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