Thursday, March 22, 2018

Can You Make an Omelet? The Importance of the Basics in Donor Relations

Often times donor relations professionals are tasked with many things under the sun to support our fundraising partners. The next newest shiny idea, something someone saw from another organization, a great idea dropped in a meeting. But what happens when you only focus on the icing and not the cake? I often liken it to buying a beautiful expensive new dress but not spending time and money on the undergarments. You look a hot mess- no matter how expensive or fancy the dress. 

So do you have your ducks in a row? Meaning, if you don’t have the basics done right two things occur frequently. One, you can become overwhelmed quickly. More and more work piles up and then you forget about the most important things, the basics, the first two pillars of donor relations: acknowledgment and stewardship. The second thing that can happen is that one of your first two pillars isn't completed correctly and then the donor suffers. It doesn’t matter if you threw them the perfect birthday party, had a great million dollar donor event or did a splashy video if your acknowledgments take more than two weeks to get into the donor's hands or if their scholarship goes unawarded. 

When you fail at the basics there’s no way to recover gracefully. You see the basics to a donor are fundamental and a given. You can do all the splash and cash you want with smoke and mirrors but if you don’t provide gratitude and impact, a donor's basic needs, the wants and desires don’t matter. Lipstick on a pig per se.

What does it take to get your ducks in a row? It takes a good deal of sticking to it, streamlining your processes and perfecting those tasks so that you can move on to the creative, the shiny, the flashy. Sometimes the simplest of things are the hardest to perfect. It’s why major chefs have job candidates make a simple omelet. If they can master that without burning the eggs then they can move on to much more complex gastronomy. But if you can’t get it together on the basics with then why are you trying the fancy stuff?

The same applies to donor relations. The basics may not seem extremely sexy or dynamic but when you don’t have them right, nothing else matters and donors lose faith in your organization.

So my question for you is how do you make an omelet? How do you help keep the focus on the basics in your shop? What do you need from us to help you do so?

As always we welcome your thoughts.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Don't Stop at the First No

Revamping and retooling any program can be a maddening enterprise full of twists and turns, lost directions and dead ends. But if you follow a path, you eventually will get there. Let's take the simple process of making changes to your acknowledgment system. Let's say you want to separate your receipts from your thank yous, which is of course a great idea. But how many steps could it possibly take you? Sometimes more than you know. And you may face rejection at every turn- Commonly, as a partner with nonprofits who want to change the way they do their work and the way they think about their donors,  I am asked to help them manage through a process of change.

The common first roadblock I see to implementing a new way of working is not that people don't want to, or that there is a lack of leadership buy in, etc. It's simply because most non front line professionals stop at the first no. This is a key difference between those professionals that ask for money and those that do not. Those that ask for money are repeatedly faced with rejection, they've got an iron will and a passion for perseverance. A no may mean, come back later, ask for a different amount, or for a different project. As non front line professionals who don't deal with rejection on a daily basis, many of us stop at the first no. It's a great fear of many people to be rejected. This fear is so crippling that many people just don't ask at all. And what's the risk? Who has gotten fired for coming up with a new idea in nonprofit land? The answer is NO ONE.

Yup, I said it- don't stop at the first no. Not from your leadership, not from your peers, not from anyone (except the donor). So what does that mean? It means have some gumption, believe in your ideas, and stick with it! Stick to it ness is a fabulous trait in any industry but especially in donor relations. But before you accept that no, make sure you have a sound reason why they're saying no. Or as my friend Angie says, "help me understand".

So what are the alternatives to accepting the first no?

1. Get creative, complete a flanking maneuver, approach the problem from the side, figure out an alternative plan.
2. Make it someone else's idea- sometimes having someone else deliver your message is the ticket to success!
3. Beg forgiveness not permission! Sometimes you gotta act- I don't know anyone who got fired for doing something nice for their donors...
4. Ask again on another day! Just because there is a NO on a Tuesday doesn't mean that on a Friday afternoon the answer would be the same.
5. Maybe you should also try saying 'no' more yourself- What if you actually said it? it can be empowering- try it! The next time someone asks you to do something that you just can't wrap your head around (unless its a donor) try saying no!
6. Start embracing the no- LOVE IT! Learn to laugh at it- it's not the end of the world, seriously. No one dies if we make a mistake. It's gonna be ok.

It's time for you to keep it going, don't stop, get yourself some gumption and perseverance. You CAN do it, you CAN make change. Every step, every turn in the path, don't focus on the roadblocks, don't focus on the no. Focus instead on your success and that you are doing this for the donor. Know that the glory is in the process too and that by effecting change you too come out changed in the end result. Enjoy the journey.

Tell us how you keep on keepin on and change a no to a yes at your organization! Use the comments below and I look forward to hearing from you soon.