Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Farewell to the Myth of Summer

August 1. I circle this date on my calendar every year, and I dread its arrival. August 1 is the day that summer ends.

Not literally, of course; it’s still much too warm to bust out my beloved sweater collection (believe me, I’m tempted). But quite officially, it’s the day of reckoning for all my summertime hopes and dreams. And more to the point, it’s the deadline for any and all “summer projects” that have even the slightest chance of being completed. As August arrives, so do the days of nonstop meetings, the crush of high priority to-dos, and the many crises du jour.

This coming academic year marks my 19th in higher education, and I’m still clinging to The Myth of Summer. Legend has it that summertime on a university campus was once this magical wonderland where time slowed down and all those time-intensive, well-intentioned, “long-term” projects finally received the attention they deserved. So, for 19 years, I’ve had a list of “summer projects.” And every year about this time, I start alternating between a sense of sheer panic and a fast-paced downward shame spiral as I look at the same list with very few boxes checked off. What is supposed to have been a season of recovery and recommitment suddenly becomes a symbol of underachievement. Yet, every year, I still make the list – call me optimistic? A glutton for punishment??

This year, rather than giving into the disappointment, I’m tossing this myth into the dustbin of history. Instead, I’m celebrating all the things I accomplished that weren’t on the list of “summer projects,” and I’m discovering that perhaps I’ve just been making the wrong list for too many years.

#1 – I grew as a professional. From training with my team, to attending conferences, to not just starting, but actually finishing multiple books, I invested in my own and others’ learning throughout the summer. As a result, I’m entering the new year reinvigorated and ready to tackle some of the “same old challenges” with a fresh perspective.

#2 – I planned ahead, thoughtfully. Freed from the incessant drumbeat of what has to be done right now, my colleagues and I were able to engage in deliberate conversations about why we do certain things. Revisiting that purpose has set us on the path to a more engaging collaborative effort in the coming year and sparked spontaneous ideation sessions that not only feed my soul but also, ultimately, result in an elevated donor experience.

#3 – I was reminded that we are more than our jobs. My family and I were fortunate to take an awesome vacation, and I had some really amazing conversations with my teammates about their own summer travels. I took my kid to swim lessons and gymnastics class. We enjoyed a few spectacular Colorado sunsets with friends and family. More than usual, I ended my days reflecting on and humbled by life’s sheer awesomeness, not the size of my to-do list.

Now, as the clock winds down on these last days of July, I’m letting go of the panic, the frustration and the burden of The Myth of Summer. Instead, I’m feeling incredibly grateful for a list of summertime accomplishments that have me reenergized about the people I serve and the work I do.

How about you? Are there things you’ve checked off your list that really filled your bucket and left you feeling inspired for the coming year? Take a moment to celebrate these and join me in toasting the arrival of summer’s end. After all, this ending marks only the beginning of a whole new year of opportunity. And maybe some of these endeavors were meant to be “winter projects” all along.

By Matthew Helmer

DRG Group member Matthew Helmer serves as Executive Director of CSU Events & Community Engagement at Colorado State University. He attributes his long tenure to the amazing community of leaders, colleagues, students and donors at CSU, a truly special place to work, live and learn. Follow him on Twitter @ExperienceGuru or LinkedIn for more musings.  

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Why is Asking For Help So Difficult?

Seriously – why is this so hard? We are a society that can help ourselves with just about anything. If we are sick we can look online and self-diagnose. If we want to buy a house we can do it all electronically and not even bother to talk with an actual realtor or lender. Everything is self-serve so no need to ask for help. Why will we ask Alexa anything and everything but not our own colleagues?

I have been giving this a lot of thought lately – researching and even asking my own friends and colleagues about the topic. According to a recent article I read in the Harvard Business Review, these are the top three reasons people don’t ask for help:
  1. Asking for help is often perceived as a sign of weakness or ignorance.  
  2. People are worried that if we ask for help we will be indebted to those who offer it. 
  3. People highly value self-reliance so they want to do it by themselves. 
I get the fear of asking for help. I understand it and can even relate to it.  It is much easier for me to help someone than to ask for help myself. But I learned early on that while I might want to do it by myself, if I worked with others I could produce much better results. I learned that in the classroom, I learned it on the athletic fields, and I learned it at work. But first, I learned it at home.

Let me share a story - one year my dad gave each member of my family a wooden dowel and asked us to write our name and birthdate on it. He then handed a blank one of my nephews and asked him if he could break the dowel. He easily snapped it in half. Then dad took all of the dowels we had written on and put them together in a bundle. He handed the bundle to that same nephew and asked him to break it. He tried and said it was not possible. My dad said “you are right – we are always stronger together than we could ever be apart.” My dad sent all of us a strong message that day – we could try to do things by ourselves and we were at risk of bending and even breaking. But if we work together, lean on each other, share our own gifts - there is really nothing we cannot do.

And if my dad’s sweet story didn’t convince you to be bold and ask for help then here are a few more reasons to consider:
  • Asking for help gives you an opportunity to learn something new - to grow and develop and push yourself.
  • Asking for help gives you an opportunity to gain new insights, perspectives, and opinions.  All of this will help you think differently and maybe generate a better idea.
  • Asking for help is a great way to show someone you trust their ideas, value their skills, and cherish their advice. That is a win-win in my book. You get the information you need and you make someone feel great in the process.

Next month we are going to continue this dialogue about working together during Donor Relations Guru’s webinar entitled “Help Me Help You.”  We will share advice, ideas and stories of how we have successfully turned our faculty members, organizational leaders, researchers, and even physicians into great partners in our development work.  I hope you will join us.

This post was written by DRG Group member, Angie Joens. Angie is a nonprofit consultant, executive coach, speaker, and the Assistant Vice Chancellor of Development Outreach for the University of California Davis.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

3 Donor Relations Metrics Every Nonprofit Should Be Tracking

Metrics are hard! However, they can be your best friend too. They can open doors, help advocate for much needed resources, and help you prioritize heavy workloads and endless initiatives. They can do the hard work for you. I am very passionate about metrics (I know, I can be total nerd) and was recently having a conversation with some peers about what and how to track donor relations activity in order to quantify value, progress, and ROI. We are certainly still a work in progress here at UF, but there are a few key components anyone can adopt when building a solid system of metrics. 

1. Fundraising Connection: You must be able to correlate your donor relations work to the success of your fundraising efforts (after all, that’s why we are here!). I have been able to ingrain with my team that everything we do serves a fundraising purpose. Our work needs to affect one of these three key metrics:

  • Donor retention rates
  • Pledge fulfillment rates
  • Pipeline management

If a project doesn’t affect one or more of these, then we have to ask the question “do we need to be doing it?”. For example, for our annual student thank you event, Grateful Gator Day, we report out standard numbers such as how many notes, how many participants, etc. This past year we also created a dashboard with our data team to track 30/60/90 day giving for all donors who receive a GGD touch. It’s not a direct relationship, we know that, and it’s not a perfect science, but it helps us to say that for the “donors who received a GGD touch in 2018 gave a total of $12M in the 3 months following”. This kind of data helps us make the argument with Development that the work we produce affects their donors and gets them used to hearing us talk in fundraising terms as well.

2. Division by Audience: When it comes to the deciding what to track, it’s best to address your work from a variety of perspectives:
  • Team success (quality, quantity, efficiency, total hours, collaboration)
  • Donor’s success (completed surveys, satisfaction rate reported, open rates, request for copies)
  • Organization’s metrics (the three metrics listed above plus 30/60/90 giving data)

It’s key to always be ready to evaluate your activity both in terms of organizational (internal) and donor (external) success. They are your most important constituencies! 

3. Strategy Driven by Metrics: You must be able to show that your strategy is driven by your metrics and that it takes into consideration the fundraising needs of your organization. For example, this year we sent Grateful Gator Day notes to our 2, 3, and 4-year consecutive donors because we know UF’s greatest retention fall-off rate happens between 3 and 4 years. So being able to clearly articulate that strategy and purpose behind the event to our Development partners (along with the 30/60/90 giving data) made all the difference in their willingness to collaborate.

This just scratches the surface – but it’s a start! You may not be able to implement all of this, but choose one component and start there. Next year, add another! As you look forward to what your FY19 has in store, take the time to tackle the metrics challenge in some capacity. Take metrics, your best friend, by the hand and say “we can do this!”.

This post was written by DRG Group member, Sarah Sims. Sarah is a consultant, speaker, and the Executive Director of Donor Relations at the University of Florida.