Thursday, January 30, 2014

Does Your Organization have Meetingitis?

As I sat in my 7th meeting of the day last week, I began to drift away, far, far, away. Then on Friday, my trip to Houston was cancelled due to snow and ice and I had an entire day without a single meeting, it was magical, like finding a $20 bill in my coat pocket!
I have a secret, okay, its not a well kept secret, but here goes. I HATE meetings. Abhor them, can’t stand them, yet I spend many of my days in them. And I know you do too. We have a disease in Nonprofits about meetings: We have meetings about meetings; we have committees about committees. And you know what? Sometimes we’re really unproductive. Does your organization have meetingitis? How can you help solve the problem? Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from antisocial, I believe in the value of a GOOD meeting every now and then, but if you want to punish me, make me attend a meeting where I already know the conclusion because its predetermined and nothing is going to change as a result. I want to pull my eyelashes out!

Here are a few reasons why I thing we fall prey to meetingitis and what we can do about it. I have spent so much time in meetings, I feel guilty taking a break to use the restroom, all the while believing that most of the time, I am wasting my time, or it could better be used elsewhere.
  •  Stop accepting one hour meetings as the norm, move them to thirty minute meetings, keep them short and focused.
  •  Always have an agenda with a list of points necessary to cover and stick to it, my friend Mary Solomons is the queen of keeping us on task and focused and I love it!
  • One of my clients calls a meeting where the cabinet is, or high level executives “an expensive meeting”. He’s right. How do we reduce the time or necessity of gathering all of the leaders together?
  •  Can this be accomplished via email or a short phone call? If so, schedule it! People tend to be less social then and more focused on the decision/task at hand.
  •    Meetings should always end with a summary of action items and a conclusion to move forward.
  •  Avoid distractions, cell phones, etc during meetings and have everyone hyper focused on the task at hand, a half hour away from email is a great thing. Place all "devices" in the center of the table, the first one who touches it, has to buy lunch or a round of drinks!
  •          It may be time to push back, while we all want a seat at the table, especially if there is free gummy worms, we may not need to always be there. The higher up in the organization you go, the more meetings you will be asked to attend- consider these questions-

o   What is the purpose of the meeting?
o   Is it related to my overall goals?
o   What do you expect from me?
o   How long will it last?
o    For which part of the agenda will you need my input?
o   I may need to leave after my contribution. What time will you be dealing with the topics related to me?
o    Do I really need to be there?
o    If you need input from our department, can someone else attend instead of me?
o   Are decisions likely to be made that only I can make, or can I delegate or sidestep?
  •          There are few more thrilling opportunities for a junior teammate than being asked to come to a meeting of higher ups. Why not delegate and have someone serve as your representative. Go with them the first two times then quietly disappear and leave them to represent you and your team. It will be a growth point for them, you, and your organization.
  •           Keep your meetings small and focused. When you see a meeting request with 8-12 people on it, it usually means that the organizer didn’t know who they should be talking to.

What are you thoughts? How do you avoid meetingitis? I welcome your thoughts and perspectives.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Your Board and Donor Relations

I often hear from peers just how difficult it is to engage volunteers, specifically board members in the fundraising process. As with many things, I look to donor relations for the solution. Many of us have development committees of the board, but how many of us have donor relations committees? More of us should not just have a committee dedicated to the thank, but an entire board who "gets it". Leading up is part of the art and science of donor relations, why not start at the very top!? 

But how? I have a few tangible ideas for you to implement with your board. Not only are these ideas effective, they will start to create a new bridge to the idea that philanthropy is about so much more than the ask. Of all of the fundraising activities that we do, the ask is actually less than one percent of our time. So why do so many folks spend all their time focusing on it? Why is it that when we go to conferences, there are 10 or more sessions on solicitations, but less than three on thanking donors and cultivating relationships? Here's your turn to help shape that paradigm.

  • Take a portion of the next board meeting and have an "attitude of gratitude" session. Teach your board why the simple act of saying thank you is so valued among your donors. 
  • Start having them each write 5 hand written notes at each board meeting- start by  having them thank loyal donors.
  • Have a thank a thon phone calling session at the next retreat where they call donors, you pick the segments, to say thank you. These calls are powerful for both people involved.
  • Teach them about all the other activities they can participate in outside of solicitation. Where do you need help most?
  • Bring a student, or beneficiary into the board meeting to have them tell their story of how the support has changed their lives.
  • Take a portion of the board meeting and have them tell why they give back. Record this information so you can help them be reminded of why they are key to your organization. These stories are invaluable to you.
  • Understand that these are super busy folks, so communicate with them in bullets or top points. I do an email called top five Friday that  lists five unique but quick things they can do to help move a relationship forward. Each item should take less than 5 minutes.
How do you help your board live the donor relations centered life? What ideas do you implement often that help those relationships move forward? What challenges do you face? I look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Your Database Isn't the Problem

There are few absolute truths in fundraising. No matter how large or small the organization, there are a few things I've never heard: "We have plenty of staff, time, money and resources", "Managing volunteers is easy", and "Our database is perfect and I get happy just logging in every day".

After you've finished giggling, consider this thought: The database isn't the problem. The way it's managed, used, resourced, etc. is. For the past  12 or so years I've had great relationships with all of the major fundraising database providers, regardless of how many times they change their names or buy other companies. I'm a fan of Banner (gasp) I think Raiser's Edge is brilliant and find that databases are not the darth vadar we all make them out to be. I am a self confessed data nerd as well though. So how do I help you stop banging your head on your desk and using your database's name as a four letter word? It's simple, I'm going to help you make it easier for everyone.

The database shouldn't be blamed for the following: it's software hasn't been updated in years (think of not updating the apps on your phone), there is ONE person with the proper training to understand how it works, the database doesn't work like Amazon, or Google, the people managing the database re never allowed out of their cubicles (which usually reside in  basement, converted garage, or strip mall), far from the fancy corner offices some of us live in, no one ever invites the data folks to meetings. Think of all of the factors and ask yourselves if you would be high functioning if these circumstances were true.

Have you ever met someone who can understand and speak multiple languages? Follow along my metaphor with me. We all NEED to have someone like this in our organizations. Unfortunately so much is lost in translation. We need to hire more people that understand fundraising but also "speak geek" as I say it. I happily serve as this translator at many organizations. How do we intelligently explain our needs to folks who have never met a donor in most cases? How do they build reports that work for fundraisers if  they aren't included in the process from the beginning? We need to advocate for resources for the center, to build our infrastructure. I can tell you that good data folks will make you millions, bad data and poor infrastructure can ruin an operation. It's not the system, it's how it's used, managed and resourced. It takes time, dedication and money to build a proper infrastructure but is a phenomenal investment.

How do we educate the nonbelievers? We show them that regardless of the database or system, if it's junk in, it's junk out. We tell them that they have to explain WHY they need the report and what they're going to do with it. We also need to send data folks to fundraising conferences and fundraisers to database conferences. Spending a day in someone's shoes is a wonderful way to help them appreciate. Some folks don't know what the end user needs and why that makes sense.Finally, we need to hire people with multiple sets of skills and help designate the translators to bridge the gaps.

So tell me about your database? How do you work with your tech team to make it work for you?
How can I help you solve your database issues- I speak geek proudly, join me!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

This Year, Resolve to...

I hope this finds you all happy and warm for 2014. Crazy weather has descended on most of us, so read this in good health. Here are things I hope you to resolve for your organization:

1. Resolve to build your program for donors based on empirical data, not anecdotal stories from one outlier. Look at your numbers and act accordingly.

2. Resolve to build a first time donor retention program an implement it to help your retention rates, it will have a huge impact on your organization.

3. Resolve to never, ever, print an honor roll or list of donors for your organization. They're the worst time and money you can spend. If you're still doing one, ask yourself why. If that doesn't work, ask me for help. Your honor roll does nothing to help you, period. It's a list of names with no ROI, chances for grave errors and doesn't tell your story.

4. Resolve to tell your story. Take that time, effort and money you're wasting elsewhere and build an amazing impact report and send it to your donors. They'll thank you for it, in money and in words.

5. Resolve to eliminate a wasteful event or effort. Did I say golf tournament? Yup, I did, if it's not working for you, there's no tangible ROI and it's causing you grief, get rid of it!

6. Resolve to do something creative and out of the box for your organization. Don't have an idea? Steal one from someone else. I'm serious, don't reinvent the wheel, just put your logo on it, customize it and move on.

7. Resolve to make online and reoccurring gifts a priority. Treat these donors well, they will grow. Work with your tech team to make your site donor friendly and your receipts for online gifts digital.

8. Work with the solicitation team to make sure that for every time your organization asks for money, there's a thank you to go with it. I received 24 solicitation emails on New Year's Eve from organizations I supported that year, but not a single thank you.

9. Resolve to write at least 5 hand written thank you notes a week in 2014. I don't care to who, but they thrill and delight people and can turn a bad day into a great one. Try it, and stick with it!

10. Resolve to obtain some professional development! (Shameless Plug) The 2014 Donor Relations Guru webinar series is posted for the year here and if you purchase a subscription you'll save $130. If not a webinar, go to a conference, read a book, gather with other professionals, do something!

Resolve to have a great year ahead- thanks for reading my blog!