Thursday, April 30, 2015

ReDefining Success

  I often speak to people at conferences and have the great pleasure of telling them about the power of donor relations. I think for many of us, we KNOW donor relations is not just the right thing to do, it is at the heart of effective fundraising. We also know that donor relations also has a bottom line impact on our fundraising efforts. Then I must ask, Why isn't donor relations one of the hallmarks of success in a fundraising operation? Everyone knows how much they need to raise in a year or the percentage of alumni they want to participate. But very very few people can tell me what their donor retention goals are, nonetheless what their current retention rates are. Why is this? How do we define fundraising success and how should we redefine it?

What if success were defined by whether our donors thought we valued them. Companies base their success not just on profits and losses but the amazing companies define their success on whether or not their customers are happy. I'm thinking of Disney, Amazon, Costco, and the like. Customer happiness is everything to them, as is customers who are loyal. Have we done the same or do we only value donors when they give MORE? Do we value those donors who stay with us and form meaningful relationships and give us their time, talent and treasure or are concerned with the other "T", transaction. If we have transactional relationships with our donors, we're no better than a toll booth. 

In order to expect different results from our donors, we have to measure and expect different things from our fundraisers. Where is the metric for hand written notes and thoughtful gestures? We have tons of metrics for proposals delivered and gifts closed, for qualifying visits and increases in donations... Wouldn't it be great if we also had metrics for retention and loyalty... I'm not suggesting that everyone is doing it wrong, I'm suggesting that we may be placing too high of a value on getting the next new gift, not appreciating and valuing the ones we do have. 

What would redefining success look like? It would look like the covers of our newsletters and magazines featuring not the mega gifts but those who have given every year since our existence. It would be telling the journey of a gift and understanding that generosity is one of our core values. It would mean that the person that writes the gift agreement does the research for the initial visit is just as important as the one that closes the gift. It would mean much more impact and much less organization focused talk. It would mean doing the right thing by the donor each and every time, even if it didn't always mean we hit a KPI. 

What would redefining success look like in your organization? How can you help push your shop forward in understanding what is really important in relationship building? I would love to hear your thoughts...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Generosity vs. Philanthropy

Close your eyes. No peeking. Now imagine for a moment the person that comes to the top of your mind when I say the word "philanthropist". Got them? Good. Now cement that image right there. Now play along again and close your eyes and imagine the person that comes to the top of your mind when I say the word "generous". No peeking! I'm a betting woman, so I'm going to bet that the two people you pictured were different individuals.

And that's exactly my point today. In our business of fundraising we celebrate and laud the philanthropist. How many of us in our lifetimes will ever become philanthropists in the classic definition? Well, the first strike against us is that we work in the non-profit sector, so based on salary alone, probably not many. But most if not all of us are generous.

This community is one of the most giving, caring sectors out there. We are generous in many ways, with time, resources, advice, and monetarily. So what kind of message are we sending to our donors when we consistently promote philanthropy and what we really mean is generosity. I'm consistently asked how to recognize volunteers not just donors, what if we recognized generosity instead? Yup, I'm asking us to make another shift in the way we think. I've brought you along a journey where I avow that the thank is more important than the ask, now I'm asking you to re-frame your thoughts around what it truly means to give.

I'm not saying that philanthropy and generosity are mutually exclusive, they're not. But the two words evoke completely different connotations. Remember, words matter to our supporters. Transforming your thinking can have wonderful engagement opportunities.

Cook Children's Hospital has, with stunning results. They took their philanthropy report and transformed it into a report on generosity. And folks, it's brilliant. Here it is: It's beautiful, and moving, and the tone of the writing is so donor focused I swoon. So proud of the great people there.

Some of you are going to chalk this up to simple semantics. Ok, I'm cool with that. But words matter, and their context and content matters as well. I strongly believe that the way we discuss our industry needs a radical transformation. One way to do that is to choose our words more carefully. To challenge the norm that we define individuals based on the amount of money they provide us at one finite point in time, not their generous spirit or intent. 

What are your thoughts on this whole generosity vs. philanthropy debate? Is there a debate? How do we involve ourselves in this discussion to benefit those who are most generous to us and the causes we represent. I look forward to your thoughts below.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Power of Gratitude

I often stand in front of a room of people who know that donor relations is the right thing to do for their organization. They know that the investment is a worthwhile one. More and more, donor relations is becoming a mainstream core of effective and sophisticated fundraising efforts. Donor relations is not expensive, but neglecting it can be. It doesn't take a great deal of money to have gratitude be pervasive in an organization's culture, we know it costs 7 times more to acquire a new donor than it does to keep the one you have. But it takes time and thought, and it requires a re-prioritization of our efforts. I often start my clients on simple journeys of gratitude to show the power and effectiveness of an attitude of gratitude. 

This past week, we saw gratitude come full circle on a national stage. Jordan Spieth won the Masters on Sunday. And soon after his note of thanks for his high school scholarship became public on social media. In it he mentions his dream of winning the Masters. He also expresses his genuine gratitude to his donors. I am sure they were proud then, and I'm sure they swell with pride now.

This note alone is another reinforcement of why it is so important for us to encourage others to express their gratitude. When I survey donors, time and time again, the one thing they want 8 times more than any other donor relations communication is a thank you note from the recipient of their generosity. We can do this each and every time if we try. If we can't have the note come from the direct recipient, we can have one from their family or their community. We could also have one from a board member or a volunteer. 

I believe it is essential to begin every board meeting by having all board members write 5 hand written thank you notes to donors.  It instills a culture of gratitude and helps retention greatly. It also shows board members that for those who don't want to ask for money, thanking donors for their generosity is just as, if not more important. Do you have your board members do this? It's a great activity for all involved.

Want a great gift to help people understand the power of Gratitude, try this book from my friend Jennifer Richwine. It's powerful and a wonderful guide on why the thank you note is so special and how to write one effectively and beautifully.

This is my favorite thing in my office I keep and cherish each and every one I've ever been sent:

I look for this when hiring people in our profession too. I often ask the last time they wrote a hand written thank you note. If they give me a blank stare and fumble, I know this isn't my hire. If they tell me in detail about a note they recently wrote, that's a good sign. How do you assess an attitude of gratitude and build that into your culture? How can we reinforce the power of a thank you note? 

I would love to hear from you.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Who is Responsible for Your Donors?

I often say that a donor relations professionals job is to be like a nurse for donors. What I mean by that is nurses are the constant advocate for the patient, communicating needs and providing care at every turn. The goal of a nurse for his or her patient is to recover optimal health and quality of life for their patients. This makes absolute sense for our donors as well. Who in your organization is responsible for the optimal happiness and quality of relationships for your donors?

If you're looking around the room at a recent staff meeting and wondering where the donor's voice is in the room, it may be time to create a chief donor advocate. If no one is assigned the charge, the cre and nurturing of the donor relationship, then no one is held accountable. Many fundraisers are quick to say, "That's my donor" when it comes to accepting gifts and the metrics that come with that, but who is the one that says "That's my donor" when stewardship and accountability are concerned? Many less hands go up in that room.

Who is the individual in your organization tasked with coordinating that and ensuring that the donor experience is a positive one, and if it's not, ensures that the situation meets a happy and complete resolution. Is there anyone in your organization charged with donor retention? We have tons of folks whose primary responsibility is bringing in gifts, who keeps them? If it isn't tasked and held accountable it tends to fall through the cracks. And who falls into those cracks? The donor.

We cannot afford to ignore our donors and hope that the few ultra generous ones will keep us afloat. I once met with an organization and the principal gifts officer said, "If 90% of the money comes from 10% of the donors, then 90% of the donor relations needs to be on them." Sigh. After I bit my tongue from all of the expletives I wanted to drop, I calmly explained that EVERY donor deserves donor relations and to feel like a hero and that I usually recommend a shop spend the time split equally between small and large donors. After all, how are we to retain the smaller gifts and move the donors in their experience with us if we never show them the love? They will never become a major donor if we don't nurture them along the way. That's like a hospital saying, we only treat people with level one trauma, everyone else will heal on their own. Silly Rabbits.

What are your thoughts? Who in your organization holds the donor flag and waives it high? Who is the constant voice of your donors? I would love to hear from you.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

This is Why Donors Don't Trust Nonprofits

This post is far from an April Fool's joke, although at first glance it may seem as if it is one. Remember this mailing where I said that the nonprofit was clearly out of touch with modern fundraising and was not employing best practices? Here are some examples from the mailing:

Well, last week I received the following in the mail. Now mind you, again, I've never given a gift to support either cause. 

And so I was intrigued, and saddened. I decided to do some digging. Can you imagine how this would confuse a donor? First a letter about macular degeneration, then almost the same exact package about Alzheimer's. What gives? How is this possible? Well, as my Dad says, it's all in the fine print:
There my friends is the small print, and it says that the "organization" behind both letters is a place called Bright Focus. So I did some digging, and I found out that only half of every dollar they collect actually goes to the causes they support. 

 And this, this confusing set of mailings, this truth about how much goes to the cause, this is not an April fool's joke. This is why donors have a tough time trusting us. For those that work in great organizations and bust hump to ensure that their donors are valued, that the money is spent on the cause, that we do it right, this spoils our day. I'm not being pessimistic here. We do great work and it matters, but for every good apple, there's a worm. And our donors have a tough time distinguishing the two sometimes.
Keep hope alive, I say all the time, and fight the fight! How do you combat donor trust issues in your organization? How do we share the message that we're not like Bright Focus?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this post.