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: http://www.donorrelationsguru.com/home/tgas2
If you would still like to add your samples, its not too late, email them to me at wester@yu.edu

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.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Gift Documentation- Are Exceptions the Rule?

Below is a wonderful post from one of my friends and mentors, Debbie Meyers of Carnegie Mellon University. She gives us great insight on the wild world of gift documentation and is a wise and insightful resource. You can reach her at dkmeyers@andrew.cmu.edu should you have additional questions or thoughts.

The past several years, I have drafted gift documentation for new funds. At my disposal were these tools:
1.      a checklist submitted by the gift officer outlining the fund  particulars– fund name fund and purpose, donor, donor motivation, payment method and schedule, award criteria
2.      a gift document handbook, sort of a cook book for fund agreements
3.      templates and language for endowed, expendable, capital and deferred gifts
4.      old agreements

Everything I need is all right there in black and white, right? Just like a manual on how to raise a child or guide to building an atom bomb.

Just as in raising kids or building bombs, when it comes to documenting gifts, the exception is becoming the rule. Templates are only a starting point. Thus, because we often find ourselves in uncharted territory, it’s more important than ever to make sure that your agreements are accurate, precise and functional. Below are three common pitfalls and a suggested ounce of prevention.

1.      Inaccurate information
Not everyone is a stickler for detail. One gift officer spelled his $1.5 million donor’s name with every variation of capitalization, spacing and punctuation: bin Al Shanu, Bin Al-Shanu, bin al Shanu (fictional name). Another transposed his donor’s first and middle names. The agreement got up the food chain for signature and when the error was discovered, I had to take the hit.
Prevention: Regardless of who’s at fault, the buck stops with the agreement author. Assume nothing, verify everything.

2.      Payment vehicles
Donors use sophisticated payment methods these days: donor-advised funds, matching gifts, their family foundations. The IRS will recognize only one legal donor, and John Donor can’t pay off his personal pledge through money he gave to Fidelity.
Prevention: Teach your gift officers to proactively ask donors how they intend to pay. Also, review the donor’s record to see if previous payments came through any of these vehicles. Determining the legal donor can affect who gets the receipt and acknowledgment, so do what you can to avoid surprises at tax time.

3.      Unrealistic expectations
Donors, particularly scholarship donors, have good intentions…and you know how the first part of that saying goes. Some like the idea of a committee picking the winner of a student essay contest – a method that’s cumbersome and impossible to monitor. Some want to pick the recipient themselves, award it to an athlete or reward a student “of good moral character.” Last I saw, our admissions form doesn’t have a checkbox for good or bad moral character.
Prevention: To avoid having donors ask us to administer their funds in ways that are illegal, impractical or downright impossible, provide continuing education with your gift officers to make them aware of current laws, admissions procedures (if you’re in higher ed) and IRS standards that enable them to walk donors through the right paths at the outset. Create internet sites or publications that clearly outline your policies, for gift officers and donors.

A more philosophical pitfall I’ve run up against lately is the legalese rhetoric we use in our agreements – and I mean the Universal We, because I have yet to see a warm and fuzzy version of a gift agreement. The gauntlet has been thrown! If you think you change my mind, send me your template!

Ironically, gifts we deem important (large) enough to document can sound cold and off-putting to our biggest donors. Agreement can sound more like a contract than an acknowledgment of our gratitude and their intentions.

The problem, I think, is that many gift agreements and template language are like surf-and-turf or sleeper sofas – you get the worst of both, the best of neither. We try to document our gratitude to the donor then get into the legal housekeeping of when they’re going to pay and what happens if…

So my newest adventure is to revise the content and format of our agreements, to make the donor feel appreciated, the payment method clear and the fund easier to administer. I have some ideas but would love to hear yours. Check back in a month and I’ll give you an update.