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!

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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 eleven years.
Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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5 things I learned at Laurier

5 things I learned at Laurier

As some of you may know, I’m starting a new career adventure, and on July 24th I worked my last day at Wilfrid Laurier University. Like when I left my job before Laurier, it was bittersweet saying goodbye to such a great work experience. And, also like when I finished my last job, I think it’s important to reflect on some of the lessons I learned in my time at Laurier, so here we go!

Mid-Level Giving has OODLES of potential
I hope you know by now that my focus while at Laurier was on mid-level giving, which we called Leadership Giving. The program had been in its infancy when I started, and I had the opportunity to further build and formalize the program. I was so lucky to have that opportunity! Mid-level giving is this funny area of fundraising that hasn’t been fully established yet. At Laurier, I was part of the Annual Giving team, which I think made a lot of sense, but I also had a lot in common with the major gifts team, so I was like the awkward middle child, not totally sure of where I fit in. But, over time the program made more and more sense to me, and became a really happy hybrid of both annual and major giving at the university. And it has so much potential! Not only in filling the pipeline between annual and major gifts, but in giving generous mid-level donors the best donor experience they can possibly get. That only ever does good things for fundraising!

Booking meetings is the hardest part
One of the more major giving-y components of the mid-level giving program at Laurier was face-to-face meetings with donors, which I loved (see: “I LOVE DONORS!”), and which also had – unsurprisingly – the highest ROI (pardon the corporate speak) for the program. That said, booking meetings is hard! I thought the meeting itself would be the hard part, but it’s not; it’s getting the meeting in the first place! I definitely learned some tips and tricks along the way (future blog post for sure!), but that was a big lesson for me.

I love analysis!
I love how a job can teach you what you don’t want to do and also what you LOVE doing! Laurier taught me that I love analyzing programs. When asked what I was most excited about with my program when I started, I said “completing a full fiscal year” so that I could actually look at the program and see what was working and what wasn’t. Once I finished that first full fiscal year, I absolutely loved the process of poring over the data and figuring out what it meant, and how the program should operate moving forward based on that. I think in my new job, I’m going to be able to enjoy that kind of work a lot!

The people make the experience
We all have our good days and bad days at work, but what tends to matter most is who we work with and who we can celebrate the good days – and talk through the bad days – with. I worked with INCREDIBLE people at Laurier; from colleagues who became lifelong friends to mentors who I idolized (and sometimes both at the same time). That’s one of the most bitter parts about leaving: not seeing those incredible people everyday. Fortunately I plan to keep them close in my network, and I’ll never forget what I learned from them.

I LOVE DONORS!
Finally: the donors. Oh, the donors! I sent many of them goodbye notes in my last week, but they were really love notes. Aside from the great people I worked with, the donors are the ones I’ll miss most. They were so inspiring, so kind, so generous, and all so amazing to talk to. Some made me cry, some made me laugh, and all of them made my day! I remember leaving a donor meeting, bounding up the stairs to my office, and one of my good friends Sharline exclaimed, “You look so happy! Where’d you come from?” And I proudly said, “A meeting with a donor!”. As fundraisers, working with donors is something we’re so fortunate to do, and my work at Laurier made that clear to me in a major way.

So that’s it! On to the next adventure! Thank you, Laurier!

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Written by Maeve Strathy


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

Connect with Maeve via:
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Guest Post: Not Your Momma’s Fundraising — The New Must Have Skill for Fundraisers

Not Your Momma's Fundraising - The New

Graduation season is in full swing, and with it comes an endless parade of advice (solicited and unsolicited) for grads entering the workforce.

For fundraisers, much of this advice centers on relationship building and the art of conversation. Good skills to master for aspiring fundraisers, to be sure.

But in our connected society, there’s an often overlooked skill that can help the new generation of fundraisers conquer the brave new world of online fundraising.

That skill? Data-crunching.

Check out this SlideShare presentation from WeDidIt that explores this new, in-demand skill, and what actions fundraisers can take to be P.D.D.D. (“Pretty Damn Data-Driven”).

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Written by Andrew Littlefield

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Andrew is a marketer and nonprofit fan for WeDidIt, a startup based in Brooklyn, New York dedicated to helping nonprofits raise more money and reach new donors.

Connect with Andrew via:
Twitter |  WeDidIt Blog

What are we accomplishing???

I’m a bit obsessed with the people in the photo above. For anyone who doesn’t recognize them, it’s the cast of The West Wing. I’m currently working my way through season 5 of 7 and I just love it.

I couldn’t find the actual quote from the show, but I believe it’s C.J. Cregg, played by Allison Janney, who reflects one episode on the fact that on that day she actually got to accomplish something. What a notion! But I feel that in many workdays, too. I do a lot of work, but am I actually accomplishing anything? It’s not an indication of not working hard enough, but we spend so much time discussing things, following up on things, that how often do we complete things? How often do we get to point to something and say, “I did that for the organization!”? Or, even better, “I did that for the donor!”

I’m writing this post because I had that moment very recently. I met with a donor back in September who had generously started an endowed award at the university. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons that were no individual’s fault, the award hadn’t been given out to a student last year. Naturally, the donor was unhappy about this, and keen to find out how I was going to rectify the situation. As a result, was keen to rectify it.

So I worked… I met with people, I followed up on the student award application process, I checked in with the appropriate departments once, twice, and even more times… and guess what happened? The award has been given out this year! And, there were two eligible recipients, so since it hadn’t been awarded last year, it was given to both students this year! I feel so proud. I even had the pleasure a few weeks ago of going out for dinner with the donor and the two recipients. Delivering on our promise to the donor, and giving them the opportunity to see the impact of their generosity in the success of two great students? Priceless.

Some days we actually get to accomplish something. I’m going to work to see if that can become most days.

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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 educational fundraising for the past eight years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Guest Post: 11 things I learned about fundraising/philanthropy when I fell into the field temporarily

11 things I learned about fundraising-philanthropy when I fell into the field temporarily

  1. There are people who actually enjoy asking others for money

  1. Fundraisers WANT to help people help others

  1. There is an art form to fundraising

  1. Prospect researchers remember EVERYTHING about donors

  1. Apparently, the most successful solicitations are long, story-based letters sent in the mail… who knew?

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  1. Non-profits are desperately trying to figure out young donors

  1. Every donor communication needs to have an ask

  1. Scholarships, research, etc.… all the great work non-profits do for communities doesn’t just happen out of thin air. There are teams of people working hard everyday to help people achieve their goals

  1. There are major debates about seemingly minor word choices in solicitations

  1. Who needs Christmas when December 31 is the best fundraising day of all year!

  1. Fundraisers really really like what they do!

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Written by Kimberly Elworthy

VR6X0087_1Kimberly is a communications specialist, and recently worked in fundraising and alumni relations for 18 months. She is currently on the Board of Directors for the Grand River Film Festival. (Click here for more).

Connect with Kimberly via:
Twitter | LinkedIn

Competition

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I’m not a big fan of Monopoly or Scrabble. The thing is, I’m not an inherently competitive person. That’s part of the reason I like educational fundraising and alumni relations: they’re not inherently competitive either! My counterparts at other schools and I are always sharing resources and ideas because our “customers” aren’t the same. We don’t share alumni, so there’s no competition, right?

WRONG! I realize now that not feeling the inherent competition in fundraising – educational or otherwise – is not advisable.

Paul Nazareth is a big proponent of reading business books. I recently read Little Bets by Peter Sims and The Opening Playbook by Andrew Dietz, both recommended by Paul. I had to sift through some of the more “businessy” stuff to find what’s relevant for me, but what I found is that the concepts are much more relevant to fundraising than I would’ve expected.

Here’s the thing: we all know that donors are now choosing to support fewer charities. They believe larger donations to fewer organizations make a bigger impact, and they’re not wrong. So how do we make their list? We have to compete.

So let’s ask ourselves: what do we do better than any other charity? Are we better at articulating how we meet needs? Do we provide the best information to donors on the impact their giving makes? Are our communications more eye-catching? Do we make our donors feel better than other charities do?

Think about it! Your competition is.

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Written by Maeve Strathy


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

Connect with Maeve via:
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The 5 Most Interesting Things I Learned on Day 1 of #AGCongress14

 

the 5 most interesting things I learned on day 1 of #AGCongress14

Ideally I would save this blog post for next week, but my sanity relies on routine, so I’ll stick with my regularly scheduled “every other Friday at 10:00 a.m.”.

What’s today’s post about? Well, right at this very moment I am in a session called “Picasso & Edison: Learn how to be both an artist and scientist in today’s fundraising world”, led by Samantha Laprade, CFRE (a.k.a. @GryphonReport). No, I am not blogging in front of her rather than paying attention to her session! I am writing this post from the comfort of my hotel room in Toronto on Thursday at 5:00 pm. I have just attended Day 1 of the 2014 Canadian Higher Education Annual Giving Congress in Toronto a.k.a. #AGCongress14. Yes, it’s me and dozens of other Annual Giving nerds talking about what we do and how we can be excellent at it. I’m in heaven!

So on that note, today’s post is the five most interesting things I learned yesterday on Day 1 of Congress. Here goes…

  1. STOP! Be stupidly creative. The very inspiring Joel Faflak of Western University started the day off by telling us to stop doing what you’re doing and do something mindlessly creative. Draw, see a musical, do something! Our creativity is being threatened by the business of our every day work, but we can’t stop cultivating it.
  2. Don’t solicit young alumni with the traditional academic segmentation. My friend Ryan Brejak of the University of Guelph (and a guest blogger for this site) delivered a great session on young alumni giving and stressed that millennials need to be segmented differently rather than by their faculty. Segment them by the non-academic affinities they have.
  3. Why would they care? I attended a panel about “How to Write for Development” and asked them what’s more important in a fundraising letter, to emphasize need or success. Chuck Chan of University of Toronto replied that it’s most important to focus on why the reader would care about this. Would they care about a dilapidated building, or would they care about what’s going to happen in a new one?
  4. There are three types of donors. I attended my mentor Paul Nazareth‘s session about planned giving and he outlined three types of donors: (1) the DNA donor, where giving is in their DNA, and so is your organization; (2) the academic, who values your institution because of how they turned what they learned into success; (3) and the trouble makers and weirdos who had a great time at your institution who will give back because of their experiences.
  5. Everyone should be an annual fund prospect all the time. The last session of the day was led by two fundraising powerhouses: Lorna SomersBob Burdenski. They talked about the worlds of major giving and annual giving colliding, and Lorna stressed that major gift prospects/donors should never be taken out of annual solicitations. They should always receive the calls, direct mailings, etc. and major gifts should “opt out” of this if really necessary, whereas the default will be that they’re solicited annually.

What a great day Day 1 was. I bet I’m already energized by Day 2 and it’s only 10:00 a.m.

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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 educational fundraising for the past seven years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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A shocking concept!

You know what I hate? When every other Friday comes along (that’s when I post on here) and I have no clue what I’m going to write.

You know what I love? When every other Friday comes along and I have one awesome post ready to go, and then something happens and I schedule that post for later and write another even more awesome post. That’s what happened this week, and I hope this energizes you like it energizes me.

This week I got to have a beer with John Lepp. John Lepp is awesome! John is a Partner at Agents of Good. Please check out his Twitter and the company’s website. The work they do is so inspiring!

Last week I had a coffee with Paul Nazareth. I think you already know how awesome I think Paul is. Anyway, when I met with Paul, he mentioned John, and I said, “Funnily enough I have a beer scheduled with John next week!” Paul was delighted to hear it, and referred to John as a “disruptive leader”. That made me even more excited for some one-on-one time with John.

So John and I met at a half-way point between where we both live, and we started talking shop, of course. John’s expertise is in direct mail, so we talked a lot about that. He shared the truth, which is that every single organization is doing the same thing. We talked about that for a while, and then I commented that somehow I didn’t find that discouraging, but the opposite – encouraging. John agreed and said it was exciting! It means it’s not hard to surprise people with something different.

So I said, “John, what can we do? If you could distill your knowledge and insight down to a few actions, what are they?” John replied with a number of things, but one of them stood out the most for me. Hold onto your seats, because this is going to come as a bit of a shock:

Call your donors.

Get on the phone, call them, and see how they’re doing. It doesn’t have to be an ask, it’s not even really a thank you call – though we should take every opportunity to say thank you, I think – it’s just a personal, meaningful check-in.

When I worked at the Annual Giving Call Centre, even the longest calls barely took five minutes. John gave me a soft challenge of spending one hour a week calling donors.

Here’s the thing, and this is a shameful secret of mine: I hate making phone callsThis is a personal and professional challenge. I’m great at communicating via email, I feel confident and comfortable in person, but the thought of getting on the phone is just… I don’t like it.

One of my mentors – not John or Paul, though they’re both now on my personal Board of Directors (great blog post about that concept from Paul here) – reminded me recently that the way to get comfortable with something is to do it repeatedly.

So here’s my personal challenge, and please take the challenge yourself, too, if you need to: Call donors. For one hour a week. I find making my challenges public always gives me the extra drive to achieve them, so I will. I can’t wait to share the results!

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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 educational fundraising for the past seven years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

Guest Blog: Top 5 Takeaways/Moments from APRA International’s 27th Annual Conference

From July 30 – August 2nd, we had the pleasure of attending the 27th Annual APRA International Conference in Las Vegas, NV. Nearly 1,000 attendees from multiple aspects of the profession – prospect research, relationship management, prospect management, data analytics, advancement services and fundraising – came together to network and participate in educational workshops. Like the prospect research sponges we are (okay, maybe a little nerdy?) we were eager to gain some knowledge and insights from fellow researchers.

  1. Proactive vs. Reactive Research. While both types of research are extremely valuable to development, the importance of focusing on proactive research was stressed in numerous conference sessions and keynote addresses. In the past, prospect researchers have been focused on reactive research (research profiles, answering reference-type questions, etc.). While this type of research is still a pivotal part of the prospect research field, there has been a large shift in the last few years towards proactive research, which is instrumental in the laying of a foundation for a successful campaign. What exactly is proactive research? This type of research includes establishing and tracking measurable metrics, generating project-focused new prospects, and effectively managing portfolio sizes. How is this done? Prospect research must identify and strive to forecast the needs of each individual development team member in order to best support them (see point #4 for more information on developing partnerships with fundraisers).
  2. APRA Canada Meet-up. Members of APRA Canada arranged to have dinner together one night while we were in Vegas, with 16 of us in attendance. We ‘inconspicuously’ (not!) met in the hotel lobby where a Canadian flag was proudly being waved. It was fantastic to compare notes from our sessions, and to swap stories from the prospect research trenches. It was beneficial and fun to share prospect research tactics from north of the border. And we finally didn’t get weird looks for our use of “eh”.
  3. Network – Use other prospect researchers as a resource! Best practices are generally transferrable from one organization to the other, no matter what country or type of organization you are from. We found that networking with fellow conference attendees, volunteers and speakers was extremely beneficial in taking ideas and concepts back to our organization. Coming from an academic institution ourselves, it was extremely helpful to interact with individuals from development offices of American institutions who have well-established and successful fundraising practices in place (Harvard University, University of California – Berkley, University of Pennsylvania to name a few).
  4. Strategic partnerships with Major Gift Officers. (a.k.a. Help us help you!) This ties in with proactive research (point #1) but deserves its own point. Prospect Research should understand the fundraisers’ benchmarks and their funding priorities, and on the flip side, the fundraisers should clearly communicate these goals. All too often, workplace silos can get in the way of productive partnerships and meaningful conversations that can result in success (ie GIFTS!). So, how do you develop these partnerships? It is important for the prospect research team to demonstrate to major gift officers that they are strategic partners in the fund development process. Some ways this partnership can be harnessed is through open communication with the fund development team, attending campaign/team meetings, having portfolio review meetings and integrating your prospect research work with their major gift goals (proactive research!).
  5. Smorgasbord of helpful tips and tricks. Investment advisors, real estate, public disclosure documents! Oh my! Between the conference sessions, keynotes, chatting with vendors, and networking we learned a lot of useful tips and tricks that will undoubtedly aid us on our quest to become prospect research superstars. We won’t go into great (and probably boring) detail about all the new and tweaked research tactics we learned; just know that we were in research and data bliss over the entire course of the conference.

We hope to one day return again to the APRA International Conference, to continue to gain knowledge and strengthen our skills in this field. Until then, we will continue to implement some of the great advice and suggestions to our own portfolios, and strive to practice exceptional research and support to our team.

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Written by Shannon Doherty & Sara Glover

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Shannon & Sara are both Prospect Researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Finding Motivation When the Sun Is Out

Just over a week ago, I was delighted to contribute a guest post to the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Greater Toronto Chapter Blog. When I was invited to write a blog post for AFP Greater Toronto, I hemmed and hawed over what I might write about… and then I lost my motivation. That’s been an overarching theme of my summer, and was when I was working for Trinity College School, too. In educational fundraising, summers are especially tough. At first it’s a great novelty to have the students empty from campus at the end of April, but by July it feels like there’s no energy to tap into.

This is not an unusual predicament for any professional to be in, and fundraising professionals are no exception. I hope you can find some inspiration in my post because when the sun is shining in through your window and distracting you from the work at hand, you might need it!

Please enjoy my post here, and I encourage you to check out AFP Greater Toronto Chapter’s blog on a regular basis to see what other fundraising professionals have to say.

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It’s the summer. We’re all staring longingly out our office windows (if we’re lucky enough to have them), wondering why on earth we’re stuck inside working when we could be enjoying the sun, the fresh air, and this brief period of time in Canada where we don’t need a jacket or coat of any sort. Prospects aren’t returning our calls or emails, our colleagues are all taking turns going on vacations, and it’s hard to find the motivation to get back to the work in front of us.

I’ve had a few of these moments lately myself. Despite the lack oSummerKitef motivation, summer is an important time for planning and preparing for the new fundraising year. It’s during these quieter months at work that we have the rare opportunity to sit and think; analyze what worked this past year, strategize about what we need to change, plan out our mailings, and firm up our stewardship processes. It all sounds well and good, but there’s one problem…

I just can’t find the inspiration! Where is that passion I had for my job a few months ago? So naturally I turned to Facebook and asked my friends, what do you do in this situation? How do you motivate yourself?

One of my very wise friends said, “I have stuff on my wall in my office to remind me of the outcomes of my work.” Brilliant! And then I turned and saw a card on my desk that I received from an alumna of the institution who was selected this year for our annual Philanthropy Award. She wrote me to thank me for my help in preparing her for the event that honoured her. She wanted to thank me! She has a great philanthropic story to tell; she’s never given more than $350 in any given year, but she’s given to the university every single year since she graduated.Every year!

Even better, her gifts have been designated annually to pretty much wherever the funds were needed most. In many cases she’s directed her gift to our unrestricted fund, giving the university the flexibility to respond to unforeseen emergencies or even worthwhile opportunities. She’s given to the library many times, too! Her gifts directly impact students, and that’s what I’m here for in the first place.

Speaking of students, next to the card on my desk is a photo of a student and a donor. This donor created a financial assistance opportunity at the university in memory of his deceased son. I had the opportunity to set up a meeting between the donor and this year’s recipient of his award which gave the donor the chance to truly see the impact of his philanthropy. The student expressed – eloquently, I might add – his gratitude to the donor, and he shared what he plans to do with his life after university. It was so rewarding to witness a donor seeing the effect his generosity has on an actual student.

All of us fundraisers, wherever we work, are here to raise money to make an impact. The outcomes of our work are clear; we are so lucky in that sense. Other professionals out there might struggle to see the point sometimes, butfundraising professionals know exactly what they’re here to do, and we have lots of examples that can motivate us through even the sunniest of days.

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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 educational fundraising for the past seven years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email