Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Season Fundraising Wishes


These are the things I wish for you this holiday season:

May your solicitations be effective, not addressed to "dear friend",  not full of address labels and meaningless threats (see below, the worst of the year end appeals I have received to date)...

May your honor rolls and static plaques go the way of the Mayan apocalypse because no one has ever proven the ROI of either...

May your online giving forms be effective and easy, pleasurable, and mobile optimized...

May you fully integrate your social media, it has the ability to change lives and engage many...

May your events be meaningful and worth the time and effort, leaving your attendees with wonderful memories and not weighty tchotckes...

May you take care of your planned giving donors as if they were your own grandparents, or someone you're fond of...

May all of your students write thank you notes, on time on the first request...

May you always answer your phone with a smile and an open mind...

May your acknowledgments be swift, short, and productive like elves...

May you never forget that behind each an every gift, regardless of the amount, lies a human soul, a giving soul, someone who vies to make a difference...

May you know that I am so grateful for all of you, now numbering more than 5000 per week who share, laugh, learn, and read with me as we endeavor to improve the philanthropic experience for each and every one of our friends and donors.
And if all else fails, enjoy some freshly baked cookies from yours truly!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Updated #GivingTuesday Challenge and Holiday Card Swap

Hello Everyone!

As you know, I recently performed a challenge on #GivingTuesday here. Te results were a bit frightening and somewhat pleasing. But let me tell you, I had no clue just how bad it was about to become. Fundraising is all about the relationship,and boy do some of us have some work to do. 

 Here is the updated spreadsheet: as you can see, the results are diappointing. 9 out of the 14 have still sent nothing to me in the mail about my gift. 6 of 14 have already asked me to give again, that's 43%! And I have to say the follow up has been poor. From one organization I received an email saying there was a "problem"with my gift because they couldn't find me in their database, and then received a follow up call a day later because they couldn't understand why I would come out of nowhere and give. Needless to say that wasn't impressive. 

The receipts were more delayed than I expected, giving me a realization that the best practice of 48 hours from receipt of a gift is not being followed.  Here are some of the receipts I received and letters to my honorees. Notice the ask before the THANK YOU in the Habitat one... argh. The letters from the Colon Cancer Alliance for my honoree and myself are almost exactly the same, no originality. And finally, the Pancreatic Cancer made my honoree look at a second piece of paper that was utterly useless and comical.  I will keep updating the spreadsheet and see how we go.  I received a nice thank you card from two places and an email from a director of development, too bad he spelled my name wrong. All in all, I would say that donor relations has work to do at these orgs, bt change can be made.

Speaking of positivity, here is the compilation of wonderful Holiday greetings that were sent to me from across the country.  I hope you enjoy the warmth and creativity as much as I did.  I would love to hear your feedback and comments as usual.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Generational Myths and other Fundraising Untruths

On this episode of fundraising Mythbusters, we're going to tackle some commonly held falsehoods. Buckle up for the ride folks and be ready for some of your commonly held beliefs to be challenged.

Myth 1: Older donors aren't tech savvy: this is probably the myth I am most presented with on a daily basis as a challenge to my new ideas regarding technology. It's simply not true. The baby boomer generation has now turned into a new catch phrase called the "Silver Surfers" they are retired and have dispensable time and income, they want badly to keep up with the younger folks and technology is the great equalizer. My parents, both part of this generation have separate laptops, a smart phone, and  pay all of their bills online. They aren't the exception, they're the norm. The #1 growing group on social media is women 55plus, and the majority of new users for Skype is older gentlemen (65plus). Online shopping has boomed and there is no excuse why digital media and your use of it shouldn't accommodate these folks. That doesn't mean that hand written notes should fall by the wayside, they are still tops, but don't eliminate digital ideas or let someone deter you because the "older" folks don't "do" technology.

Myth 2: Generation X aren't good givers and aren't engaged. You know, the classes of the 80s and 90s that you struggle with? Those in their late 30s or 40s? They're out there and they're engaged, they're just BUSY and you aren't connecting with them yet in a meaningful manner. My brother is one of those people, and I have to say that of his three alma maters only one does it somewhat well. The others have not connected... Yet. This generation is building their careers and families and their time is short and valuable. Have folks on Wall Street? Don't call them once the bell has rung, you're costing them money. Send them a linked in email or find another way to reach out, they will appreciate your awareness. Events don't work for these folks unless there's something in it for them, adapt your style to fit them.

Myth 3: Recent college graduates, or the millennial generation don't care and don't respond. Not true. This generation understands philanthropy well, they jut don't understand old school development operations well. You're not going to appeal to them with a phonathon, this is the generation of Toms shoes and the RED campaign, where products include philanthropy and their time is part of their philanthropy. How do we convert them from giving their time to their money? We explain it to them, show the impact of the dollar, have peers tell the story and allow them to have hands on experiences that make a difference. This generation has been wired since they were born, but unplugging them and having face to face time is vital to your success with this group. Show them the impact of a hand written note, and take the time to teach them how to write them, they probably were never taught. Trying to reach them? Send them a text, reach out through social media, remember, with these folks email is waning. Send them a mobile call to action or involve them in a blitz fundraising campaign. And do me a favor, stop calling them young alumni, not all of them were not 21 when they graduated. Call them recent graduates or some other name, stop reminding them they're young, you don't remind your older donors they're old all the time do you?

Myth 4: If a new effort fails, throw it out and pretend it never happened. Learn from it, celebrate your failure and instead of completely ridding yourself of the memory try to find tweaks to help manage your challenges. Every problem has a solution, one that takes an excellent idea and impeccable implementation, which one of these was your downfall? These are the things that keep me up at night, filled with delight of solving, I love a challenge. What caused the unexpected success? What led to the downfall? What could we have done better? Can I build a better implementation plan to make it smoother, better, easier, faster? Is there technology that can match my weaknesses? These are the things we have to think about, instead of just dismissing it as a waste of time.

Myth 5: Technology is expensive and prohibitive. As technology evolves, the cost begins to plummet. Remember the $600 VCRs? The first bag phones? Exactly. Most technology is free or cheap to implement and is a relatively short time commitment to learn. Technophobe? No worries, find someone who is a whiz and have them help you. When I first started speaking, I hated PowerPoint so I had my work study students help me build my presentations, now I can crank out a great slide deck in under 15 minutes. I spend a great deal of time in Excel but for the life of me can't make it print pretty for meetings all on one page with headings and a readable font. No worries, I have a friend on staff that makes me look great. It takes her less than ten minutes to do what it would take me two hours and lots of paper to do. The trick is finding a solution around your barriers with technology. Don't have the budget to do thank you videos? Do what I'm doing and have a student video contest and wham! Multiple great videos and student education about philanthropy.

What are some fundraising myths you would like debunked? Is there a challenge you face that you need help with? I'm here to help. I look forward to your responses and input. Next month out webinar will focus on donor relations for two special populations, planned giving donors and corporate and foundation donors, I hope you'll join me. For more information, click here

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The 2012 #GivingTuesday Challenge

What can we learn about giving by donating to others? A great deal. 
Today, I decided to put Giving Tuesday to good use for us all.  I have decided to analyze the online giving experience for donors for some organizations.  In partnership with Giving Tuesday, I'm doing an online giving challenge from those who want to join and some are selected via a "random" method... I asked via social media for volunteers and also by asking a random sampling of coworkers who the nonprofit is that if given $1 million and it had to go to one charity, who would that organization be, thus my test group of 15 organizations. I have places from habitat for humanity to American Cancer society to many others, please see the attached spreadsheet.  I plan on giving online in amounts ranging from $10-$1000.
Here’s the things we will measure together: How many clicks it takes to get to their giving site, how long the gift takes to complete, is it mobile friendly?, how am I receipted and acknowledged?,  and also is it linked to social media for sharing, if I tweet the org saying I just gave, will they tweet back?
Also later we will examine acknowledgment and stewardship for the gift and also how quickly I am re-solicited and whether or not this happens before I am properly thanked...
Here we go, let’s begin…
Here is the Spreadsheet...

Fascinating info and I will update the data as the day goes along... here are some screenshots of the Good:

The Bad:

and things we can implement:

THIS IS FANTASTIC!!! Charity Water Wins the Response Screen Mesaging

Here is what I have learned:
1. Not enough Social Media Exposure
2. Giving  Websites were not mobile friendly
3. Not enough places gave me the option to give in honor of someoneand even then only in written format, not through email. The Red Cross told my honoree how much I GAVE!! ARGH!
4. I've already been solicited again!
5. There is no excuse for having a "CAPTCHA" hurdle to jump in order to give
6. Sites are arduous and repetetive, too many sitews prescribe dollar amounts
1. The impact can be shown, look at Charity Water
2. Sites are starting to be better about showing where to find social media
3. So far a good response from some of those I tweeted
4. I saw a site's button that said: "Save a Life" much better than "Add to Cart" or "Submit"
5.  We have room to grow
6. I gave away a lot of money today, join me on #Giving Tuesday

The offer stands: I will make a gift to anyone and discuss their online giving site and response should they want it... be ready for honesty.
I would love to hear what you think, we have one more step to go to find out how I am formally acknowledged and how fastthey resolicit me!

I look forward to your commentary and let me know if you want to join the experiment.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Two New Insightful Donor Studies

Hello Everyone.

As those of us in the US prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday ahead, I thought I would provide you with some resources to take home and read after your food coma wears off or as you wait in line for Black Friday deals (I myself am a cyber Monday girl) or watch football. 

I also wanted to introduce you to Giving Tuesday. is a great new idea to help non profit organizations raise money by designating a day for it on our calendars. It is  social phenomena and is spreading quickly. I hope you will join us in the effort.

The first report I want to share with you is here:
 a first-of-its-kind survey and report designed to help better understand individuals' giving behavior, engagement preferences and motivations that drive their support for charitable organizations and causes. Great reading!

Finally, I have this report to share here: In this study Blackbaud sheds light on what drives donor behavior and seeks to help nonprofits maximize their strategy, increase gifts, reach new audiences, and retain current donors.

I hope for those of you that celebrate Thanksgiving it is an enjoyable, stress free one.  I'll be with a friend in Brooklyn, with liquid courage in hand and attempt to cook (chinese take out menu close by). Be thankful for as much and as many as you can, as I am most thankful and grateful for you.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

8 Innovative Ways to Thank Your Donors

Happy National Philanthropy Day! On behalf of this under celebrated day, allow me to share with you some innovative yet cost friendly ways to thank your donors.

1. Have others stop and recognize those who give so much. Many of you have installed thank a donor weeks at your organizations, with great success I am happy to report! Here is one such example from my friends at Elon College.  Make sure those outside of your development office are aware and help you thank your donors getting a note from those who benefit from your support is priceless.

2. Set up a Skype booth in your office. Here's what you need: a banner or sheet or some type of wall covering, a computer or tablet or phone with Skype installed and some willing staff or volunteers. We have our students call their scholarship donors who are far away even international ones and offer to Skype with them so they can see the face behind their philanthropy. It is widely successful and popular. Students are teaching donors if they already don't know how to use Skype and the interactions are fabulous. What a pleasant surprise if this happened once a month! It is completely donor focused, scheduled around them, at their time and convenience, unlike events.

3. Recycle or donate those tchotckes you've been wanting to... go ahead, they serve no purpose... Allow your key volunteers or donors amazing experiences instead. Have them attend a rehearsal, have them "conduct" your band, give them inside access to your organization, have them meet others who volunteer, nominate them for an award, write a blurb about them for their local newspaper, the point is, do something!

5. Ok, this one is good... Go get a notecard, piece of paper, etc. write yourself a note of the things you're proud of, grateful for, or dreams you may have. Self address it and give to someone else and ask them to send it to you in a month or two. Remember, gratitude and acknowledgment is something we don't often give ourselves, so force your own hand at it today. You'll thank me later... Lol

6. Take the time to ask your constituents, either by phone, email, or better yet, social media, someone who had an impact on them. It could be anyone, a certain professor or staff member, a mentor, or even the guy at the cafeteria who always remembers you like blueberry pancakes on Wednesdays, and listen to their story. Then make it your mission to reconnect those two and then share their story everywhere you can. Stories like that are powerful and profound, and frankly we need more good news like that daily. As for me, I'm going to write the two professors that changed my life today at lunch.

8. Finally, now that you've done all of that, you should have some leftover money in your budget-ha! I would ask you to pick one volunteer or donor a month and make a contribution to a cause they care about or a fund they have with your organization. Giving is the best gift. Philanthropy is the type of behavior that loves to be replicated. You want to truly thank a donor, thank them in kind, not with items or stuff they can buy, but by giving. It doesn't have to be a significant gift, just one that honors them and their spirit.

Speaking of a good spirit, I'm now collecting thanksgiving, holiday and new year greetings, either digital (links to videos or emails) or in print (pdf) to share with the greater community. Send me yours to by December 7th to join the swap! Thank you so much.

#7. Pay attention to what you read... LOL! Fooled you! I jut can't count!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Still think your organization doesn't need social media?

Think again. For those of you that haven't lately, try going through a hurricane, flood, gas shortage, election and a nor'easter without it...

I know some of you are saying stop whining, nothing could be further from the truth. Through it all, through the scary nights and unsure days the one thing that has kept me going was people, but the tools that kept me connected weren't my phone or a latter in the mail, text messages didn't even work... Social media was it.

The power of social media has even profound during these weeks. It has helped loves ones find each other, allowed photos to emerge, held reassuring messages through the height of winds and rains, found gas and other resources in real time, aided a mayor (Cory Booker) in helping his citizens at all hours, and allowed millions of dollars in donations to pour in during times of need. It informed me who won elections, how bad the snow was and even allowed for a great night in a bar in remoteish Massachusetts with colleagues and friends. All without fail, all without a hiccup or a blip. I have been able to send messages to our constituents and aid those who needed it as well. The value of social media these past 10 days cannot be measured or its importance understated. 

So if you're still not helping your organization find its place and your place in the social media realm, if you still aren't operating a smart phone, I'm imploring you to wake up. For those of you who are already connected, I challenge you to do more. Recently I was speaking at a conference on the modern fundraising campaign. I drove home the fact that you CANNOT run a modern campaign without integrating social media from the start. The resources are out there, you just have to tap into them.

This week amidst all the election and storm hoopla was a great announcement, Facebook is now going to help nonprofits raise money through its platform in a new tool called Facebook Give. You can read about it here.  While only starting with a few organizations, I can easily see this developing into a powerful tool, especially for peer to peer fundraising, by far and away the most powerful ask out there.

Here's the thing, before you get to Facebook giving you need to build your following and social network! YOU need to invest in your constituents where they communicate and in the manner in which they speak. You need to take action now. Need help? Call me up! Yesterday I spent some time sending new Linked In invitations and was shocked and aghast at how many people didn't even have profiles for me to link with! Come on already! Linked In is a great way to score visits and meetings with donors in business. Enough of my lame attempt at preaching the social media gospel, I'm here to help and serve as a resource anytime.

Oh wait, I just have to pause and stop answering my cell phone... A little anecdote for you in the two days following hurricane Sandy when my city and I was devastated beyond belief, when nothing was normal, I received 3 solicitation phone calls from nonprofits asking me for money. I was aghast and dumbfounded... REALLY?? Lets have some sensitivity and common sense here folks. You might wanna cut us a break from your solicitations for a minute.

But in better news, I received two emails and 3 Facebook posts from the lovely development team at the University of South Carolina asking if I was ok and seeing if there was anything they or their Gamecock network could do for me. BRAVO! A class act I tell you. Don't think that the next time we talk turkey/donations I won't remember that. It made me feel loved and warm inside no matter how bad or cold the day. That is donor relations at its finest folks, it's about awareness and relationships. And, they knew that I was a digital girl, reaching out to me via social and digital media. A great example for others to replicate.

Still not convinced? Watch this video.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sandy played a cruel "trick", Here's a "treat" for you!

Hello everyone,

I'm not writing my blog from the craziness that is my beloved NYC subway (you don't know what you've got until it's gone) but my warm well lit offices in uptown Manhattan.  Take it from a girl who lived in florida for 7 years and went through a category 4 at home, Sandy was a cruel woman.  NYC and surrounding areas are devastated, but you will find the resillience astounding. I am especially touched by many of my readers, friends, and colleagues who kept in touch during the storm and sent contless texts and Facebook posts wishing me well. In turn, for those of you celebrating today, I have decided to provide you with two "treats". The first is the link to the FREE downloadable 2012 Bank of America High Net Worth donor survey, a VERY valuable resource for us all. You can find it here:

It has wonderful information for us. Including the enlightening pages 53 and 55 that tell us what donors want and why they stop giving.  Two of the top 3 things donors want are further proof that public recognition and old school items like honor rolls that steward a gift and not thank a donorare becoming not just passe but unacceptable:
High net worth households also believe that their privacy is a very important consideration: "78 percent reported that the organization should not distribute their name to others, and 75 percent reported that the organization should honor their request for privacy and anonymity." This is vital to our field. I would love to hear your thoughts and reactions to the study.

Finally, another "treat" for you is one you have to email me for, this month, CASE Currents, a higher ed advancement publication, did a wonderful article on the importance of stewadship and donor relations.  For those of you with CASE memberships, you can find it on the home page at For those of you without a membership, please send me an email and I will send you a scanned PDF copy.

I appreciate you all so much and love sharing resources with you, Enjoy and stay safe!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Challenge yourself: Do you steward gifts or care for your donors?

For the past two nights, I've been more sleepless than usual. You see, I've been wrestling with this idea that struck me in a meeting and hasn't left yet. I am always asked what's the difference between donor relations now and 10 years ago or how to tell a high functioning shop apart from one that just goes through the motions. Well, my friends, I think I finally have my elevator speech answer. The best and most sophisticated shops relate and care for donors, the rest steward gifts. Some of you just paused for a moment to think, getting it instantly, some of you pawned this difference off as semantics and yet others are still scratching their heads thinking, Lynne I haven't finished my coffee yet. Take it from a caffeine free girl, it's not the coffee, it's the idea of it all. Can they be mutually exclusive?

I often say to my teammates and anyone else who will listen, if it doesn't benefit the donor, we don't do it. And I think that demonstrates our donor focus really well. But taking it a step further, I am now resonating with the question of not just why and who does it benefit, but are we stewarding the gift or caring for a donor?

I have a few examples to add to the debate and then I welcome your thoughts now that I have sufficiently stirred the pot. And yes, I am aware that in some instances, stewarding gifts can help us care for donors, but not really, not holistically. Being accountable is the right thing to do and in many cases a simple requirement, it must go further, how does this nurture our relationship?

I have been on a violent crusade for years against gifts, plaques and honor rolls. The reasons behind this attack of bayonets and battleships have been numerous and surface, but what I was failing to realize all along now is that these types of efforts steward the gift and recognize it but don't holistically account for the humanness of the donor. I don't mean to go all philosophically militant here, but for me it is a large shift in my world view happening. It is a seismic synthesis of things that many of us have believed for years, explained in a manner that we can all grasp.

So besides physical gifts and recognition, what does this mean?

Let's take some events, like scholarship receptions or donor recognition receptions. We tell the donor we want to thank them, then we prescribe exactly how they will be thanked by us, and they better like it... Time, place, food, people, program, everything is dictated by us an of course their level of giving. What if it was the other way around? One of our shop's greatest successes was a little postcard that thanked the donor for their impact and then invited them to campus when they were near to meet with those that benefit from their support. Donors ate it up, because it truly was about them, on their terms, and valued their relationship.

Let's also take giving societies or gift clubs, the very nature of which is predicated on gift recognition, not donor caregiving. My value to a certain organization as a donor is dependent on my giving, not my volunteer involvement, closeness of relationship, years of involvement or any other factor, just one shallow measure of my dedication, my wallet.

By now many of you are thinking I may not have taken my meds today, or mixed the blue and yellow pills. NOPE. I'm just thinking smarter. So why happens now?
Do we chuck all of the efforts we are making and start over? I wish it were that simple, but it's not. WE have to reroute the trains, solve this problem, and effectively find a way to measure and build without predication on one shallow measure of a human, their gifts.
It's about impact, stories, vibrant communications, personal cultivation and relationship building but it's also about so much more.

I haven't yet figured out what this new paradigm shift looks like in its entirety yet, but I am rapidly building pieces and will assure that with more sleepless nights, we'll get closer, with your help I can get there faster. What do you think? I think I'm onto something big here. Can you help us move forward? Play devils advocate? What am I missing? I would love to hear your thoughts as always. But please, Don't lose any sleep over it. Leave the restlessness to me...



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Donor communication mistakes and faux "paws"

Between the Jewish Holidays and the travel schedule I maintain, you can probably imagine I'm out of the office a bit. I also tend to send countless emails, as it is my preferred method of communication. I see a lot, I experience a lot, and I have to tell you folks, from what I see some of us have a long way to go in our communications with donors and others. Some of these tips and tricks will seem simple and second nature, but the examples shown are recent and real. At the core of what we do is the donors and I hope this is a kind refresher of that point for many of you.

1. Your email out of office message is key. I get bouncebacks from all over the world and at times I am astonished at the lack of common courtesy many out of office replies contain. At the minimum, here is a guideline, pass it on, especially to your new hires.
   Have a friendly greeting, tell how long you're going to be out, tell if you're checking email at all, if not, provide with the contact email and phone of someone who is, tell when to expect a reply, and finally, thank them for the email and their patience.  See examples of great and uhm less than great below:

" I will be out of the office on September XX and will respond as soon as I am able."


"Thank you for your email. I will be out of the office through Tuesday, October XXth, returning on Wednesday, October XXth.  If you need immediate assistance, please contact Jane Smithe at janesmith@org.orgor 867-5309.  Thank you."

2. When you come back, turn it off! Set the auto timer on Outlook, put it on your calendar, do something to notify yourself and make sure it's off.

3. Please do the same for your voicemail if you're not going to check it while you're out. Some people are phone folks and want to hear your voice.

4. Speaking of phone and voicemail etiquette, when you answer your phone, make sure the person is warmly greeting and knows where they're calling. "Good morning thanks for calling Yeshiva University, this is Lynne, how can I help you?" Is a good start, unless your name isn't Lynne and you don't work at YU, if so, adapt please. I have a coworker that answers the phone, "Jane Speaking" and it drives me bonkers, all about Jane eh? Make your greeting about the donor. Smile when you leave your voicemail too, it helps your tone.

5. When you're sending an email, please leave your kitties playing with yarn stationery off (hence the title of the blog, faux paws) :) no one wants to see that or any other stationery that impedes response like solid colors and it is sometimes incompatible with other email programs.

6.  In addition, you're not my (earth) mother, so no guidelines about going green and not printing emails, even with the cute little tree logo and green ink,  it's an email, I get it. It's condescending and redundant.

7.  That last legal paragraph at the end of your emails is rude, condescending, and off putting, especially to donors. Eliminate it. We don't work at the CIA, we're saving puppies and educating people and saving lives, there are no nuclear codes in your email, and it's a lot like the FBI warning at the beginning of movies, unnecessary. In addition, when we exchange 3 or 4 emails I get 3 or 4 paragraphs to scroll through, ugh! Those paragraphs make us feel corporate and foreboding, not the warm welcoming non profits made of human beings that we are.

8. My final word about email signatures. Limit the graphics, keep your message simple and readable and know your audience. Finally, check your links often, about once a month, in case they move a page on you, you wont be told by a donor. Here are some examples:

9. Make sure you know what your email alias is, it matters, check out the email forwarded to me by a reader and tell me if that's the right message:

10. Finally, at the core of who we are as fundraising professionals is advocates for donors and friends. Make sure your organization recognizes this. The little things are so important. Here's a lesson a large university just learned and is pulled from their giving page:

No cash please is so condescending and belittling. Send your cash to my org., we'll take it! And I promise to thank you for it too...

What are some of the simple communication lessons you have learned?

I look forward to your contributions.



Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Volunteer Recognition – Donor Relations’ forlorn stepchild?

Another great post from friend and colleague Debbie Meyers:

Meet volunteer recognition – the Rodney Dangerfield of our profession, the afterthought of many advancement programs.

Time is every bit as valuable as money. Just ask someone dying how much they’d pay for one more week, one more day. So if time is truly such a precious commodity, why don’t we recognize volunteers, who give us their time and talent, as much or as well as we recognize our donors?

Well, for starters, it’s not as easy as it sounds to quantify and qualify non-monetary contributions. Say we start with the formula that T2 > $, where T2 equals time and talent, and $ equals treasure.

That is, what people do for or on behalf of your institution is just as valuable as their financial support.

But this isn’t algebra, it’s human beings who are innately difficult to objectively measure. Most software packages have little in the way of tracking volunteer activities, other than simple indications like club or advisory board affiliation, a random contact report or event attendance. How would we enter “she’s our best volunteer” into a database?

For argument’s sake, say we’re in a magical world where we know exactly which volunteers did what, and we came up with some flawless rating scale for quantity and quality of their activities. We wouldn’t need to ask questions like, how much effort did they expend? What is the actual value of their efforts? How sincere were they? Did someone twist their arms to help out, or did they step up on their own?

Assume all those answers were condensed, analyzed and then measured on a scientific scale, and, just for this exercise, make that a scale of one to ten. We’d be able to run reports that tell us the level of commitment and value of each of our volunteers. We’re set to create a first-class recognition program, running it by the numbers.

Even at that, we’d face lots of challenges. We would have to address consistency across your institution. Thanks and recognition should be relative and equitable. A volunteer ranked at, say, a 10 who serves on one advisory board should not be treated to a black tie dinner for his service yet only get listed in a publication for giving a testimonial speech at an event for another department.

In donor relations, we handle a similar situation through varying levels of perqs and recognition through our giving societies. The difference is, we know, with fair certainty – other than counting joint giving or matching gifts – who has given us $100,000 cumulatively. Case closed.

And, we know that most donors want – beyond recognition, thanks and accountability – are access and information. So what does that mean for a volunteer? Perhaps an annual recognition event? A letter from our leader? A window cling?

All that aside, volunteer recognition is simple. It’s all a matter of the Golden Rule. Have you ever volunteered? What made you feel special and appreciated? What left an unpleasant taste in your mouth? More often than not, it’s not what institution says or does to recognize its volunteers, it’s how that institution does it. Here’s a personal example.

As a volunteer in one organization for several years, I would receive a “thanks for all you do” card, which the leader signed but did not personalize. He also sent some small plastic pin that must have been bought in quantities of 500 or 1,000 as a token of thanks. It wasn’t clear that he even know what all I did.

Granted, I’m more sensitive to this type of thing than the average person because saying thank you is what I do for a living. But I found that action not only a waste of time but downright insulting. Why not take three minutes and write a personal message, or even just my name?! Why not recognize me and my fellow volunteers in our weekly meeting? IT’S FREE. It’s public. It’s meaningful.

On the other hand, for another organization, once a year I create the printed program for their annual fundraising event. This non-profit organization sent me an orchid, which I’m sure they received as a donation, and a handwritten, personalized note to thank me for my efforts. The orchid is on the table in my kitchen, and it’s a constant reminder of how much they appreciate me, and how appreciated I feel.

Just as bad as not thanking a volunteer properly is not using them, or not using them meaningfully. After meeting with the development director of another non-profit organization, I was honored when she asked if I would be willing to serve on their fundraising board. That was three months ago. Haven’t heard “boo” from them. My positive feelings toward that group now have gone from good, to neutral, to negative. And come on, it’s not like people readily volunteer to help organizations raise money!

If we all would simply remember how valuable our volunteers are, we’d have no difficulty recognizing them. They need to know that we view them as the lifeblood of our organizations, however you choose to tell them that. As J. Sargent Shriver said, “Serve your families. Serve your neighbors. Serve your cities. Serve the poor. Join others who serve. Serve, serve, serve! That’s the challenge. For in the end, it will be servants who save us all.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Longing for Small Shop Days...

As many of you return from conferences, brains overloaded and chock full of new ideas, enthusiasm renewed by the energy of others; I hope you'll take this time to listen to me contemplate what I miss most about the small/solo shop days of donor relations for me. I hope some of you can relate. When I first started in donor relations, it was me against the world, some of you know exactly what I'm talking about. Others of you haven't experienced donor relations without a staff but can learn a great deal from those solo warriors.  I longingly look back on those days with a sense of nostalgia and look for clues and hints I can apply to my work as a leader of a team and a member of a development staff of over 100. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Nimble: being a small or one person shop makes you nimble and agile, you have more freedom to implement new ideas and react quickly, meeting changing donor needs without reinventing the wheel and causing a systematic and bureaucratic shift.

2. Lacking resources makes you more creative: when I had zero budget, no advocates, and no seat at the table, I believe that necessity was the mother of all invention, hence my love affair with technology, I was always looking for better, faster, cheaper, simply out of necessity and the drive to change my workload

3. Managing people is hard work: I was recently helping on another campus down south (thanks for the grits!) and someone asked me what's the hardest thing I do, it's manage people. If done well, it takes a great deal of time and effort, and sometimes I find it draining and wish there was an easier way. The fact remains that there isn't an easier way I miss the days when I had to a mange myself and navigate political waters, the higher up you go, the more directions you mange in. I thrill and excite from the doing and the helping, the strategy and the execution, at times the management waters make me feel like I'm only treading until the next wave. And lord help the person who has to manage me... :)

4. Time management: when I was a one person shop, I was much more effective with my time. It was calendared, organized and transparent, meetings with my department, uhm myself, were quick and effective. I often lost arguments with myself, but that's another story for another day. Now, I often am torn between attending a meeting (and believe me i'm happy to be invited) that becomes a time suck and implementing my strategies. It's a tough balance and something we don't spend enough time on professional development wise, (looks like an upcoming webinar is forming here) but it is crucial to our success.

5. Bigger isn't always better: take giving societies for example, just because you have 20 of them, doesn't mean they have meaning or benefit to your donors, simplifying is often the right direction. I have 4 and some days that's all a staff of 6 can do to keep them afloat successfully. Also your staff and leadership is more accessible,  take advantage seek out their opinions and time. For  those of you on large campuses, now is the time to get out there and make sure people know who you are and what you do... Which is hard when there are 200 development officers, but it can be done!

 This returns back to my old conference motto...

Instead of implementing all of your takeaways now, improve one thing, do it well, turn it into great and then move on to the next. Easy victories are still victories, I'll take a quick win over the status quo every day of the year. Find what you can improve and get to work, saving the large battles and epic Homerian wars for later, otherwise you get bogged down.
And finally for those of you who are like me blessed to have staff, take time to appreciate it, (even when everyone calls in sick) and also reach out to share and lend a hand to those who don't have writers, editors, events people, coordinators and assistant directors. Share your resources and help teach them the way. Someone did that for me when I first started and I'm still grateful for the development community that is so willing to help.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Outsourcing Donor Relations?

I thought that headline might draw you in. Often, when I am at conferences or consulting for folks, I hear a common thread, "I just don't have time for those innovative, new ideas."  When I dig deeper an find out why, many donor relations folks are mired with tasks and the act of doing, rather than being able to lift their heads up and strategize for the future. I have shared this common problem since I started my work in donor relations as a one woman shop, now on a team of six (which sometimes is MORE work) and have  found that the solution often lies in two sources, technology and letting go. If you're techno friendly then that isn't an issue, but what about that whole letting go idea? Donor relations folks by their nature are a wee bit controlling. (Ahem, understatement of the century.) So how do we begin to let go and make strategic decisions about outsourcing some of our work, not just to vendors, but to others on our team.

So here's the plan for you:

1. For every task and item that you do, you need to figure out how much it costs, not just fiscally but in human hours and time. How much is it costing you hourly? Calculate your hourly rate, the one your supposed to work, not actual hours, I did that once and figured out it was around $3 an hour... But my real rate based on my 37.5 hour work week is something we calculate into all of our efforts. Where is my time best spent?What are the things I'm really good at (some of you will say everything of course because we're perfectionists too) but how long did it take you to get it perfect?

For example: I'm a pretty good whiz technologically, and have mastered most of excel, however if I want to make my data rich spreadsheet print pretty and look divine, I could spend hours. Instead, I give that to a staff member who in 10 minutes or so has me looking brilliant and completely competent to leadership by producing the best looking, easily readable spreadsheets you have ever seen. Boy do I have them fooled. It's about identifying talents and optimizing time.

2. Understand the things you cannot and will not ever outsource. A couple of examples: endowment reports, recognition events, acknowledgments, and other things that need a careful eye and a good steward. Last year I heard of a prestigious liberal arts college that was outsourcing all of their endowment reports to a printer,  sending them bulk rate mail and never proofing or seeing them before they went in the mail. The thought of it now sends chills up my spine. True, they were saving money and it was efficient to send data out and never see it again, but imagine if there were one mistake, in addition, endowment donors deserve better than that.

3. Find amazing partners. I'm not just talking about vendors here folks. Recently I was on a campus and heard about how they wanted to digitally catalogue all of their named spaces and plaques for posterity. Brilliant plan, one I did at Rollins that won a CASE award. But you know what? I didn't go photograph and document them all, I hired student interns to do the project. My student interns, although fiscally unpaid, were paid in leftover food, experience, and reference letters. They, in turn, were able to help with invaluable projects that would require me to be out of the office too much or were too overwhelming to accomplish. The same goes for vendors. Some of the best relationships I have built with them was when I relied on their skills and expertise to help me out. Here are a few examples: postcard mailings, variable data projects, design work for print pieces, campaign launch events, thank-a-thons and other creative efforts.

4. Make others take responsibility for their work. Donor relations folks are the ones that can never seem to set boundaries and say no. That's why we end up ordering tchotchkes for alumni relations, catering for staff retreats, writing hand written notes for development officers that are calligraphically challenged, and sheriff badges for AVPs (that's another story). Instead, we should spend our time building strategy and plans for implementation, then teaching other departments how to fish. An example: build together with your annual giving department a plan for annual giving stewardship, put all of the pieces in place and let them execute the plan. You are involved and supportive, but not overburdened by the tasks, instead you can build strategies that are donor centric and responsible uses of your time.

I hope I have given you some tips and techniques for outsourcing some of your daily burdens. It's about how we can work smarter and be more strategic, not showing everyone how busy we are with tasks. Leadership respects vision and strategy, not long lists of to dos. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. And if you need further help, sign up for one or all of my new webinars here.



Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Exciting New Announcement and The Great Acknowledgment Swap 2 Results!

Exciting New Announcement and The Great Acknowledgment Swap 2 Results!
The Great Acknowledgment Swap 2 was a Success! Thank you to everyone who contributed, without your submissions, this wouldn't work.
You can find the results of the new swap categorized by type here:
If you would still like to add your samples, its not too late, email them to me at

Announcing the Donor Relations Guru Webinar Series

I am pleased to announce that starting in October; I will be hosting a monthly webinar on a pertinent donor relations topic.  This idea was born from your requests for more content and availability in addition to the blog and sample sharing.
For more information and to register, visit the new page on the website:



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Giving Societies: Just Like Your 3rd Grade Birthday Party

Hang with me here folks as I walk you through a nice little metaphor. Remember 3rd grade? Or have your tried to block out the year of long division? I remember 3rd grade, I had a great birthday party planned, the good old roller skating party. I was so excited for the event with my friends until my mother dropped the hammer, I had to invite everyone in my class, even the girl that pushed me off of the slide so she could go first, with me falling off and breaking my wrist, hrmph. I digress, my mother, as usual, was right, I had to invite everyone to the party. When you think of donor recognition and giving societies, I want you to think of my mother, uhm I mean I want you to be inclusive. Our donors deserve to be valued and included in the things we do to recognize and thank them.

Here are a few examples:
1. Your planned giving society: how is your list compiled? How do people gain access to the society benefits? I personally and professionally believe that if a person tells you or someone in your development office that they have included you in their life planning, invite them to the party. Revocable, irrevocable, bequest, annuity, CLUT, CRUT, who cares? These people have shown a dedication to us and we should be grateful and show appreciation. What's one more on the guest list? For those of you shuddering in fear, there have been no widespread reports, or any for that matter, of the elderly faking planned gifts just to come to a cocktail party or to obtain your car decal. Deep breaths. Treat them right, be inclusive and reap the rewards.

2. Your longevity/ loyalty society; how are you pulling that list? If I have to give to you 5 or more fiscal years in a row, I might fall off and be excluded. But if you pull the list by calendar and by fiscal year, I will probably hit the mark and be grateful for the inclusion. Remember, donors don't mark our fiscal year on their calendars in large red letters like we do. And, it's about them, not us. Also, for those of you with established societies, run a list of donors who have missed a year or two for eligibility and offer them the opportunity to buy those years back, Georgia Tech does this with great success. Try it, your annual fund folks will love you for the partnership!

3. For both your annual amount and cumulative amount societies, do you count matching gifts and soft credit? No? Why not? The donors had to fill out a form in paper or online to help you get the money, why shouldn't they receive recognition credit? Remember our job is one of inclusiveness and appreciation, the more the merrier. We have an opportunity to shine for these folks, to demonstrate their true value to us and to show them our appreciation for all of their efforts.

Back to the metaphor at hand, our job as I see it boils down to all of the things my mom did so well at my birthday parties: make everyone feel welcome, thank them for all of their gifts, even the play dough that she wouldn't allow anywhere near the carpet, make sure everyone gets a slice of pizza and cake, even the annoying kid that had to have the corner piece with the most frosting or didn't eat pepperoni, and to make sure the party favors were the best ever and made lots of noise (tchotchkes be dammed) lol, and to make sure that at the end of the day, everyone had a great, memorable time. Make sure your donors are treated the same way a birthday girl is, and that they remember that extra touch as memorably as I do.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Occupational Hazards of Donor Relations

Debbie Meyers had so much fun last week, she's back at it again! Enjoy-

By nature, DR practitioners tend to have behind-the-scenes personalities. We don’t share the limelight, we create it. We are other-focused, making sure donors feel good, not worrying about ourselves. And that’s fine, because that’s what we’re paid to do.

But beware of these cold hard truths:
1.      If people don’t know what you do, they assume you do nothing. 
2.      Perception is everything.

Our colleagues may see us handle donor correspondence, create name tags and arrange meetings for donors, and view us administrative assistants. If they see us managing events, they may assume can cater. Or worse yet, they never see what we do, or, if they do see what we do, they fail to attribute it to our efforts.

When you think about it, anything relating to donors is considered donor relations. So where do you – or more importantly, your boss – draw the line? If ever a career existed that’s a magnet for the catch-all “other duties as assigned” bullet in its job description, it’s ours.

Moreover, because our work says “thank you” instead of “please” – i.e., we step in after a gift has come in – we can be viewed as a cost center rather than a revenue-producing area. We spend money. Of course, what we spend often generates more and bigger gifts from well stewarded donors, but that’s not always obvious to higher-ups. Some institutions view our profession as a luxury and not a necessity.

In fact, I once left a job because the institution’s new leader wasn’t invested in recognition events. After he asked the question that proved his mindset – “Wouldn’t our time be better spent asking for new gifts instead of thanking people who already gave?” – I immediately updated my resume.

It’s bad enough being seen as neutral. It’s even worse when you’re thought of as a negative, a part of the organization that spends money, can be easily replaced and is subservient.

That’s why it’s crucial that we promote ourselves and our work. We cannot afford to passively go through our professional lives and shrug our shoulders, saying, “Oh, well, if that’s what they think of me, that’s their problem.”  To protect our profession, our livelihood and our self esteem, we have to prove our worth. Every day is an opportunity to answer your employer’s question, “What have you done for me lately?”

You can do that in two ways: metrics and PR.

Metrics are a sticky wicket. Two key concepts:
1.      Measure what you value, and value what you measure.
Identify metrics that are meaningful to your organization. Is it renewed memberships? Increased gifts?  Donor retention? Event participation that led to more gifts? Ask your Powers-That-Be what they value. And ask your donors. Use surveys, focus groups, informal phone calls – whatever works.
2.      Know the difference between correlation and causation.
We rarely will be able to know that something we did caused a donor to make a gift, but we frequently can assert that what we did is related to that giving. If you report on an endowed fund, and two months later, the donor makes a gift to that fund, you can confidently say those two actions (reporting – giving) are related.

As for PR, two key concepts.
1.      Educate the masses.
By disseminating information that is useful to others, you naturally will position yourself as a resource and an expert. Offer to lead educational sessions. Email articles, forward checklists, provide summary memos of your results after a big project. Make house calls: informal, like a drop-by just to see how a gift officer is doing; and formal, like a scheduled, focused presentation among your customers.
2.      You don’t have to brag about yourself to make people aware of the good that you do.
Channel your inner Walter Brennan: “No brag, just fact.” Don’t be shy. You can’t do your job if you don’t let people know what your job is. Once you’ve gathered your metrics, let your colleagues know in objective, measurable terms how you can help them. The more you prove your value, the more likely you will be to find yourself at the table where decisions are made.

At conferences I have heard examples of how DR professionals use metrics as well as clever, creative ways that they let their customers, higher-ups and colleagues know what they have to offer. Please list yours below if you’re willing to share.

This is our profession, and your career. Make the time to measure and share how valuable you are. And you are. That’s a fact.