day with a good glass of wine or single malt scotch! If you catch someone there, the conversations can be very beneficial to your educational path and your career trajectory; some of the best hiring deals are done at the bar!
4. Not a drinker? Sign up for a dinner group or make one of your own! It doesn’t take much effort to have a great tie with colleagues and learn more about them. Staying in your conference hotel room will do you no good! You might say, well I want to see X city- great! Add a day for that- you are there to get development, and the best way is from your peers and industry leaders.
5. And if you have extra time and are in an area with lots of non profits, set up lunches or visits to places and people you would like to visit, both formally or informally. Use every minute of your time away from the office to develop your skills and learn from others; and be thrilled with the fact that your organization is providing you with a wonderful opportunity to be present and engaged in a conference! Don’t forget to write follow up emails and thank you notes to those you met and spent time with, it will leave a lasting impression!

NO budget money to travel to a conference? Here are some great ideas for those of you that are landlocked for the time being.
1. Apply for a scholarship- most conferences I attend have scholarship programs and are always looking for wonderful applicants- go for it
2. Follow the conference you want to attend on Twitter- it is amazing how much you can learn from us tweeps as we live tweet or blog sessions, it is like you are there- almost!! You can ask questions, follow along, and even reach out to speakers live!
3. When you find a speaker you like and see slides that interest you from one of their speeches, most can be found on or their websites… reach out to them, explaining you weren’t able to be there in person but could they talk you through it, I’ve never said no to anyone and have learned a great deal from these one on one sessions- don’t forget to send them a thank you note afterward!
4. Webinars are a cost effective solution to your inability to travel. They are often hosted by the same speakers and have wonderful content, some organizations even include them in their annual membership fee.
5. Volunteer locally to help organize a regional workshop, it doesn’t cost you anything but time and you usually can attract top speakers to your location and it is a great selling point to your leadership that they might want to let you attend the national version of that conference once they see the value of the sessions and networking that day!
6. READ! There are great blogs, ahem… lol newspapers such as the Chronicle of Philanthropy, websites and other sources for you to feel engaged in the larger community while still at your desk!
7. Participate! Use social media and other forms of sharing like listservs to have your burning questions answered- Every major group has a linked in page and facebook page too, in addition, most have twitter feeds. There is a lot to be discussed and learned out there and each of these are FREE!!

I hope this helps you understand that professional development takes many shapes forms and sizes and is all about what you make of it- I would love to hear your thoughts on the most valuable professional development you take part in, and ones you would like to see in the future!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Volunteer Management- V is for Volunteer, and Victory!!

Recently, at the 2011 ADRP International Conference in New Orleans, I was humbled and honored to receive the 2011 Volunteer Service Award. I was touched as a room full of my peers honored me in such a meaningful way. Which led me to think, hey, I’ve done presentations on volunteer management but haven’t blogged about it yet. So here we go, buckle up!

I have been volunteering in certain capacities all of my life, and now am an engaged volunteer not only in my professional life, but also for my alma mater’s annual fund and admissions office- Go Gamecocks! In addition, I have managed scores of volunteers, some with more success than others. Below is my basic tips and tricks to help ensure your success when you manage volunteers as part of your professional or personal life!

A volunteer is defined as: “A person who voluntarily expresses a willingness to undertake a service” We must remember the key terms WILLING and SERVICE. These are keys to understanding what makes a volunteer tick. I think the photo here expresses the way a greatdeal of volunteers feel.

My biggest tips seem like common sense but at times we forget them because we are so busy or embroiled in the process, we forget that these are people here to help US!

1.Match Strengths, not availability- don’t have a technophobe work on your latest QR code, or merge your excel spreadsheets just because they have time! Make sure your outgoing volunteers are making phone calls and not sorting through data- seems simple doesn’t it?
2.Have Realistic Expectations- Can this person really give this much/do all we are asking? Most volunteers now want projects that are clearly defined and have a beginning and an end and a tangible finish- do your volunteer roles look like that?
3.Spend more time on the front end- strategic planning for your volunteers is essential, you must have a plan for them and their activities and you must be able to step in should you be needed. Your plan should have at all times a goal to educate, enfranchise, and empower volunteers. In addition, the clearer and more transparent your plan, the more engaged your volunteer feels.
4.Be Thankful- there is nothing more meaningful to me as a volunteer or as someone who helps others than a sincere gesture of gratitude. I have two bulletin boards in my office full of thank you notes from colleagues and folks across the world I have helped in some way. When I am having a bad day, I look up at those notes and they make it ALL worthwhile.
5.This is going to be a tough one for some of you-It’s OK to “fire” them--“If you can’t fire a volunteer, you shouldn’t be in a leadership position in your organization.” It’s true, if you try to reassign someone and it really isn’t working, you are left with only one option…Here are some steps to help you.
Get Philosophically Ready and Get Leadership Buy In
Look for Alternatives to Firing-- Re-Assign. Re-Train. Re-Vitalize. Refer. Retire.
Conduct the meeting in a private setting.
Be quick, direct, and absolute.

6.Things that don’t work when managing volunteers:
Mixed Messages
Lack of Defining Roles
Lack of Gratitude
All of these pitfalls will ensure that you will not have happy or repeat volunteers… They will simply spend their time elsewhere. Is this the message you want to send? Make sure you have clarity and focus, a strategic plan and a backup plan when that goes awry!!

I would love to discuss this with you, please feel free to leave comments or ask questions!!
Cheers and thanks for reading,

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

QR Codes and Donors

Recently, I was performing a stewardship audit and was interviewing the special event team about their use of technology and events. I asked a simple question, "do you currently use QR codes for your events or for RSVPs?" Immediately, I received two answers from the ladies, "I don't even know what that is" said one, and the other shook her head and said, "I tie bows and do arrangements, I don't 'do' technology." Strikingly, outside of the conference room we were in was a poster for their football team's fall schedule, and smack dab in the middle was a QR code. Irony is rich here folks! Now, neither of these two were in their eighties, in fact, our "bow tier" friend was younger than I am. Sigh.

So here I am discussing with you a great and free new technology, the QR code. Last month, over 5 million QR codes were scanned on smart phones in the US alone. A QR code is like a UPC code for smart phones that redirects you to a webpage, including videos, photo slideshows and more. Smart phone populations are booming and I would hedge a bet that most of your donors have one, eMarketer estimates 31% of mobile users, or 73.3 million people in the US, have a smartphone this year.

You can take any URL in the universe and create a free QR code for it by going to this website, then voila! 15 seconds later you have an image you can cut and paste and use anywhere like this one for my website-

maybe I should get it tattooed somewhere? Overshare? Lol I did this creation during a recent conference session and the whole room was magically transformed, with light bulbs everywhere thinking of the ease and possibilities!

Regardless of my bad humor, I have some great suggestions on how you can incorporate them into your donor relations activities!

1. Use them on your publications, invitations, and solicitations. They can redirect to an RSVP form, an online giving site, more information, a video about your event, the possibilities are endless and they save tons of text!

2. My friends at MSP Digital Marketing and others use them on the back of their business cards- genius!!

3. Put them on shirts, t shirts, polo shirts, give away items etc. then your donors at an event could have their scholarship student show them how they work and the image could lead them to a video of that student, a virtual campus tour, or a gratitude video- brilliant!! Don't have the money to do that on t-shirts!?--- Print them on the student's nametags!!! Free and easy and a great way for the donor and student to interact!!!

4. Trying to get a student's attention for those all elusive thank you notes, post a QR code and a mysterious note like, "I bet you won't" across campus and have it lead to a form where they can learn why this is important and submit their note- and then be entered to win something fab like an iPad- endless possibilities here folks!

5. Use one of your on campus graphic designers and have them jazz up the QR code like Cornell, Jet Blue and others are doing. As you can see the possibilities, much like social media, are endless- I would love to hear your feedback, creative uses you have seen and any questions you might have!



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Plaque: not just a dental issue!

We seem, as an industry to have plaque disease. Hence, this video, although in Hebrew, is very relevant to today’s discussion. When I was at Rollins College, one of the activities I undertook, with the help of my two work study students was to photograph and catalog in a searchable database every named space and plaque on campus. It took us an entire summer but was really worth it! We even transcribed the writing in case the plaque was lost. If I tried that here, I would need a small army and a decade.

You see, the thing about plaques is that they are often problematic. We seem to be obsessed with them though- take a look at this google search. Amazing eh? And how many of us have had nightmare stories where the plaque has been misspelled, or the portrait looked like a bad jailhouse tattoo. I’m the girl that when I visit any museum, hospital, university, I’m always looking at the plaques and walls to see if they’re as bad as mine! All of my vendor friends at companies that make plaques are going to groan over this, but other than for naming recognition, what purpose do plaques serve? Should we be guiding our donors and fundraisers into a different form of recognition and stewardship? Playing devil’s advocate, there exists the argument that plaques serve as a lasting legacy for the donor and the institution. Agreed, but is there a better way? I can’t tell you how many plaques I have seen “lost” or “misplaced” when renovations or office moves happen. There has to be a better way than trusting these expensive bronze weighty monuments to “Fred” from facilities.

Now, I’m not saying get rid of them altogether, what I am asking for is that we as professionals encourage those we work with to find other mediums in which to recognize and tell stories than mounted brass. I would love to hear your plaque stories, no dentist tales here please, and your thoughts on our “plaque problem”; is it time for a deep cleaning? Sorry, bad pun but I couldn’t help myself!


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Giving Societies

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to speak at the Southeastern Donor Relations Conference sponsored by ADRP. There was a wonderful donor panel populated by some generous philanthropists who also were great characters. We really enjoyed listening to them tell about their relationships with giving, etc. At one point an attendee stood up and asked the panel how they felt about giving societies and which ones they belonged to. The grande dame of the panel grabbed the mic and said soundly, "Well, I am a proud member of the International Floral Designers and the Elite Floral Designers of America." Everyone in the room zoomed around, and glances were caught, while most of us were thinking that her "miss" of this development question brought home an important point, most donors don't know that they belong to a giving club or society that we have created, manufactured and branded for them.

We spend countless hours discussing giving societies on listservs and at conferences and yet I have never heard a donor say that they increase their giving or give so they can be a member of a giving society. My friend Paige went to great lengths to redefine her giving societies at Carnegie Mellon and has had much success with them. She simplified them and made sure that for everyone she created, she had meaningful benefits that met the donors needs. How many of you can name all of your giving societies and why they are each important and what benefits are received? I didn't think so. I think giving societies are often over hyped and under staffed, with many levels and confusion about what exactly it means. So the question then is how do you do them well? Here are some of my tips:

1. Don't create one if you don't have a clearly defined purpose or goal and know that this vehicle will work for your donors. What's wrong with just stewarding them well without giving it a fancy name and logo?

2. Keep it simple. I have three societies, two of which are currently working well and one which I am developing. A million dollar plus cumulative giving society, a planned giving society, and coming next a consecutive giving society similar to the Carolina Circle I mentioned a couple of posts ago.

3. If you delve into societies make sure you have the time and resources to do so. Under promise and over deliver, the reverse can be tragic. Nothing is worse than a splashy launch and not having a good product to back it up- anyone remember Pepsi Clear?

4. Be very careful about your benefits and quid pro quo IRS laws, CASE standards, etc. Make sure you get your list reviewed by legal so you're not digging yourself a ditch.

5. This related back to a practice I always employ, survey your donors first and find out what is important to them, does a society matter to them? What are their needs?

6. Make sure that you make the number of people in each society manageable, ensuring that if they are to get something hand signed by your president or CEO, that it indeed is possible, exclusivity doesn't mean thousands of people getting the same thing.

7. For the love of all that is good in the world, stay away from items/tchotckes, one caveat, I have seen lapel pins and nametag identifiers used well. Items cause tax problems, logistical and shipping issues and donors don't give to get. What is most meaningful to them is personalized notes, insider access, and clear communication.

I hope these guidelines help you and I look forward to an open dialogue about what is working for you and what isn't. I welcome your comments and questions.



Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Donor Relations Professionals- Just like Swiss Army Knives and American Express

I'm going to start today's blog with a story. My dad, as many of you know, is a great guy. He taught me many lessons growing up, one of which is to always be prepared. He never leaves his cabin at the top of the mountain without two things, a super duper Swiss Army knife and his American Express card. Now he also brings his cell phone, but historically it has always been those two things.
This directly leads to today's topic: donor relations as a profession. When I travel to speaking engagements and consultant jobs, I often hear the following, "I work in donor relations, so I don't have a seat at the table" and/or "No one treats me as a fundraising professional." And now for the tough love. Is this something you perceive because it is true and what have you done about it lately?

So, here we go with my philosophical list of tips and advice on this topic- feel free to comment below.

1. Know your role and how you fit into the overall fundraising operation and picture. If you don't understand how important and essential donor relations is, how are you going to communicate that to others? Can you define Donor Relations and Stewardship? Do you know the key components of each and the difference between the two? If you don't, how do you expect anyone else to?

2. As my friend Paige says, "don't bring your lunch into work in a Victoria's Secret bag and expect to be taken seriously." I love this because it sums up a great deal about donor relations as a profession, if we want a seat at the table, we MUST look and act like we belong.

3. Back to the Swiss Army knife and the AMEX. You must be indispensable. My dad and mom flew here to NYC to visit and he went to perform a simple fix in my apartment and because he couldn't take his trusty Swiss Army knife thanks to the TSA, he was at a loss for his "go to" solution. Although, I made sure that his AMEX didn't go to waste here in the city! You MUST be your leadership's go to solution when in a pinch. My friend Darnell and I observe that some Donor Relations professionals are out of the office for vacation for 4 or more weeks and we chuckle at the idea of this! Can you imagine being so dispensable that you aren't needed for that long? Most of my VPs would have gone bonkers and so would I thinking of the important conversations, meetings, and work, we were missing!

4. You need to be a strategic thinker. Donor Relations is no longer the reactionary field it once was; now we must take the role of leading the organization's strategy with its constituents in partnership with leadership. If you don't have a strategic plan for donor relations at your organization, you are far behind the curve. Remember, we are all swimming in the same philanthropic ocean, and if I do it better, then the current streams my way. Perform a stewardship audit, benchmark best practices and next practices, attend a conference, host a regional gathering of others in the field, hire a consultant to give you an outside perspective. The key here is- Do Something! Your leadership will respect you and thank you for it, it shows initiative, it is no longer good enough to just keep to the status quo and keep your head down and not make waves.

6. Say NO! It is perfectly acceptable for you to set boundaries with your program, as long as you have backup for your decisions. We as a profession and personality are mostly people pleasers and "yes" men and women. It is time to stand up and be noticed that indeed, while you are like a Swiss Army knife, you have specific functions, skills, and talent areas, and should be used for those, this would all be clear to your colleagues and leadership if you had that strategic plan. After all, have you ever used the toothpick from a Swiss Army knife to saw a branch? I thought not, the toothpick says "no".

7. Prioritize. You can't be everything to everyone, and if you have to make a decision as to who to say no to, ask your leadership to help you prioritize. This will garner you respect and save you from being labeled a Martyr in your organization, a label that for a long time Donor Relations has held proudly. Well, no longer, a savvy professional knows when to ask for help and leaders respect and admire that.

I hope these tips help you when you think of yourself as a Donor Relations professional. I would love to hear your comments or questions. Cheers, Lynne

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Consecutive/Loyalty Donors

As I was preparing myself for my upcoming travel schedule- back to back trips, including speaking at the ADRP/SEDRC in Raleigh, NC; I received a great piece of mail right before I put my mail on hold for the 7 days. I am a proud supporter of my alma mater, The University of South Carolina. And every year, I make my annual gift. After I make my gift, I receive the usual receipt and acknowledgment, but I also receive something special, I am a member of the Carolina Circle, something USC reminds me of every year. I receive a postcard and the back of it is a vinyl decal, when I had a car these decals were proudly displayed on my back window along with my gamecock club membership decal, now that I take the subway, they reside on my fridge or office bulletin board, a constant reminder of their acknowledgment of my consistent giving. The Carolina Circle is for those of us who have given consistently, at any amount, for the past three years or more. This simple gesture enhances in me the feeling that USC values me and knows that my gift matters, its just good donor relations. And so that leads me to ask you, what are you doing for your consecutive donors? Do you know who the are? How many you have? What do they "look" like? If you haven't thought about these folks, I challenge you to take a new look. Every time I visit with one of my consulting clients during their donor relations audits, this is one of my consistent areas of focus.

Here are some reasons for focus you might not be aware of:
1. Consistent donors are the BEST planned giving prospects. Period.
2. Consistent donors are usually present at many of your events, and make sure to support you in their community.
3. Consistent donors make GREAT volunteers, spokespeople and helpers.
4. They are deeply committed to your cause and I would argue that telling their stories is MORE valuable than your "major donors".
5. Consistent donors make GREAT focus groups and survey folks. They have been around for a while and can tell you what has worked and where you can improve.
6. The ROI on these efforts is HUGE. Remember its 7 times cheaper to keep the donors you have happy than to go out and acquire new ones!

So now we go back to the central question, what have you done for them lately? If you hesitate or have no idea, this might be a good time to start recognizing them. You don't have to create a society or a big to do around them, but you should recognize their importance and build this group into your strategic donor relations planning.

A few simple ideas:
1. A postcard like USC's, with or without a decal or magnet.
2. A special email or video for them. A communication that let's them know they are valued and you know who they are and why they matter.
3. Invite them to the same events your major donors are invited to, remember its the thought of inclusion that matters for them.
4. Feature them and tell their stories in your publications, have one of them speak at your next event, etc. A lifetime of good will is headed your way, and other donors will identify with them more than they can the mega million trustee type donor.
5. Run a thank a thon just for them. Have staff, volunteers, students, anyone call them to thank them, and JUST thank them(lol), for their loyal support and devotion to your mission!

NOTICE: I didn't say mail them a random tchotchke or have an event just for them. That's not the idea here folks, if you need to clean out your closets, do it some other way, if you want another event to plan, find a different strategy- honest tough love. :)

Now I ask: What are you doing? What would you like to do? I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, questions!


Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Year, New Ideas?

As the end of the fiscal year quickly approached last week, I was thinking about what it meant to have a new year, at Yeshiva, I get to celebrate three each year, the Jewish new year, the calendar new year and the fiscal new year- try to keep that straight in your head!! The nice thing about the new fiscal year is that it often allows us to begin to think about or implement new ideas. The trouble with that is that for many of us, innovation in our bureaucratic organizations can be very challenging and sometimes impossible.
In order to help with this effort, I created a presentation called "Dancing on the Edge: Pushing the limits of Innovation in your Program". When I presented this topic at the CASE Donor Relations conference, there was standing room only and a crowd that was receptive and open to my way of thinking about the way we can effect change. If you are the kind of professional that is happy with the status quo, warning, this post isn't for you. This post is about how to become an advocate of innovation, someone who can then deliver that message to leadership with a vested interest.
For many years now I have been seen as a leading innovator in the field of development and donor relations, this didn't happen by accident, I make a conscious effort to have innovation at the forefront of everything I am and everything I do. So below you will find a link to my slides and I will expound on a few key steps to success here.

1. You MUST own being innovative and plan for time to do so. If you don't, no one else will. It is your job to look at a process and be able to ask the question, How can I make this better?. That is the core of the innovative spirit. Set aside time in your busy schedules for innovation, if you don't you will continue doing the same old things over and over.

2. Understand innovation. Innovation is when a good idea meets implementation. You must define what better looks like and how you will strive to achieve it. It is wonderful to have a visionary idea, but if it is not able to be implemented, what is the point?

3. Do a risk vs. benefit analysis. What is this? As my father would put it, "its a pro/cons list silly." You need to balance the equation and make sure that the new innovation is worth any risks involved. There is NOTHING wrong with calculated risks.

4. Embrace failure, in fact, give it a big hug and a smooch! I learn more from my failures than I Ever have from a success!! We have to stop being afraid to fail, and I will put this in its simplest terms, if you fail, no one will die. Thankfully what we do is powerful and meaningful and does a great deal of good in the world. However, thankfully, we don't hold anyone's lives in our hands like say, uhm, a brain surgeon or rocket scientist- did you like those creative examples?- I thought so.

5. Innovation is possible at EVERY organization, I have yet to find a leader, both in my daily work and on my consulting trips, who, if you present them with solid ideas and a plan for implementation, does not want things to be better. If you are reading this and shaking your head saying, "you don't know my VP/boss" this thought is for you: maybe it is not your message but it is the messenger. Tough love, yes. But it applies to everyone, even me. I talk candidly that I am not everyone's cup of tea, however I know my strengths and weaknesses and often have other people present my ideas to leadership because I know that they are the right person to perform the approach. In football it's called an end around, in the military it's called flanking, take your pick!

6. Finally, and most importantly, innovation is not about YOU. Check your ego at the door. If the idea gets credited to a lunar eclipse or to another team member, who cares!? It makes the organization better, if you are working in non profit and don't understand that by now, get a job in the for profit sector, Steve Jobs pays well for innovations. I will happily let anyone take credit for any idea I come up with if it benefits us all in the end. Then, I quietly go back to my office and give myself a high five and add the innovation to my resume and move on to the next!

Click here for the presentation.

I hope these tips help you the next time you come up with the next improvement or innovation for your organization. As always, I am open to criticism and comments, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Project Managing "Mission Impossible"

Hi everyone- so sorry for the lag in posts! As some of you know it is the end of the fiscal year today for lots of us!! In addition to back to back donor relations and special events conferences where I met fabulous new friends, I was recently given the largest and most pressure packed project to manage in the past 6 days. Let's see here, how can I describe the particular hell I have been working on lately?  I figure combined, my team and I, a core group of four put in solid 14 plus hour workdays and countless hours on the train and at home reviewing the documents. There are a few key lessons that I learned during this crisis project management and I want to share them with you.

1. Have a plan- my plan started in the shower at 5am, trying to come up with a list of resources we would need and what it would take to get the job done. Then I broke that out and began to assign those parts to the staff I had that were best suited for that role, my task was primary project management and quality control, I had someone in charge of spreadsheets and data, someone in charge of logistics, and another in charge of obtaining supplies and general needs. Dividing the work helped us have clear roles and responsibilities and also played to my staff's strengths. My admins also enjoyed watching me take lunch orders and running to get coffee and soda when the caffeine and sugar had run out, no job was too big or too small for any of us, including me.
2. Communication is key, every day twice a day, the leadership wanted written updates, so before these happened we met as a team to ensure that we could give them sound updates of our progress. I was constantly on the phone or emailing those in charge ensuring they knew of our status, sanity, and progress.
3. You need to have built relationships BEFORE the crisis or project hits your plate. My team worked tirelessly side by side, with the mantra of "we can do this" we reached out to our key contacts and pulled in every favor in the book to accomplish what my VP called "mission impossible".
4. Be clear about your obstacles and where you need help. There were many obstacles to our success in this project (most of them were people). Every time I faced one, I went to the leaders, the ones who handed down the edict to "get r done" and told them of my obstacle, phone calls from "on high" were made and the obstacle disappeared. You must be truthful and non dramatic, don't make this about you or the person, keep it project focused.
5. Be prepared for the unexpected. Mid way through the project, another division decided that the project was "too much to handle" and dropped their portion back on my office. My staff was agile and focused, we already had a plan of attack for our work and enacted our plan for their division's portion seamlessly.
6. One of the largest lessons came from someone in charge of our operations who I really look up to, I was at a breaking point and someone in another division was being uncooperative, so I thought I would go to her to "vent". Instead, I learned a valuable lesson- there is no point in venting if you don't want something done about it. 30 seconds later the uncooperative party was told in no uncertain terms to "get with the program". I didn't need to vent, I needed action, and this leader made me see and realize that my venting was unproductive whining.
7. Have quality control standards. At the beginning of this project we all sat down and addressed our biggest potential pitfall, a simple mistake made due to time and pressure constraints. We are all human, but there was no room for error. Everything was reviewed three times, with the final review being mine so I would own any errors. We found mistakes, we corrected and moved forward.
8. Make your expectations of your team up front. I communicated to them that everything else in our lives and work was no longer a priority, lunches and breaks disappeared, chit chat and socializing with others became mute and we all just buckled down. To ease the tension, there was plenty of bad greasy food, loud 80s music, and horrible jokes at our own mistakes, but everyone in our unit and elsewhere knew this was our sole focus.
9. Tensions can and will erupt, my associate director and I got into a spat, over what we still haven't figured out yet, lol. But at the time we were both overworked, frustrated, and on edge. Apologies we said, we cooled down and the work continued, it wasn't personal, it was the geyser erupting and it actually helped push us forward. Crap happens, its how you deal with it and where you go from there that is important- PS- she won the fight- lol 10. Finally- celebrate!! We bought celebration candy and kept it in the fridge waiting for the moment that I had been waiting 7 days for, sending the email to the big bosses that we had accomplished the impossible. We danced, we sang, we hugged and high-fived, the sense of relief was palpable.
And later, we will do a post mortem to learn what we could have done better, how I could have been a better leader and to review our accomplishment.
I hope this helps those of you when you are assigned those impossible projects in the future and reminds you of those times when you just weren't going to make it!!
I look forward to your comments and to hear your stories as well! Have a great end of the fiscal year and long weekend for some of you!!



Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guest Post on Donor Communications

Wonderful guest post by one of my Tweeps, Amy Oberholzer, who has been working in the charity sector for 4 years now, which has been extremely rewarding; hearing the feedback from donors, charity clients & their beneficiaries is what motivates me each day to go that step further. Donor com's is one of my passions! "I spend most of my days helping to build engaging stewardship programs with clients, as I believe that this is key in every regular giving campaign. However at the end of the day, I like to think that, "It's about making a difference..."

Many folks I’ve chatted to recently have stopped supporting a charity because they were either never thanked or simply sent out the generic “thank you” letter that doesn’t seem to change much from appeal to appeal. I’m not sure which is worse...

If your supporters don't feel like they are helping, or that their donations are not needed or taken for granted - majority will end up moving on to support another charity. One vital way you can keep a hold of your valuable supporters is to make sure you have a robust stewardship strategy, which is built on good donor com's.

Donor Com’s should be inspiring, sharing an honest & powerful story. Making a supporter feel like they are on a journey with you, helping you in your path to achieve your objectives. Com’s are in place to build a relationship between you and your supporters, it’s personalised (as much as possible) and sent out on a regular basis in their preferred medium.

Take your supporters on a journey, show them how their support is making a difference in your charity and how IMPORTANT they are in helping you to achieve your objectives.

Answer their questions and thank them promptly. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they feel about supporting your charity, and how & when they want to hear from you. Give them different options to support your charity in other ways (eg - volunteering, campaigning, etc).

Most of all treat them like a person, not a number!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mid-level donors — Looking beyond the data

This post was written as a guest post for Blackbaud's blog an can also be seen here:

As I travel across the country as a speaker and consultant, helping people assess their stewardship programs and build a mid-level giving strategy, I often ask for a pile of data ahead of my visit. Inevitably in the package from every organization I visit, large and small, are the ubiquitous LYBUNT and SYBUNT reports. These reports are often the bedrock of an organization’s data mining and data collection and every time I see them I smirk and shake my head. When I finally arrive on site, one of the first questions I ask is, “What do these reports tell us about our constituencies?” I often get blank stares and then inevitably someone attempts to tell me and define what a LYBUNT or SYBUNT is. I know what they are, and I know why these reports were once deemed important and useful, but what these reports fail to allow us to see is any connection or depth about the constituent except for their ability to write a check or enter credit card numbers.

We have to stop thinking about our donors transactionally and start thinking of them as round, dynamic and diverse populations of people who are engaged with our organizations. This is especially true for the mid-level donors. We know they give solidly year after year at more than a token level, and we know they haven’t yet made their first major gift, but what else do we know? Because our staff is often focused at the top or bottom of the giving pyramid, these loyal and engaged donors are often left in the gap. In addition, how many organizations have stewardship plans, cultivation strategies and solicitation staff dedicate to this group? I would argue not many.

But before we build plans, strategies and invest human resources, we must learn more about them. Do they attend our events, open our emails, or engage with us on social media? How do they identify themselves and their affiliation with our organizations? And, how do we find out this information? These mid-level donors will help us build our strategy if we engage them in meaningful ways and compile data that is more robust and deep than just giving history and wealth. We give the donors the opportunity to engage, interact, and make choices; then we analyze those who are most identified by the traits of a mid-level donor — loyalty, engagement, interaction, targeted meaningful philanthropy — and THEN we implement based on their needs. Much like we already do with our major donors, and look at the success! After all these are major donors in training, no?

What are the rewards? Our ROI increases exponentially as these are fiercely loyal donors, once treated properly, and we build a cadre of constituent profiles that are rich, deep, and fruitful. So the next time you think about your mid-level donors, I hope that you will see them in a different lens than before. I welcome your questions, comments and thoughts.

Cheers, Lynne

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to Know What Your Donors Want

I am constantly being asked to help people come up with ideas and plans to help steward their donors. Last week alone, I fielded requests for designing a high end gift society to creating a stewardship plan in detail from scratch. Each time I receive a blanket request like this or read an obtusely vague question on one of the listservs, the first question that pops into my mind is always, "Have you asked your donors what they want?"

In reality, I can give you some generalizations based on trends, some emerging ideas and other ideas that I have proven successful over time at different institutions. However what I cannot produce, without time and research is exactly what will work for your donor base and population. I have found that far too often, we as donor relations professionals spend too much time planning for what we think donors will want, without even asking them first! Every time I go to a consulting job, one of the most important meetings for me as I do my analysis is to have dinner with a group of highly engaged donors and volunteers. I learn so much from them and while generally their needs are similar, most times, they vary widely. This brings me to a hot topic I've been dealing with lately, surveying. How many of you survey your donors, formally or informally? Why? Why NOT? It is a wonderful, cost effective way to receive feedback from your target audience, it also allows for wonderful substantiation of your work to leadership and key decision makers. It also will greatly aid your strategic planning efforts. So here are a few examples of surveying your donors, followed by some links to actual surveys from organizations.

1. Survey monkey/online surveying following an event or new initiative, not just to those who participated, but also to those that didn't- what motivated them not to?
2. A survey included with your endowment or annual reports- asking them if the information was clear, if there is more they need from you, who else should receive this in the future and also if you can send it digitally in PDF from now on!
3. A small focus group of donors and volunteers -perhaps over lunch to talk about how they feel your organization treats them after they give-- make sure this group includes a sample of your donors, not just major givers, and all ages too!!
4. Phone calls to spot check how things are going, informal yet informative!

If you have comments or questions please email me, comment here or find me on Twitter @donorguru
Also, send me your samples and I will share them too!

Links to Forms:
Rollins College
George Washington
Arizona State

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The High Needs Donor

My friend Paige Eubanks-Barrow, one of the wizards of donor relations at Carnegie Mellon University posted this article on her Facebook page yesterday. The article made my brain spin with implications and commentary, below are some of my thoughts. For more, you can come see Paige, myself, and others discuss this issue, among others at the CASE Donor Relations Conference in Austin, TX June 1-3.

As we enter a new era of philanthropy in the 21st century, particularly in post-recession times, donors giving habits and expectations are changing dramatically. They often expect greater levels of transparency and accountability, which is a boon for donor relations professionals as we help to educate fundraisers and other administrators of the importance of stewardship. However, this assertiveness by donors crosses into many grey areas, much like in the story about the billionaire and the endowed chair. The place where this tendency is most evident is that of scholarships. Weekly, donor relations professionals on countless discussion boards, listservs, and emails face the tried, true, and tricky question, "Donor A wants to select or help select their scholarship student. Is this ok?" My answer is always a resounding "NO" citing IRS regulations that then this is no longer a gift anymore.

Despite all advice about how to handle a conversation like this with a donor, I know it is difficult. Having had a great deal of exposure to "high needs" donors over time has taught me that once properly explained, most philanthropists understand, at least after the 2nd or 3rd try... A donor can always put criteria restrictions in the gift agreement, however the most savvy fundraisers know that the more restrictions, the less likely the fund is able to easily be distributed. This applies not only to scholarships and chairs but also to things like research funds, and directed use funds. I believe that this is where good relationship building and donor relations is most key, allowing donors and fundraisers the room to have the "Crucial Conversations" necessary to make both sides happy and feel good about the gift. How do you feel about the article and the new expectations of philanthropists? Please comment below...

Also please don't forget to add your letters to the over 200 submissions in the Great Acknowledgment Swap of 2011 by emailing them to me at
Cheers, Lynne

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Donor Relations and development training at its finest, from Mom!

As I sat on the train this morning, I was working on my next blog post and also wondering simultaneously if my mom would receive her mother’s Day card today. And then it hit me, I am a donor relations professional because of my mother. Put the non-applicable degrees aside and the years of experience, Donor Relations and development fundamentals I learned from a great source, Mom. I will go through the essentials and then you can comment and tell me if I am wrong…

1. The ability to write custom, personal hand written thank you notes, that is a direct result of not being able to play with my birthday or Christmas presents until my notes were written. This is the core of what I do, giving gratitude and my mom is an expert with note card and ink, she even made me practice extra in my big chief notebooks to make sure my script was legible and dignified, something that to this day I take great pride in. I have built many a relationship and strengthened others with a simple four sentence note of appreciation.
2. Ahh, how to have great table manners and etiquette, including her three big ones, never ordering off of the kids menu, never being a difficult orderer (no sauce on the side here)- can we say hello to those people who RSVP to your events wanting a “South Beach Diet” entrĂ©e? And the importance of always deferring to the person “hosting you” to order the wine, and if we want to share appetizers, mimicking their ordering to make sure I was in line. And this is why now, when I hire someone I always try to have at least one interview involving food!!
3. The importance of ALWAYS RSVPing. Making sure that the hostess never had to follow up with me and we always made the deadline!! How I wish everyone else felt this way!
4. The priceless etiquette of great gift giving making sure it is personal, custom, and purposeful, while still remembering her mantra- “Buy them something they wouldn’t buy themselves” This eliminates the need for embarrassing dust collecting tchotckes in my work career and has allowed me to really wow some donors with great gifts!
5. The importance of relationship building, things like remembering names, knowing if someone is left handed for seating purposes, knowing favorite works of art and flowers, all of the little details that make people know you value their relationship. When a family would come over to visit, my mother would have a little something for each child (and to keep them occupied) and we NEVER went to someone’s home empty handed.
6. Being the consummate hostess, my mother hosted many corporate parties and that meant that she always attended to others needs first and was the last one to eat or drink at an event, a rule I still have for my team. I get to eat at the tastings, not at the events! You too should be consumed with making sure everyone else’s glasses and plates are full and never have anyone ask you where the trash can is because from across the room you glide over and clear their plate or take away their empties, people notice this and love it!
7. Falling on the “guest grenade” and having an inane in depth conversation about whatever minutiae (like whether oaks or elms give better shade) is most important to them so that the most important person in the room can schmooze the way they need to. I’ve done this countless times in my career and the VP or President is always grateful.
8. When dealing with sticky situations, sometimes it’s just better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. Do I need to explain?
9. There is no job too big or too small. I have seen her do everything from host a CEO and his family to cleaning cigarette butts out of her potted plants. This is essential for us to remember in donor relations.
10. Can you remember this one when you attend meetings about meetings? “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”
11. Finally, the one I work on constantly… Patience, many things happen more slowly than we want them to, so we have to remember that sometimes, that’s ok. And sometimes it may be a blessing, like I said- work in progress for those of you who know me personally…
Without these simple essentials that my mother taught me, I would not be the donor relations professional I am. I think of how blessed I was that all along, mom was right (of course) and was preparing me for a future. So be thankful if you learned these growing up as I did. And for those of you still learning them all, we all still have something to learn.

I would love to hear your comments and feedback. Thank you so much for reading.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Guest Post - Types of Facility-Based Donor Recognition

Guest Post - Types of Facility-Based Donor Recognition

I often hear all types facility-based donor recognition lumped together as "donor walls", even though we know from experience that the nuances of how and why the donor is recognized - in this location, in this format, for this duration - could fill volumes with recognition theory. As donor relations professionals, it is important to understand the communications goals for each recognition opportunity and to craft the form and function to meet architectural and budget requirements as well as donor expectations and the need for change and growth over time.

I advocate a comprehensive program of facility-based recognition that balances individual naming opportunities, project or campaign-specific listings and a centralized destination for cumulative giving recognition. Each point of recognition has its own purpose and communicates a different aspect of the organization's relationship with the donor.

• A naming opportunity is recognition for significant participation in a specific area, project or campaign. The physical recognition components are seen only by those who frequent that area. However, this format typically includes the most information about the donor's involvement with the institution, including story to explain the association between the area chosen and the donor's interests. The goal here is celebration of a single donor, most often for a single major gift.

• Project or campaign listings group donors who pooled their efforts during a specific time frame or for a specific cause. This category of recognition includes both capital campaign recognition, which is considered permanent, and listings that change annually, or even more frequently. Often, these lists include donors below the entry level of a naming opportunity, allowing for the presentation of a larger group of names. Descriptive copy establishes the timeframe and purpose of the project or campaign, but details about individual donors are usually limited. Categorization by donor type is also a hallmark of these types of lists; it is not unusual to see list that are specific to alumni, faculty, staff, grateful patients or corporate donors. Listings of this type are intended to celebrate a group of donors and are often coupled with information on how new donors can join.

• Cumulative listings provide the best opportunity for recognizing donors' total involvement and presenting the full scope of donor participation. Typically, cumulative listings are centralized in a prominent location. This creates a destination for philanthropic recognition, where inclusion is an achievement of particular significance and honor. Entry levels are based on total volume of the donor pool, with some forecast of the longevity of the display. The listing should be elite, but not so elite that the list does not communicate a volume of support. Most organizations structure their programs to list a hundred or more donors in the entry level category, with only a few listed at the highest levels. We typically recommend a hierarchy of categories, indicated by a change in order and size, with largest gift amounts organized at the top or left. Cumulative giving is often coupled with planned giving, historical information and other content to enhance the viewers understanding of the role of philanthropy within the organization.

Our firm places the highest priority on cumulative giving recognition for one very important reason: it is the best way to encourage repeat giving by major donors. Surely there will be many donors who are presented as a result of a single, substantial gift, but they are listed in a context that communicates the opportunity for every donor to give more.

Anne Manner-McLarty

Anne is Vice President and Senior Creative Consultant for Robin E. Williams Incorporated. A frequent speaker on Best Practices for Donor Recognition, she encourages organizations to "Think before you Thank!"
Please register for Anne's upcoming ADRP Webinar, The Virtual Donor Wall.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Solicitations The Good, but mostly The UGLY

This week I received two mail solicitations from two completely different organizations. One was from Susan G. Komen for the Cure and one was from a former employer and my graduate school. What is so enlightening and thought provoking is just how off base both of them were! It truly demonstrated to me that solicitations, just like donor relations, needs to be thoughtful, purposeful and relevant to the audience.

Let’s examine them both as case studies:

First I received what we will call the “mid level” solicitation. As all of you know, I am studying and writing and presenting on mid level donors a great deal lately and even wrote a blog post on the subject a while back. This was a form letter; addressed properly at least, that was “written” by a student. In it, I was asked to make a $1885 commitment for 4 years. A solid mid level ask and a commitment, considering my last and largest gift to them was $150 when I was still employed and enrolled there. This letter was impersonal, unattached and clearly was pulled off of some sort of LYBUNT or SYBUNT list. On the back of the letter they had printed a “honor roll of donors” of those who had joined this giving society by making this commitment they were asking me to make.

I was instantaneously turned off. Reasons why follow:

1. The letter was impersonal and came out of seemingly “nowhere” I haven’t received an email, no invitations, nothing except this ask in a long while!
2. That level of ask shouldn’t come through a letter in my opinion, I mean, can I get a phone call, a visit, something, before you ask me for the equivalent of $7500??
3. Listing others who have given at that level does nothing for me, except make me think that they have plenty of donors at this already, including all of the trustees.
4. If they had engaged me digitally, or at all, to gauge my interests and learn more about me as a donor and person before sending this blind solicitations, I might have been more receptive.
Needless to say I won’t be joining the cause.

Second I received a really pretty envelope from Susan G. Komen for the Cure and instantly I saw the address labels peeking out from inside. Sigh. Address labels really? Inside was a letter and flyers for how I could buy magazine subscriptions for $10 a piece and support their cause. Again, I was instantly turned off, here’s why:

1. Address labels, really?? It’s 2011, I pay my bills online, and rarely do I need my return address, if I do I just write it in- jeesh! How old fashioned!!
2. How “ungreen” of them! Think of the thousands of these they mailed out wasting paper and money-
3. Could you please solicit me by email or online? That is the way I live and if you knew that, you would never mail to me
4. Ordering magazines? Really, seriously? I am philanthropic to a cause, to support something I believe in, not to get discounted magazines, and did I mention that I read most of my magazines online now?

So now that I’ve complained sufficiently and told you why I won’t be giving to these two, let me tell you about a wonderful solicitation I received on Monday. One of my friends is doing a walk for the March of Dimes. I received a personal email from an old college buddy (and facebook friend), including a video pulling at my heartstrings and he told us in that email why he is walking. Did I give? Absolutely. For many reasons:
1. It was digital, lord knows he didn’t send me a letter! It was multimedia, including a video!
2. It was personal, directed at me…
3. I already had a relationship with this person and this isn’t the only time he talks to me, to ask me for money!!
4. I felt connected to his story and understood why it meant a great deal to my friend.
5. I knew my money was needed and wasn’t wasted on superfluous things like address labels!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Guest Post- The Donor Relations Profession

Please enjoy this wonderful guest post by my friend and collegaue Erika Bernal--Anothe rpost coming later this week on Social Media and the 2011 AFP International Conference!

Have you ever had that day as a stewardship professional when your expertise simply isn’t carrying the weight that you need it to? You’re sitting around a table of vice presidents, development officers, budget managers, and grant administrators, and although you have read hundreds of effective gift agreements in your career, for some reason or another, today the players have reverted to that single problematic agreement that slipped through the cracks years ago. What to do…

Above all, remember, you are the expert! Donor relations, in all its glory (and un-glory), is arguably the single most diverse field in advancement. When it comes down to it, they ask YOU to prep an event in a single day. You jet set meaningful recognition items off to your largest donor and draw a smile from across the nation. You can explain endowment policy to your gift officers, and convince the dean of your institution to take a different spending path to best honor donor intent. You have seen it all and have the best tools necessary to get the job done efficiently.

We strategize…we communicate…we innovate and implement to help keep our donors engaged in the missions of our institutions. What we seem to most commonly fail at is recognizing ourselves as a critical piece of the puzzle. Celebrate the expertise that you bring to the table. Be conscious of all opinions, and at the same time make sure that putting yours on the back-burner doesn’t happen in every circumstance. Our profession honors the actions of others. I, personally, think it makes sense to take credit for the effort and experience that we are all able to claim because we were asked to sit at that table from the very beginning.

Erika Bernal

Erika Bernal currently serves as Sr. Donor Relations and Stewardship Coordinator for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. In her current capacity, she focuses primarily on strategic donor correspondence, donor-restricted grant reporting and other written stewardship activities for the benefit of the Medical Center. Erika has a strong interest in creating reporting efficiencies in order to satisfy specific donor requests and to successfully illustrate gift impact over time. By thinking creatively and in a systems-oriented way, Erika hopes to share with donors the extraordinary innovations, treatments, and cures discovered by Cedars-Sinai’s scientists and researchers. She is working to make information more accessible to donors and to illustrate the profound effect that each donor has made.

Previously, as Associate Director of Donor Relations at Pomona College, Erika had been charged with monitoring stewardship activities undertaken in the academic departments and campus programs. Additionally, she managed stewardship for endowed professorships, instructional funds and other restricted gifts; assisted development officers with researching and drafting of gift agreements; contributed to the development of donor and alumni publications including the annual honor roll of donors; conducted stewardship audits; and initiated academic department communication on endowed and other restricted funds as well as external donor correspondence on fund use. As part of her professional philosophy, Erika recognizes that a donor characterizes trust in the goodwill of an institution and faith in the institution’s ability to successfully implement programs to achieve its mission. Her personal approach is to uphold the responsibilities and accountability that institutions feel in respect to their donor relationships in order to strengthen them.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Next Best Practice- Part 1

Here is an amazingly impactful and timely post by my friend and guest blogger Paige Eubanks-Barrow.

You’ve heard about alumni participation rate a lot lately, and you’ve seen your institutional leadership pressure gift officers to get more gifts, more dollars and more donors. Their battle cry: “If we can’t hit our fund raising goal in this economy, by God, we WILL hit the donor number goal!”
Alumni giving participation rates are dropping, and not because people are losing interest or are unable to give to their alma maters. We aren’t losing donors; we are graduating alumni who haven’t been told about the impact donors have had on their lives. They haven’t been told that their tuition doesn’t cover the cost of their education.

Age and tradition play a large part in this equation too. Carnegie Mellon University is young. Our aspirational peers are older –some hundreds of years older – and they have that special, seemingly unattainable culture of giving. That special something that moves alumni to give back as a matter of pride and expectation.

Clearly, we must begin to create a similar culture of giving on our campuses starting with a student’s first step on campus. A common perception is that our institutions have their hands out the moment our graduates move their tassels. And in a sense, we have operated that way. Until institutional leadership recognizes that standard operating procedure as a problem, we will be stuck with these poor perceptions.
Math is against us. Even if participation rates stay the same for a time, alumni bases will grow at such a pace that participation statistics will be turned upside down. But timing is on our side. I’ll be the first to admit, my research on students’ perception of philanthropy consists mostly of listening to stirrings and conversations of peers here on campus and from conference to conference, year after year. Yet, without actually quitting my job to pursue a Ph.D. on the topic, I feel I can confidently say that the downturn of the U.S. economy -- while robbing many of us of our livelihood and security -- has incited a positive shift in higher education advancement culture.

Technology and the economy have created a perfect storm of opportunity. Today’s student audiences are bigger, more diverse and poorer than ever. They have greater access to college and are receiving more financial aid than any previous generation. Because of the poor economy, today’s graduate programs are experiencing an influx of students seeking to redirect or expand their career options.

So consider these two audiences: undergraduates with tremendous need and capacity to appreciate donors now; and graduate students, who received assistance as undergraduates, have been in the real (working) world and now can appreciate as adults the very real impact the generosity of others has had on them and their families.
This current campus population is poised to be the most appreciative of philanthropic gestures from the current donor base because they can touch and feel it now. They are living it every single day of their lives. With them, we have to act now. The consequences of doing little or nothing will be felt over and over again when this very large group of prospective future donors reaches their wealth and prosperity peak in the next 20 to 30 years.

Non-profit organizations can no longer afford to put off what is important to accommodate what is immediate. The opportunity to create an educated and informed philanthropic-minded alumni base is here and it is HUGE. So put on your shoes, run and tie them as you go. It is truly an exciting prospect when we stop to consider that we have this tremendous opportunity to have an impact on the future of our institutions.

In 2010, Carnegie Mellon took its first steps in actively educating the student population with its first “Love-A-Donor Day.” Results were so positive that we replicated it five times over in 2011 with “Love-A-Donor Week.” These are not the only steps we have taken, and certainly they are not the only steps to take. Next week we will share more about these strategies and others that we hope will encourage you to join us as we strive to educate and inform the next generation of philanthropists. If you would like to share what you are doing at your institution to encourage student and young alumni philanthropic participation, please email me at

Paige Eubanks-Barrow is senior associate director of donor relations at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Naming Game

Recently, my colleagues, Darnell Hines of Wake Forest university and Mary Solomons of Skidmore College and I were featured in a CASE Currents article on naming opportunities entitled “The Naming Game” (it can be found on Naming opportunities can often be cumbersome for donor relations professionals, with plans varying from location to location and campus to campus. Sometimes, we even end up at locations that lack naming policies altogether, or as donor relations professionals are brought into the naming opportunity conversation too late in the process. Other unique opportunities also arise when one names spaces. What happens when that space is demolished? What happens when the purpose changes? What happens when the plaque goes missing during renovations? It’s not enough to have preemptive planning in place, as Darnell discusses so eloquently in the article. It is also essential to have a backup plan for when things don’t transpire so smoothly. What do you do when a name needs to be removed, how is the media and the donor’s family handled in these cases??

One of the most beneficial projects I completed in my time at Rollins College was a comprehensive named spaces listing and procedure. I had two of my wonderful student workers canvas the campus, taking digital photographs of all of the plaques, benches, trees, buildings, rooms, anything that had a name on it! We compiled and entered the data, including photos in an access database and liked the records electronically to the donors and their families in SCT Banner. It was a wonderful learning project, a great time for reflecting on processes past and present and helped us learn from victories and mistakes. Now the College has a comprehensive overview of what is named and what remains of older buildings and plaques. I eventually would like to do the same project here, although the scope is greatly different, at least tenfold of what we did there. Do you need naming policy documents or help with your projects? Comment here and let’s see how we can help each other progress…



Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Donor Relations "Super Session"

First of all, I want to begin with a conference update. I will be speaking at the AFP International Conference in Chicago, March 20-22, I hope to see some of you there!

Now, lets talk about one of the most meaningful sessions I have been a part of for a long time. I was fortunate enough to sit on a panel of wonderful colleagues and mentors at CASE District 2 in Baltimore. We led a “super session” on donor relations, almost three hours of thought leadership, burning questions, and hot topics. I was joined by Helen Adams-Keane, Vice President, Institutional Advancement, Albany Law School,Robbee Kosak, Vice President of University Advancement, Carnegie Mellon University and William McGoldrick, Pincipal, Washburn and McGoldrick. Talk about being surrounded by super-stars, this was it. I was inspired to see two vice presidents and an industry leading consultant so adamant about the importance of stewardship and donor relations and its integral role to the success of a fundraising program. I also learned about what a “catom” was and how it was a wonderful example of stewardship at Carnegie Mellon. Some of the topics we covered included mid level stewardship, stewardship of annual fund donors, how to distinguish yourself and your program from others and many more. As I sat in front of a room filled with professionals varying from vice presidents to stewardship practitioners I was filled with pride at the fervor and attention in the room. These people clearly “get it” and value the role of stewardship and donor relations in their organizations. As I went through the conference and spoke three more times, I was delighted to see these faces again and again, it was a wonderful conference for stewardship and donor relations, seeing multiple sessions on the topic, watching other practitioners showcase their programs to packed rooms, I began to wonder for us as a profession what lies ahead. It is undeniable that during the rough economy of late, those with strong stewardship and donor relations have been much more successful in fundraising. This then leads me to the next step, how do we get more VPs and industry leaders to stand at the front of the room, to attend our sessions, and to take a stand on the importance of stewardship and donor relations to their programs? I may not have that answer yet, but I believe we are way ahead of where we were even five years ago, and we may have a failing economy to thank for that. Coming soon, a guest blog on creating a culture of philanthropy within your organization…

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Guest post from Jessica Davies-- Valentine's Day...

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Some people feel Valentine’s Day is a wonderful holiday filled with love, candy hearts, chocolate, cards, balloons, flowers, heartfelt sentiment, romance, candlelit dinners, and their significant other. To them it is the lovey dovey holiday that makes the world go ‘round.

Conversely, some people look at Valentine’s Day as an overrated Hallmark day and don’t want to have anything to do with it. They see it as too commercialized, too high-pressure, too expensive, ripe with unmet expectations, and is just all-around icky. I count myself mostly in this category.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the sentiment and absolutely adore the candy hearts and profusion of chocolate this time of year. Last year I even went on a letter writing campaign when NECCO changed the formulation of their ubiquitous conversation hearts making them seriously gross. Yes, I feel that strongly about it. What I do not enjoy, however, is the pressure of this faux holiday or the unreal expectations placed on one’s boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, parent, kid, landlord, boss, mail delivery person, and ultimately one’s therapist.

I didn’t enjoy Valentine’s Day until a mystery box appeared at the office last week. It was a white 9”x9” box tied with a simple ribbon.

As I squealed with delight over a surprise delivery from one of our caterers, I also realized I was the recipient of some good donor relations work. The company sending the box may prefer to call it “client relations” or “marketing,” maybe even a “perk,” but in our world this is a stellar example of great donor relations. It was, after all, a thank you for working with them. A box of handmade chocolates and goodies, items perfectly representing their company, delivered at a time of relevance. Who cares that I don’t subscribe to this particular holiday? It was the thought that counted, and you can bet I will remember the caterer next time we need someone with his particular expertise.

I will also remember those frosted cakes and chocolate dipped strawberries!

While it may be difficult to send every donor a box of handmade goodies, I urge you to treat each donor like it’s their personal Valentine’s Day every day. Send something heartfelt and relevant to express your gratitude any way you can. A letter, an email, custom candies, or a simple card. Send it in response to an action, at a holiday, or just because.

They will love you for it.

Jessica Davies is currently the Director of Donor Relations at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. She has presented at numerous conferences and appeared as a blogger before, mostly in the area of special events. An expert in commencement and protocol, Jessica is a founding member of the North American Association of Commencement Officers and former president of the association. She has a teenage son at home, a personal blog on the web, and high hopes of winning the HGTV Dream House this year.