Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When is Enough Enough?

At a conference in Seattle, I recently had someone approach me, inferring that the leadership at his organization felt his donors were "thanked enough" and had reached a saturation point of gratitude. I immediately congratulated this individual but was left with the nagging feeling that his leadership might have missed something along the way.  
Not thirty minutes later I was sitting with a friend musing over possible sessions for next year's conference when she told me of one of her teammates who writes such amazing thank you letters from leadership, so personal, so touching and sincere, that she often receives thank you letters in return. 

So where is the balance? For me, I find it in the simplicity of sincerity. I have read far too many spirited and false emails and letters saying THANK YOU with multiple explanation points and generic text to follow, something that for me falls on deaf ears. 

I really believe we live gratitude and this comes through in our communications and our tone. I guess for me it's like a great John Coltrane performance, indulgent and filled with stories, saturated with emotion and intensity. 

So when someone asks me if we can ever thank donors enough, I sit, sometimes melancholy and think of all of the times that I am asked more than I receive and wonder if this can possibly be the case. We all have humble donors, we all have those who aren't. But at the core of the human experience is the need to feel valued and appreciated, whether it take one expression of gratitude or 56. 

What we may fall victim to in our sincere attempt at appreciation is forcing fundraising constructs like namings and giving societies and other manufactured gratitude and recognition on a donor in a systematic approach to demonstrate gratitude. Sometimes the simpler the better, no need for a fancy label when a sincere touch will do...

Some donors desire nothing more than a sincere expression of intent, responsibility for the funds they entrust us with and the fulfilling role of attempting to make a difference. What nags at my soul is that if we are so successful at expressing gratitude, then why do only 27% of our donors stick around to experience it again. Data tells us its for a multitude of reasons, the most important is that we are constantly asking for more or asking period. Our ask to thank ratio is all out of whack. 

Imagine if you had a friendship like that- some of us do. Most of us have weeded out those "takers" by our thirties, because friends like that exhaust us, our resources and our patience in short order. Why would this be different from our donors?

It's one of those things that keeps me up at night, but as I travel and continue to meet more and more amazing fundraising professionals, I have the strong belief that while many of us are doing amazing things, gratitude can be more at the center, or core of our behaviors. Those that hold this ethos close are better fundraisers for it. I can't wait for the day when we can write a blog about the over-saturation of donor relations in fundraising. Until then, I think we have a ways to go and lots of us to help carry the gratitude forward.

What are your thoughts? Can we overthank our donors? Is there such a thing that's too much? I look forward to hearing from you...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Are Your Events Really Donor Centered?

No matter where I go, I end up saying similar things to folks who ask me about which event is best to recognize and engage their donors: Events aren't a silver bullet to donor recognition and engagement.

Allow me to take that one step further by saying that a vast majority of the events that donors are invited to are NOT donor centered. By their very nature, you are asking a donor to do something that they may or may not want to participate in, you tell them the following:
-You need to show up on THIS date
-You need to show up at THIS time
-You need to eat and drink THIS that WE picked
-You'll sit next to the people WE choose for you (good grief)
-You'll hear about things WE want to tell you (sometimes for a looooong time)
-You'll have to get gussied up no matter how long your day in the office
- You CAN'T bring your kids (or maybe you shouldn't)

So my question to you is, why should I go? And what happens if, God forbid, I already have plans that evening? If I miss the event, do I miss the whole experience?

These type of traditional donor events are ORGANIZATION centered, not DONOR centered.
So what gives? Why do we keep doing it the same all the time?

The answer: Because I guess no one challenged the status quo. "We've always done it that way"

Events are a time where a donor should be immersed in the special experiences that only your organization can offer. They should be fully sensory and interactive, and they shouldn't make the donor feel bad for not wanting to hear from every single member of your leadership in 3-5 minute stints.

So how do we fix this? 

We start designing events donors want to come to, and we start doing events that are smaller and more customized. In addition, for those who can't attend, we don't ignore them.

Ok so what does that event look like? I have a rule about events, (and excuse the candor here folks), it should be an event I want to get off of my couch for and put on my bra. You're laughing, I'm serious. 

Why do I want to come and eat your baked chicken? What is it that I will experience that I can't unless I go? I say it all the time, there's only so many heavy Hors d'oeuvres a person can eat in a lifetime, believe me. Why should I be herded together with hundreds of other semi wealthy to wealthy people and given the same speech? Where am I in all of this? Or is this really about YOU.?

Sometimes, it's going to be about US, like campaign launches and when I get to meet the beneficiary of my giving, but most of the time, it's really about YOU. And frankly, I grow tired of that. What is a unique experience that I can touch, taste, see, smell, interact with that only you can provide? Once you've seen a ballroom and hotel carpet, you've kind of seen them all. What sets yours apart?

Check out this amazing video from the University of Central Florida athletics department. 


They had their top loyal supporters experience what it was like to go through an official recruiting visit- that's TOP NOTCH folks. Imagine how exciting for the donors that must have been. 

So my challenge to you is to make one or two changes that turn YOUR events into something that your donors THRILL and DELIGHT at attending. Remember, it's not about YOU, it's about the DONOR.

I welcome your thoughts!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Strategic Donor Relations Plan... Killing Me Softly

Ok, so I'm listening to some 90's jams this morning and one of my favorite Fugees songs comes on, "Killing Me Softly". As I was searching for a blog topic about 3am, I thought "Insane in the Brain" wasn't as good of a fit, but it may be... OPP certainly isn't. I love receiving emails from across the globe and do my best to respond to each and every one within 24 hours. The one email I just can't understand and the one that every time I receive frustrates me to my core is the email where someone says the following, "I'm new/have a new boss and I need a copy of a sample strategic plan for donor relations". Please don't view this blog post as an unattractive rant, instead, see it as a vision for the future. Asking that is the same as the folks who get on listservs or Linkedin discussion groups and say "I need some good ideas for how to steward my donors". Those same folks are then upset that they don't get specific responses.

Here's the answer- I can't give you someone's strategic plan. There is no Google keyword search that brings any of them up. I can give you samples of comprehensive plans, calendars of activities and as many other samples as you could ever imagine, if I don't have it posted, heck, I'll go find it for you. But I can't and won't give you a strategic plan I've created or another organization has created. I can teach you how to do a GAP analysis and determine your strategy based on the strategic goals of your leadership. I can show you how to survey your donors, gain feedback and build a program specific to your organization's needs. 

Let's take this one step further. Every single client I work with, every University I have ever worked for, is unique and the strategy for one doesn't always fit the others. My engineers at NYU were very different from my orthodox Jewish donors at Yeshiva, were very different from my private liberal arts donors at Rollins College. So how does this blog help you? 

This is data from the Pulse of Donor Relations whitepaper that shows the need is great:

Describing strategic plans:
It's not a list of tasks
It has clearly defined goals (SMART) and is a series of actions to meet those goals
It MUST include metrics for success
The layout isn't as important as the content

 Questions to be answered:

·       What will a successful donor relations program consist of for your institution?

·       How will you define success: retention rates, dollars raised, donors engaged?
·       How will a successful donor relations program transform your advancement shop

 The other important point to be noted here is that you have to take the time to be strategic and think about your overall donor relations efforts within your shop. Seize (wait, I thought it was "i" before "e" except after "c"?) the day to build a strategic plan that works for you and your fundraising team, leadership and most importantly your donors. Remember the motto, If it doesn't benefit our donors, we don't do it...

Thanks. And now back to "Whatta Man" by Salt n Pepa... 

As Always I welcome your thoughts and input!