Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mailbox Fundraising Rage

Fundraising is an amazing career. It truly is one of the best professions and callings one could ask for. But sometimes, fundraising behavior as it stands is hard to defend. I collected my mail for two weeks, the last week of November and the first week of December. What I found is indefensible. Please keep in mind I'm an online donor, having never written a check to a nonprofit, all of my gifts, including paying on my major gift pledges are online. Here's what my mailbox rage looks like.

Yup. That's 72 envelopes. They came in all shapes and sizes but out of the 72 I received 51 #10 envelopes with letters. Seriously? a #10 envelope?  

4 sets of address labels, shame shame, some even came with gift labels.
Then there's the really bad appeals from places you give once to and they'll never ask again- that's just not true and is a horrible way to represent our profession. 

It could be worse, you could have received this "fake" Christmas card with a big green ask in the middle, I call it the grinch of direct mail! 

And some folks have ignored some pretty important details, the reply devices weren't personalized at all- which made me think they didn't put any effort into their devices. I shouldn't have to rewrite my address and gift amount, it should already be printed on my form for me. Here's an example of one that missed the mark:
Instead, they could have already included my information and my last years of giving and where I gave like these folks did-

They did great at targeting my asks based on past giving- But these two, not so much. If my last gift is $25 where did $500 for an alumnus come from? I'm not an alumna! Or at UVA, my last gift, also $25 and the lowest amount they're asking me for is 10 times that amount! WOAH- Really? And the first ask is 100 times that amount! CRAZY!

What have you received in your mailbox? Can you understand why some of this behavior is indefensible? How can we encourage folks to do better at direct mail? Why do they ignore communication preferences of their donors? My recycling was a wasteland of BREs and CREs. And next week, we go deep diving into my email folder of solicitations. Join me!

What are your thoughts? How was your mailbox?


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

#GivingTuesday 2016 Secret Shopper Review!

This is the fourth year in a row I've done a #GivingTuesday online giving challenge. I really enjoy the time spent focused on giving. And I am excited to once again share the results of the study. This year I gave 46 gifts on #GivingTuesday. I have documented 33 of those experiences here for you in this spreadsheet.

While a vast majority of online giving experiences have improved in the last four years, we still have a great deal of work to do. Nonprofits NEED and MUST invest in the online donor experience. I gave gifts ranging in amounts from $10 to $1500 online on both my ipad, iphone and my laptop. Some nonprofits have invested in a great donor experience and it shows, others have not and it is apparent. There is a huge difference between those that get it right and those that struggle. Not just in the donation process, but also in the responses of confirmation emails and pages.

Some of the biggest disappointments:

1. A nonprofit wouldn't accept my gift if it was under $20, so I didn't give, such a turnoff.

2.  Someone thanked me on social media but spelled my first name wrong, sigh. DETAILS MATTER.

3. A few organizations will MAIL me my tax receipt, for an ONLINE gift during a day focusing on digital giving. sigh.

4. Many organizations aimed way too high in their targeted ask amounts and have the potential to really offend someone.

5. Many are asking me to pay for bank or credit card fees with my gift. This is the cost of doing business.  I don't think it's ever ok to ask donors to pay these fees. Think donor relations, restaurants, hotels and stores don't make me do that, why would you?

6. Social media sharing is still sorely lacking. It's 2016 people, social is here and could really increase my impact by asking me properly to share on social media- this is an example of social media sharing gone wrong-

7. Readability is an issue- it's great you want a fancy design- but who is the genius that came up with black on black as selections? I couldn't even read it to finish my donation!

8. Someone is asking me for my DINERS CLUB card- seriously? 1984 called, they want their giving options back! LOL

There are many more offenses in my list but these are my lowlights. The confirmation pages and  emails are boring and without creativity as well. Almost a perfunctory measure.  

Now the heavenly- Organizations that scored big points with me and understand the online donor behavior here are examples of doing it right!!

1. These targeted ask amounts are mission based and dreamy!

2. This donation button is so amazing- so much better than "submit" or "proceed"

3. Loved that this place encouraged me to give monthly, didn't just let me slide with a one time gift- great use of a pop up window!

4. Loved WPI's Twitter thank you! Woo hoo! I received far TOO FEW personalized thank yous this year. :(


5. Enjoyed this nonprofit showing me impact and inspiring me from the beginning of the process: Look at how clear and easy these two make it for a donor!!

6. Once again FIT blew others out of the water! Great theme, personalization and infographic of progress!! 


Folks, we still have a ways to go!   We CAN make this experience better for our donors. Join me in taking the challenge to do better for ALL donors. Who did you give to? What was your experience? What did you like and what did you not like? I can't wait to hear from you! Let me know!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Giving Gratitude- The BEST Fundraising Job!

At this time of year, many of us are focused on the things we are fortunate for. One of the things I am most fortunate for is my career. I have the opportunity to travel and share the unique mission of gratitude with those near and far. Fundraising is a wonderful profession, donor relations even more so.  When the endowment reports get you bogged down and the thesaurus runs out of good words for generosity, think about the fact that you are playing not only an important role in the world of fundraising, but also an important role in the life of your donor and the world as a whole. You are expressing gratitude and telling donors the impact of their uncommon generosity. Your thank you note might hit someone's mailbox on the day they need it most.

Don't think in terms of numbers and dollars here people. Think about giving souls and generous spirits. If 35% of the population doesn't ever give, no matter the cause and need, our joy is spent recognizing the heart of those who are ever so generous. Think about those extraordinary donors, those that have the courage to make their first gift to your organization. Or those special folks that venture, even when times are tough, to double their donations. Or those very special rainbow unicorns, donors that have been giving constantly for years and years. Find them, seek them out each of these special snowflakes and thank them for their spirit, for their heart and for sticking with you and having the courage to give. Treat them well and personalize their communications. they will come back again and again.

If you're not having so great of a November, and many of us are still struggling with this month, take some time out to give gratitude. It changes your perspective on the world, reminds you just how many good people there are and how much they deserve your praise. Think about also your team, those folks who stand by you and your organization through the good times and the stressful ones. Have you thanked your gift processor today? Remember these folks are the backbone of your organization and are already feeling overwhelmed, even before the end of the year gifts begin pouring in. These folks deserve our praise and generosity. Go help out for a few hours there and your job will be transformed. Help open the mail and watch the generosity pour in. You will be reinvigorated in your purpose and your plan.

I hope you have a great end of year season and remind you to do something wonderful for yourself and others. I'm compiling my list of organizations to give to on Giving Tuesday. If you would like yours added, please comment below and I will make a gift.

I am so thankful for each and every one of my readers and attendees. Without you I would not be able to live my dream and give gratitude.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Bad Decisions with Donors- THASKING!

At times, we all have to take a step back, look at the work we are doing and wonder if we are doing the right thing. We see behavior replicated in the fundraising industry all the time that makes our stomachs turn just a little too much. What are you doing to help solve the problem? I am on a one woman mission to end one of the most frustrating, non donor-focused, retention killing practices of all time, the THASK. That's a word I made up, true as it may be. It's when an organization goes out to communicate with its donor base and sends them a thank you only to ruin it by not resisting the urge to ask for more. See a theme here? We just can't help ourselves. But we MUST. We have to stake a stand against thasking and do the right thing. Imagine if you had someone in your life that every time they talked to you, wanted something from you. They wouldn't be in your life for too long now would they? Here are some of the egregious examples of thasks I've received this week. They make me queasy.

This behavior is wrong. You sent me a Thanksgiving card with an envelope in it? You sent me a survey telling me how much you value me and my opinion, then when I completed the survey, sent me to a link asking me for $5000? What gives, fine people in nonprofit land? I picked three of these but I have a stack of over 20 thasks I've received in the last two months. What if we did this in our everyday life? A guy holds a door open for me, I say thank you then immediately follow him around town and stand behind him waiting for him to do it all day? Someone gives you a present for your birthday and you in the thank you note tell them that Christmas is coming and they shouldn't forget you on their list? Whaaaaaat? If you wouldn't do it in your daily life, why is this ever acceptable in your relationship with a donor? 

Folks it's time we took a stand against this vile behavior. Is your organization thasking? Time to find out and put some energy into stopping it. I've heard all sorts of excuses for doing this from nonprofits: 
              It's a convenience so they can make their next gift- 
              It works, we get in donations this way-
              If we don't ask them, they won't give-
              A vendor told me it works-

Look at your retention- is it under 50%? If it is, oversoliciation and thasking is a key answer. Look at your soul- is this how you want your donors to think of you? Look at how you feel when you see these- does it make you feel warm and fuzzy inside or like someone is trying to fool you?

Let's hear it- are you pro thasking, or against it? Send me your examples, your thoughts and your attmpts to kill this disturbing practice. I can't wait to hear from you.

It's time to take a stand. On behalf of our donors, kill the thask.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Death By Sameness

We have the good fortune to work every day with generous individuals. All who have decided to give to us. Many of these folks earned their money through hard work and perseverance. Some of these generous souls are entrepreneurs. I was reminded recently that the word entrepreneur actually translates to "bearer of risk". These folks at one point took a risk on themselves, on an idea on something that wasn't yet concrete and leapt. They also did the same when they gave generously to our organizations. Out of the millions of nonprofits they chose yours, they may have given more than was comfortable or struck out to support a new initiative. 

And what did we do? We did more of the same. We have the opportunity to work with brilliant entrepreneurs and these bearers of risk have such high hopes for us. But most of our organizations are so risk adverse, we behave like hamsters on a wheel. This mindset is in direct contradiction to what they want, desire, and value. When will we embrace the non default position and move ourselves into a calculated risk culture? I'm not asking to break all the rules here, but gosh wouldn't it be nice to see us not produce a "newsletter" all about us and instead an email with stories of impact of those generous donors? 

Maybe it's time for a revolution, maybe it's time to take small steps to let donors know that we aren't just behemoths of past tense. Let's take one thing as an example, go pull out your business card. Does it have a fax number on it? 


When's the last time you received a fax that wasn't a vacation offer for a timeshare? You see, this is just one symptom of the problem. We don't change because we're not forced to. But entrepreneurs are constantly in flux, looking for the better solution, seeking out opportunities to improve and excel, if for no other reason than the bottom line.

Wanna see a good idea die? Assign it to a nonprofit task force or committee. It will come out sterilized and somewhat morphed but won't spark large enough to light a match. Take a risk, be bold! When's the last time you met an innovative entrepreneur who said "The success of my company and ideas is directly tied to a decision made by committee". Or the classic, "I'm successful because I just kept doing the same thing year after year." Nope. Doesn't happen. Innovation relies on a certain amount of risk. Aren't your donors worth you taking a leap for? What's a crazy good idea you're desperate to implement. When will you stick your neck out for your donors and say, today, we do it differently? Your donors are waiting.

I would love to hear about your risk taking and how you've been entrepreneurial in your work.
Comment below about how you've done it or the challenges you face from those who are risk adverse!


Friday, October 14, 2016

Is Perpetual Stewardship a Myth?

Lately, folks have been posting great questions to listservs about donors who have been placed in "perpetual stewardship" and bench-marking for plans around those generous people who have "made their final gift". I'm kind of miffed by this entire concept and am wondering if placing a donor into perpetual stewardship isn't a myth or isn't taking the easy way out. I think it undervalues and underestimates a donor and at times can be dangerous. 

First, let's explain why the practice occurs. Gift officers are measured on dollar goals usually and have to carry portfolios of donors ranging from 75-200 people. From time to time they work with prospect management teams to cycle donors through their portfolio. One way to remove a donor from your portfolio is to mark them in "permanent stewardship" status so that you can bring in a donor who has the chance of giving more or helping reach dollar goals. 

But where does this donor go? They often fall off of a cliff in reality. Meaning, there is no one assigned to people in "perpetual stewardship" and thus and therefore, the personal contact stops. One way to guarantee that a donor won't give again is to take their visit behavior from once or twice a year to nothing, but I understand the need to prioritize. The conundrum lies in how we determine when a donor is done giving and how many attempts we make before we have them walk the plank.

Planned gifts are no excuse. We know that once a donor commits to a deferred gift, their annual giving goes up, also ALL planned gifts are revocable given a good attorney so that logic doesn't play out. Someone that says they've made their final gift to us is another excuse. Final gift though to what? Have we just not found another good match for their philanthropic desires? What about the fact that the average lifespan of a fundraiser is 16 months? Could it be a personality glitch? Donors are randomly assigned based on geography or area of giving, what if we assigned donors based off of strengths or personality types? Donor doesn't give with one person at one point in time after huge philanthropic giving before, why don't we try someone else? Just because I tell Johnny that I'm done giving, doesn't mean Jane won't spark my fire. But once a donor is placed in "permanent stewardship" Jane doesn't even get the chance...

So what are the solutions? I really thing being more donor focused and realizing that preference is subjective is one path to success. Another would be a clear, consistent, definition of what it takes to be exited from a portfolio. Am I placed in permanent stewardship because I won't take your calls for a visit? Let us not be so hasty to write someone off. And if we place someone in this Oz of "permanent stewardship" let's also ensure that there is still someone there to take care of them, treat them well and meet their needs. We don't put our friends on a shelf. Why do we put donors there?  

I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you have donors in "perpetual stewardship"? Is this a legitimate donor category at your organization? What do you do for them and who is responsible?


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Be an Email Hero!

In your daily life you probably receive tens if not hundreds of emails. But are you using email effectively as a communication method? Or are you the person whose email other people deep sigh after receiving? Does your personality and netiquette change when you're writing to donors? It should. Also remember over 80% of email is now read on mobile devices, is yours mobile friendly?

As many of you know, I'm a blunt, direct person, especially in my communications. Therefore, I have a few friends that will read an email and help me with "softening" language, having that second set of eyes really helps, especially when I'm frustrated. SO here are my rules of the road when it comes to email. As a person who receives hundreds a day, these tips and tricks will definitely help you get your email read and also responded to. Try a few of these today.

  • Keep it brief, any email over 5 sentences needs to be a conversation
  • Be specific in your subject line. "Help please" isn't as great as "Could you help with our recognition societies" If no reply is necessary you could incorporate FYI into your subject line or please respond
  • Spell correctly, especially the first name. Sounds simple right? My name is constantly misspelled even though you have to type it to send to my email address. Not only is it annoying, it's careless,  double check.  lynne@donorrelationsguru.com 
  • Don't CC the world, does everyone on that list really need to see that email?
  • Understand that short responses are not rude, they're quick and allow some of us to plow through emails quickly and expediently. If you want a long response, it will take a while
  • I'm an inbox zero person, I handle email once then it's gone.
  • Please put what you'd like first in the email, the recipient shouldn't have to read through paragraphs to try to discern your request.
  • Use bullets and lists when possible it helps with readability.
  • Keep your font simple and classic. Sans serif is best and please no backgrounds or cats playing with yarn balls in your signature.
  • Speaking of signatures, keep them simple and embed images if you must. If they come through as attachments its annoying and unnecessary. Most of us have filters to block attachments. Te simpler the signature the better. Please don't include your signoff in your signature- it's awkward and looks weird, especially when you double up on them.
  • With attachments, send links to google drive, box, or dropbox rather than sending large attachments. I won't open large unknown attachments. You're killing people's data plans! 
  • Expect 48 hour turnaround time. Is it really that urgent if you haven't received a response in 24 hours? Is someone going to die? If not, chillax. Understand that what is urgent in your world may not be on someone else's desk
  • Use your out of office messages expertly and efficiently. Turn them off and on in time. Make them kind and warm, have some personality!
  • Don't write an email you will regret. Save it as a draft and come back to it when you are less frustrated and angry. Save yourself and the recipient.
  • Feel free to respond to someone and let them know you understand. A simple, "I've got it" or "on it" or something lets the person know that you have received their email and that you are working on it.
  • On the other hand, don't reply all to everyone on a large email to say "me too" or "thanks" - sigh.
  • Your email is a reflection of you and should demonstrate your personality. It's ok to use phrases you use in daily speech, it's not ok to use emoji and text abbreviations. Keep it professional, keep it personal and keep it with a personality.
  • Need something from someone? Try some softening phrases- "I was hoping" I was wondering" "Do you think we could"
  • Don't use ALL caps, if its so important, bold it. No one wants to be yelled at. We get it, it's important.
  • If you make a mistake, own it and explain it. It's going to happen, embrace the fail and apologize and move on. No one has your mistake framed and laminated in their office, and if they do, that's their problem.
  • Express gratitude, but please, no meaningful life quotes in your signature, etc. If I wanted a daily lesson, I'd read the skimm.
  • Have fun and improve! Enjoy writing to others and know that every interaction you have with someone is an opportunity to bring them joy.
 What are your email pet peeves? How do you handle emails that frustrate you? What is on your wishlist from your coworkers? Are your donor emails different from your coworkers? I'd love to hear your feedback and please add to the list or debate a point!


Friday, September 30, 2016

Beginning and Ending Your Week with Gratitude

It's Friday. As I write this I'm keenly aware that many of us are just so happy we survived another week. But wow do we have the greatest profession ever! What can you do to shake up your weekly routine? How can you integrate gratitude in your entire fundraising operation? Want to show your donors they matter? Try this:

Begin every Monday and end every Friday by calling, emailing or writing notes to donors just to say thank you. 

Yup. I said it- block your calendars and get to work. I'm not asking for an entire gratitude journal or a novel here. Just 20 minutes twice a week to not only remind you why you do the work you do and who is behind our success, but also time for you to focus on what's important. As much as we think donors obsess over our communications and scrutinize every effort, we're missing out on the opportunity to wow them at every turn. When's the last time you received a pure thank you that was unexpected and delightful?

I'll give you an example of unexpected and fun. I'm here in NYC at the Kimpton, my absolute favorite favorite of hotels to stay in and I go to my boring old closet to hang up my dress- BOOM! Inside the closet on the wall, I see this: 

This unexpected little diddy made me laugh, made me take a photo and share and also made me think. What have you done in your fundraising life that has made a donor take a photo of it and share it with others? I can tell you it's probably not your annual report or latest solicitation. They would share the unexpected and the novel, they would share your word on genuine praise and gratitude. 

When you're looking for motivation on a Monday morning and need a kick to remind you that your week wasn't so awful, motivate yourself with gratitude to donors! Go out there and thank a donor this afternoon!

I would love to hear your thoughts on how adding gratitude to your day and week routine brings you joy!



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Death to the Phonathon?

Yesterday, Stanford University sent ripples though the fundraising community. Except this time it wasn't for a multi-million dollar gift announcement, it was to declare the end of their phonathon program. They sent communications to their alumni and friends that were clever and witty, grasping what many of our donors already feel about fundraising phone calls. 

Check out the images here:

For some fundraisers, it was a pearl clutching moment, how could they? For the rest of us, we stood and applauded! After all, less than 40 percent of homes have landlines and if you look at younger generations, that number decreases significantly! I'm not suggesting here that you all go out tomorrow and slash and burn your phonathon rooms. 

But let's think about it. 

Stanford is listening to their donor base, examining their ROI and investing and divesting accordingly. Bravo. Of course they have a huge endowment worth billions, other fundraising challenges, especially after Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History podcasts on higher education fundraising.  (Haven't listened? Go, NOW!)

But this begs a question I've been shouting about all along- Are we segmenting and communicating with donors in the channels they prefer? Phonathons don't fail because we can't find phone numbers, they fail because they're inefficient and don't respect donor preferences, a leftover relic from the days of the telethon and Jerry Lewis. I and many others are never ever going to give a gift via phonathon, no matter how much I like your callers, I'm an online donor. So why do you call me? I don't even answer the number if it isn't in my contacts or a previously scheduled call- Let's think about it- It costs a great deal of money to employ a calling program. Have them call donors who give via phonathon ONLY. Acquisition via phonathon is expensive. Same for retention.

 I get it, there are people that live for the day a poorly scripted caller making above minimum wage and bonused in pizza and redbull calls them from a dank basement on their alma mater's campus, they live for that! (I still don't know any of those people) 

But in any case, we should be attempting to convert them to monthly donors and online donors, not just calling 10 to 20 times until we bait them into answering! 

What could we be doing instead? Let's see, an average phonathon can cost tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Imagine if we took 10% of that budget and put it into digital ad buys, promoted social media posts and engaging online collateral like video. We would again begin to be relevant. The problem isn't the phonathon or direct mail, it's that our programs are siloed and not integrated. It's that we're yelling into the wind and praying our donors are listening. With modern tools like EverTrue, Cerkl and others, we can find donors where they act, put them in the drivers seat and engage them based on their preferences. 

Some say it's a revolutionary thing to say that Stanford is the first to eliminate their phonathon, but I have other clients that got rid of their calling programs a long time ago, they're just not Stanford. So it seems that they're on the leading edge. Or are they listening to their donors better than some of us? How are we proving that we are listening to our donors? Do we really know what they want? Are we honoring those preferences? I look forward to a robust debate in the comments, please keep it civil and remember somewhere on that beautiful campus in California there is a lonely basement. RIP. Comment away!


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Custom videos to cut through the noise!

Reaching your donors is harder now than ever. Donors are constantly inundated with ads and noise. Thing of the amount of mail we get on a daily basis, be it in your physical mailbox, your email box, your social media messengers. Then think about the passive media you consume from TV commercials to ads in airports to decals on cars and the like. So in all of this noise what stands out? Personalization and customization always wins the day. In addition we also know that video is the current most consumed part of media out there right now. I've spoken about it before at length in blogs and presentations but now I want to present you with an even better solution! 

Imagine your donors receive an email and not only is the subject line personalized to them, but the contents inside have been created just for them. It's a personal, custom video recorded just for them by the recipient of their generosity. That's what the fine folks at ThankView make possible each and every day. It's one of the most exciting developments in gratitude I've seen in years. You create a custom envelope and design to send the donor, see my personal video stationery here:

And then when the recipient clicks play, they receive a custom video filmed perfectly for them. Some of my clients and friends have been trying out the software with amazing results. Think about 80% open rates and 90% viewing rates for the videos inside. and the software is so easy to use and affordable- and because you're a friend of mine, you receive 20% off of your package when you tell them my name. 

**Thanks to one of my astute readers for mentioning this sounds like a commercial. I am happy to say I never receive any payments or incentives from ANY company I showcase on this blog and am just trying to bring you the latest and greatest in gratitude!**

For those of you in higher education, imagine your scholarship recipients thanking their donors in a custom video that is easy for them to film on their devices and that the donors swoon over when they receive them! Or you could use the software to send an email invitation that's actually a video for a special event. How about having a great video made for your helpful volunteers? Or on your next giving day, have your students record custom videos for anyone who gives online that day- The possibilities are endless.

I constantly say that we need to create more video content for our donors. This allows it to be easy and affordable for any type of organization to have video content that is custom for their donors on demand. Wanna give it a try? Contact them and explore the possibilities. Have you used a software like this? What do you struggle with in video and custom messages to donors? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Friday, August 26, 2016

Respecting Donor Preferences

Often times, it feels like nonprofit organizations aren't listening to their donors. Fundraising is both an art and a science, a profession rife with complexities and data, but what about what the donor wants? Simply asking a donor their preferences and then respecting them seems to be a lost art. Or noticing donor behavior and basing future behavior with that donor on past donor behavior can often be overlooked at an organization or ignored altogether. We're making progress, but we have a long way to go. The companies in our atmosphere that do this well have higher revenue and greater customer loyalty, with falling donor retention rates, why is this not our approach? 

A few examples of the good and the bad if you will. I give, and I give online. I don't write checks to nonprofits and I never have. Yet constantly nonprofits misunderstand my donations not only as a gateway to deluge me with solicitations, but a chance to deluge me with the WRONG kind of solicitations. Here is a photo of the direct mail I received in June and July from nonprofits asking for money:

My poor mail delivery person's back!! And do you see all the #10 envelopes in there? Yup, each and every one has a long letter asking me for a gift and an envelope hoping for a check I'll never send. They completely ignore my preference for digital communication based on my giving history. Such a shame.
But not all organizations are ignoring their donors. Check out these great examples of us listening to our supporters:
Wake Forest University wants to understand me better- What an enlightened approach! 
And of course as usual, Charity Water stands above the rest. As a monthly donor to them for three years they are now changing their monthly giving program and are going to reach out to me personally to see how I want my donation to proceed. This is great and so donor focused.

I'll tell you that the University of Dayton takes the cake here people- this is something to aspire to! Within days of making an online gift I received a surprising email from them. They wanted to get to know me and my communication preferences and were going to record that and respect it- WHAAAAAT? OMG- Call me surprised and delighted! They also put me in the drivers seat. Gave me control of my experience with them- KUDOS!!

 What are you doing to get to know your donors better and then record and respect their preferences? How are you using that data to drive your activity with donors? We all want to be better fundraisers, but we can't ignore their preferences and desires for our own plans and calendars. Put the donors at the center of your plans and allow them choice. Your work will flourish!

I would love to hear your thoughts.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

We are the 98%.

No no, don’t worry, this isn’t some political diatribe or piece on income inequality in the U.S. (although, if you have dedicated your career to non-profits and development, chances are you are following your passion and not the income). But in the world of donor relations, we are the 98% - the 98% of the donor relationship that does not involve the ask. We are, quite literally, everything BUT the moment of the ask. 

This is a shift of mindset in development and donor relations. This is a forward thinking, proactive, fandangled modern concept. You are, for all intents and purposes, a development officer. Gasp! But you say, “I don’t ask for money, I only… (fill in the blank)”. But you do ask for money. You make an ASK in every single decision, attitude, communication and daily experience a donor may encounter with your organization. Modern day donor relations shops have a hand in the entire donor experience – the cultivation leading up to the ask, the acknowledgment immediately following, the voice on the phone that can walk a donor through their endowment report, the communications person drafting a donor story for the website or impact report, the event person who searches endlessly for little ways to make an occasion more personal and meaningful, the IT person who thinks of the donor when writing code for the on-line giving page, and on and on. We make connections in big and little ways every single day. Those connections build relationships, tell important stories, and ultimately affect whether a donor chooses to give again. They create an EXPERIENCE, not a product. You are making your organization better, stronger and more successful every day. Whether you carry out the actual work or not does not matter because donor relations is at the heart of it all – working as donor advocates, air traffic controllers, and detail masters. You are the donor’s voice.

So, I challenge you to instead of looking at how we are NOT development officers, embrace the fact that you are and that you play as much a role in the bottom line of your organization as your counterparts. Take that perspective and systematically apply it to your decision making, project design, prioritization, and success metrics. When positioning the role of donor relations inside your organization, come prepared to show leadership just how many areas of the donor relationship and giving cycle your area touches. Give them concrete examples and metrics you can track. And show that again and again. Think like a development officer – how can I strengthen this donor’s relationship to inspire them to give again? Act like a development officer – apply business savvy and strategic approaches to your work.

We serve incredible callings. We get to bring together the best of development work for the benefit of our donors – we get to be creative, technical, influential, sentimental, strategic. We are the 98% of what our donor knows about our organization and the causes we serve.

I think that makes us the 100%.

This blog was artfully written and contributed by Sarah Sims, member of the DRG Group and Executive Director for Donor Relations at the University of Florida.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Scholarships vs. Stewardship: The Next Big Superhero Battle?

Please enjoy this guest post from my friend and colleague Brooke Grimes from Academic Works.

This year we have seen some big-name superheroes battling it out at the theaters.  Think Batman vs. Superman and Captain America: Civil War. Battles between characters who should be allies make for great drama. Which side are you on? Who’s the Bad Guy?

Unfortunately, we often have a similar conflict between the superheroes in our industry: Scholarships vs. Stewardship.  But there is no villain here!  We should all be joining forces to achieve a common goal, which is increasing accessibility to education by making resources available to students. 

There is a huge opportunity for scholarship and stewardship personnel at colleges and universities across the country to be the superhero that helps achieve this goal.  No matter your current role in either department, there are ways to bring the right people together to both streamline the scholarship process and improve donor stewardship efforts.

So what can you do to become the ultimate scholarship and stewardship superhero?  There are three easy steps to take:

1.     Create an advisory council

2.     Make information easily accessible
3. Get award information to donors faster
Create an Advisory Council
An advisory council consists of all of the people involved in your current scholarship process. This most likely includes Financial Aid, Donor Relations, Enrollment, and maybe even representatives from campus departments.  Take time to map out the current scholarship and donor stewardship process as they work today.  This will give everyone a big picture idea of who has ownership of which parts of the process.  Most importantly, it will give everyone a place to begin suggesting improvements. Having an advisory council takes the pressure off of one person to make a change. It brings together groups of people who can have a huge impact on campus.
Make Information Easily Accessible
Often, the people involved in scholarships and stewardship work separately.  However, information such as scholarship award rationale, award recipient details, and thank-you notes should be shared. For example, Financial Aid often needs scholarship recipient information to verify award compliance while the Foundation or Advancement office needs this same information to share with donors. This information can be stored in email inboxes and on spreadsheets on individual computers.  Opening access to information all across campus can streamline the entire process and improve institutional relationships.
Get Award Information to Donors Faster
Foundations are often in a race to proactively share scholarship recipient information, thank-you letters, and fund financials with donors in a timely manner. One Foundation Vice President I spoke with mentioned that she is in a constant battle to alert donors of scholarship recipients before the student posts it on social media.
Donors also want to see the impact that they are making on the lives of students at your institutions.  We see a trend in sharing more information with scholarship donors.  Based on a recent study we conducted at AcademicWorks, here is what colleges and universities are providing to donors about their scholarship recipients:
·      73% are providing thank-you letters from students
·      67% are providing biographical information on scholarship recipients
·       34% are providing a photograph of the scholarship recipient
Going back Point #2, the most easily available scholarship information is, the faster you can it get to donors.
I wish you all the best of luck as you look to improve the scholarship and donor stewardship process on your campus.  Now it is time to put on your cape and become the scholarship and stewardship superhero on campus! If you are interested in staying up-to-date on the latest tips in scholarship management and donor stewardship, check out www.blog.academicworks.com.