Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wonderful Announcement!

Dear friends and colleagues, I'm thrilled and delighted to announce a new chapter in my life. I am relocating back south to Charlotte, NC on September 10th where I will be joining the team at UNC Charlotte in Alumni Affairs, managing their volunteers, vendor partners, and events. I'll be working for my great friend Jenny Jones and am so excited. I'll also continue my donor relations guru speaking and consulting business. I will have an amazing quality of life, Pandora will have grass again and I will be close to my mom and dad, all things I value greatly. It's an exciting time for UNC Charlotte Alumni as well. They're launching football and building a dynamic, relationship based shop and I'm so excited to help lead the effort! Can't wait to go "home" again! 

"It's not rocket science"

As many of you know, it’s really important to me to consistently move forward the profession of relationship building. In our world of donor relations, we are often seen as the bridge between the donor and the organization.  I can tell you that lately I’ve heard a great deal of feedback on the role of donor relations in an organization and that, combined with the data from the Pulse of donor relations survey tells us that the role is constantly shifting. It’s changing for the better but there still remains a large gap of understanding exactly what it is that makes up the donor relations profession.

 I can tell you that far too often I hear fundraisers, peers and others proclaim that not only does donor relations make complete sense for their organization, but that it’s not “rocket science”.  Sigh.
As I remain calm when people mention this to me, the following thoughts often run through my mind:
  • ·      Doing the right thing isn’t rocket science but so many seem to struggle with it as well
  • ·      No one says this about making the ask, when if prepped by proper donor relations, is no where near heart surgery either
  • ·      It may not be rocket science, but only rocket science is, now isn’t it?
  • ·      Have you ever seen donor relations gone wrong? Uhm, a little rocket science can’t fix that
  • ·      $%$%#&^(#$&@#(& (that’s how I really feel)
  • ·      So no one has ever explained to you exactly what donor relations is, huh?

It is our duty, honor and privilege to educate others about our profession, but first we must know exactly where we’re going and how to get there. It’s our job not only to educate others but also educate ourselves about the power and dynamism of donor relations.  The impact that great donor relations can have on an organization is nothing short of powerful.
What have you done lately to help educate your teammates and peers? How do you answer the notion that it’s not “rocket science”?  Is donor relations a part of your onboarding process for new employees? Is donor relations a visible and central part of the development operation?  If you don’t have answers to these questions, go out and get them.  If you do, post them below or share them in our LinkedIn group, now with over 1000 members!

The onus lies within us to educate others, to push our profession forward and to answer the call of a profession passionately. If you don’t have passion for the work, there are other ways to spend your days.  Me, I’m going to stay in the relationship business and serve as an advocate and ambassador. I hope you join me.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

You’re Not Listening- Guest Post

This is a great guest post from my friend and colleague JoAnn Peroutka of the company, Educe. Specializing in creative strategy and communications, JoAnn focuses on helping clients understand their most important audiences and how to engage with them successfully. Before co-creating Educe, she was most recently the vice president for creative strategy at an event production firm, where she led an award-winning design and marketing team and was instrumental in maintaining the organization’s top-tier global ranking. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

  As communications professionals, the absolute worst thing someone can say to us is “You’re not listening to me.” It cuts us to the quick – we who, each and every day, succeed in getting into the heads and hearts of our donors. And because we know how to do it well, when we are on the donor side of the equation our antennae are up as we acknowledge how we are being treated. Of course it’s something of a double-edged sword because many of us are giving below the levels that would attract our own attention if Professional We received our check. And so I offer the following letter as an example, a parable and perhaps a little bit of a rant in the hope that it can be a learning moment for us all. Thanks for listening.

Dear Non-Profit to Remain Nameless:

I am breaking up with you. This may feel sudden to you but it’s actually something that has been brewing for about six months now. If you had been listening to me along the way you wouldn’t be surprised. If you had been listening, we might still be together.

This has not been an easy decision. I still very much admire what you stand for and want to acknowledge the important role you’ve played in my life. As a know-nothing college freshman, you pulled me back from a steep and slippery slope. In my 20s and 30s you helped me see that I did, in fact, have something meaningful and important to say to a bunch of old white men and that I could make a difference. Our relationship had mellowed by the time I reached my 40s but I still considered you a constant, an important voice that had access to people and places I didn’t. I even believed that our annual exchange of holiday greetings (mine always included a check) was meaningful and mutually beneficial.

Then you began to get a little abusive (if there is such a thing) and just as bad, dismissive. Overnight, you seemed to forget that my husband and I have different last names and began to send mail to the house addressed separately to each of us – as well as to my sister-in-law who lives in Scandinavia and oddly enough, my bank – although I suppose it is possible that someone could have the first name of “Wells.” For lots of reasons, receiving 4 pieces of unwanted mail at least once a month rankled me. I’ve spent half a year trying to correct the situation but to no avail.

At least the phone calls at 8:15am and 9:27pm have stopped. Maybe that’s because I was able to speak to an actual person…or it could be because there is a recording of me asking to be taken off the call list so legally my request could not be denied. Regardless, I am thankful to have been heard.

In spite of that small victory, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that this relationship is no longer working for me. So I’m calling it quits. In the future I’ll see your ads and billboards and read your press, and be happy that you continue to be successful. You, on the other hand, won’t have any idea who the heck I am. C’est la vie. Such are the realities of a small-time donor. Now if only I could find a way to get your attention, maybe we both could finally move on.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Duct tape on a bumper, band aid on an amputation- costly short sighted thinking

Growing up, my Dad always taught me that once a car had been in an accident, no matter how good the repair, you don’t want to drive it again. Instead, spend the money and get a new car that hasn’t been in an accident.  He’s reasoning became so clear one night around 11pm at the top of a hill when my newly repaired car died because of a wiring problem that was overlooked during the body repairs to it. I appreciated his advice as the city bus bore down on me in my stalled car even more and I ran for the hills. It’s like that in our industry too, with short sided thinking costing us more in the end than the initial expense that no one wants to swallow.

So here’s the thing I’ve noticed a great deal about non profits. We tend to plan and run at the same time, often with damaging results. Think about it in terms of growing up; you were always told not to run with scissors and pencils, it can get pointy. It’s just a short term model of thinking that has a few drawbacks, among them: it can be costly both financially and in human resources, its short sided and doesn’t allow for long term strategy, and does not benefit the organization in a directed strategic manner.

We see this far too often in donor relations and events especially. Lack of prior planning turns into emergencies and hastily done projects at the expense of the greater good.  People are newly hired (sometimes without the proper training or background of skills) and upon their laps is laid all of the responsibilities of building a program, all at once, oh and by the way with limited or no resources.  Instead, I always advise folks to take one project, plan and do it really well, hone and refine it and then move on to the next task.  It isn’t just frustrating; it’s dangerous.  In the rush, large and small details can be overlooked that can truly be costly.  It is much better to spend a little time and money up front than try to fix the problem later. You end up spending more time and money in the end and in the meantime, there can be large amounts of frustration and waste.

So how do we solve this problem? We can be a force of change, a voice of reason and a resource for those who need true problem solving. I have my reputation in the industry as a fixer for a reason (think Olivia Pope for you Scandal fans). I can come in, assess the Situation when I arrive, build Tasks to help solve the problem, define the Actions taken and express the Results. It’s called the STAR approach. But I go a step further and have people understand what could have prevented this in the first place. We learn how to avoid these emergencies that need fixing and build enhanced thought processes for the future.  It’s a valuable and important skill.

The other half of that fixing is the willingness to be able to be a vocal advocate before the train wreck happens.  I’m okay with being the one to speak up and voice concerns. You can’t be afraid. You have to take a risk by opening your mouth and not letting mediocrity happen.  But when you do, make sure you have the data to back it up. Make sure you don’t just voice a problem; you also bring three solutions with you as well.  The more you do this, the more valuable you will become in the process and the organization.  Help people set boundaries and proper strategic planning. You can be very effective by helping folks invest in infrastructure, plan using cost analysis and be strategic in their decision making.  And when you plan for costs, by all means demonstrate that spending $4000 up front is actually much cheaper than spending $8000 in two years.

I’m happy to help people solve problems; I’m a fixer. But I’m also a strategic planner, and would rather avoid those pressure packed situations where I’m scrambling for a solution and wiping sweat off of my brow and exhaling when they work. Hyper-focused fixing is just planning in the short term, taking the whole strategic process and condensing it. Let me tell you folks, it makes for many sleepless nights and can wear your out! So how have you helped your organization think in more long term frameworks? I would love to hear your commentary on this theory.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Who’s Doing it Right?

Hello Everyone! I hope all is well with you as you begin to close out the summer. Remember when we used to say that summer was a slower time for us in fundraising? The close of the fiscal year allowed us to take a deep breath and focus on “summer projects”. I haven’t taken a deep breath in a long time, it could be the smog. Ha I digress. I wanted to share with you that I am always asked by folks, “Who is doing donor relations the best?”.  People want to know other organizations to benchmark with and they want to find out whose ideas to copy and steal.  For the past few years for me the answer has consistently and completely been Charity Water ( 

In 2011 I was fortunate enough to host a Chronicle of Philanthropy webinar with Paull Young who helps build their donor gratitude program. Folks, they consistently and truly get it right. Their donor relations is earnest, transparent, personal and spot on. Not only are they innovative but they’re sincere.  Want to experience it first hand? Give them a gift. Seriously.  It’s amazing. Below are just a few examples of their donor relations at work and why they are providing top notch donor engagement and gratitude, no matter the size of your gift.

This is the type of response page that appears when you make a gift online. WOW Sure does beat many of our awkward receipt pages.

This is the type of report they send you once your money goes into the field and gives people clean water. It demonstrates impact, one gift at a time. 

This is the kind of custom thank you they send to their corporate donors and people who sponsor a whole project!

This is their brilliant Valentine’s Day Video

This is the amazing project they did on their 5th birthday. Sending more than 250 custom videos to donors and people who gave up their birthdays to sponsor clean drinking projects. Phenomenal.  

An amazing story demonstrating the impact of one child's birthday wish. This one will make you cry. 

This is how they tell you what they did with your gift. The brilliance lies within the simplicity of the impact report. 

Has this inspired you to become the best of the best?  Who do you look to for brilliant donor relations ideas? Please tell me in the comments below who runs a donor relations program you admire.  I can't wait to see the results. Until then, enjoy the magic and the brilliance of Charity Water!