Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tricks of the trade...

Fancy Consultant Jargon

I really enjoy the work I do. I think it is absolutely vital for your health to love what you do, it also makes for a better end product. In addition to my full time job, I love the additional opportunity to not only speak at conferences but also to help a few clients a year through on site and virtual consulting. I love the work, it is immediately fulfilling to see an instant impact on an organization and fills the gaps when I'm stuck in neutral with my own projects sometimes. Out there in the speaking and consulting world, there seems to be a strange game and the winner is the one that comes up with the fanciest two dollar word. Well folks, either my vocabulary has drastically decreased since the SAT or I just don't think jargon is necessary.

We need to work to eliminate it from our conversations and keep it in perspective. When we talk about our donors, all who are generous souls and are complete people, not simply a LYBUNT on a report or a sushi eating bottom of the pyramid event grenade. So before we endeavor to change our behavior, let's have a little fun discussing some of the "best" of the worst I've seen and heard come out of people's mouths lately. If you have good ones, please share with me and we'll add them to our laugh list. Below are the terms combined with a real world Lynne definition...tongue firmly implanted in cheek here :)

  • Implementing strategic initiatives- we're actually going to do what we wrote in the plan, not just make it up as we go or settle for "we've always done it that way"

  • Maximizing resources- let's try not to spend wads of cash on silly things like paperweights, maybe the best use of our data team's time isn't stuffing envelopes

  • Integrated, cross-channel fundraising strategies that are holistic, scalable- let's put together a plan that involves all kinds of donors, not just the big ones at the top of the pyramid, let's talk to them in a variety of ways, let's think about it before we do it...

  • Variable data- read this one slowly, Mail Merge, yup, you just paid someone thousands for a fancy mail merge... How about we train, feed, and appreciate our support staff? Maybe we can give them new titles, variable data managers?

  • Multi channel integrated approach- we're gonna talk to folks over the phone, in person, through the mail and digitally. All different ways throughout the year. Fancy huh?

  • Leverage- your boss has given you permission and you didn't have to beg forgiveness

  • Data-driven- let's pull the list before we order quantities? Or perhaps we should actually use the database? Your choice.

  • Actionable customer mindsets- aha! Brilliant! Let's ask people what they want before we build an entire program around them. Then once we know what they want, let's do it.

  • Feedback mechanism- Survey. Focus group. Asking their opinion. Seriously.

  • Move the dial on comprehensive risk-taking- push people to innovate, applaud new ideas and not settle for we've always done it this way. Get boss' buy in... Make sure no one died as a result of new thank you note,  Repeat.

  • Prism of donor expectations- what do these folks want? Oh, you mean people are different and have different needs? Insert slap head sound and doh! here...

  • Key performance measures- we're you successful? Did the good guys win? Have you entered your contact reports? Can you look me in the eye when your direct deposit is posted? Muahaha

  • High-water standard- otherwise known as best practices.

  • Reorganization- someone's not meeting their key performance measures, let's change the whole division around so we can work around them and they can keep their job, this is nonprofit, we don't fire folks, we just give them new titles like special assistant or advisor... Snarky eh?

  • Benchmarking- what is someone else doing that I can steal for the price of a phone call, a glass of wine, a google search, or a well written email? Can you say control find and replace?

In case you haven't had enough ill placed humor, you can generate your own nonprofit jargon here: http://mysite.verizon.net/grantspeak/

I'd love to hear your thoughts, let the sarcasm and snark roll here folks.



Thursday, April 25, 2013

18 minutes...

It's a small investment of your time that will have deep repercussions.

Watch this once, then watch it again, pass it on to everyone in your organization.

I am sure that some of you have been waiting for me to weigh in on Dan Pallotta's TED talk, for those of you who haven't seen it yet, I'm so happy I could introduce it to you.

It is smart, insightful, and all too true. This  is why I ask that you watch it twice. The first time will drive you to drink and the second time will drive you to think. Dan hits the nail on the head here folks and if you don't feel the pressure, watch it again. This sobering look at the state of an industry so many of us are passionate about and dedicated to is nothing short of genius. The question is, what are you going to do about it?
As an innovative change agent in the philanthropic arena, I am often challenged by the old guard of stagnancy, penny wise and pound foolish folks. This challenge is just fine with me, I welcome it. It provides an opportunity to educate, inspire, annoy, and surprise at every turn. Not every innovation needs to be revolutionary, it just needs to be effective and executable.

I hope that last week's release of the Pulse of Donor Relations survey white paper and data has now equipped you with some fact based data. Inspiration doesn't favor those who sit still, it favors those who are daring. I challenge you to be daring!

You don't have to make seismic shifts to be a change agent, you just have to not settle for the status quo. For example, we build donor relations plans and implement ideas all of the time without first finding out what the needs of our audience are. As witnessed in the Pulse data, only 18 percent of respondents have received comprehensive feedback from their constituents. So are we assuming we know what they want? You know what folks say about assuming...

It's time for us to be forward thinking, to challenge assumptions and anecdotal evidence with empirical data from our constituents. Then we build the strategy. We craft programs that are innovative in their simplicity, think iPhone here folks, intuitive in their approach and shift the landscape of modern communications and engagement.
 It's your turn to push through and make a change. What do you want on your fundraising tombstone? I'm with Dan here, I know I don't want mine to read, "she kept overhead low and she didn't make waves"

What don't you want yours to say? Post it here and let's demonstrate the change we want to be in our industry.



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Are your donor communications effective?

I was attending a conference last week (imagine that) and I sat through some great sessions. In one of them, the presenter cited recent (2012) research that said only 7% of your donors read the communications you send thoroughly. I was not surprised that the number was low, but I was a bit miffed at exactly how low. Sometimes when I open my mail and email  I know why it's so low, if this were a measure of success we would receive an F-.

Are we giving our donors things they want to read, things that draw them in and make it worth their time? Have we asked them what they want to read and in what format they want to read it in? If not, are we just throwing messaging into a dark abyss and hoping they catch it and read it?

Old wisdom of direct mail and publications says time and time again that the longer the appeal letter, the more people give. There are even whole books on this topic... Most of this science comes from the nonprofit world, not higher ed or healthcare. Would this still hold true now? For your audience?  I would beg to argue that point. In an information overloaded society, if you send me a 4 page solicitation letter, there's no chance I'm reading it. But if you send me a postcard with a telling image and a concise message, I'll take action. What do you think?

I think that the times have changed greatly and we haven't changed with them.  How have you changed your communications to adapt to the changing landscape of readership? Do you know what your donors are reading? Have you asked them? Why not?

One effective thing to do is to ask your donors their preferred communication channel (mail, phone, email, social media) and speak to them through that channel primarily. Not eliminating the others, but being intentional about how you group your donors, other than giving amount. Or bucket them all based on age, assuming that most if not all 35 or 85 year olds behave the same, a shallow assumption indeed.


There's a shredder beneath our mailboxes in my apartment building for a reason. As I came back from my recent trip, my held mail contained 12 pieces from charitable organizations, all but one were in letter format and also were thick... (Insert your favorite shredding noise here) one was a well done graphic postcard that had an image of students holding up the letters Thank you and a great short message. Thanks UMass Boston, your next gift is coming soon because your postcard is on my fridge. For those nonprofits who sent me lengthy letters and "gifts" like address labels, yours met an evil shredder named Sal (what, you don't have a name for your shredder?) He's a hungry little thing. When he struggles to shred your mailing and groans in protest, I think we have a problem (and I sincerely hope you didn't send me a nickel, Sal hates Nickels, spits them back at my head). Nothing like a flying nickel or saint token coming back at you from Sal the shredder to wake you up!


So how do we effect change? How do we prove to those experts that the old format of lengthy letters and "gifts" is a ruse and we see right through it. Ask them the last time they have verifiable data with YOUR population, ask your folks. Also, every time a communication comes to you for review, ask yourself if you would turn it over or open it and read it. Who's your audience? Is this putting your best foot forward? If not, begin a discussion about change.


If you need ideas, I have many and will collect more if you need them. For now, I'll leave you with two of our favorites here that make us particularly proud.




I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.



Thursday, April 11, 2013

How are you making your donors dance? A pep talk...

Greetings from beautiful Vancouver, BC! I am at yet another amazing conference and I seem to have caught a cold from my travels, yippee! So today I needed a pep talk. A serious pep talk. And I think sometimes, everyone could use a pep talk. In that light, here is my absolute favorite pick me up video: Pep Talk  Isn't he amazing? I want him in my daily life. He just makes me smile.

And in case you need more magic, here is an amazing video from Peru.

In light of these two amazing videos I could write an entire blog about the power of images over text. Or I could write an entire post about how videos are free and easy to create using sites like www.animoto.com . What I think I'll do is this instead, I want to remind you that at the core of what we do, we delight people and make them feel good.  Like Kid President says, What's Your Space Jam? More importantly, what are you doing to make your donors dance?  Are you just treading water with your donor relations program or are you making waves?  Make a splash!  Next week, I will be making a splash with some long awaited survey results!


Upcoming Webinar:   May 2, 2013 1pm Eastern

 Individual and Custom Stewardship Plans for Top Donors
 How are we building custom plans shaped around our very best donors that are meaningful and manageable? An individualized stewardship plan can evolve so seamlessly into other concerted programmatic efforts. Considering these ideas, we will examine the ways individualized plans can be structured, who should have one and what should be contained in an individual plan, and determining how activities can be integrated into a plan.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Top three ways, top five mistakes, Letterman’s top ten.

This is a fantastic guest post from my friend, mentor, and colleague Debbie Meyers at Carnegie Mellon University, I love it and I hope you do too!

We love lists. Bulleted and numbered lists, particularly with pictures, help us condense complex ideas or remember lengthy instructions. And mnemonics: “every good boy does fine” for treble clef, “roy-g-biv” for colors of the spectrum.

So here’s my top-ten list of lessons learned in my donor relations career, with a helpful mnemonic (RELATIONS!) and pictures.

1.     R is for READ.
Author Stephen King says, ““If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
Ever wonder why you had to write all those papers in school? And why they were so hard to write? Because you weren’t sure what to say. It’s not that you didn’t know what the underlying themes were in a novel, the problem was there were so many!
  Writing forces you to choose what to include and exclude. It makes you come to the point. If you’re a good writer, you’ve got a great shot at being a clear thinker and an articulate speaker – all great skills for donor relations. So read!

2.     E is for EXPECTATIONS.
Know what is expected of you. Every chance you get, prove you’re doing it.

Recently I heard about an annual giving director who worked like crazy to get her school’s participation rate up, only to find out that her boss was more interested in actual dollars. Do you know what your boss expects of you? Or are you doing what *you* think you should be doing, or working on only the things you like and are good at?

Sounds simple, but have a clear plan in place for yourself or your department, articulate that plan to your supervisor and peers, and ask them for a constant evaluation on how you are doing. At worst, they’ll say you need to improve. At best, they’ll praise you for a job well done.

3.     L is for LISTEN.
In life and on the job, practice active listening skills: your eyes open and attentive, mouth closed, body language relaxed and open.

With irate donors, let them do the talking. Refrain from defending yourself and take the time and patience to hear what they are truly upset about. Ask yourself why the person is upset. When you have that answer, ask why again. Keep asking why until you get to the real issue. Then you can do your job effectively and heal that relationship.

Once I tried to explain to a donor why he got a pledge reminder when he had already paid the pledge for his fellowship. I got into this detailed story about how data is pulled and then it has to be reviewed and obviously our paths crossed in the mail... He shut me up quickly by saying, “I don’t care how you do it. Just fix it.”

He then went on to talk about how important the fellowship was to him, and why he established it. This wasn’t about a computer or data glitch that made him cranky. It was about something he valued deeply, and the trust he wanted to have in our ability to steward his fund well. You can’t fix the past, but by listening carefully, you can learn how to repair the present and prepare for the future.

4.     A is for ASSERTIVE.
Our profession often dictates that we remain in the background so the spotlight is on our donors and our organization. Sometimes it requires us to fall on the sword for someone else in our organization, for the good of the cause. And that’s fine. But it doesn’t mean we have to be martyrs or doormats.

As donor relations practitioners, we constantly battle the perception that our main contributions are tying bows and throwing parties. The difference between planning a party and planning an effective donor appreciation event is like the difference between affixing a band aid and curing a disease. A strategically planned even with meaningful messaging and clearly articulated outcomes can change a donor’s life and your institution’s future. A well written endowment report that shows impact and gratitude can lead to a multi-million dollar gift.

So if you want a seat at the decision-making table, ask for it. If you want a promotion and can show objective value to your organization, ask for it. If you need more staff to make a bigger impact on your institution’s ability to nurture donors and raise more money, ask for it. Hmmm, maybe A is for ASK!

5.     T is for TEAM.
Play well with others on your team. Get to know your team. Learn who can help you reach success, and determine how you fit in with the rest of the team.

With organizations becoming more horizontal, it’s not as obvious where one staff member starts and another begins. Find out who your go-to person is for critical needs. Conversely, let them know how you can help them. Reinforce your value to the team in a helpful, service-oriented way.

And of course, the corollary to this notion is the Golden Rule. Be positive about others, and if you can’t be positive, keep quiet.

6.     I is for INFORMED.
Keep up with latest trends and best practices in your field. Network. Attend conferences, seminars and webinars. Know enough about a wide variety of donor relations functions to make thoughtful, well-informed decisions.

Go on site visits to similar organizations. Sometimes being in another work setting teaches you as much about who you are not as who you are. Search job postings. Even if you’re not interested in applying for another job, it’s a great way to learn what is going on in our field.

Though a Puritan heritage may say otherwise, there’s nothing wrong in acknowledging that you’re well versed in a particular field or subject matter. “Expert” comes from the Latin verb meaning to experience or try. So in a sense, we’re all experts at what we’ve experienced. Assuming we learn from our actions, we can all stake a claim in being an expert in something! What are you an expert in? Name three things. Go.

7.     O is for ORGANIZATION.
Learn how to organize your email. My email inbox contains only the items I need to follow up on. The rest are in electronic folders. Every six months, I clean out old folders. Control F is no excuse for hoarding and cluttering.

Invest some time in establishing naming conventions so you can name documents in a way that they are easily recognized and retrieved. For instance, your resume should not be titled “resume.doc.” Use initials, dates, document type – whatever it takes and makes the most sense.

Organization also means your institution. You should be fluent in facts and figures about your institution that donors or even the common person on the street would ask. How many students receive financial aid? How many beds are in your hospital? What types of art does your museum have in its permanent collection? What is your mission? Make sure you have your elevator speech down pat.

8.     N is for NOD.
When you make a mistake, nod to yourself while saying this mantra: I own up to it, I will learn from it and I will move on.

Nod your head. One, two, three. Repeat as necessary.

This is what responsible adults do: we acknowledge our role in a mistake, apologize, fix what we can and then get back to work. We do not blame others. We do not play victim, nor do we beat ourselves up. Fretting never helps. If you act immediately, sincerely and positively, you will be seen as a person of character and strength rather than a goof.

9.     S is for STRENGTHS.
Though I can’t cite the source, I once read about a theory that says, rather than trying to improve your weaknesses, you’re better off enhancing your strengths. It’s all about return on investment.

Think about it in terms of sports. Say you stink at playing basketball, but you’re better than average at football. Why would you spend all your time practicing basketball to get only marginally better, when you could devote your time entirely to football and get drafted into the NFL?

Apply that theory to work. Event planning is not my best skill, so I leave it to the experts. The event planners, in turn, ask my help in pulling data for the mailing lists and RSVPs. Should I work harder at planning events? Should they work harder at understanding data? I don’t think so. I’d do better to keep pushing technology to improve their operations, and they should keep focusing on making each event better than the last. Two excellents > two mediocres.

To make RELATIONS ten characters, I included an exclamation point, which stands for: YAY!!!
Forget about title and status. Choose a job that makes you go YAY!!! If that’s not the job you have, then find bits and pieces in that job that make you go YAY!!! And if you still come up dry, volunteer or become active in a professional organization.

Go find your YAY!!! You deserve it and need it.