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.

Cheers,
Lynne

27 comments:

  1. Dear Donor Relations Guru -- Did you read my mind? I have said all these things to bosses, DOs, team members, faculty, my spouse....thank you!

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  2. Chris,
    Thanks so much. I hope this letter strikes home and many of you share it widely.

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  4. Than you all so much. My moms feedback follows: "super, super blog! Actually to my choosing, the best one yet. And no. I do not want to see you on the news!!

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  5. We love you and may hang this on our wall

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  6. Dear Donor Relations Guru,

    I love that you wanted to start a conversation, but when you approach a fundraiser as if they are hired guns who don't care about process and will be out the door in a matter of months while you, the loyal hardworking backbone of the organization will fight on, it puts a huge wall up from the start.

    Great concept, but your open letter smacks of sarcasm and lacks the finesse and professionalism you claim to have so much more of than we flighty money-grubbers. Hard to learn from you when you seem to want to tear down instead of build up.

    Sincerely,
    The Annoying Fundraiser

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  7. Thanks so much for your feedback. I wish I had your name so we could begin an open dialogue, I don't find fundraising folks disloyal or annoying, I'm trying to find ways we can better work together.

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  9. We can all work together better if the smarmy attitude and barbs and criticisms are removed. Since we are ALL donor relations professionals, we all know that the root of our work is building relationships. Do you really think that digs and sarcasm is a way to create an authentic relationship? To wit:

    "I know I know, you're off to visit a donor and don't have time..."

    "What you leave in your wake after you leave is me, your teammate..."

    "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..."

    "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..."

    "Donors want three things: access, information and experiences. They don't want coasters, tote bags, pens, honor rolls and stuffy dinners...."

    "Events...They're not fundraising magic bullets to fix the fact that no one has visited these folks in a while...."

    "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...."

    Most of these statements / lead-ins are suggesting that your colleagues who are fundraisers are idiots or not knowledgeable about...well, anything, really.

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    1. Amen! I found the blog a bit rude, especially if that person is suppose to be working with you to raise money. We ALL raise money in one way or another.

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    2. Couldn't agree more!

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  10. I do both donor relations and fundraising at my organization.

    I think it all comes down to metrics. Fundraisers have $ based metrics and donor relations professionals do not.

    When you are under pressure to raise $ it is sometimes hard to listen to someone who is not and cannot understand the same pressure you are under.I am going to visit a donor to make an ask. All the data entry in the world won't help me when my annual review comes up and I haven't met my numbers. You on the other hand will be able to point to the database, thank you notes, etc.

    I think donor relations is a crucial part of the fundraising process BUT until you understand or at least empathize with the pressure to raise $ you won't get too far with a fundraiser.

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    1. We have real dollar based metrics as well. Donor relations has had these in place for a long time.

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  11. As a frontline fundraiser whose desk actually sits in the donor relations office, I am appalled by this blog post. Our entire advancement team is charged to work as partners for the good of our institution, regardless of our specific roles.

    The leaders of college and university advancement offices should critically analyze how assumptions and misconceptions such as the ones you stated negatively affect their operations. I have worked in a few very different advancement operations and can safely say that it is nonsensical lies like these that develop barriers and prohibit us from being the best we can be for the ones that matter most - our alumni, students, and faculty.

    I can say with utmost certainty that I would not be interested in collaborating with a colleague who held views similar to these and hope that the responses that this post has received encourage you to reconsider your outlook on what it means to be a fundraiser.

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    1. Thanks so much for your feedback. I'm interested in opening a discussion, which this has done. Not everyone has the ideal situation. I would love to discuss with you what it means to be a fundraiser to me.

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  12. "Unfortunately your average lifespan at an organization is 16 months.'

    Gee thanks. And I'm going to now pay attention to what you want to say to me?

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  13. Those are the facts, especially the 16 month fact is hard and true. I'm happy this has opened a dialogue. For every negative reaction that has made people think there have been 5 or so emails from folks coming from a place of positivity. And for that, I'm excited that it has gotten people talking. Perhaps this makes us realize there is still work to do on both sides. The first step is realizing that in order to have a team, we have to acknowledge both sides exist.

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  14. Thank you for your honesty, Lynne. It's refreshing. This letter was needed. For people who have been fundraising for years, yes, they probably understand the entire donor process better than most. However, I recently left an organization that has replaced all their senior staff with people new to development. They don't have a clue. To them, it's not about building relationships, it's about the number of dollars raised. They don't know the first thing about donor relations. So, while you may have offended some people, I hope your message hits home to some of the newer fundraisers so we can start repairing those relationships they didn't even know were broken.

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  15. Personally, I liked this blog post, but I can appreciate it rubbed a few folks the wrong way. I can only think that you (DRG) have had some bad experiences which coloured your comments -- i.e., you had a specific fundraiser or two in mind to whom you were specifically writing.

    Definitely, it all boils down to respecting the role each of us plays in the fundraising process. Certainly donor relations staff have a key role to play since we know past donors are our best source of future gifts. I agree that sometimes, the donor relations officer must deal with commitments made by the fund development officer that may not be possible or easy to keep. I think that involving the donor relations officer early in the cultivation and solicitation process (whether that means inviting them to the donor meeting, or simply meeting with them afterwards to review progress) helps ensure that donors have realistic expectations of how and when they will be thanked and recognized. I'm sure we all have or know of donors who expected more than we were able or willing to give. But if donor relations officers and fundraisers work together, we can come up with some creative and original ways to honour donors that will be meaningful to them, more so than the standard thank you letters and receptions.

    DRG -- maybe some of your comments were a little sassy, but I definitely get what you're trying to say.

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  16. A good development office in any organization is one in which all divisions recognize the others as important resources and partners in the mission. Whether we are on the frontline of fundraising or sitting at a computer doing gift entry work, whether you've worked their 16 months or 20 years, we are all part of the same goal and offer an important asset to the success. Not to sound trite, but it is a team effort and the most effective teams are those in which all voices are heard, respected and treated as having an equal stake in achieving a goal. Was DGR's message sassy, sarcastic, and irreverent? Sure. But I would rather interpret her missive as one that encourages reciprocal respect, recognition, and reliance on each other for our strengths and what we can each add to the mission.

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  17. I've come to the conclusion that good leadership is crucial to a successful fundraising office, with success being based on dollar metrics AND employee morale. Are there organizations out there who really don't get that letter? Please let me know when you have a job opening.

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  18. Riveting!!! I look forward to the additional letters!

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