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.