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.




  1. Very nice and smart article! Seems like outsourcing is a trend that is still growing lightning fast around our shop.

  2. We will never forget those outsourced endowment reports will we? Still can't believe that!

    1. Laurel,
      Talk about a wake up call- haas more like a nightmare!

  3. Lynne - I understand the importance of not outsourcing the scholarship reports, but with the amount of endowments that you probably have, is there a certain software that is commonly used to aid in this process? Right now, we manually enter in the student recipient information onto our impact piece (this is different from the fiscal year end report). We can't continue this process much longer!

    1. Jill-
      Yes! No more manual entry- booo--- We automated it from Banner to dump into excel or access and from there it was like a fancy mail merge... I can help you, just let me know...

    2. Lynne, That is exactly what I'm hoping to do. I've been meeting with finance about how to make our process more automated as well. Would love to chat with you about what our systems are like at FIT and hear your thoughts.