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