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

Friday, August 5, 2016

Should Joe Donor Trust Us?

In the past, philanthropy was predicated on the not so average person, doing a not so average thing. Giving their money to people and trusting us with their investments. Many times, this was done in what I call blind faith. Meaning that the donor saw an organization doing good in the world, wanted to make a difference and gave fully and freely their assets. Nonprofits, or charities as they were called, were not as professionalized as they are now and weren't as big a part of the industrial complex as they are now, so what has changed? Should donors blindly trust nonprofits with their charitable giving? How do we define nonprofits a donor should trust and what constitutes a good charitable investment?

I often tell my clients that rather than tilting our programming to someone from a grey poupon ad, we should look to Joe/Jane Donor as the mainstream of our industry. Growing Joe/Jane Donor into a philanthropist is our joy and mission. But Joe/Jane Donor doesn't have a great deal of history giving, doesn't always know how a nonprofit works and lives in mainstream society. Here are some of the things Joe/Jane Donor sees about our industry:

In Search Of The Red Cross' $500 Million In Haiti Relief 

And the list goes on. This isn't just from our insider media, this is what the average donor hears about our industry in the mainstream media. Scandal sells.  Remember whenever money and people are involved there can be big trouble. Common sense doesn't always rule the day. There are far more nonprofits doing good in the world than those who stumble and fall. But Joe/Jane Donor doesn't hear about them in their daily work. Joe/Jane Donor doesn't have time to stop in the middle of being charitable and check Guidestar or Charity Navigator, both of which have their challenges in transparency as well. So what is our industry to do?

It is our responsibility and privilege to demonstrate impact to Joe/Jane Donor. It means we do the right thing every time. It means we balance acquisition and dollars with retention and donor love. For every negative story in the news we need to balance it with stories of what donors make possible in the world. It is our sacred compact with these generous folks, it is our duty and our responsibility. The way we talk about and to donors matters. We can't just fawn all over the top of our pyramid and ignore those trying to make a difference at other levels. We have to stop churning numbers and realize that behind every gift is a generous soul and when that generous soul is nurtured and grown and loved, there is no limit to their generosity. How do we as fundraising professionals carry the torch for these folks? How do we actively preserve donor trust and our responsibility to them? How do we fight the urge to do the easy or monetarily simple thing in order to focus on the RIGHT thing?

Generosity changes lives, it changes our own on a daily basis in this industry. They are wonderful human beings. Are we honoring this precious relationship the way we should? Or are we allowing the "job" to take over for the soul? 

I would love to hear your thoughts and hear what you are doing to hold the donor experience high and close to your organization. How are you fighting the good fight?