5 things I’ve learned about fundraising – and myself.

Hi.

How are you?

It’s been a while.

As some of you know, I’ve taken a long hiatus from this blog; around 6 months. It was starting to feel like a chore and the posts were feeling a bit uninspired, so I took a break – for 3 reasons.

  1. I didn’t want the blog to go to s*&t only for me to never return.
  2. I wanted to throw myself even more into the job for which I’m actually employed (at Blakely).
  3. I needed a break.

But recently – for the past month or so – I’ve had an itch. Incidentally – but not ironically – it is the busiest time of year for fundraisers…when it rains, it pours.

I think the itch was particularly itchy about a month ago when I celebrated my 2-year anniversary at Blakely. I can’t believe that the time has gone so fast; it feels like only yesterday I made this bold move for my career.

And yet I’ve learned and grown so much, and so I’m inspired to take a moment to reflect on…

5 things I’ve learned about fundraising – and myself.

CREATIVE COUNTS. Yes, you have to segment your data well and make the right ask to the right people. But without creative that catches the eye and stands out in the mailbox, inbox, Facebook newsfeed, etc., your organization doesn’t stand a chance. And this isn’t just about good design or nice stock for your OE (outer envelope), it’s about a compelling story, too. No matter what channel you’re telling your story on – mail, email, a few lines on a Facebook ad, video, etc. – it needs to be emotional, compelling, and motivating.

PROPOSITIONS PUSH. But those compelling stories? They need to tie back to the need. The need is expressed through the fundraising proposition: why do we need the donor’s support now? What’s the problem? What’s the solution? How can the donor be part of it? What’s their role in all of it? What will their impact be? How will they know they’ve made a difference? The story moves donors emotionally, but the proposition can trigger that rational part of the brain, which can be critical in the decision to give.

INTEGRATION INSPIRES. Direct mail isn’t dead, but it doesn’t stand alone. Our donors are engaging with us in many ways – they’re getting our mail and emails, maybe they’re seeing our videos on TV, YouTube, or Facebook, they’re searching us on Google, they’re going to our website… they’re everywhere! So we’ve gotta be everywhere, too. But we need to be integrated. If they’re seeing us everywhere, we want what they see to have a common thread; they saw our mail and forget about it. Then we came up on their Facebook feed and they scrolled on. Then, it’s nearly December 31st and they want to make their year-end gift, so they Google us. Is what they see connected to what they saw? Ideally it is so they feel seen and heard and what originally caught their attention is seen through to the end. Give thought to the full journey; it matters.

PASSION PERSEVERES. But none of these learnings matter if you don’t love what you do. I love my work and the company I work for, but things get crazy and stressful. I have weeks where I feel on the ball, and weeks where I feel like I’m dropping balls, and then I have days like a month ago when I was on a video shoot for a client and we interviewed a family impacted by the organization’s care and donors’ support. The gratitude was so palpable and I thought: “This. This is why I do this.”

CULTURE CUTS. Unfortunately passion doesn’t persevere through everything. I’ve worked in fundraising for almost 11 (!!!) years now. I’ve worked in super inspiring environments, and mediocre ones. My passion hasn’t been able to lift me out of the mediocre ones. Now I work for a company where culture is our competitive advantage. My booming voice is celebrated (mostly), not quieted. My habit of distracting all colleagues from 2:00-3:00 every day (my worst time for productivity) is tolerated, not discouraged. My ideas are always welcomed. My humour is encouraged. My stress is worked through. My hard times are comforted. I – as an individual – am fully valued. So on the hard days, I feel I am working with people who love me, and so I can always make it through.

It’s been an awesome 2 years at Blakely, and an amazing 11 years in fundraising, and I am ready to get back to this blog.

See you soon!

~~

Written by Maeve Strathy

20150326_Strathy_Maeve_02
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

6 important things I’ve learned at my job

#1 - The importance of being reactive. (4)

Guess what?!

Today marks exactly ONE YEAR since I started my job at Blakely.

Wow… time flies when you’re having fun! And it has been fun! 365 days of getting out of my comfort zone, learning, being challenged, feeling intellectually stimulated, meeting new people, feeling inspired by new causes, travelling (40/365 days), laughing, stressing, and getting a whole lot of &*#! done!

If you’ve been reading my blog a while, you can probably guess how I’d like to celebrate this occasion.

With a list!

So here it is:

6 important things I’ve learned at my job

#1 - The importance of being reactive.

Gone are the days of leaving a meeting with an action item and getting to it eventually. The pace of work at Blakely means 9 times out of 10, when you have something to do, you have to do it NOW. It’s a great lesson in prioritizing, because when there’s 9 things to do NOW, which one do you start with? I still don’t know if I’m always making the right choices, but I’m learning and getting better. What else could you want from a job?

#1 - The importance of being reactive. (1)

Unfortunately for me (and the donors!), I’ve never worked somewhere where the creative aspect of fundraising is a big focus. Maybe the creative writing, but not the art. That is one of the most fun parts of Blakely: the creative. Part of my job when executing on a campaign for a client is to brief the creative team. I might tell them what we need out of an outer envelope, which packages have done really well in the past and my thoughts on why… and then the magic happens. The artists go off and a little while later come back and the strategy has come to life! It is so cool to see, and I find the process – and especially the output – so inspiring! The truth is, the thing we want donors to do is actually open the envelope. It takes good creative to do that.

#1 - The importance of being reactive. (2)

Another thing I’d never really been focused on before was the second gift. That is a HUGE part of our strategy at Blakely. Inspiring a donor to give is a start, but inspiring them to give again? That’s where the work really begins. You have to thank them – fast and furious. You have to give them a good sense of their impact right away. And when you do ask, it’s gotta be for the right thing in the right way at the right time. It’s an art, and I love learning about it.

#1 - The importance of being reactive. (3)

With the reactive nature of my job, it’s hard to find time to do anything, but it’s really hard to find time to think. I mean really think. I can get a slide deck together to present a campaign plan to a client, no problem! But how much thought has gone into it? How many colleagues have I spoken to in advance, to run ideas past them and ask them questions? How much time have I spent reviewing past campaigns? Looking at results? Figuring out what works, what doesn’t, what we might test this time? It’s critical to make time for this important thinking work. When done right, a campaign is stronger than ever!

#1 - The importance of being reactive. (5)

I’ve always enjoyed data and analysis, but it’s not my strength, so that’s been a big learning curve for me. Let’s say I’m populating a slide deck with some results… I can make some commentary on what happened, but my real role is to say why it happened. That’s not so easy. But I’ve learned to stop myself more often and ask why? Is it because the mailing went late this year? Was the creative too subtle for the donors? Was there not enough time between the last mailing and this one? It’s about really getting under the results, and it’s fascinating!

#1 - The importance of being reactive. (6)

It feels really good to be valued, and I feel valued at Blakely. The work I do with this blog is valued. It means I’m part of the online fundraising conversation; sharing ideas, connecting with guest bloggers, and constantly learning. My activity on Twitter is valued, really for the same reasons. I’m connecting with fundraisers worldwide; learning from them, and sharing my own thoughts. The networking I do is valued. I meet people and create relationships in this wonderful weird world of fundraisers. And my voice is valued. I am brought to the table to talk about things in my scope of work and far outside of it, just to offer my opinion. Sure, there’s lots of business benefits to all this, but it’s also about the value the company – and the people in it – place on learning, knowledge-sharing, collaborating, and more.

Needless to say, I’m a very happy fundraiser right now!

~~

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

Written by Maeve Strathy

20150326_Strathy_Maeve_02
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

Let your guard down & let your donors in!

Let your guard down & let your donors in!

What walls are you putting up between your organization and the donors who support you? 

You might be thinking, “None!” But I challenge you to really think about it.

I was lucky enough to be part of a session Derek Humphries did yesterday for the clients of the company I work for, Blakely. Derek talked about his background as an artist; he used to design books and they were on display at a gallery. The gallery staff wanted to put his books under glass, but Derek wanted people to actually be able to touch them, read them, interact with them.

The gallery staff were worried people would rip the pages. For Derek that wasn’t a problem! It meant deeper engagement; people could change the book, and therefore be part of the art themselves.

The compromise was people being provided with white gloves to flip through the book…

Derek was brilliantly using this analogy yesterday for our fundraising and the way we interact with donors.

So again, I challenge you to think about this: what do you put between your organization and your donors?

Do you make a point of keeping donors far away from the work that you do? Do you sanitize the problems you’re solving in the world so that donors don’t hear the dirty details?

Or do you offer opportunities for donors to get their hands dirty?

Do you invite donors to meet the people their gifts are impacting?

If your organization changes lives in other countries, are there ever opportunities for donors to travel there? To see the well their generous donation built?

Sometimes the walls we put up are more subtle. By now you know the importance of using the word “YOU” in your direct mail appeals. Any time I’m editing a solicitation letter, I’ve got Jen Love on one shoulder and Tom Ahern on the other encouraging me to make the donor the hero of the story.

That’s another great example of the walls we put up; why must we say “WE” so often? We accomplish this, we change that… Why can’t we say that the donor did it? Why do we have to put some sense of formality in our appeals? Something between the work and the donor.

Why can’t we give donors opportunities to feel more a part of our organization? To allow for deeper engagement… even if they get their hands dirty!

I’ll finish this post off with a story from when I was working as a mid-level gift officer at a school. As often as possible, we would try to create opportunities for bursary/scholarship donors to meet the recipient of their award. It was a great chance to let our guard down and really let the donor see the impact of their generosity.

However, it was also a risk. How could we be sure the student would act appropriately? Would they represent the university well? Would they be professional and courteous and grateful?

Well, I invited a donor to meet the recipient of his award over coffee on campus one day. This donor had had a few negative experiences with the school; having to reach out to find out who the award recipient was rather than the school telling him, feeling ignored, not stewarded well… the works! So I was determined to make him feel better about his giving, and make sure he knew how much it mattered to the school, and to the students.

So we were waiting in my office for the recipient… and we were waiting… and we were waiting… and then finally – a good 45 minutes late – the student arrived.

The donor didn’t seem too shaken, so we went to have coffee, had a great time, and then I walked him back to his car.

Let me also say what this award was. It was an award in honour of the donor’s son who had tragically committed suicide years before. His son had a passion for writing, so it was an award for a student with the best short story submission, judged by the English faculty. It meant a lot to the donor, understandably, and he loved meeting students who shared his son’s passion.

On the way back to his car, he said to me, with tears in his eyes, that his son would’ve been late for the meeting, too.

Letting your guard down is a risk… but the reward is deeper engagement, and that is well worth it!

~~

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

Written by Maeve Strathy

20150326_Strathy_Maeve_02
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