Friday, February 24, 2017

Is Donor Retention Your Priority?

What's your number one indicator of fundraising success?

As I travel across the globe preaching the amazing power of donor relations, I'm consistently surprised at how we measure fundraising success. If you're still counting number of donors and dollars, you're behind the eight ball. The TRUE measure of fundraising success is your retention rate. How many donors are STAYING with you? Let me tell you, many of you don't know. But the news isn't that great, in the recent report from Bloomerang, our retention continues to slide. When will we as an industry understand that retention and loyalty is THE thing for sustainable future oriented fundraising.

If the numbers don't startle you, they should. How come we all know the name of your biggest donor, but no one knows the name of your most loyal, consecutive donor? It's because we aren't valuing the right metric.
So how do you focus on donor retention? You put the donor at the center of your efforts, you focus on your ask to thank ratio and you move 10% of your acquisition budget to donor retention efforts! In other words, you make donor relations the priority in your fundraising operation and use it as your number one metric for fundraising success. Every interaction, every touch point should be conducted with the donor experience in mind. Thinking about what will retain your donors MUST be your number one priority. This requires an investment in donor relations and a shift in mindset away from transactions toward relationship based, long term interactions. 
In a world of the mega campaign and the surge for more and more dollars, our focus must be on the long term, not today's campaign but the campaign 3 decades from now. In higher education in particular we have 50-70 year relationships with our alumni, a lifetime to get it right and keep them happy and giving. Donor retention is THE solution to our diminishing alumni giving percentages, our ever increasing denominators and our 95/5 problem of fundraising where 95 percent of the money comes from 5 percent of the donors. 
The first step is easy, figure out where you are, what are your numbers? What is your first time donor retention rate? What is your overall donor retention rate? Once you've figured those out, set upon a path to increase them over time. 

What do you think? How can I help? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ask Your Donors to Be Yours!

Every February my mind begins to turn to hearts, flowers and roses.  It may be because I am a hopeless romantic or it could be that there is no way to avoid all of the commercials this time of year.   I know that Valentine’s Day can conjur up all sorts of emotions.  Some people love it, some hate it and some fear the day.  I have a friend who stays home in bed and waits for the day to go by.  I had an old boyfriend who called it a “Hallmark” holiday and said he did not need some huge corporation to tell him what day he must declare his love for me.  Personally - I think it was his excuse because he forgot but I did admire his impassioned declaration.  But I digress…. 
Getting acknowledged on Valentine’s Day feels good.  Remember in grade school when you brought those cute little valentine day cards for each of your class mates?  Some were store bought and some were hand made.  My mom believed making valentine’s by hand was more personal so she had all six of my brothers and sisters sit down at the kitchen table and cut out hearts, write meaningful notes, tie ribbons, attached chocolate kisses.   It took days, lots of construction paper, and tons of patience on her part but in the end every one of our classmates received a special valentine.  I still remember watching my friends open my cards and seeing their smiles.
Maybe that is why I got into donor relations?  I love to see that look on a donor’s face when we have surprised and delighted them.  We remembered a special day.  We knew their favorite flower.  We had their scholarship recipient perform their favorite song.  We showed them the impact of their gift.
Every day we get the chance to recognized, acknowledge, demonstrate our gratefulness to alumni, donors, parents, patients, members and friends who love our organization.  Of all of the many non-profits in the world they selected ours to support.  They love our mission.  They love our work.  They love our plans.  They believe in us! 
They are in a relationship with us and it is incumbent upon those of us in donor relations to keep this relationship strong and vital.  We must know what drew them to our organization.  We need to know what will keep them loyal to our organization.  We need to keep wooing them.  We cannot take them for granted.  We need demonstrate our deep respect to them.  We need to find new ways to show them we need them and are grateful for them.
So I challenge you all to re-think Valentine’s Day – it is more than a romantic holiday to be loved, hated or feared.  It is a day to demonstrate your organization’s love to your donors.  But if you miss it this year remember there are 364 other days to do it.  Just do it – these relationships are important and should never be taken for granted.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all!!

Thank you to Angie Joens of the DRG group for this warm and thoughtful post.

What do you think?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Surprise and Delight Your Donors

Credit for this terminology goes to Sue Washburn, founding principal at educational consulting firm Washburn & McGoldrick.  Sue tells the story of attending reunion at her alma mater, an institution where she had sat on the board of trustees, served as a consultant, and held numerous volunteer roles.  Back on campus she found herself walking with a new gift officer; as they traversed the campus green Sue remarked in passing that her freshman roommate had an uncanny ability to spot four leaf clovers in the grass.  They continued walking and Sue didn’t think anything more about it until several days later when she received at her home a lovely note from the gift officer, and enclosed was a four leaf clover.  Sue talks about this as being one of the most memorable donor gifts she ever received.  It was clear to her that 1) the person she was speaking to was listening, and 2) the gift was meant especially for her.

I’ve repeated this story numerous times when I’ve spoken on donor gifts, and it’s guided me when thinking about how we express appreciation to Skidmore’s donors, especially when it comes to gift giving.  Too often there’s the temptation to reach into a closet of university-embossed gift items because we haven’t given thought to what the donor would appreciate. (Doesn’t everyone have a stash of apparel, tote bags, and key fobs with our seal on them?!)  It is a running joke among my advancement colleagues that the doorman of a former board chair has the largest collection of Skidmore logo apparel on the East Coast.

Several years ago at a public announcement to recognize the lead gift for Skidmore College’s new residential townhouses, the donor talked about the apartments these would be replacing. Drafty and energy inefficient, they had outlasted everyone’s expectation for their usefulness.  As the donor spoke about the need for new campus housing, he said the only positive thing about the old apartments were the times he spent there with his daughter and her friends playing beer pong.  Hmmmm.  Did you know that there is a national beer pong league?  They have special cups, balls, logo apparel, and even rule books!  Who knew?  I’m confident that we are the only organization to have gifted this generous philanthropist with a bag of beer pong swag, including rule book and membership card.  He still talks about it.

In the Four Pillars of Donor Relations Lynne Wester diagrams the Art of Donor Relations.  What do donors want?  Access, information, experiences.  Access starts at the top, with your president or chief executive officer.  Every two weeks Skidmore’s president sets aside time on his calendar for what we call the “Hour of Power.”  For sixty minutes he writes handwritten notes and makes personal calls to thank donors for their leadership gifts, to recognize a personal or professional milestone, or to otherwise engage.  I’ve heard from numerous recipients their “surprise and delight” when they pick up the phone and hear the president’s voice on the line.  The impact is tremendous, the financial cost non-existent.

What have you done to Surprise and Delight a donor? What would you do if you had no limits? Tell us your stories here!

My gratitude goes to Mary Solomons,  another fabulous member of the donor relations guru group for her contribution this week!

Friday, February 3, 2017

30/60/90 Dos & Don’ts (Part 2 of 2)

So you did it - you maneuvered the (quite frankly, terrible and terrifying) world of job hunting and are starting a new position (hopefully in Donor Relations, as I am a little biased)! As I shared in Part One of this blog topic, I have started over many times in my career and have become adept at maneuvering new starts – the overwhelming 30/60/90 day period. Some organizations have fine-tuned onboarding processes with documented steps, goals and communications along the way. Some situations may feel like you were just thrown into the deep end of the pool without even a floatie. No matter which you may be entering, there are some definitive Do’s and Don’ts during this time.
Do establish a strong basis for managing up:
·       proactively set or initiate regular communications with your new boss
·       learn their habits/pet peeves/communication style and adapt to it (don’t be afraid to ask others for this insight)
·       ask questions – I realize this sounds simplistic, but early in a new job we tend to be fearful of asking too many questions or looking ill-prepared, but you have put that discomfort aside and dig further for key context, unspoken strategy at play, and detailed understanding of how we fit into that picture; we can only deliver results when we understand what’s being asked of us and how that fits into the mission of the organization
Do lead your team by example from day one:
·       set the expectations and guiding principles for your team members and repeatedly communicate them in a variety of ways – 1:1, in groups, via email, in person, etc.
·       focus less on output during this time and learn the input; not only do you need to learn how/why things are done the way they are, you need to learn about the people executing those tasks - don’t jump the gun and make change just for the sake of making change until you know the full context
·       position yourself as your team’s advocate to the rest of the organization; share information openly both up and down, represent your department’s needs/challenges/successes to your peers and leadership, become well versed in their day to day professional life and serve as a problem solver and conduit for solutions
Don’t vie for an audience:
·       as anxious as we may feel to prove ourselves and earn a place at the “grown-ups table”, let your work speak for itself and don’t press to have yourself visible; the best things you can do is become knowledgeable, listen and learn the issues and have a couple early wins
·       balance your early initiatives between the bright, sexy, flashy initiatives that leadership is craving (i.e., low on metrics) and addressing systematic or policy inefficiencies that will affect a broader audience and potentially having more immediate ROI (such as speeding up tax receipts, getting your arms around acknowledgement letter processes, etc.)
Don’t rush…this speaks for itself. I often get in rush to implement change, bite off more than I can chew, and generally want to do everything right now. But success builds over time with knowledge and experience. Take the time during the first few months of a new job to learn, to strategize, to plot the short- and long-term, and to make yourself indispensable to your new organization. It will serve you well on your new journey.
Thank you to Sarah Sims for this great set of blog posts!

What are your thoughts about your first three months? What did you do to chart a course to success?