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…