Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Morality Clauses: Do You Have One?

Yesterday, UCLA gave $425,000 back to a donor. Some of you may be surprised; I applaud them. Here is the story:,0,2760188.story#axzz30MlTPx5I 

This is the best of us. This is the other side of stewardship. It is protecting our organization from donors who do not have the best intentions. In this light, I ask you, does your organization have a morality clause in its gift agreements? If you don’t I worry for you. Take it from the “Olivia Pope” of fundraising; I’m often called in by organizations to help them fix the messes. One simple clause would have helped them avoid this. Having a gift acceptance committee can also help avoid accepting gifts from those with questionable funding sources or backgrounds.

Did you know that at some universities there once was a Kenneth Lay Chair of Ethical Business?

Would you accept a gift from someone who made their money from blood diamonds? From international slavery? From illegitimate business practices? It’s no longer safe to think this won’t happen to you. The names Madoff, Petters, Lay and others have become common embarrassments for organizations and there are other names you probably have never heard of.

Yes, this is important to us and should be. We’re not the morality police, but we must protect our organizations from undue risk. Most nonprofits depend on public goodwill to attract donors. Close association with someone whose name has been badly tarnished can taint the nonprofit’s reputation and harm its ability to attract support.
Here is some sample language to have reviewed by your general counsel and then have in place in your gift agreements:
“If at any time the donor or his or her name may compromise the public trust or the reputation of the institution, including acts of moral turpitude, the institution with the approval of the board of trustees has the right to remove the name or return the gift.”

Please heed my advice; it is much easier to do something up front, than take retroactive action. What are your thoughts on the issue of morality and donations? I look forward to a debate on the topic, not a debate on the person or persons involved in the stories, please.



Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Enlightened Donor Relations... Do you have it?

Have you ever been somewhere with someone and thought "this is exactly where I belong right now"? I know it sounds vague at first, but imagine if we gave that feeling to our donors time and time again. The ultimate goal of enlightened philanthropy is to pair the donor's needs and desires to do good in the world with your organizations fundraising priorities. In order to do this in a heightened manner two things are inextricable, the donor's desire and the organization's priorities. In THAT order. It doesn't work if you're constantly trying to shove your funding initiatives upon an uninterested party.

The same bodes true for donor relations. We need to match our donors' desires for gratitude, accountability and recognition with our offerings. That's a donor focused program. It's difficult to make an individual fit into a system that wasn't built for them.

What I see a great deal is donor relations work that relies on process and policy and not necessarily to the highest philanthropic aim. Donors tell us time and time again they want three things; access, information and experiences. How do we provide them with the memorable? How do we demonstrate for them the impact of their philanthropy on our organizations? In some cases it can be easily accomplished, others allow us the opportunity to stretch our skills considerably.

The ultimate in donor relations and engagement usually surrounds having a donor meet the recipient of their generosity or see their money in action. This type of interaction tends to leave a lasting impression on both parties involved and directly connects donors to their dollars.
At a certain point of wealth a person has enough coasters, public recognition and plaques. But most philanthropists never stop learning, seeking new experiences and ways to help others. It is our job and pleasure to connect them inextricably to their philanthropic priorities.

When I want to convey this message to leadership I usually ask them to close their eyes and remember a time when they were really grateful at a certain time and place. Usually they can recall it vividly. Then translate that to your donors. What do we do to go above and beyond, to surprise and delight them? One of the key factors I look for in a great donor relations professional is that somewhat elusive "attitude of gratitude". I find that it is very difficult for someone who isn't grateful and thankful in their daily lives to be a wonderful fit in donor relations. You have to be a giver, full of gratitude and ways to share that with others.

Donors innately sense this. They know when the thank is sincere and when there is an ulterior motive. Gratitude is a lifestyle, and one I'm proud to carry with me wherever I go. How do we as donor relations professionals make this gratitude infectious? Transmitting this to others is just as important to our career as metrics and numbers, plans and strategy. What will you do today to have others understand that for many people that moment of sincere gratitude is like a moment of warm sunshine after a long winter.



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dangerous Assumptions

Lately I've been on a giving spree again. I've been making gifts at conferences for live online giving presentations, and also for some blitz or one day campaigns that have popped up on my radar. And some of the responses have contained some dangerous assumptions. We often think we know what donors want, believing in good faith that we know what is best. After all, we do this for a living so we must be right? 

Well, I go back to my wisdom from my dad, who always says he can't spell (which is scarily true for a man that ran a fortune 500 company) be he can always spell ASSuME. Here are some presumptive behaviors I've come across recently.

Remember that most million dollar gifts start with an annual fund or first time donor test gift of less than $100. Michael Bloomberg's first gift was a $25 annual fund gift.

I made two online gifts to universities as part of a presentation where I honestly critique online giving sites and the donor experience. both of these universities followed up with emails that stated "we can't find you in our database, tell us why you gave to us and who you are". AHEM. Seriously? The end here has had two drastically different results. One school I forwarded this response to was genuinely shocked and apologetic, after all, not only is an email like that a surprise to a donor, it's quite offensive. They are working on fixing their process and the way they contact their donors that aren't "known" to them. BRAVO.

If I give to Charity Water or American Cancer or the Wounded Warriors, they don't send me an email and say they can't find where they solicited me so why I am supporting them? 

The other school truly blew my mind. I received a response from their advancement services department explaining why I was causing them difficulty, explaining their process, and that my gift could potentially be a fraudulent transaction. It was about THEM not ME. There was a sentence in there about not wanting duplicate records in their database and about my donor category. I was flabbergasted. All of this could have been solved with a button on the form that asked me to explain my relationship to this institution. It also could have been solved by telling the donor that regardless of their policies and procedures, they could see why this is problematic. I wonder if their leadership knows this is how they treat first time non alumni donors. Needless to say, I won't be supporting them again.

I also participated in some one day giving challenges, a huge trend that is brilliantly working all over the country. I received my gift receipt for one and a sticker/magnet that reads "Proud ____ Alum". I clearly checked the "friend" box on their giving site. I'm not an alum. I feel like I should go find one of their alumni and give them the item. Don't assume folks, it's dangerous ground.

How do we take away assumption from our daily work? Well, we implement a simple fundraising principle we've all heard many times before. "Don't ask, don't get." if we don't ask our donors what they want or expect from us, we won't get to the truth any time soon. It's ok to ask them about their giving experiences, their passions, and how they prefer to be thanked and recognized. It's not ok to just assUme anymore.

What are your thoughts? Where are there dangerous assumptions in your work?


Monday, April 7, 2014

Exciting Announcements!

Happy Monday Everyone!

I am pleased to announce that and donor guru the blog have undergone complete transformations! They both have clean new designs, a new format and an easier to use format for searching and finding samples, webinars, etc. I hope you enjoy the work we have done to make donor relations guru a leading source of practical advice and resources for you.

In that light, I would like you to help contribute to the cause! I need new ideas for swaps- We already have acknowledgments, stewardship reports, surveys, creative communications,invitations, videos, websites and more. What are we missing? Send me your best work by emailing it to me here: if the file is too large, send me a link to dropbox or google drive!

The more sharing, the more we all benefit-

Here are some of the items I would like you to share with others:

  • Annual or impact reports
  • First time donor packages or cards
  • Gift Agreement Policies
  • Work you're particularly proud of
What would you like to see? Add it in the comments below and I'll take action. Don't forget to also join our amazing LinkedIn group here.

Also, check out the new website redesign and know I'm open to all types of feedback.
I'm doing this for our community and am really proud of the work, but it's only as good as what we share with each other. Thank you for being a part of a vibrant community of caring fundraising professionals!


PS For those of you who read this far... Donor Relations Guru the book... coming early fall!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fundraising as a Vocation, Not a Job

There are two types of people that work in nonprofit fundraising. Distinct and telling differences emerge when you examine those two types of people. Many times I am often asked why I do all I do in addition to my full time employment. My first answer usually revolves around insomnia, my second answer strikes at the core of who I am, fundraising is my passion. I fully feel that there are two types of people working in our field. Some who feel it is their day job and the rest of us that feel it is our vocation or calling. 

Growing up, I was the kid who never knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. Among my lifelong dream careers were the first female NFL referee, the next Ernest Hemingway, and a  restaurant critic. Growing up, never did I say I wanted to be a donor relations professional. After trying many things from a boat captain to a pastry chef to a teacher and a bartender, when I found philanthropy, something in me changed.  We now have the opportunity to teach others about our profession, to hire the kinds of people that inspire us to do better. 

So why am I on this vocation kick? Because I meet people who are just in it for other reasons and I'm baffled. You won't become rich working in nonprofit fundraising, but boy is your heart full. The dictionary defines vocation as "a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation." The first time I heard vocation it was in 8th grade when I had to take a series of all of the vocations, including wood and metal shop, agriculture, home economics (am I dating myself?), typing, and auto shop. But I am now convinced more than ever that fundraising is my vocation. I chose higher education as my specialty for a deeply personal reason that I won't go into in this blog (let's just say it involves my Dad) but one day if you catch me at a bar over a glass of Malbec I'll try telling you without crying. 

The folks I tend to do business with, those whom I admire, and those whom are my mentors all are in this profession and see it as their vocation. I actively choose not to spend my time on and with those who see it as another job or a means to an end. They exhaust me. As some might say, they don't
"get it". 

A job is defined as, "the work that a person does regularly in order to earn money" this designates a few differentiations from a vocation. The first is that the end goal is money, anyone in nonprofit will tell you the benefits are great, the pay is not that fabulous. The second thing about a job is that it seems to have a finite end and purpose, I just cannot say that about a vocation. My vocation consumes me at times, for better or worse.

Maybe I can relate it in philanthropic terms. People who work in nonprofit fundraising as a vocation are donors, and those who see it as a job are non donors? Is that too bold a statement?

As I wax philosophical, I would love to hear your thoughts. What drives you in your career? why do you do what you do? Is it a vocation, a job, what? How do you define what you do and who you are to others?