Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Moving an inspiration forward, I'm holding you accountable!

In the past twelve days, I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to traverse the country and spend some great hours speaking in front of some audiences that I’d never thought I’d meet. The audiences included a diverse bunch, from my mentors, to a nun in full habit to camp directors, people I admire and follow on Twitter to friends and colleagues. I’m so lucky to know that at every stop along the way I was able to see light bulbs pop overhead frequently of the attendees. I even had my own light bulbs ignited over a great word or catch phrase I hadn’t heard before.

This even happened to me and made my day, week, month, year, life:

I inspired some buzz worthy moments with my eloquent phraseology saying things like: “gift societies are dumb sometimes”, “if your leadership doesn’t believe in thanking donors, get your resume together”, “donors don’t thank themselves”, “your challenge this year is to thank your donors in a way that doesn’t require a #10 envelope”,  “stop begging people to be philanthropic and thank the ones who are instead”, “donors want access, information and experiences”, “donor relations and stewardship are not synonymous, you can steward a gift, not a donor”. These little nuggets of wisdom have been culled off of my twitter feed. I appreciate each and every person out there who has helped me share the good donor relations word. The question remains,  we have groups and groups of dedicated non profit fundraising professionals, eager to learn, to take away one item that will make their conference experience worth it. There’s no room for disappointment.

What happens when we return to our offices? Where does the motivation and inspiration go? What happens to the buzz and hum of conference excitement? DO we go back to our daily work and get lost in the grind? How do we challenge ourselves not to let that happen? I think we start with one small change and move upward from there. Set a goal with a tangible deadline and push forward. So you have a notebook or iPad full of ideas, where do you start? Start with the low hanging simple victory. Take one step forward with your new idea. Have one meeting with the teams you need and build a mini task force. Implement your idea, after all, ideas plus implementation equals innovation, and make it happen! Then CELEBRATE! You did it, reap the rewards and be thrilled that you did something about it. You have 60 days to get it done. When you do it, report back here. Accountability is key. So for now, I want you to tell me a new idea you’ve had in the last 30 days and list it in the comment section below. In two months I’ll repost it to check in on you and see how you’re doing. Do you accept the challenge? Great, now make it happen!!



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Recognition, Stewardship and Trust

I am fortunate that as part of my travels I have the wonderful opportunity to listen to many wonderful speakers. This past week, one of the speakers I had the good fortune to hear was explaining the relationship between major donors and organizations. Among his many salient points was the following nugget that I quickly added into my iPad to discuss with you. "Recognition is not motivational, stewardship is, Trust is experiential" profound in its simplicity eh? But it really strikes at the core of not only what we do as fundraising professionals but also why we do it. 
Let's boil it down into its parts and then look at the whole in terms of the relationships we ask people to have with our organizations. Recognition is not motivational: this strikes close to home, especially when you examine the amount of time fundraisers spend on public recognition of gifts, falsely believing that entrance into the platinum giving society over the titanium one will motivate a donor to stroke and extra big check this time. It also relates back to my post last week on donor honor rolls. Very very seldom do these types of recognition motivate donors to give, yet we seem to spend a great deal of time in their service. 
Stewardship is motivational: amen. If you as a nonprofit, spend my money according to the purpose it was given, tell me how you spent the money and then tell me the impact it had on others, I'll give to you forever. Stewardship builds loyalty, it reinforces good behavior and builds trust in the organization. As many of you know, I think Charity Water is the best in the business at this. They not only tell me how they spend my money, they send me the GPS coordinates of the well my funds helped drill! They do this regardless of the amount of my gift. How come other nonprofits, universities included, fail so spectacularly at this? We ask, nearly beg, for unrestricted funding, yet these are the folks we communicate with about the impact of their giving the least. How does this make sense? If there is truly an area of greatest need, then for the love of all that is holy, tell me what that need was and how my money made a difference! It doesn't have to be glamorous, tell me I paid the light bill. Bought reams of copy paper, anything, but tell me something! 
Trust is experiential. If you've ever been burned by giving your trust too freely you can literally still feel the sting of betrayal. It's a palpable feeling that never does seem to recede all the way. When an organization breaks a donor's trust, the road is long and hard and full of  painful rocks. Many years of good relationship building is lost in one simple breech of trust, and safe to say in many cases, people aren't forgiving, nor should they be. You solicit a donor for money and then don't spend it because your department chair is saving for the day Bruce Willis arrives on a spaceship? Well that's a tough second ask now isn't it? There's forgiving, and then there's blind trust. Your organization must be trustworthy in order to have donors invest in it and maintain their giving.

How do you feel about the significance of these words we use very often in our world? Are there other profound simplicities here? I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why Honor Rolls of Donors are the Most Wasteful Donor Relations Practice Possible

There are many things I believe we do in donor relations that make absolutely no sense. Top of my list is the honor roll of donors. I hope you read this post and share it with as many others in the nonprofit world as humanly possible.

In all my time in donor relations, I have never heard of a donor who gave an organization a million dollar gift because their name was in a textual list of donors. Yet I must get asked at least once a week what I think of honor rolls and their place in donor recognition and stewardship.
I think they have no useful purpose, they provide opportunities to make costly mistakes, they are a huge waste of human resources, time, money, and they are otherwise foolish.

Why Honor Rolls Don't Provide Any Benefit

Time and time again, we have asked donors what they want and how they want to be recognized, and the three things that appear most often in their answers are:
  • Access
  • Information
  • Experiences
Donors want handwritten notes from students. They want to meet those that benefit from their philanthropy. They don’t care about your honor roll, only you do. Just because you have always done them does not make honor rolls a great idea.

"A list, a list of names, does not tell a story. If an image is worth a thousand words, a donor honor roll is silence."

Why Honor Rolls Actually Hurt Donor Relations

In major cities, honor rolls are passed around from research office to research office, basically telling your competitors where the money is.
Talk about a privacy violation!

"From the donors' perspective, you might as well put a blinking neon sign above each of their heads that says 'I give money away!'"

What You Should Do Instead

If we took the time and effort that goes into producing monstrously ineffective honor rolls, and pooled those resources instead into a piece on the impact of a gift, the story behind the gift, and the story behind the donor, then we would be much more effective in recognizing the people behind the gift. Those people and their stories are what truly makes philanthropy possible.

I have yet to hear a person who works at an organization that produces an honor roll say, “It's so easy, I just push a button and voila!” or “I've never heard a complaint.”

So I ask you in the clearest, most relevant way I can to stop it.

Stop doing them.

Eliminate all honor rolls, all the time.

I’ve helped to eliminate honor rolls at many institutions. Every single time, we have saved money, staff time, and other countless hours of grief. Every time, the honor rolls went away without a complaint. In their place, we have been able to build robust and meaningful donor relations programs, with tangible ROI and with storytelling that is meaningful to donors.

I'd love to discuss this with you, and I’m open to a civilized debate. Please email me at lynne@donorrelationsguru.com for more information about discontinuing honor rolls and replacing them with more meaningful forms of donor recognition.

I originally wrote this post for my friends at Academic Impressions. You can view it here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Thank and Give Day- Best Practice in Action!

To celebrate National Student Engagement and Philanthropy Day on February 27, 2014, the University at Buffalo held its first-ever TAG Day (Thank And Give Day).  
We had several goals going into this multi-faceted project: educate students about philanthropy, expose students to the impact of giving at UB, recognize faculty and staff giving and thank current donors.
The Office of Donor Relations and Stewardship and the Office of Annual Programs began planning for TAG Day together in November 2013.  Once our basic ideas were formed, we assembled a larger committee, with representation from development staff in our 14 schools and units.  The committee gave great input and helped to formalize the plan.

TAG Day Stations:  We originally wanted to keep it simple and set up 2 or 3 “TAG Day Stations” in high traffic areas on each of our campuses. After forming our larger committee, the excitement grew and so did our plan.  We ended up with 12 stations total!

Goal #1:  Engage, educate and expose students to philanthropy
·       At each station, we used price tags to tag items and spaces on campus that have been supported by donor dollars.  Since we are a large, public institution, it is very difficult for us to find the exact cost of items.  Instead of exact prices, our tags featured a few different phrases such as “Did you know?” facts.
·       We also tagged physical items (a police bike and a microscope for example) and large signs that were made for the day with photos of scholarship students or endowed faculty.
·       We handed out lollipops and bracelets that encouraged students to “Think About Giving”

Goal #2:  Thank donors
·       Students were asked to sign thank you banners that were ultimately left behind for display at each station.  They were also asked to write handwritten messages on pre-printed thank you cards.
·       Students (and faculty/staff!) had a lot of fun using props and signs to take “selfies” saying thank you to our donors.  We had hand-held signs made up to use in the photos.  Students could take their pick of what sign they wanted to use.  We encouraged them to post their photos to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using #UBTAGDAY.  To further incentivize them, we offered $100 campus cash to the top 3 winning photos.  In the end we had 64 photos on Instagram, 336 posts and photos on Twitter and 43 posts on Facebook.  

Goal #3:  Recognize faculty and staff giving:
·       We wanted to both recognize faculty and staff donors as well as show students that faculty and staff give back.  We mailed a letter with an explanation of TAG Day along with buttons that said “I GIVE, TAG, you’re it! #UBTAGDAY” to current faculty/staff donors and asked that they wear their pins on February 27th.   There was much more buzz from our faculty/staff donors than we anticipated!

The BIG Day:
Students were very responsive to our message and happy to sign our banners and write thank you notes. They were very excited to take photos with our props and post them to social media. Our volunteers had just as much fun as the students taking “selfies” and pictures of their stations – it sort of became a competition between the stations. At our Student Union station, our university president and a few other university leaders stopped by and posed for pictures with students. 

Every station had their own thing going for them – some received more thank you notes than others, my station got a lot of signatures on our banner, and other stations had amazing student photos that were posted! We even had donors who were not in Buffalo posting #UBTAGDAY and telling people why they supported UB.

In all, we are calling #UBTAGDAY a success! We are already working on a plan for next years TAG Day. Next year, would like to do a little more investigating into what days certain groups of students are on campus, such as our pharmacy and law students who are only on campus certain days of the week. TAG Day was a lot of work but we had a great team behind us and we had fun! We encourage all schools out there to do something for National Student Engagement and Philanthropy Day. It’s important to educate today’s students about philanthropy as they will hopefully be tomorrow’s donors.

For more UB TAG Day information, please feel free to contact Katie Camm in UB’s office of Donor Relations and Stewardship at kehunt@buffalo.edu or (716) 881-7483.