Thursday, October 31, 2013

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The career path of a fundraising or donor relations professional is an interesting one.    After last week's blog it becomes even clearer to me that many of us view our profession in quite contrasting lights. I can honestly say that I have never met anyone in the industry who grew up dreaming of being a non profit fundraiser or relationship professional. None of us majored in it in college. But here we are. And where are we going? I had the pleasure of meeting a young lady on a client visit, she was an undergraduate and was also our server at dinner. She planned on a career in nonprofit work by majoring in marketing and minoring in social work. Smart cookie.

 Many of us never thought of our career trajectory when we got into this field, and now we find ourselves faced with interesting realities. Like any profession, ours has devolved into a serious career choice for folks and many  are now majoring in philanthropy in college. But what does our career path look like? 

As I quoted last week, the fact is in the US the average lifespan of a fundraiser currently stands at 16 months. You can see that fact her in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. So that's the average, meaning some stay much shorter and some much longer. So how do we know when is the right time to stay or go? It's no good to be seen as a job hopper (the "haaaper" commercial pops into my head) but can you also hurt your career by sticking in one position too long? The answer is a resounding YES. 

The donor relations world at the top has seen some interesting position shifts in the past 18 months with those at the top leaving jobs for others, being phased out, or moving upward significantly. This begs the question, when is loyalty too long? It's a fact in our business that in order to be compensated well, you have to leave or seriously threaten it? But what are other reasons to leave? Certainly new challenges and different types of organizations are a good reason. Stagnancy in leadership being another, but so is a change in leadership. 

There is a growing sense of impatience in the business with the demand for doing more with less, wanting the new shiny thing from our leadership. So what's the solution? Pick it up and pack it up in order to advance. Yup, most often that's the reality. So how do we retain top talent? How do you build loyalty and long tenures without accepting complacency. How do you stay somewhere more than 5 years and not be seen as the "dinosaur" in the office? How do you keep talent and not let it get poached? In certain markets like Boston, DC and New York, the revolving doors spin wildly as organizations poach talent in a competitive race for dollars and donors. 

Speaking of donors, what is best for them and our organizations? How does one balance their need for personal success and fulfillment with that of a mission you believe in? These are issues we should be discussing at conferences, in blogs, and at gatherings. We should work to advance our profession and realize that it's just that, a profession and a vocation. How do we beat the drum for change without losing sight of the overall goal of inspired philanthropy? Who helps us mold our career trajectories and paths to success if it's not us? I would love to hear your thoughts as we continue these important discussions.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dear fundraiser, an open letter from your friend in donor relations

Pardon me for writing you a letter, I hope you'll read it and it will start a discussion between and among us. You see, I feel like we need to talk. I know I know, you're off to visit a donor and don't have time, but read this on the plane on the way there.

I'm here to help you. I want you to be a fundraising rock star. I want us to be a team. Let me tell you how I can help you, and maybe how you can help me. You can even write me back in the comments below.

First, I'm here to help. I come from a place of yes, and I want others to as well. I'm excellent with details and rules and can navigate bureaucratic nightmares swiftly like a water moccasin. I'm a people pleaser who just needs a little positive affirmation and some team work and wow can I move mountains for you. I seem to be able to pull of the impossible, and deliver it with a smile. Behind the scenes I'm sometimes exhausted and frustrated, it's just reality, but I sure do love what I do.

Here's where you can help me help you.

Put information in the database and communicate that information. It will help everyone, not just me and you, and is a good thing for our organization. Unfortunately your average lifespan at an organization is 16 months. What you leave in your wake after you leave is me, your teammate. I need that information to help you write acknowledgments, plan great events and steward gifts effectively. If I don't know your donor's wife is allergic, I may mistakenly send her flowers because it's a nice thing to do.

Invite me to meetings from the beginning. I really need that seat at the table and that trust of you to bring me in the loop. I promise to be quiet and listen unless I have something really crucial to add. I'll never take credit for your idea or hard work, I just want to be there so I can help you from the start instead of being brought in too late at the end and creating a less than stellar product.

Don't assume I don't know what it's like to raise money. I do. I get it. Alumni and donor relations isn't a default for those who can't fundraise. I love my work and I want you to understand what drives me to help make fundraising successful at our organization. I actually have some great fundraising thoughts and want to help you.

Help me brainstorm on ways to help you engage and delight your donors. Please don't just drop an idea on me and walk away. Donors want three things: access, information and experiences. They don't want coasters, tote bags, pens, honor rolls and stuffy dinners. I can order a really thoughtful gift for your folks, but it won't have our logo on it. Allow me to be a creative professional and use the unique qualities of that donor to help surprise and delight them. See why it's important you communicate that information to me?

Events don't fix anything. In fact, they're often drains on resources. They're not fundraising magic bullets to fix the fact that no one has visited these folks in a while. Events don't equal engagement. Let's work together to come up with another option for us to engage and recognize our donors. There's only so many heavy hors d'oeuvres a person can eat. Also, don't ever say the following words, "golf tournament" please and thank you but NO.

Please let's not promise anything to donors unless we know if it's possible. Let's review the gift agreement together and make sure we can deliver on the things the donor wants. Having to undo a promise is awkward and just no fun.

Finally, there are rules to fundraising. They're there for a reason. AFP, CASE, IRS, etc etc.. If I bring up these rules, don't fight me. I don't like them either. But they're there for a reason. They help protect you, me and our donors. No one wants to feel smarmy. We want giving to be a joy, but it does involve paperwork. So help me get you and your donors through it. My goal in life is to never end up on the 11o'clock news, I promised my mom. Help me keep my promise.

Please reply and let me know what you think. I'd love to hear from you.
Don't worry, it's not just you I'm writing to, in the coming weeks I'm going to write a letter to the following folks: my VP, my boss, direct reports, the data team, and others.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On boarding new fundraising professionals

As many of you know, I recently started a new position. One of the things that fascinates me every time I start a new job is the on boarding process that the employer offers. By far and away the best employer I ever had at this was Walt Disney World. Ever since then, every university I've worked for hasn't done so great. I'm currently working with a client to help them develop their training programs for support staff and development officers. It's been fascinating. What is your on boarding process? Do you feel like you were trained properly when you arrived at your job? Tell me your story in the comments below.
Here are some of my observations:
1. I don't need database training in my first week. I need someone to show me where the bathroom is and how to work my phone. Seriously.
2. In my first week I want to be introduced to those that can best help me be successful. Give me time with them so I can learn what they do.
3. In my first week give me a real life view of organizational culture, explain to me the meetings that I might not know about.
3. In my first week give me an entire half day to figure out my office setup and get organized.
4. Pair me with someone who can help me navigate the channels of bureaucracy and be there to answer questions when I have them, no matter how large or small.
5. Have someone take me to lunch and explain the unwritten rules, pet peeves, and quirks of my new leadership so I don't "step in it" in my first month.
6. After I've settled in, then set me up with formal training and give me a chance to have input in the order and intensity of those trainings. I may not need excel 101 or to spend 3 hours learning how to use outlook.
7. If you work in an area of particular interest, especially like donor or alumni relations, become a part of orientation and meet with every new employee as a matter of course. Be a resource for them. Help them out when they wander the halls or need a good pen.
8. For all that is holy, if I've relocated to a new place, offer to help me locate simple services that make my life easier. Sometimes it's so awkward to ask. I've been so fortunate in my relocations to NYC and Charlotte that people helped me in innumerable ways and I've taken them up on their offers and it was amazingly helpful.
9. Invite me to more meetings than you think are necessary on order to find the landscape. Then after I attend a few, let me choose from there.
10. Finally, have a plan in place when someone arrives. Without a plan to follow through on all the details, I have a chance of seeming disoriented and lost.

I would love to hear your feedback. Thanks so much

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Big "C"

In a few weeks I'm headed to be a part of a team faculty for a conference on the modern fundraising campaign in higher ed. And next month's DRG November webinar is about donor relations in a campaign. It seems like the "C" word is everywhere all the time. For many of us in regards to a comprehensive campaign, we're either in one, around one or on one. The business of fundraising always seems like the business of campaigns. I'm not sure they're always necessary, but our boards and leaders seem to love them.

So how many of you are around a campaign and what phase are you in? Do you have a comprehensive campaign plan for donor relations? If not, how do you plan on effective implementation? So many times I receive calls from folks who say to me, we're wrapping up a campaign, and now we need stewardship, what do we do? Unfortunately, backpedaling and being campaign reactionary is often unsuccessful and appears haphazard. It also places a heavy burden on donor relations.

The best way to move through a campaign with donor relations is side by side with your feasibility study, campaign counsel, and in partnership with your leadership. You need to be there in the beginning so that you are consistently placing strategic donor relations at the center of every activity from launch to closing. Again, it's about putting yourself in the conversations and showing the value of donor relations. Often times, consultants and leadership are too focused on the pursuit of major gifts and don't always have the perspective of the other parts of the giving cycle because they are keenly focused on reaching the goal. It's not just about reaching the goal, it's about what do we do to reward those who got us there and how do we think about the folks for the next campaign and preparing them to feel amazing  about their philanthropy.

Part of our role is to share the attitude of gratitude with others, from volunteers to constituents to leadership. It starts with you. It starts with small steps that lead to hugs success. So here are some tangible action items. Perform an audit of your activities. Are they all best practices and benchmarked with peer organizations? Are all of your funds organized, properly spent and stewarded? Is your acknowledgment process efficient  and sensible? If those foundational bedrocks aren't in place, how can you do other things?

Let me know where you are in the campaign process and how I can help. Don't forget about our donor guru linked in group, a great resource for advice and questions. And hopefully, I'll see you soon on a webinar or in person!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Bench Marking Form and Etiquette to Help Increase Your Response Rate

Another great post from my friend, mentor and all around fantabulous lady, Debbie Meyers at the University of Maryland- Enjoy!

Like many things in life, bench marking has its good points and bad points. On the one hand, after hours of research and analysis, it may end up telling you what you already know or nothing you need to know. But it can also provide you with an idea or two about how to proceed with your project, or validation that you are indeed doing the right things the right way.

And let's face it: sometimes we don't have a choice. The boss says bench mark, so we bench mark. End of story.

Regardless of your situation, here are some questions you should consider asking yourself before you start your bench marking journey.

1. What am I trying to find out, exactly?
Sound like a big duh? Not really. A common request for information involves giving societies, where we are asked to help the bench marker "understand how peer institutions establish various levels of giving and the respective benefits for each level." It may be semantics, but I don’t think that’s what you want to understand.

To find out what you’re trying to find out, ask yourself that question, several times, until you are crystal clear on your task. Your conversation with yourself may go something like this:

Q: Why am I asking other organizations about levels and benefits?
A: To see how they do it.

Q: Why?
A: Because I want to make sure I’m following Best Practices. (In capitals, because it is now the holy shrine at which everyone in our profession now worships as we strive to take our programs to the Next Level – but that’s another blog topic)

Q: Why?
A: So I can ultimately figure out how make my donors feel recognized and appreciated.

AHA! Now you’ve got the right answer. If that’s the true reason, then why not ask your donors what would make them feel recognized and appreciated? But let’s say you need some validation that you’re on the right track in your levels and benefits. Remember that your focus on your donors, not the inner workings of the institutions you’re querying, and proceed to Question 2.

2. Do I have the right pool to bench mark against?
So your boss says, “Call XYZ University – everyone says they have an awesome donor relations program.”

But is XYZ the right fit? If I’m a small private institution, will I care about or benefit from how a large public institution does things, regardless of how awesome their program is or how many stewardship rock stars run their show? My levels are based on MY donors; your levels should be based on YOUR donors. Run the numbers and see where the logical groupings are.

Benefits don’t benefit anyone unless they are meaningful. Some donors want parking. Others want preferred seating at events. We are apples and oranges. So what kind of oranges would your donors like?

Identify institutions whose mission, size, staffing and donor base are as close to yours as possible. It never hurts to throw in some others, for they may provide you with some good ideas or aspirations. But your most meaningful data will be from your peer group.

3. Am I asking the right questions in a user-friendly format?
The best way to get an answer is to keep your questions simple and clear. That may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many questions I get that require me to pull data or analyze a report. If you want a timely and accurate response, keep it simple.

You may want to include an example, for clarity and consistency: something like, “We do it this way. How do you do it?”  Having a mix of open-ended and closed-ended questions will most likely give you more information, and certainly more context.

Also, have someone outside your department read the questions to make sure you haven’t been in your own little world too long with this project.

4. Would Miss Manners approve?
Remember who’s doing who the favor. Professional courtesy is a wonderful thing, and many will respond to your survey just because they are professionally courteous, but it has to go both ways to work.

Take a few minutes to make your introduction warm, friendly and informational: here’s who I am, here’s what I’m trying to do, why and here’s why I chose you. (Great opportunity to flatter the responder!) Sometimes including one survey to a group, and letting everyone in the group see who else is in the group, greases the skids in a way that one-on-one doesn’t.

Make it easy for your responders to reply. Ask their preference in answering by phone or email. If your questions lend themselves to a Survey Monkey format, all the better. If by phone, let them know how long it will take. Offer to share results once the survey is completed. That gives them an incentive to participate and shows that you are invested in the project’s success. Include a response deadline, and offer to be available if they have questions.

Most importantly, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. If one of your questions is something common like endowment minimums or naming opportunities, check the institution’s website and see if that information is already available. And do let the person know in the intro that you have already done that. You will earn huge brownie points.

After you finish and send the survey results back, it’s a nice touch to add a short summary of what you learned, ending the process on a positive note.

Happy bench marking!