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

Why weren’t we all born in Finland???

Mea culpa. Uncharacteristically I missed one of my scheduled post days for this blog – June 20. Sometimes I pull something together the day of a scheduled post – rather than a well-thought-out post written over a period of time, which I also do – but I always try to write about something I’m working on, inspired by, and/or questions I have for readers (whether they go answered or not). Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do that this time.

Why? Well, on June 20 I was in transit from Helsinki, Finland, as a matter of fact. I went on a two-week vacation there to explore the city and visit one of my best friends in the whole world. Having been decidedly out of the country, I hope you’ll forgive my negligence. (I had a great time, by the way.)

Now that I’m back, I thought I’d use my trip as inspiration for today’s post. I had some great conversations with my friend about universities in Finland vs. Canada. We consider ourselves pretty lucky in Canada with relatively well-subsidized post-secondary education, and we are lucky. However, post-secondary education in Finland is FREE! That’s right – free! Even my Canadian citizen friend gets free education there, rather than the exorbitant fees international students pay here. As he put it, from kindergarten to PhD is free for all!

So how do they do it? I won’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of Finnish government, but clearly they prioritize education. According to this source, the Finnish government guarantees sufficient core funding for universities. That means all basic needs of universities are met. Can you imagine that?

So naturally I asked my friend: do Finnish universities fundraise??? The answer is kind of. One thing they don’t do is ask alumni or students’ parents for money. They do allow philanthropic donations, but they won’t actively solicit individual gifts. At most, they’ll focus their efforts on corporations and foundations.

And when Finnish universities do fundraise, they get more for their efforts! Obviously “sufficient core funding” is huge, but we know more than that is likely needed, at least some of the time. A new Universities Act (2010) shifted the focus of universities’ financial structures more towards outside funding, but the government isn’t neglecting institutions. Instead, it committed to match the basic funding any university collects as private donations at a ratio of 2.5 to 1. Whatever you fundraise, the Finnish government will give you 2.5x that.

What does that mean for alumni? You go to university for free, you’re educated (and in Finland, have a much better chance at a job after you graduate), and your university asks you for nothing in return. I don’t know much about Finnish alumni, but I imagine more positive impressions of your alma mater and potentially higher engagement with the university after graduation.

So is our government failing us? Perhaps. For me, it makes me realize how much better our case for support has to be. Our reality is different and we have to work within this context. I could dream of better government funding, but then again, that could mean I’d be out of a job. Knowing how Finnish education works, at the very least, makes me more sympathetic to our commonly heard objections: “I already paid tuition” or “I’m still paying back student loans”. Our alumni are saying, “What more do you want from me?” And I get it… why weren’t we all just born in Finland?

So if we’re going to have the audacity to ask (because our alumni must feel that way about fundraising sometimes), then we better give them a good reason why they should give.

What do you think???  How do governments like Finland’s make you feel?  Depressed, or inspired to work that much harder?

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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

Giving Societies… What Gives?!

I am in program analysis / program planning mode for my Leadership Giving program in my new role, and with that comes a lot of thought and reflection… what is a leadership gift? What makes someone a leadership donor? What needs to happen in order for me to consider moving a donor into major gift territory?  I find the process energizing and exciting, but it brings up some tough questions.  One of those tough questions is:

Do donors care about giving societies???

As I plan the year ahead for the Leadership Giving program, I’m considering whether it would be effective to create a concrete leadership-level giving society.  The thing that makes this consideration tough is whether giving societies only mean something internally and the donor doesn’t really care.  Would a giving society strengthen a culture of philanthropy?  Would donors who make it in the society care, and really identify as part of that society?  Would a society make someone stretch their giving to a new level so that they can be part of something?

When giving societies are effective (because sometimes they really are), why are they effective?  Is it when they’re really established and have been around a while?  Is it when being at a certain level means certain perks, like invitations to events and/or some kind of tangible benefit like a pin or a special name tag?  Does the giving society have to equal some kind of prestige?

If a giving society has to be well-established in order to mean something, then is it in our best interest to start them if it will take such a long time to establish them?  Will it be worth the time and resources to push on until, say, the 20-year mark where it starts to mean something?

Or do people care about these things any more? Do giving societies promote giving and/or a culture of philanthropy, or do we just like to think they do? Do we like it internally because we have an easy way to refer to certain levels or giving and certain donors?

Regardless of all this, can we still refer to a group in a specific way in mailings? For example, whether there’s a society or not, can I refer to my donors as leadership donors in a direct mail piece? If they don’t already identify with that label and there’s no concrete giving society, can I still use it to give them a sense of their being special?

 

What do you think??? Are giving societies worth our time and 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 educational fundraising for the past seven years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

Is your organization’s brand authentic?

Do your communications to your donors and prospective donors reflect what they love most about your organization???

My colleague and recent What Gives Philanthropy guest blogger, Kimberly Elworthy, and I were having a conversation about our respective university experiences and how much we had enjoyed them.  Both working in alumni relations-esque positions, we went on to discuss whether we felt that the alumni communications we received reflected that experience.

As an educational fundraiser, I know how powerful a tool nostalgia is when engaging alumni in the life of your institution, as well as when soliciting gifts.  If an alumnus is going to make a donation, they have to care.  We’d like to assume they care because they attended the institution, but can we make that assumption?  Perhaps they’re 20+ years removed from their graduation.  Assuming they had a great experience, can they still recall that?  Or, is their perception of the university based entirely on their alumni experience now?  And, if so, does that make their perception of the university positive?

I think these issues apply to whatever fundraising you’re doing.  Are you creating a strong brand for your organization?  Is that brand based on what’s considered to make up a powerful brand these days, or is it authentic?  Hopefully it can be both, but my feelings are that it needs to start out as authentic.  The people who are engaged in your organization care about your cause for a reason.  To keep them engaged, and to engage more people, they must feel their experience and passion reflected in your branding.  Otherwise, that dreaded “institutional voice” will overpower your authenticity, and when you don’t seem authentic, donors get skeptical.  Don’t let that happen to you!

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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: Video Production for Fundraising – Part II – Quality Control

This is Kimberly Elworthy’s second guest post for What Gives Philanthropy.
Click here to read “Video Production for Fundraising – Part I”.

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I do believe there is a minimum standard in this day and age that can be and must be achieved if you are choosing to represent your organization through the visual medium of video. These basic necessities I outline below; you must follow these 3 principles:

  1. Lighting. Lighting. Lighting. The sun is free. Please use this resource. If your videos are not well lit, they will be pixilated, they will be unattractive, they will look dated and your organization will look out of touch. The best rule of thumb is to keep the back of the videographer (that is the person holding the camera) to be facing the lighting source. Therefore if you are in a room with windows and the sun is shining in, the videographer should be standing in front of the window with their back facing the window. The films subject will then be lit by the sun. If you are outside, always have your subject shaded by trees, never film into the sun. If you’re going to be doing a lot of outdoor filming, invest in one of these: http://www.filmtools.com/ligdep/lighting-control.html. If the space you’re in doesn’t have lighting and you cannot bring in any additional lighting sources, I would highly recommend you move. Bad lighting = bad quality = bad reflection on your organization.
  2. Framing + Depth. Video is a visual medium. People like watching videos not because they don’t want to read, but because people are attracted to pretty things. This is the basis film and it is why Hollywood is so superficial. While filmmakers try not to adhere to this sad outlook on life, it might as well be a universal truth: the better your video looks, the more people will enjoy watching it and the more people will watch it.  So when conducting an on-camera interview I find the following rules to be generally a knock-out (see below image for example):
    1. Frame the subject on the left or on the right. If including multiple interviews, stagger what side the interview is on to mix it up when editing.
    2. Do not move. Cheaper cameras or cell phone videos do not focus well when in motion. You must film interviews on a tripod. The subject can be standing or sitting, but the camera must be at eye level, slightly looking down (never looking upwards à double chin no-no). Tell the subject not move their feet around and not to sway back and forth. These slight movements on camera are exaggerated and communicate discomfort which then makes the viewer uncomfortable.
    3. Always have a background with depth. Alternatively, never film on a flat wall. Unless someone professional is filming, I would avoid this look because it comes down to the lighting to create depth so if you don’t have the proper lighting don’t do it! This also means never have the subject of the film at the deepest point in the space. So make sure there is a hallway behind the film subject, or have the subject sit in the middle of the room so the aesthetically pleasing décor is behind the subject. You will have to adjust the normal set up of the room and you will have to physically edit the scene to fit with the framing.
  3. BROLL. A-Roll means your “a” footage, such as your interview footage; it’s probably the footage with the sound you want to use as the focus of the video. B-Roll (broll, BROLL, b roll) is the supporting footage or the “b” footage. Never ever make a video that is longer than 45 seconds without BROLL. Interview-based videos without BROLL are called “talking heads” and again defeats the whole purpose of video as a visual medium. Nobody wants to watch someone talk and talk and talk on film, it’s boring. I can read interviews and I will probably find it more enjoyable. The beauty of BROLL is below:
    1. It can be any visual. Pictures, other videos, newspapers, magazines, computer screen tutorials, etc. If you’re interviewing a donor about their donation, you can insert photos or videos of their donation in action. If you are making a case for your organization, you can add pictures of your staff, your space and your interaction in the community. The beauty of broll is that you are connecting the dots for your audience in front of them.
      • To determine what broll you’ll need to find listen to the interviewee: what key words do they say that you can add visuals to? Do they talk about funding a new building? If so insert an image or multiple images of an architect’s mock-up for the building.
    2. It has no audio. Sometimes when we film in the real world, people say things we don’t want to hear in our video. Broll plays over the interview, so while you see the broll footage, you hear the interview (aroll footage).
    3. You can edit long winded interviews down better. BROLL is a great cover for difficult interviews. People ramble on and on and you probably only needed a few of the sentences they said. BROLL eases the flow of a cut up interview so that you can better edit the sound bites together and you don’t have to worry about the interview footage cutting together poorly.

If you take these lessons to heart, even the most amateur filmmaker can make a visually-appealing, engaging video that they should be proud of. Fundraising is becoming all about storytelling, so to be able to add a dynamic visual element such as a video when sharing a story or an achievement means donors won’t have to work to get the point.

You want donors to know they are doing good in the world, so show them!

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Written by Kimberly Elworthy

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Kimberly is a communications specialist in educational fundraising and alumni relations who worked in lifestyle television for four years. She is currently on the Board of Directors for the Grand River Film Festival. (Click here for more).

Connect with Kimberly via:
Twitter | LinkedIn

Guest Post: 8 Fundraising Lessons I Learned from Beyoncé

8 fundraising lessons I learned from Beyoncé

#1. “Pretty Hurts”

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 The message for fundraisers: what looks nice doesn’t always raise more money. Have you been at the mercy of a marketing department, brand standards, or a graphic designer who “wants more white space”? You will know that pretty does hurt – it hurts revenue. As Jeff Brooks says: “Fundraising is good, not bad, when it’s ugly”.

#2. “I can have another you by tomorrow / So don’t you ever for a second get to thinkin’ / You’re irreplaceable”

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The message for fundraisers: Your donors can have another charity in a minute! You are not irreplaceable. Your work needs to be focused on your donors, and your cause. The second your organization gets a big ego is the second “everything you own” will be “in a box to the left”.

#3. “My daddy taught me how to love my haters”

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The message for fundraisers: Don’t let complaints stop you from fundraising. I think this is especially true for direct mail complaints, which are an opportunity to start a conversation, and a sign that your materials are being noticed.

#4. “I’m a grown woman, I can do whatever I want” “And I’m making (all these racks, all these racks)”

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The message for fundraisers: this is a grown profession. We have, standing behind us, a body of knowledge and years of theory, research and testing. Don’t let your board, or volunteers, or your non-fundraising CEO/President undercut your confidence. Especially when your smart fundraising decisions are making “all these racks”.

#5. “My sister taught me I should speak my mind”

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The message for fundraisers: don’t be afraid of your beliefs. Speak up about what you believe, what your values are. Don’t be afraid of having an opinion, something worthwhile to say. Too many charities are focused on appealing to the “general public”.

#6. “Finally, you put my love on top”

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The message for fundraisers: love is what this profession is all about. Love for one another, love for humankind.  When you find yourself getting lost in spreadsheets, reports, meetings, office politics, find a way to put love of your donors and love of your cause back on top.

#7. “We Are Here”

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The message for fundraisers: There are big problems in this world – but we are here. It is our calling, our vocation, to understand those problems and challenges. To think big about the solutions, and to connect people to opportunities to make this world a better place.

#8. “I’m a survivor, I’m not gon give up, I’m not gon stop, I’m gon work harder”

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The message for fundraisers: Don’t give up.  This is important work, but it isn’t easy. The best, most exciting things in life will scare you, and push you. The obstacles, road block, and hard times will make you stronger. Take them in stride. Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.

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Written by Rory Green

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

Guest Blog: Video Production for Fundraising – Part I

A few years ago I took a course on the “Business of Film” hosted by Ken Nakamura, who at the time was the founder the Grand River Film Festival. The first day of the course he presented what I will call the “Triangle of Filmmaking”, which you can see below. He said this was the most important lesson to remember and it is indeed the only thing I remember him talking about.

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This graphic provides ample peace of mind for filmmakers since we can blame the chart instead of our own lack of talent or resourcefulness.

It is also a good lesson for fundraisers when commissioning a video for your campaign. The priorities of the video must be fundamentally understood before moving forward and as an organization you must define what “good”, “fast”, and “cheap” mean to you.

Every campaign and event can have a complementary video, so the first challenge is determining your limitations, which is why the triangle is such a valuable resource.

For example: You suddenly think of adding a video to your campaign two weeks before the campaign kicks off. What do you do? In this case you may not have a lot of time (this means you are occupying the Fast angle of the triangle).

  • Do you have lots of money? If you must get the video produced by an external company, know that your lack of planning and foresight will cost you, but the video will probably turn out okay.
  • Like most fundraisers, you probably don’t have a huge budget to work with so you can tick off the Cheap angle of the triangle. With fast turnarounds within two weeks the video will probably have to be produced, filmed and edited in-house – do you have someone with those skills?

As you can start to see, you can’t have it all at once. As an organization, you have to determine what angles of the “Triangle of Filmmaking” you’re operating in. Is it essential that your videos are television broadcast quality? Are these videos supposed to look like they were made by students? Do you know your campaign strategy well in advance to negotiate lower costs with production companies?

Once you have determined your priorities for the video, you then have to plan out the production. Start off by thinking about these elements:

  • Have you identified:
    • Who needs to be in the film
      • Are they available in your timeframe?
    • Where will you film them? (Check out Part II on May 9th for more info!)
    • What key sounds bites are you hoping they will say? Unless it’s a long video with a long story, you want short sentences that make sense if they stand alone
      • It’s always better to write out what you want them to say and don’t stop filming until they say it. In fact, ask them “So could you say XYZ”
      • People often want clear direction on camera, so provide clarity
      • Ask them to include the question in their reply
        • Ie: Q: “Why is donating meaningful to you?” A: “Donating is meaningful to me because I’m able to impact someone’s life I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.”
  • Have you created a “Beat Sheet”?
    • If you’re asking someone to make a video for you, you must create an outline of what you want the finished product to be.
    • Make a chart breaking down the timing of the video (will it be 30 seconds or 15 minutes?) What do you want happening throughout that timeline?
Scene Run-Time Beat Description
1.0 00:00 Opening Interview with Joe Smith, Director of Development[Add list of key answers]Example: “I’ve never felt happier than I have working in the field of development” 
1.2 00:25 Logo Organization Logo
1.3 0:30 Closing Thank you statement

Depending on your organization’s definition of Cheap, Fast and Good you will have different priorities. If something turned out pretty good for being fast and cheap, it may not make it good in the broader context of what your audience is used to. But it may be all you wanted out of the video. Accept your limitations and work within them.

I have made many different kinds of videos throughout my career and with my limitations defined I have always felt proud of what I created. Additionally, videos aren’t concrete creations. They are living entities that can grow, develop and change as your organization changes. Everything can be changed, edited or added to so you’re never making a life-long decision.

For example, maybe the first couple of years your organization values the cheap/fast model, but as you cultivate an identity on video and see the value from that medium, you’re then able to invest more in larger, more complex productions.

Know that video isn’t scary and it’s not something you should be avoiding. Experiment, find comfort in failure and learn from doing.

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Stay tuned for Part II of this amazing guest blog post!  Kimberly will speak further about quality control in fundraising videos.

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Written by Kimberly Elworthy

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Kimberly is a communications specialist in educational fundraising and alumni relations who worked in lifestyle television for four years. She is currently on the Board of Directors for the Grand River Film Festival. (Click here for more).

Connect with Kimberly via:
Twitter | LinkedIn

Guest Post: Annual FUND? More like Annual FUN!

Annual FUND- More like Annual FUN!

How could you not know what your alma mater’s annual fund is??? C’mon, it’s so well branded, has massive exposure, and is clearly visible on promo materials and your school’s alumni website. Okay, okay, fine… the annual fund is not really like that.

But, what you should know about the annual fund is that it is arguably the lifeblood of your schools fundraising efforts, not necessarily in terms of actual annual fundraising dollars but more about the vast number of alumni and donors that it cultivates annually.

A big part of the annual fund is students and young grads. These young and new graduates, beaming with pride for both a job well done and an institution that has helped get them there, are at the peak of their affiliation with your school. So… why not wait until they are making six-figure salaries in ten years and then send them an email saying “Hey, remember when you went to [insert school name here], well we are in a fundraising campaign and would love your support”.  Survey says…

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Working with young grads and students can really validate what we do in annual giving. These are grads who:

  • Love your school so much that they will wear their hoodie when they travel
  • Brave horrific weather to watch a football game
  • Can be the best ambassadors of your institution and potentially the annual fund

You have to engage and educate them while they are at the top of the mountain, because once they start sliding down that slope, it is mighty hard to get them back to the top.

I believe that everyone in a fundraising department should get to go on meetings with new grads, if for no other reason than to feel reinvigorated by the enthusiasm, passion, drive and intellect that they have. Not to mention, the thousands of young grads who are doing absolutely amazing things that we just don’t know about until we meet them.

Introducing annual giving right away when students graduate is the best way to educate.  Whether that is:

  • An alumni handbook at convocation
  • A welcome email to your alumni association or
  • Ensuring they receive event invites right away.

All of these opportunities need to include some education on annual giving, or a direct opportunity for them to give back. There will surely be new grads that get annoyed or offended (as I may well have myself), as they look at their long OSAP or student loan bills, but it’s not even about the GIVING at this point, it’s about the education.

The best part about the current generation of grads, call them Millennials or Gen-Y’s (of which I consider myself part of… at least for the positives. If anyone asks about the negatives, I claim to be Gen-X), is that what they often really value from their alma mater is:

  1. Transparency
  2. Honesty
  3. Straight-forwardness.

Most young grads aren’t offended or thrown off by us asking them to support their school and are more likely excited that someone from the school is actually taking the time to come and visit them. Sure, they may choose not to give to your annual fund, but often they just appreciate the update about what is happening on campus and it instils that sense of nostalgia and extends their engagement with your institution in ways that an email just can’t.

More surprisingly, if you have an exciting project to share with them, they often will donate. That first gift should be the start of a lifetime of giving, and it might be $5, $25 or a gift in honour of their graduation such as $20.14, but it’s a huge step in the right direction for developing a lifetime relationship with that alumnus. If you can communicate the value (both to the university and their personal budget) of monthly giving, that will further assist in their continued giving patterns.

I realize this blog post went in a few directions; annual fund, young alumni, and millennials as a generation, but they can be closely tied together. Working in both annual giving and working with young graduates on a daily basis, I am regularly inspired by their passion for the university and the goals and dreams that they have. As a development department, we need to tap into that energy, and educate them on philanthropy and giving back to your institution.

So, you are at the top of that mountain standing beside a young grad… get them to plant that flag in the ground so it’s there forever.

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Written by Ryan Brejak

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Ryan is an Alumni Advancement Manager at the University of Guelph, with a focus on engaging and fundraising with young alumni and students. Ryan previously managed the U of G alumni calling program for two years and has an interest in studying leadership and millennials.

Connect with Ryan via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

5 Things I’ve Learned about Fundraising at Trinity College School

Today is bittersweet.  It’s my last day in my office at Trinity College School where I’ve served as Alumni Development Officer for 3.5 years.  The sweet part is departing TCS for an exciting new position at my alma mater Wilfrid Laurier University, but it is always difficult leaving an incredible work experience like TCS has been for me.

So, in honour of Trinity College School, its alumni, and all of my outstanding colleagues that I’ve had the pleasure to work with and learn from, I wanted to share with my readers what I’ve learned about fundraising at TCS (I’ve boiled it down to five things, but there are actually hundreds).

What I’ve Learned about Fundraising at Trinity College School

Young People Will Give
You know my feelings on young alumni by now – you must ask them to support your school.  Why do I feel so passionately about that?  Because at TCS I’ve learned that they will give.

Yes, they’re different.  They won’t just give because it’s a habit or because it’s expected of them.  They’re skeptical; they want to see how you provide value, to them or to your community.  They want to know what the impact of their gift will be, and they want to be told that their $25 will make a difference.

So what?  They have different needs than other donors.  So meet those needs, and ask. Because they will give.

Major Gifts Take Time
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a small taste of major gift fundraising while at TCS, which is an area of fundraising that I’m really keen to pursue further.  My first exposure to major gift solicitations was simply observing, listening to, and learning from my Executive Director.  What did I learn?  That these gifts take time and that you must be persistent.  It’s not just wining, dining, and schmoozing.  It’s not just having the confidence and courage to sit across from someone and ask them for $1 million.  It’s identifying, cultivating, researching, planning, strategizing, and then asking… and then waiting… following up, asking again… trying from a different angle, and then waiting again… and then following up again, and then – maybe – there’s a “yes”.

This has been a great lesson to learn, because it’s not really the attitude I went into fundraising with.  I imagined it being difficult, but not because of the time it takes.  This takes special skills that not everyone has, and if I’m to continue in the direction of major gift fundraising, I’m grateful that I learned from the best, and I intend to cultivate and sharpen those skills in myself.

Mobile Giving is Tricky
Mobile giving a.k.a. text-to-give or text-to-pledge continues to be a hot topic among fundraisers.  I had the opportunity to implement a mobile giving program while working at TCS.  Our program uses the text-to-pledge method, whereby a donor can text us with their name and the amount of their donation.  We receive an email with their name, donation amount, and phone number, and then we can follow up by phone to confirm and process the donation.

The nice thing about this process is that, unlike other programs, no percentage of the donation goes to the service provider and we receive the name of the person making the donation.  Normally with mobile giving programs, all you would get is the money, minus the portion that goes to the service provider.  That’s why mobile giving works so well for disaster relief.  An organization raising money to aid, for example, people after the earthquake in Haiti just needs money!  It doesn’t matter who’s giving it, it just matters that the money is coming in, and that it’s coming in fast.  That’s another key element to make mobile giving work: urgency.  When people sense urgency and a genuine need for money, they’ll respond quickly, and move on with their day.

So mobile giving is great for unique, urgent situations, but will it become an alternative to sending your cheque in the mail?  My feeling is no.  I don’t think mobile giving is another way of giving as part of a regular Annual Fund.  Giving online via your smart phone is one thing, but people still want a connection when they’re making a donation for the most part, so we still want to keep it as personal as possible.  My verdict is that mobile giving does not work for the average organization.

Customized Fundraising is the Key
What is the future of fundraising???  Customization/Personalization.  This is not a new insight, to be sure.  People are always more likely to respond to something if they feel it is written to them.  When you get a mass email, you feel no remorse in deleting it, but if you feel something has been sent specifically and thoughtfully to you, you may pause and give it more attention.

Fundraisers everywhere are getting really excited about new trends like crowdfunding and mobile giving, and there is certainly some great new technology out there that we can capitalize on, but I think our best bet as fundraisers is using new technologies to complement our existing programs, and take advantages of the ways that technology can assist in a customized and personalized giving experience.

I’m sure you want an example, so here it is: one of the coolest projects I worked on while at TCS was an animated video that we made with an incredible company called Switch Video.  The video was intended for all of our alumni and parents, to educate them on two capital projects that are the top priorities of the school’s current capital campaign.  There was hope that we would encourage more gifts to the campaign, but the main focus was building awareness of the projects.  The video was cool simply because it was animated; a totally different approach from a 150 year-old school that uses traditional marketing for the most part.

That said, the video’s “coolness” went far beyond animation.  The video was also customized for 5,500 unique recipients.  These recipients would receive a unique email with their name in the subject line, their name in the body of the email, and a unique URL to view the video.  Then the video was also customized to include their name (and grad year, if applicable) in different parts of the animation.  For example, when called to make a contribution to the campaign, an envelope popped up on the screen with the TCS logo in the return address spot, and the alumnus’ or parent’s name in the centre.  Pretty cool, eh?  Think of it as a mail merge, but for video.

This is the future of fundraising.  We need to focus on using new technologies to assist us in the age-old effective tool when it comes to fundraising: personalization.  When we’re looking for a big gift, we wouldn’t send a general letter to someone, would we?  We’d meet them in person.  So let’s take that idea and apply it elsewhere!  I’m glad TCS reinforced this idea for me through this amazing project (and many others).

Alumni Engagement is a Beautiful Thing
Finally – alumni engagement.  I don’t know where else I’ll work in my career, but in many ways it’s hard to imagine an alumni community more engaged than the alumni I’ve met at Trinity College School.  Perhaps it’s the significant tuition they pay that makes them feel more invested in the life of the school.  Perhaps it’s the formative years they attend TCS during (ages 15-18, in particular).  Perhaps it’s the extremely small community they’re a part of, and that the intimate size is easier to stay engaged with.

Whatever it is, it made working at TCS a total pleasure.  There’s a big event that I organize annually; it’s a shinny (hockey) tournament for alumni, parents, and friends of the school.  Coincidentally, it takes place tomorrow, and will mark my last day of work at the school.  Unfortunately, the event was created to honour the memory of an alumnus of the school who was tragically killed while cycling across Canada.  But, the goodwill it creates in the community, and the positive way it honours the memory of this alumnus, is a beautiful thing.  With many events, we have to work really hard to get good attendance.  With this tournament, I sit back and watch the registrations roll in.  People are delighted to drive up to the school for a day of hockey and a dinner at the end of the day.  It involves a lot of organization, but not a lot of “work”.  It’s a pleasure to be involved with.

There’s also the Alumni Association, a small volunteer group made up of a variety of alumni from different grad years.  I’ve gotten quite close to a lot of the members of this group, and seeing their genuine interest in and love for the school makes my work so meaningful.  They want to provide value for their fellow alumni, organize events that provide new ways to engage the disengaged, connect alumni together and celebrate the thing they have in common: that they attended Trinity College School.  It’s hard not to get excited about their passion.  It’s what makes the work I do so… fun!!!

The alumni engagement at TCS is something I will always take with me, and will positively inform the communities I work with in the future.  I’m forever grateful.

 

And with that, I sign off as the TCS Alumni Development Officer!  www.whatgivesphilanthropy.com will continue strong, always with the memory of TCS, but with new experiences and projects, too!

Thank you, TCS!

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Written by Maeve Strathy

livestrong
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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Mid-Level Gifts

Happy New Year!!!  I hope that everyone enjoyed a lovely holiday season and that 2014 is off to a good start for you.  I am a person that really enjoys the promise a new year brings – opportunities for fresh starts, recommitting to goals, reflecting on the accomplishments of the last year, and considering with excitement the year to come.  Bring it on!

But on a totally unrelated note, I’d like to talk briefly about mid-level gifts.  When I attended the 2013 CCAE National Conference last June in St. John’s, Newfoundland, I attended a session on mid-level gifts.  These gifts, categorized differently by different organizations, are becoming a bit of a hot topic in fundraising.  We keep our annual funds running smoothly (they are the life-blood of our organizations, after all), and we focus our attention on those ever-important major gifts, but what about the area in between???  What about those people who are giving (or have the capacity to give) year after year in, for example, the $5,000 – $25,000 range?  These are meaningful gifts, making a measurable difference for your organization.  Are they getting attention?  Do you know anything about these donors?  Are you stewarding them?

What do we know about mid-level donors?  Some of the things I’ve learned from colleagues, at conferences, and in my own experiences, are that these donors don’t necessarily know the difference they’re making through their gifts.  They give loyally and consistently, and aren’t asking for much in return.  There’s not much of a culture built around these gifts.  6-figure and up gifts often have more fanfare – naming opportunities, receptions, gift agreement contracts, and expectations from the donors, but mid-level gifts don’t have that.  I’m not saying they should, but perhaps mid-level donors should have a bit of a community built around them.  I talked about a culture of philanthropy in my last post of 2013… perhaps there could be a culture of mid-level giving…

What would a culture around mid-level giving mean?  Well, it could mean that mid-level donors know that they’re mid-level donors.  They have “chinned themselves up”, to borrow a term from my current Executive Director, to a larger gift than the average annual donor, because they have the capacity to, and the passion to.  Their gifts are making a significant impact on your organization, and they ought to know it.  Perhaps this group of donors could have a name, and a way of being recognized, like an annual cocktail party.  Maybe instead of just passively watching those larger gifts come in, you could meet these people face-to-face; get to know them, have them get to know you, understand where their passion lies at your organization, and then let all that information simmer so that when the right project comes along… they could be the major donor.  

But don’t get me wrong, it’s not only about the donor pipeline.  Yes, these mid-level donors have the potential to be major donors down the line, but they’re also incredible just as they are… and we need to make sure they know it!

~~

Written by Maeve Strathy

livestrong
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email