SLOW DOWN!

At Blakely, we have a step in our process for every campaign called the “variable strategy review”. It’s a meeting when the fundraising strategist (me), the project manager, the data programmer, the production specialist, and one of our senior strategists or a member of our Insights team all come together. We look at the mail package or email or any creative with variable elements and review everything to make sure:

  1. We have the info we need in the data to feed into the variables
  2. The variables make strategic sense

It’s a critical step in the process to catch any issues or “gotchas” as my colleague Jeff calls them. But it’s also an opportunity to strengthen strategy and ensure it’s sound.

We have a busy workplace just like you, especially at this time of year. So you would think we’d have our minds elsewhere during this meeting or be rushing to get somewhere/do something else. But no.

We went through every item. We asked strategic questions. We changed variable copy. We put ourselves in the donors’ shoes and thought about whether what we were saying would really reach them.

I’m not saying all this to note how awesome Blakely is (though we are). I’m saying this to encourage you to slow down even when work is crazy. Yes, “done is better than perfect”, but sometimes we really need to stop, ask questions, and think strategically about the donor and how we can inspire them and motivate them to give.

Take an extra 30 minutes this week to slow down and work through something more strategically. And when you do – share it in the comments. Good luck! It’s fundraising season, baby!

~~

Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for eleven years.
Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Pick your battles… but do battle!

 mar·ket·ing (märkədiNG)
the action or business of promoting and selling products or services
In oh so many ways, that’s what we do as fundraisers.
We share with (promote) donors and prospective donors the things (products or services) a charity is doing to better the world in some way, and inspire and motivate (sell) the donor to take action and give.
We’re lucky that the products or services we’re “selling” are more than running shoes or soap, but the concept really is similar.
And we face similar obstacles as marketers, too. Our stakeholders – programs people, communications colleagues, senior management – can have a very different idea of how to “promote and sell” (read: fundraise) than we – the professional fundraisers – do.
Or more specifically, when moving our fundraising communications up the chain of approval, our messages can become so diluted that they lose their ability to inspire, to motivate, to “sell”.
Case in point: a totally made-up sentence I’m writing off the top of my head:
  
Why? WHY?!?!?
No, but actually – why? The stakeholders are thinking of other stakeholders – staff and faculty. They’re acknowledging them, and being accountable to them, and trying to be proactive in not downplaying their part in doing better for students. I get it.
But see how it waters down the message? See how the donor is taken out of it? Or at least, there’s now an arm’s length between the donor and the beneficiary?
It’s also no longer about a student but instead students.
Straight up? It’s not as powerful.
And as fundraisers – as marketers – we know this. We know the emotion and directness of the first sentence is more powerful in promoting and selling what we do. But too often we cowtow to our stakeholders for their stakeholders.
And we lose our donors in the process.
I’m not telling you to get aggressive with your colleagues or the powers-that-be. But I am encouraging you to know when liberties in messaging are worth taking for the greater good. And I’m encouraging you – not to pick all battles – but to pick the right ones.
Good luck!

~~

Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for eleven years.
Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

That Dirty “M” Word: Micromanagement

So I’m back. You know. I said this last week.

But something I want you to know about me being back, is that it’s going to be different this time.

I’ll still blog – and have guest bloggers blog – about all things fundraising and philanthropy.

But I also want to talk about leadership, management, organizational development… all within the fundraising/philanthropy/charity context, of course.

I had the privilege of spending last week with Simone Joyaux. It was truly a privilege. Simone is a powerhouse, a visionary, and very passionate about organizational development.

I’ve always been into leadership and all that, but now I’m particularly charged up about it. So let me share something I learned recently to think about in a new way. Not from Simone, but from Kesheyl van Schilt – the President of the company I work for, Blakely Inc.

Kesheyl is also a powerhouse and a visionary and an incredible leader, fundraiser, mentor, and friend.

Kesheyl and I were talking about leadership. As a Fundraising Strategist at Blakely (think: Account Director at an ad agency), I am not a manager, I have no direct reports, but I am a leader. I’m accountable for my clients, and my colleagues who work with me on client teams.

Kesheyl challenged me to ensure I was always thinking ahead when thinking about clients – asking my colleagues the right questions, anticipating issues, ensuring projects were on track.

I challenged Kesheyl back: “But the teams I work with are so competent! I know my colleagues know what they’re doing and I don’t want to step on their toes. I don’t want to micromanage them.”

Micromanage. Now that’s a term with negative connotations. What do you imagine? A manager breathing down your neck? Undermining your competence? Questioning your work?

That’s what I think about. I don’t want to be that leader. I believe in my colleagues and trust that they’re doing their jobs.

But Kesheyl put it in a different context: “By asking the right questions, you’re not micromanaging. Your colleagues have a lot of different balls in the air, and if they drop them, you’re accountable. By asking the right questions, you’re supporting them. You’re being a leader.”

Ohhhhhhh. Now that sounds different!

So I’ve put the approach to work. When I go into meetings – even if it’s not my meeting to lead – I come in with questions. I ask if my colleagues have everything they need to do what they’re responsible for. Because what they’re responsible for, I’m accountable for.

What do you think? Can you show your colleagues more support without breathing down their necks? If you’re accountable for a program or donor relationships, I’ll bet there’s other people responsible for work that impacts your accountability. Maybe you have direct reports or maybe they’re colleagues on the same level as you, but they’re responsible for the telemarketing portion of your annual program. Or they’re responsible for sending out tax receipts and thank you packages to donors you work with. Are you ensuring they have what they need to do what they do that impacts you?

Think about it! Happy Wednesday!

~~

Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for eleven years.
Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

What’s with the charity rebrand trend?!

You may have noticed a bit of a trend lately of charities “rebranding”. Canadian Diabetes Association is now Diabetes Canada. Heart & Stroke changed its logo and freshened up its visual identity in November of last year. Sick Kids launched their “VS” campaign last year, too. Big charities are bringing new attention to themselves and the important work they do by making a creative splash in the marketplace.

Why? Well, if you’ve been working in fundraising for the last 10 years or longer, you’ve noticed how saturated the Canadian (or any, really) marketplace has become with charities and their messages to Canadians to GIVE! It’s a competitive landscape these days, and in order to stay relevant and reach new audiences and inspire new donors, sometimes a new way to express your “brand” is the way to cut through the noise.

But don’t just jump on the rebranding bandwagon! A new brand or campaign is usually the tip of the iceberg. It’s a big investment for any charity – large or small – to make a big change to its look and name, so you have to give it some serious thought.

Here’s a few things to think about:

Does your brand need a facelift? Heart & Stroke was concerned it was perceived as “your grandmother’s charity” and that it was old-fashioned and not relevant for younger generations. Part of its motivation to rebrand was to modernize its look to reach new audiences. If you’re successfully connecting with donors of all ages, a rebrand may not be for you.

Does your cause need new attention? Diabetes Canada rebranded as much to end the stigma around diabetes as it did to freshen up its look. You may want to rebrand to position the important work you do in a new way, but if you’re feeling good about the way your brand aligns with you’re mission, it may not be the right move.

If you’re trying to reach new audiences, who are they? I did a few interviews on the radio the other day on the topic of charity rebrands, and a lot of the interviewers thought charities were motivated to rebrand in order to get millennials involved in their causes. Fortunately none of them could see me roll my eyes. Remember: millennials are a nut to crack when it comes to fundraising and philanthropy, but they are probably NOT your target audience. It will be a decade at least before millennials make up a meaningful percentage of your donor base, so don’t change your look for them. Think about who you really want to inspire, and make sure any changes you make will speak to them.

What will your donors think? I think that most donors want to see your work funded, and if you can inspire new donors to give more through a rebrand, then your donors may fully support it. But if you run the risk of abandoning your donor base by trying to unnecessarily change your brand, forget it! Don’t let the excitement of a new logo cloud your judgment when it comes to keeping your best supporters close!

So don’t rush into the trend! Make sure you spend time thinking about whether rebranding is right for you. It could be the difference. Just know for sure before you take the plunge!

~~

Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

Asking the Right Questions

asking-the-right-questions

What do you need to know? 

What are your BHAGs? Your big hairy audacious goals?

What’s preventing you from achieving them?

When it comes to these things – the big topics that come with big questions – it’s time to have a real conversation.

This post is inspired by my recent experience attending the International Fundraising Congress a.k.a. #IFC2016 (which was amazing, by the way).

Asking the Right Questions was the theme of IFC, and for me that theme came to a head at a session run by the amazing Simone Joyaux.

Simone talked us through those big topics that come with big questions that I mentioned above.

There are questions in the office that we don’t need a real conversation for: When should we have our next office social? What food should we serve at our next meeting? How often should we schedule staff meetings?

Then there are other topics that do require a real conversation. And in order to have those conversations, we need to ask the right questions.

What are the right questions? They require openness. The right questions force us to remove our biases and assumptions. They cannot be yes or no.

So, if your organization has some money in the budget for something innovative, that might be when you need to have a real conversation.

What might you ask? Maybe, “What opportunities do we see for growth in the organization?”

Which could lead you through a winding conversation full of more questions that arrives at finding an opportunity to invest in innovation.

By asking these questions, we generate learning, which generates change, which builds stronger organizations.

So what are your big questions that require real conversations? 

Answer in the comments below! Or better yet – create the space for a conversation about it in your office, and let me know how it goes!

~~

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

What if we are the problem?

what-if-we-are-the-problem

On Monday, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Evelyne Guindon, CEO of Cuso International. I was recording a podcast for Blakely and Evelyne was my interviewee this time around. (Stay tuned for the podcast, by the way!)

Evelyne said something that really resonated with me. She referred to the beneficiaries of their work as “assets”.

Assets.

I absolutely loved that.

Here’s an example: one of Cuso’s focus areas is Livelihood, including the development and financing of enterprises for individuals living in poverty. So if a young woman has the spirit of entrepreneurship and wants to start her own business, Cuso’s programs – supported by donors – can help.

But this young woman isn’t the beneficiary of donor support; she is an asset that’s been tapped into through donor support.

It’s like she’s a natural resource that just hadn’t been discovered yet. I find that it’s a much more empowering way of talking about it.

Besides just loving the way Evelyne spoke about assets, it made me pause and think about the language we use as fundraisers and whether the gap between where we are and what we really want to accomplish is created by ourselves.

I once heard someone say that donors don’t give to charities that have needs, they give to charities that meet needs.

I also often think about the ripple effect millennials have had on the world of charitable giving. No I don’t have the silver bullet to ignite millennial giving, but I do know this group is skeptical about where their money goes when they give, and therefore when they do give, they expect to see a return on their investment, shall we say.

Some donors have always been like that, but I believe millennials as a group really do think this way, and that’s spread to more demographic donor groups over time.

So as fundraisers, if we don’t adapt to be seen in that lens donors are now looking through, we won’t accomplish our big goals.

This is all to say that donors are – and have for a while – thinking differently about their giving. And like Evelyne, we need to change the way we’re talking about our work and our “beneficiaries” to meet donors where they are, and inspire them more than ever before.

Food for thought…

~~

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

My problem with awareness campaigns

my-problem-with-awareness-campaigns

When I worked at the Canadian Cancer Society as a corporate fundraiser, I had a sign on my desk that read:

“You are here to:

(1) End cancer

or

(2) Raise money so we can end cancer”

It guided everything I did.

Could I work with a corporate partner who wanted help changing their workplace to a healthy one? Even if it didn’t raise money, it met the criteria for #1 so I’d happily pass them along to our cancer prevention team.

Could I help write a letter to go to all employees asking them to give during the staff campaign? It accomplished #2 so you bet!

But it also helped when a board member would suggest something like this: “Let’s get all the taxi companies in the city to put our logo on the side of their cabs” (real suggestion).

I’d run it through my test: does it accomplish #1? Nope. Does it accomplish #2? No. So it’s not worth my time. Because ultimately those “awareness” campaign ideas often came from someone’s ego, not an honest desire to give generous donors the opportunity to help people with cancer.

Because at the end of the day, the family who can’t pay their rent because mom had to quit her job to drive her daughter to chemotherapy… There’s not much she can do with “awareness”.

highres

~~

Written by Rory Green

roryRory is a Senior Development Officer by day, and FundraiserGrrl by night. As a major gifts fundraiser, she connects donors with an opportunity to invest in a better future. FundraiserGrrrl is a blog about her cheeky observations about life in fundraising.

Connect with Rory via:
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#donorlove has its limits

donorlove-has-its-limits

There. I said it.

You are probably not happy I said it – and I know my besties in the fundraising world won’t be – but I had to.

You know how much I believe in #donorlove. I think it’s such an important lens for us to look through when it comes to our fundraising practices. Putting the donor at the centre of what we do is critical in our work.

But #donorlove is not the be-all and end-all of successful or right fundraising.

Let me backtrack.

You probably know that Rory Green – a.k.a. Fundraiser Grrl – is one of my best friends. So you can imagine that when I get a fundraising appeal in the mail for one of my clients that I’m really excited about that Rory is the one I want to tell first.

So I did just that the other day. I took a photo of three envelopes for a client’s campaign (one control, two test packages) and sent it over to Rory for us to gush over together. The first thing Rory said was –

“It doesn’t say the word ‘you‘ on any of those envelopes.”

If you’ve learned anything about #donorlove, it’s the power of the word “YOU”. And Rory is right in that the word “you” is an incredibly important thing to look out for in fundraising. Traditionally organizations have spent far too much time in their fundraising talking about what “they” – the organization – do, rather than about what “you” – the donor – do. If we want to inspire – and even more importantly, retain – donors, we must celebrate them. We must make the donor the hero.

I am not questioning the importance of this type of #donorlove principle. Or any #donorlove principle.

What I’m questioning is the interpretation and application of these principles.

We need to acknowledge that there’s more in successful fundraising than #donorlove.

Let’s think about the donor journey. Why does the donor give to our organization in the first place?

Because they’re asked, yes.

But donors give because they believe in the need our organization meets, and that our organization needs their financial support to meet that need.

The vast majority of donors out there do not give because they need more love in their life. 

Now don’t get me wrong – some donors actually do give to create a relationship and a connection between them and an organization. We often see this among our older donors, and this is an important donor need to acknowledge and to meet. #Donorlove is especially needed here.

#Donorlove is also needed to retain donors. There are a lot of great charities competing for donors, and if your gift to one of them goes unacknowledged for an unforgivably long time, I don’t blame you for saying, “No more, charity! No more gifts for you! I’m giving all my money to the charity that treats me right!”

But speaking of a lot of charities competing, let’s talk about acquisition.

And let me start by saying the dirtiest word there is in #donorlove:

PREMIUM

That’s right. I’m talking about something included in a mail pack beyond a letter and maybe an insert. Maybe it’s a bookmark, maybe it’s holiday cards, maybe it’s a luggage tag.

If you believe in nothing but #donorlove, you’re not having this. Because you believe that donors just want to know they matter.

But if we go back to why donors give, then we’re talking about the fact that donors give because we need their support to do what we do. And so donors want us to do what it takes to get the funding that helps us do what we do.

And unfortunately – in this saturated marketplace, with this competition – we sometimes require premiums to get the package opened and the responses we need to bring in the new donors that we need.

No – I agree that it’s not ideal. And I really agree that it can create a transactional relationship that we need to work extra hard to change once the donor first gives to us.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. We work hard to make the premium at least mission-based, and we can make strategic decisions about what the premium is and test which ones lead to a longer-term relationship between the new donor and the charity. We also work to choose a premium that’s less costly so that we’re not bringing donors in on some kind of ridiculous trinket, but this is our reality.

Does it align with the sometimes rigid principles of #donorlove?! NO.

But does it align with the principle of getting as much funding as we can to meet the need that our donors care about?! YES.

So what’s my moral here? Walk the tightrope of #donorlove, my fundraiser friends. Don’t let your principles cripple you, but never let the donor out of your sight.

~~

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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What does your charity have in common with Louis Vuitton?

What does your charity have in common with Louis Vuitton-

Imagine this: it’s pay day.

You pay your bills, you set aside money for groceries, you put a little money away in savings, and you generally make sure all your needs are met.

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to do that, and even more fortunate that you have money leftover, then you might think to yourself: what else can I do with my money?

Maybe there’s some work to do on your house. Maybe you want to go out for a really nice dinner. Maybe you love purses and you’ve been saving up for a designer bag.

Or maybe… maybe could you consider giving to a charity?

This is the noise we’re trying to cut through, folks!

This post was inspired by a client the other day, who compared charities to luxury brands. Obviously people have many views about charities and the importance of giving, but my client was right; for many, giving to charity is a “nice to have”. It’s one of the potential ways you can spend that extra money that you’re lucky enough to have.

But there’s a lot of noise! There are flashy, highly-produced car commercials. There are glossy pages in magazines with beautiful people holding beautiful bags. There are a lot of temptations, and charities can’t afford to get their ads everywhere that a luxury brand is advertised.

Now I know this isn’t the way we need to think of all donors, especially current ones. Obviously the work we do is more important than the noise we make, and a lot of donors are so committed to us, our mission matters to them, that a Louis Vuitton bag couldn’t tempt them away from us.

But when we think of the world beyond that, and the people that might be interested in giving to our cause that aren’t right now, we need to think about what “the market” is saturated with. Not only are we competing against luxury brands, but we’re competing against other charities, and the competition can be fierce.

Let this be the reason you take a risk. Let this move you to try something you’ve been wanting to but haven’t made a strong enough business case to your boss yet. Think about a digital media buy. Think about a more creative envelope with your next acquisition mailing. Think about trying something new!

Because the charity next door is doing it… and Louis Vuitton definitely is.

~~

Sign up for my email list and get a FREE E-BOOK on mid-level donors!

Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

If I won the lottery…

That’s dumb. I’d give to some of the 85,000 registered charities in Canada alone. They’re doing good work. I’d help them do what they’re good at. Just because I’m a new multimillionaire doesn’t mean I’m suddenly an expert in things.What I would do though? Create a fundraiser watchdog organization. Recent conversations at AFP Congress, The #Donorlove Rendezvous and Fundraising Day have reminded me that the charitable sector employs thousands of loving, generous and empathetic people. We are people who care and want to give back and help things get better for everyone.But that has a dark side. It means that we sacrifice our work-life balance to achieve goals. It means we don’t push for fair working hours or fair salaries or more support staff because “that’ll affect the cost per dollar raised”. Because there’s always MORE to do! To raise! To help! We think in the short-term. We don’t invest in our people. We burn people out at an alarming rate.

We are vulnerable employees because we are often contract, non-union, and full of HEART.

Which is unfortunate. First, because most charitable sector employees chose to work here because they wanted to do good. And we harm them? Second, because fundraising is built on relationships. And this sector is built on fundraising dollars! Churning through staff every two years is not reassuring to a donor with whom we’re trying to build long-term, loving relationships, nor is it the way to build fundraising programs with long-term strategies and goals. 

So.

A watchdog organization. Here are some components that would be important:

  1. Educational sessions for employees and employers on the Employment Standards Act (ESA) or whichever employment act is applicable where you live. We often don’t have Human Resource departments. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to follow proper Human Resources Policy. I’m not an expert, but from poking around in the ESA, I’ve learned that in Ontario, employers need written permission to make you work over 44 hours a week, and that salaried, non-managerial employees are entitled to time and a half for every hour over 44 hours worked a week, or 1.5 hours of lieu time. I had no idea.
  2. An anonymous forum to air grievances and warnings: Other groups, like journalists, have done this. Fundraising in particular is a small, close-knit community. But there are some terrible bosses, some terrible work places and there should be a space for discussion. Ken Wyman, Fundraising Education Godfather, has spoken many times about this – what do we do to warn others? Nothing right now, just word of mouth.
  3. Legal Aid: Because I’ll have won $50 million from the lottery I never play, I would employ employment lawyers to support charitable employees in making their employers comply with the law.
  4. Board member education sessions: Hey dummies! If you don’t pay your staff enough to do the MASSIVE AMOUNT of innovative work you want them to do, they’ll leave! Pay them what they’re worth. You invest in your employees at your companies. Why don’t you think charities should do the same?
  5. A certification program that verifies workplaces as being ESA (or local employment act) compliant.

But unfortunately, I’m not a newly-minted lottery winner. I don’t even buy tickets.

So what can I do? I’m 30, I’m 8 years into my fundraising career, and I’m now a strategist at an agency. I’m not a CEO. I’m not a VP. I’m not even a manager. I’m not in charge. I’m just someone who gets sad and frustrated when I hear the same stories about charities over and over.

I never want to hear a CEO say “Oh we don’t do lieu time here, because we all work overtime.”

Nope.

I never want to have a colleague respond to my rants about too many weekends with “well, I mean, I don’t care because I want to further my career and being agreeable and doing the work will help me. Why rock the boat?”

Nope.

I never want to spend months with a sore heart, full of worry about a wonderful co-worker who has gone on sick leave because of stress and anxiety and depression and exhaustion, all stemming from terrible leadership.

Nope.

I never want to be held to the same commitment standards as a director who makes 10 times my salary and gets double my vacation time. You can hire a cleaning service, afford a car, and get away from it all at your cottage. I can’t.

Nope.

I never want to leave a job at an organization I love because I am totally and completely burnt out. Spent. Done.

Nope.

I would describe myself as a fundraiser to the core. I am not interested in being in charge. I feel lucky that I’ve found a role that suits my skills and a team that embraces my quirks, and I hope I can support the sector! I work with fundraisers everyday in my new role as a strategist and while none of them are dealing with major dysfunction like in some charities, I can still see that these amazing, dedicated fundraisers still have their own struggles.

Why are they so prevalent? And what are you doing to change the culture at your organization?

I wish I was ending this post with a bright and happy solution. An easy takeaway for you to take back to your charity to implement and make things better. I can’t. I can support my peers. I can be kind and loving and giving to my coworkers. I can be firm in setting my own work-life balance. I can mentor.

But, I’m not in charge.

Maybe you are.

Maybe you can start changing things from the top.

~~

Written by Stephanie Highfield

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 6.12.02 AMStephanie is a fundraiser, a thinker, and a maker. Currently a Fundraising Strategist at Blakely, she’s spent the last 8 years working for a variety of charities across Toronto, raising funds for and telling stories about everything from fully digital hospitals to children’s choirs to family-centred addiction treatment. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.

Connect with Stephanie via:
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