Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Creative Donor Communications


Hello everyone! I know sometimes it seems as though I am highly critical on this blog. I just want us to do our best, I promise. So this week I am full of good news and best practices. I often speak a great deal about innovative donor communications and my simple formula is that we need to, "write  brilliantly, package it superbly, and to present it in a way that will captivate, thrill and inspire" sound easy eh? What I'm really hitting at is that we need more imaginative and courageous communications. And I have recently stumbled across some gems I'd like to share with you. While it's true that these examples won't fit all situations and populations, their courageous innovation is inspiring, especially to someone who sees a great deal of pieces every day!


I received the following from Sandy Bosco one of my followers and thought it was too good not to share: "Check out this email I received a week after the Boston Marathon. Director Maureen Gallagher and her staff artfully took a tragic and dramatic event and gracefully turned the spotlight onto the positive, without sacrificing respect for those directly impacted by the bombing. The man-hours they put in were obvious, but the professionalism and compassion they displayed shined through." Kudos to the Massachusetts Downs Syndrome Congress:


I was recently in Texas and saw some of my favorite people on the planet at the Stewardship Summit. The wonderful ladies from Cook Children's hospital shared with me a new and innovative acknowledgment/impact piece they're sending out. Scanning it here doesn't quite do it justice but its the best I can do, these are simply brilliant in their execution and delivery! Kudos Cook Children's!


Finally, I'd like to recognize a truly innovative concept for an annual report. I read this on the CASE blog and thought it was brilliant! The organization, Calgary Zoo used Instagram  for their annual report here: it is a dazzlingly beautiful story of a year in the life of the zoo and the impact of gifts. It's very non traditional essence makes you feel like the zoo is alive! I am thinking of doing a webinar or some conference session on impact and annual reports that really are bet practice and innovative at the same time. I hope to share that with you soon. For now, spend some time with these pieces and let me know what you think. I'm always on the lookout for the good, bad and ugly... So please send them to me!
Thanks so much!
Cheers, Lynne


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tick Tock: Time Management

I'm asked about this particular topic a great deal. in fact, I did a similar post almost a year ago but with a different slant here. So here's the story, I have a full time job, I go to graduate school full time and run the donor relations guru (which is like a full time job) all in one day. I'm not asking you to pity or envy me, but because I do so much and always have, people often ask how to manage it all. So I thought I would share some of my tips with you to help you with Prioritization and time management. You could be like me and not sleep a great deal but I don't recommend it at all. Here's what I do recommend.

1. Work in short, focused bursts. I say that I'm a great multitasker but in all reality a hyper focus for a limited amount of time is the best way to go. Take this blog for example, I write it every week on my commute into work, headphones on and I have a focused amount of time to complete the task.

2. Start with the bad stuff first. This reminds me of doing homework, I always started with the things I didn't like first then went from there. It really helps you prioritize.

3. Use your email properly. People are often pleased with my email response time. It's because my inbox isn't full of thousands of messages. My goal at any one time is to have less than 10 in my inbox. I reply and then file it away, if its in my inbox then it is a reminder to complete a task. Keep a great folder system and stick to it. It works wonders. And for goodness sake don't print emails, really? You can store them or use a free outlook tool like Xobni to help you find emails efficiently.

4. Avoid unnecessary meetings. This means using your calendar effectively, blocking hours of time for focused work and times when you're not at your best. For example I am a morning person (rise and shine at 5am) so if you want a meeting after 4pm with me you have to outrank me by two. So that means you have to be the VP or President. Period. I never break this rule and it helps greatly. Also, for those of you managing a staff, trust and empower your staff to go to meetings that are purely informational. It allows your teammates to grow in their skills and frees up some time. Do you really need a meeting? Or will a conversation suffice? In nonprofit work we tend to have meetings about meetings, under the guise of being good communicators, in reality we're wasting valuable time. We use instant messenger to communicate across offices and within our team and it helps avoid many many meetings.

5. Discover and know your weaknesses. I'm a great data girl and strategist, I'm pretty darn good at manipulating data and creating charts in excel, etc. but for the life of me I cannot make it print pretty all on  one page with headings and all. So I have my teammate help me with that, for a task that would take me 2 hours, in ten minutes she's done and making me look good.

6.  Ask for help effectively. Many people just don't know where to begin when everything seems urgent. This is where your boss will earn their big fancy salary. Ask them to help you prioritize. Don't go to them and say "my plate is too full" show them three things and make them rank them in order of priorities. Rinse and repeat this step over and over until they understand that their input is not jut valuable but helps drive your strategy. If they can't or won't do this, put together your résumé, no just kidding (I think) instead use donor surveys and data to build a set of priorities and remember you can't do everything all at once perfectly. Baby steps here do one thing really well and then move forward. Don't know where to start? Start with the four pillars of donor relations.

7. Finally ask the right questions in order to move your work forward. Before you ask those questions do some basic research. Before you hit a listserv with 11 bulleted questions or ask an expert for a strategic plan, do your homework. Google the question. Make sure that your question is concise and focused. I enjoy receiving questions from around the globe, but especially enjoy those that are specific, targeted and well focused. The ones I tend to ignore on listservs are those that can be answered with google and those that have more than 5 questions and could be answered in a day of professional development. Show me you've done your part and ill bend over backwards to help provide you tools and resources for free.

8. And please don't forget it's okay to say no sometimes. I'm not always great at this but am getting so much better. Saying no empowers you to own your time and tasks. Instead of no, why not ask a rhetorical question like, okay, what would you like me not to do in order to do this for you? Smirk...

I hope these have helped you, I'm thinking we should do a webinar on this topic together soon.

I am always open to your thoughts.



Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Spike Lee and Donor Relations

So I'm not here to talk about the Knicks, but I am here to tell you about the challenges that we face in the sensitive area of donor relations. Anytime there are large amounts of money involved, and anytime there is a great deal at stake, murky waters arrive.

So here is the advice I'm going to give you that I borrowed from my friend Spike: DO THE RIGHT THING
Every time, every day in every way.

Fight the good fight and always be on the right side of the rules when it comes to donor relations. Here's why; it may not always be easy, it may not always win you friends on your staff, but at the end of the day, you can look yourself in the mirror and not worry about ending up on the 11 o clock news. Or even worse, on the front page of the Chronicle of Philanthropy or New York Times.

It isn't always easy to do the right thing when it comes to donations and donors, there is a great deal of pressure. And in fact, in our industry, everyone doesn't always send the right message. As a consultant,  when I get on my soapbox, I often hear people say that "organization X across the street does it that way so it must be ok" or "it's such a small thing, who will care?" I care, and you should too.

Here are some of the sticky things we face that I want you to know about and avoid any entanglements at all. If you need help or resources I am happy to provide them for you.

Quid Pro Quo laws and token gift items
Allowing donors to pay pledges or buy event tickets with Donor Advised Fund monies
Fudging matching gift forms to ensure the match goes through
FERPA violations of sharing student data without their permission
Allowing donors to be involved (at ALL) in the selection of their scholarship or faculty chair recipients
Not spending donor monies the way you agreed to
Having donor relations involved in how the money is spent (ie. donor relations awarding scholarships)
Not protecting your donor's sensitive data
Over promising deliverables in gift agreements that you can't deliver
Not counting or booking gifts correctly to enhance numbers or giving percentages

Now, I'm not chicken little and the sky isn't falling. But I can tell you every time I read a headline that involves this I just shake my head and I hope it's not someone I know. You need to be aware, you need to make your leadership aware. Keep running the flag up the pole until someone listens and takes action. You will never regret doing the right thing. And in case you need some ammunition to help you fight the good fight, here you go:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

First Impressions

Don't let anyone fool you, looks count. First impressions go a long way. Take this as a truth from a woman who is a wee bit polarizing (it happens). In the past week I've been thinking a great deal about the first and last impressions we have on our constituents. For those of us at colleges and universities, it begins when our future alumni are students. Remember this the next few weeks as commencement season is upon us.

 For others, it begins when our constituents receive our communications. I saved all of my direct mail from nonprofits for the last week, and I'd love to share some thoughts on the first impressions they gave. In addition, I'd like to share some final impressions that I've seen lately that may cause you to pause and think. To keep it comparative, I'm talking true first and last impressions, the envelopes.

I received these two envelopes last week. Both of them, two days apart. So you're telling me that your strategy is to ask me once and never have a giving relationship with me again? Hmm... Don't you want to retain me and build my lifetime giving value? This doesn't  inspire much confidence. On addition, is the address in the typewriter font supposed to fool constituents into thinking there's a woman named Gladys hand typing these? Sorry, 20/20/20, no donation for you, no matter how cute the kid is on your envelope.

Look! Brian Mullaney has been busy! He also has First Step, and has apparently hired the same mail house he uses for 20/20/20! Rut Roh, Brian, busted! By the way I received this solicitation the day in between the two others. I hope Brian got a deal...

The Prospect Park Alliance almost had me. I loved the words "join us" on the front and the great imagery of the park in use on the back of the envelope, but wham! The fine print doomed them... "Join today and enjoy a free prospect park aluminum water bottle" boo hiss... Unopened!

This envelope is an epic fail. A nickel? Really? Let me restate that... A nickel and a tote bag? Come on American Diabetes Association, we can do better, can't we? Do you make your money back on all the returned mail? Gathering unopened nickels like acorns? Sigh.

Feeding America also hit me twice in one week, with two separate messages. One involved veterans, and they both mentioned that my giving would be multiplied, effective at I rest glance, kudos. Of course one mentioned my free address labels and the other gave me a notepad to boot! On the back of the envelope with the bonus notepad is a biblical quote, now I'm not going to delve too deeply into religion, except to say, what if I were Jewish, Hindi, Muslim, or just not Christian, this completely alienates a portion of the American population, no?

Keep it simple folks. Tell them who you are and why your constituents should open this envelope. Don't make empty or broad promises and by all means, don't make it all about the swag. Make sure your mailing is headed to the right list, and for the right reason.

Finally, let's talk about last impressions. Be careful with your use of BREs and other reply devices. Don't hand them out like candy, don't say ridiculous things like on the envelope below. 
It's been proven long ago that freestanding inserted BREs in alumni magazines, annual reports and other communications devices are a bad ROI.  I equate it to those annoying cards that fall out of magazines while I'm trying to read my coveted Southern Living (thanks Mom) magazine on the subway every month. It makes it awkward and I feel like a litterbug if I don't chase them down the platform while trying not to get killed by an oncoming train... Talk about last impressions!


Don't mess up a thank you with an ask.  For example, including a reply envelope with your receipts is blasphemy, a true slap in the face. You mean to tell me I just gave to you and you're asking me again before I can even get my wallet back in my pocket(book)? It's insulting. If you're going to insert an envelope, you better have a darned good reason and proof why it belongs there. I have seen some schools do a full page ad about annual giving and insert a reply device opposite that page, smart and on target. But an envelope in the middle of a faculty story or one that falls out of a thank you note? Tacky. Misplaced. Sure to draw ire. Be strategic about everything you do. Think through the small stuff. And if an envelope is a huge quandary, you can always mail a postcard that sends them to your online giving page. I would love to see this technique employed more. Perhaps some direct mail companies should do some testing here.

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. Perhaps we can even share examples of great envelopes and BREs in our community.