Thursday, August 27, 2015

May the Force Be With You

Too often I hear of an “us” and “them” mentality between donor relations professionals and gift officers.  Gift officers promise their prospects the world, whether it’s feasible or not, conforms to legal guidelines or not.  Timelines mean nothing to them, everything is urgent, and database coding or documentation is optional.  It’s a wonder we can even co-exist!

I’ve spent more than a decade in donor relations, years of real job satisfaction and growth.  So why would I ever want to take on gift officer responsibilities?  What could tempt me to venture over to the dark side?  One reason is that long tenure in the same job.  I need new challenges, and I want to learn new skills.  The other is practical: gift officer experience makes me more marketable and beefs up my resume. 

What are some of the advantages of training donor relations staff as gift officers?
1.     Let’s go back to that stable job history.  There’s an alarming rate of turn-over among gift officers.  Recent figures peg the average lifespan of a gift officer at 16-months!  By contrast donor relations staff tend to have longevity.
2.     Who better to talk to donors about the impact of their philanthropy than the people who have been writing about it?  We can recite first-hand stories of students’ lives that have been changed because of scholarship aid, and research that was made possible because of grants.
3.     In some cases we already have relationships with key donors.  We know the story of their engagement with our institution because we wrote the keepsake book celebrating their gift.
4.     I don’t know of any institution that would turn down an offer of more gift officer outreach.  Especially with the trend to decrease the portfolio among gift officers, there’s a need for more hands on deck.
DISCLAIMER!  Even with these reasons, you’ll be hard pressed to get your boss to agree to give you a prospect pool if you don’t already have a strong donor relations program in place.  You shouldn’t ask for new responsibilities if your department hasn’t already mastered the four pillars of donor relations:  acknowledgements, stewardship and impacting reporting, recognition, and engagement. 

Once you get the green light, start out with some easy prospects.  Retirees are a great, often untapped donor population.  Usually they still live near your institution so there’s minimal travel involved, and they are prime for a planned gift conversation.  What about qualification visits?  Someone with the title “donor relations” may have easier access to a loyal annual fund donor than a colleague with the words “gift officer” on a business card.  Do you have donors to your institution that are in the stewardship cycle with a multi-year pledge on the books?  Perhaps you could visit them on an annual basis and free up their primary gift officer.

I’ve carried a prospect load for 18 months.  In that time I’ve learned a few thing:
·       Getting appointments is hard!  I’ve had to develop a thick skin as prospects refuse to reply to my emails and phone calls or make excuses why they can’t see me.
·       Gift officer travel is exhausting!  Crack of dawn flights, long days jam-packed with visits, attempting to make a connection with someone who may not be terribly engaged with your institution.
·       It takes time to develop a relationship!  Only now, after several visits, do I feel that I’m making headway with some of my prospects. 

I have a whole new appreciation for my fellow gift officers, and at the same time, I think I’ve developed a little street cred with them.  I’ve learned it’s not the dark side where gift officers are, nor is the grass green over there.  And I think I’m a better donor relations professional because of it.

This wonderful guest post is courtesy of Mary Solomons, Senior Director of Donor Relations at Skidmore College. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Donor Reports Don't Always Come in Folders

Remember these?
I'm sure you can relate to turning in my book reports and other schoolwork in these little folders, the only downside was if the plastic cover was  creased, ouch! Now, in donor relations, we turn in reports in folders that look like these:

We don't always have to think folder, and paper and "report" when we think about reporting to donors on the impact of their funds. In fact, I think we should challenge the notion that a report has to look similar to the ones we did in the 1990s. 

Here are some of the latest and greatest samples of reports that don't fit on a 8 and 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper. Think outside the box, think outside the folder.

This report on the impact of unrestricted support from Gonzaga University is brilliant in its design and execution and also very cost effective.

Instagram is an amazing medium for reporting to donors, especially those who give online. This is all about opening your mind to the possibility also that many donors don't have the time to wade through page after page of text. Great stories can be told briefly, if you need 4 pages to explain a concept or tell a story of impact, maybe you need to rethink that step. 

Want a print version of a unique delivery? Look no further than your feet. TOMS shoes always delivers their impact reports using unique and powerful design:

Proof positive that print doesn't have to be boring. And finally a great annual report web design from the Salvation Army that uses images to inspire storytelling in a dynamic way.

How are you going to break free from your folders? How are you going to shake up the way you report to donors? We all know that it's easy to make something fresher that you've always done, but the true challenge lies in throwing out past formats and trying something new and dynamic. I would love to see your examples of how you've transformed your reports. I would also love to hear about the days when you delivered book reports in plastic covers and slid the binding on the side!


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Your Samples Needed- Great Acknowledgment Swap 2015!

Calling all fundraisers, writers and thank you artists!!

As you know, my website is chock full of FREE resources for you. One of the traditions is the Great Acknowledgment swap. You can view past acknowledgment swaps here. To continue the tradition, I'm asking for your help. Please send me your acknowledgment templates, custom letters and verbiage to share with the thousands of people that read this blog weekly. Simply email your letters to me at or you can share them with me on my dropbox! 

Ten lucky random submissions will receive a free webinar for you and your fundraising team to watch at any time!

I'm looking for letters of all types but if you have these, bonus points:
Memorial and honorary acks
Stock or DAF acks
Faculty or staff acks
Athletic acks
Corporate and foundation acks
Pledge completion acks

Last time we collected over 1000 letters to share with others, you can't send too many- but this only works with your support! Keep them coming, the deadline is Friday August 28, 2015. But if you have yours already, please send them my way today! Also, please redact any and all donor information. I would prefer to receive them as PDF or Word documents if possible.

I look forward to reading your best work and sharing it with thousands of others- now go ahead and copy and paste off of your shared drive! Thank YOU in advance!


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why Political giving is a Key Donor Behavior

As we all prepare ourselves here in America for another season of Presidential elections and the first debate is looming on tonight's TV lists for the republican party, we must not overlook the fact that there are direct ties to our industry of philanthropy. In fact, giving to a political party, whether you be an elephant or a donkey, is more a key indicator of future philanthropic giving, especially to higher education, than your wealth. Yup. Very true.

Large election years allow us to collect huge amounts of data from election commissions and then mine that data and match it to our databases to help us gain further insights into our prospects and donors. Here are some great stats from 2012 election cycle:

  • 94% of Americans never make a campaign gift, which means only 6% do
  • 1/10 of 1% of Americans make a single political gift of $1,000
  • Someone who has given at least $2,500 in his/her lifetime to political campaigns is almost 15 times more likely to give a philanthropic donation than someone who hasn’t.
  • In a study of 1 million records, 70% of all non-estate giving was attributable to FEC donors
  • If a person gives to a political party, regardless of which side, they are 9 times more likely to give to their alma mater
  • Over 90% of political donors also give to their alma mater
 In the reading I've done on the topic I found this great notion, "Organizations that examine political giving as they conduct prospect research are better able to identify new prospects, build positive relationships with potential donors, and, to a large extent, upgrade prospects." I couldn't agree more.
Growing up, we were always taught not to talk about politics and religion. I live in the south where sometimes the first two questions are "Where did you go to high school" and "Where do you go to church" but maybe we need to ask more do you give to support a political campaign?

This article is a great resource on the topic:

What have you done to identify this key behavior in your donor database and for donor relations?  Is their political party affiliation recorded in your database? Is this something that comes into play in your major gift discussions and prospect meetings? If not, now is the time. I would love to know how your organization uses political giving as a key donor behavior indicator.

And if you're not interested at all in this, you can at least have a good time with tonight's debates by playing a fun game: