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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Why I love what I do: reason #2

I’m reminded of why I love being a fundraiser in an educational setting every day of the week, but occasionally someone will engage me in a conversation about certain aspects of what I do, and a fire is lit inside me.  Just as I discussed in my first installment of “Why I love what I do”, it gets me excited to talk to people about how passionate I am about fundraising.  Getting excited about sharing with people what I love about what I do makes me even more excited to do it.  It’s a very happy cycle to get caught in.

So what’s another thing I love about what I do???  The fact that what I do seems to combine my passions together into one field of work.  For one thing, I love meeting new people and getting to know them – one-on-one (I’m an introvert, after all) – in a meaningful way.  I get to do that a lot as a fundraiser / alumni relations officer, and it’s a pleasure every time to chat with an individual about what they do now, how they stay engaged with their alma mater, and how their experience at my institution was.  Every story is unique and wonderful to hear.

I studied English in university and wasn’t sure if it’d be my BA that counted in getting my first job or my English degree, specifically.  Turns out it’s both!  A degree is important to get you in the door of the job you want, but I find my English degree – both in regards to my knowledge of writing and language, and my general critical thinking skills – is specifically valuable.  Plus, more than just knowing about writing, I love to write!  It’s my favourite and most efficient way of expressing myself, my thoughts, my intentions, and my ideas, and there are a lot of opportunities for writing in fundraising – whether it’s writing an appeal, writing a web article about exciting alumni news, or writing a customized proposal for a major gift prospect.

Secondly, I love words and language.  Word choice is an integral part of fundraising, both in spoken and written forms.  Sometimes it can come off as jargon (click here for an jargon-related, industry-specific laugh), but the truth is that the right word or phrase can evoke emotion, and emotion has so much to do with fundraising.

And that brings me to another thing I love about fundraising, I love the psychology of it.  It’s not just a business matter – although some donors prefer it to be that way – but instead an exchange of passion, emotion, nostalgia, and more.  In educational fundraising, a prospect’s memory of their time at the school, perhaps an opportunity made possible for them through a scholarship or bursary, can evoke such a strong sense of desire to give back.  If they see a current student who is only able to attend the school with the help of financial aid, they might reflect back on their own experience, and feel a need to contribute in order to provide this student or other students’ with the opportunities they once enjoyed.

Like I said, it’s not just a business matter or a transaction of money – it’s an experience.  An experience where a donor aligns his or her passions with their resources, matches their emotions up with their fortune.  And that’s another thing I love, it’s a feel-good industry to work in.  These aren’t static numbers on a spreadsheet.  I can see the look on people’s faces when they’re reflecting on the difference that they’ve made, and it’s magic.

This is once again a moment to share the perfect and eloquent simplicity of a child’s definition of philanthropy:

“Because if you help other people, you’ll be a good person, and you’ll feel good inside.”

And that’s another reason why I love doing what I do.

 

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

Escaping the glow and writing appeals

March Break is a quiet time in the advancement office at my institution — the students are away, the faculty members are enjoying a well-deserved rest, and even some of my colleagues have taken the week off for a personal holiday.  In fact, at this particular moment, I am alone in the office.  For some it might feel eerie or an excuse to nod off, but for me it means the perfect time for brainstorming and letter-writing.  Specifically, an Annual Giving appeal to young alumni.

It’s not often that we sit down to do a task that doesn’t involve our computers.  That being said, I’m sure many people write solicitation letters exclusively on their computers.  For me, it’s an opportunity to take a break from the glowing screen, pull out a legal pad, and get to writing.  The photo above is what my desk usually looks like when I’m writing: a good inky pen, a red ballpoint for revision, a print-out of last year’s appeal, and a first draft of this year’s.  I spend time writing out potential “headlines” for the letter.  I spend time reading over last year’s letter to make sure this year’s holds on to only a few elements (if any) but aims to be noticeably fresh and new.

I brainstorm some outside-of-the-box ideas to make this letter stand out.  With young alumni in particular, what could grab their attention?  Will a creative approach spur them on to make their first gift?  Is it ease & convenience they look for?  Is it a worthwhile designation?

What do you think???  How do you approach letter writing?  What are your favourite tips/tricks to get in the zone?  What about encouraging young alumni giving?  What are your success stories?  What have you learned?

 

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