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.”