Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Seat at the Table

How to earn your seat at the table without a hissy fit…
Many donor relations professionals comment that they do not have a presence at important meetings, or don’t feel that they have a seat at the table. I hear all the time “she was well meaning and well-intentioned but couldn't translate that to leadership”…

How do we expect senior leadership to take us seriously when every email begins with 'I feel that'? It's important to be emotionally aware but not emotional. Passion can impede progress if not expressed in the right manner. It’s time to take the emotion out of the situation and earn your seat at the table. Bring the value to them, show them the reasons why you should be present, other than, ”everyone else is sitting there, why not me?”

 What kind of contributions can you make at a prospect management meeting, at a major gift strategy meeting? Sometimes your contribution is to be a good listener. My old boss used to call those “listening meetings”, meaning I should be pleased I was at the table but my primary function was to listen and absorb. 
One great way to earn a seat at the table is to involve yourself in the onboarding and training process at your organization. Do all new hires meet with you and/or your team within their first month? They should. It is important for you to be able to communicate the power and effectiveness of donor relations to the overall organizations to your teammates both new and old.  Also, are you providing them with resources for their professional development? You can provide them with links to the latest donor studies- there are some here for you to share. You need to be the expert in the field, well informed and on top of the donor numbers, information, and strategy. Try to avoid being the place your teammates go to when they need an item, a choice of linen, or a blank notecard. These things are helpful, yes, and you can be the expert on those as well, but first they should know you are a professional in your field.

Another approach: what about building the table and inviting others to it? If you sit around in your office waiting for an email invite, you've got it all wrong! Get out there and have a conversation, prove the value of your seat, even if it’s on the fringe at first, and then show them the impact of your presence.  It’s our responsibility to be proactive and strategic, you can’t wait for an invite to the party, you need to have a party of your own! We need to move beyond the idea that donor relations is a back office profession. We carry portfolios of donor visits, we should be known across our organizations or campuses as a visible part of the fundraising team. If no one knows your face or name and you sit behind emails all day, you are setting yourself up for failure. Put on your extrovert hat and get out there!
I would love to hear your approach to obtaining your seat at the table, and bringing donor relations to the forefront. Help inspire your peers as well. You can post questions here or in our linkedin group as well. Join us today!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The proof is in the pudding… Events done well, er well done

I just spent a week in North Carolina and I had an amazing time.  There is something to be said for the gracious host, hospitality and a knack for doing things the right way all day every time.  I want to share with you some of the things I picked up on at the events I attended and also an exciting offer for you to attend a free event webinar next month!!

After many hours spent in an airport delayed and otherwise waylaid, I arrived with a warm smile and obtained a certain chicken sandwich immediately. I was then thrilled to speak with groups from North Carolina YMCAs and had a fantastic day. No detail went unnoticed by myself and others.  First of all, they were welcoming to me and my crazy NYC ideas and second, they had campers from the YMCA across the street welcome us with songs, cute presidential facts and the pledge of allegiance. I was truly touched. I think it’s really important for us as event professionals to always try to include the local talent and wow did they do a great job. Speaking of local talent, their meal was catered by a fellow Y employee. The food was hands down the BEST event food I’ve ever had at a conference or professional development experience. There were two amazing salads and the best homemade sandwiches I’ve ever had. The egg salad and pimento cheese made me swoon and almost misbehave at a public buffet-imagine that! I’ve had enough bad baked chicken in my life, and knowing that we were supporting not only a local business but a Y employee made my heart happy. It was truly a phenomenal day. The other thing that did not go unnoticed was that the entire day, their leadership was present and engaged, they weren’t there to introduce me and leave, they stayed, participated in the activities and were truly leading by example. I was humbled.

Later in the week I traveled to Elon College for the ADRP SEDRC conference, one of my favorite events of the year. It is like being wrapped in a warm hug of friends and the lilting southern accents make me feel at home. This conference was impeccably organized by the team at Elon. While it was true we were a bit away from the nearest city, at every single turn there were signs guiding the way. I think far too often people forget about the importance of good signage. These ladies had it down to a science. It was a delight always knowing where to go and how to get there. Everything at the event flowed smoothly and they were always starting and ending on time- something to be proud of. In addition, this year’s donor panel was a real treat. On the panel was a donor, Jeanne Robertson, who was a hoot and even put me in my place regarding my distaste for honor rolls. It was fantastic and you can see some of her amazing humor here:

Finally, my friend Jennifer Richwine, the AVP of events at Wake Forest gave one of the most inspiring and emotional sessions on the art and power of a thank you note. The next day, I was fortunate enough to be with Jennifer when she mailed the notes from attendees and humbled by their reach and distance. It was truly a great conference.

For those of you that have made it this far in the post, I have great news. I will be hosting a FREE Webinar about events in August-

Great Expectations: Building Events that Donors will Love and Others will Envy

From the moment they arrive, your event attendees will marvel at your innovative and creative planning. At every turn, the incorporation of technology paired with a delightfully personal touch amazes and delights them.  How do we create these experiences with limited budgets and resources? It’s possible and sometimes easier than we think! Let’s learn together the items to focus on when planning that next great campaign launch or close, recognition or fundraising soiree or tailgate or reunion picnic.  Discover tried and true rules to live by combined with new and cutting edge technologies to delight and deliver the best experience possible for your guests. These events become the talk of the town, delighting your attendees and making other organizations envious.

August 8, 2013- We only have 200 slots at each timeframe and they will fill up fast- register NOW!!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Resistance to the persistence of change

The resistance to the persistence of change

Yesterday I had the great fortune to spend the day with an amazing group of staff and volunteers for the YMCAs in the region. I learned so much from them even though I was the one that was supposed to do the teaching. I was inspired by their optimism, open minded thoughts, smiles and pure enthusiasm for the work they do. It was clear to me that they treat their profession as their vocation, something I truly identified with. 
I also have a great story to share with you that I learned yesterday. It s about change, something that you know I try to embrace fully at all times. Heck right now my life is in a huge stage of flux and I'm trying to enjoy it and embrace it. But let's face it, most nonprofit organizations are highly resistant to change. We are steeped and mired in traditions, with a common phrase that we hear being "we've always done it that way". That phrase makes me a bit nauseous and I hope it does you too. 
So here's the story. Recently a professional development exercise was done where two people stand face to face. They observe each other for 30 seconds or so then turn around and change three things about their appearance. They're then challenged to notice the difference in each other. Then they turn back around and are challenged to make three other changes. Two thirds of the time the new changes are simply moving those differences back to their original positions. Sad isn't it? 
We as human beings are creatures of habit, we must force our organizations not to be. Look around your staff meetings or trainings, does everyone always sit in the same seat? Ask yourself why. What can you do to shake the snow globe of change and to ensure that change actually doesn't become complacency.  Next time you have a meeting, choose a different chair.
When you attempt to make change at an organization, have a plan in place to ensure that the changes you adopt don't become old habits. Constantly evaluate and tweak your ideas. It's ok to be different, to challenge common assumptions and to embrace change, no matter how scary. Once we overcome the fear of a shifting foundation, we learn to enjoy the ride.  So what will you do to help embrace change in your organizational culture? It's time to serve breakfast for dinner and enjoy the waffles folks. Let's vow not to settle for just good enough or the status quo. Make those three changes and vow not to let them revert over time. Be dynamic, smart and forward thinking every day. Challenge yourself and your teammates to think beyond the ordinary static ruts we tend to become comfortable with and try one new thing.  
How do you embrace change? What tools help you effect change in your organization? I look forward to hearing from you!  Don't forget o send me your creative samples and new ideas for sharing with others.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Here's a New Idea: Someone Else's

I'm often asked how to come up with the latest innovation or new concept in fundraising. Here's a secret: I haven't had a new idea in a decade! Just kidding. But in all reality I think that one of the most important things we can learn is how to take an existing idea from another organization and adapt it for use in our environment. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel, but you can always put new tires on that baby. I think one of the best things about our industry is the open sharing and cross pollination of strong networks. I have never picked up the phone or sent an email to someone asking for them to share their work or use their idea and adapt it and heard the word "no". 

What does it take to adapt a new idea and make it yours? Here's the steps I usually follow to find the latest and greatest.

1. Read, participate and attend! Read blogs, websites, social media to see what others are doing and to find some great samples. CASE, SupportingAdvancement, Fundsvcs, and other sites have great samples! Twitter and SlideShare contain tons of examples as well. Participate in group sharing by adding your samples for others to see. Send out your items and when you do, you will receive more in return. And finally attend as many professional development opportunities as possible. Conferences have tables of swaps, AFP chapters have tons of sharing resources, as do others. 

2. Find something you like? Email or call the office of the people who created it and talk to them about it. Most people will be so flattered and can help you with the strengths of their process and the pitfalls to avoid. Then send them a thank you note for their time and always credit them if the idea is originally theirs. Sometimes you'll find out they stole it from someone else too! 

3. Having trouble with a concept? Lean on the expert resources you have. Take the samples you acquire directly to your communications or marketing team of designers to show them exactly what you want. They can help you brainstorm how to apply that idea to your organization. I keep an entire folder in my Dropbox of screenshots of wonderful things I've seen and want to implement some day and I also have a binder of clear sleeves housing work I admire as well. These inspiration collections help me greatly when the dreaded blank state happens. 

So what are you going to do the next time you need a new idea? Get out there, ask for some help and inspiration and make it your own! I look forward to hearing about your latest great "steal" from another organization or idea that you would like to share. Add your tips in the comments below.



Monday, July 1, 2013

Change is afoot!

I wanted to let you know that Friday was my last day with Yeshiva. So I wanted to give you an email to contact me ( I also wanted to let you know I am completely committed to my donor relations guru business and all of the speaking engagements, committments, etc. I will be pursuing my business full time starting next week...there are plans for more engagement, more speaking, and even a book in the near future! 
I'm excited about the future and a new start! Please be in touch soon if you are interested to hear more about the future.


  Lynne Wester is a frequent conference speaker and well known resource for donor relations and fundraising expertise. She has been featured in The Washington Post,  CURRENTS magazine,  The Chronicle of Philanthropy and other industry publications.  Lynne also created the website and blog where she shares her expertise, opinions, and collections of samples on a variety of topics to the greater development world and hosts a monthly webinar series. It is her personal philosophy that the goal of any great fundraising operation is to use strategic communications and interactions to foster the relationship between the organization and its constituents and friends.  If we are effective with that strategy, they will be engaged in a way that drives them ever closer to embracing the organization’s mission and values, they will give their money, time and talents and volunteer to spread that same message with others which will encourage their fellow peers to invest in a way that will enable the organization to further light the world.
   Using her expertise and hands on approach, she works with many organizations to help them keep their focus donor driven, technologically savvy, strategic, and always with a splash of good humor. She received her undergraduate degrees from the University of South Carolina and is a loyal gamecock alumna, donor, and fan. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in strategic fundraising and philanthropy.