Are You Ready to Ring in the New Year?

Year-end is a busy time for many advancement shops: a season of giving with a deadline for taxes! For many of us, it’s also a season of reflection on the year we’re ending and the new one ahead.

Fundraisers can use this mindfulness to their advantage in ways both practical and reflective. While you’re working through this busy season, keep in mind this checklist to end 2018 well and set you up for success in 2019.

  • Get in front of as many donors as possible. Messages of generosity are all around them, as are considerations of tax issues. You want to be front-of-mind, and able to offer giving solutions that help address tax concerns. This week is an excellent time to take advantage of a slower calendar by reaching out to prospects and donors, either via the phone, email or in person!
  • As you go through your portfolio to make this outreach, take a critical eye to your portfolio. Are there individuals who are nice, but just aren’t going to make the gift? Who haven’t responded to continued attempts at outreach? Make room for new names and new opportunities.
  • Freshen any templates you use, and keep in mind that using plain language will come across as more authentic than “development speak” (e.g. “We want to get to know our alumni and your experiences” versus “We’ve launched an initiative to engage alumni”).
  • Look at your January calendar — have you blocked off time for the most important work you do? If you don’t usually block time for prospect outreach, the new year is the perfect time to start this strategy to keep focus on what matters most.
  • Create a thoughtful out-of-office message. This sounds obvious, but this message is an opportunity to be warm, engaging, and make a potential donor feel they can receive any answers they need to make a gift quickly.
  • Reflect. What has been working for you? Where are there opportunities to strengthen your skills? What would you like to try differently? Honest self reflection is critical to growth and true success, and there’s no time like the present to take stock.

What do you do to end your year well and start the new year strong?

Wishing all of you a very happy holiday break and a wonderful New Year!

What I Wish I Knew as a New Fundraiser

When I entered the world of fundraising, I thought I had a clear idea of what my work would entail and how I would find success. With experience and some hard lessons, it became clear there was much I was unprepared for at that juncture of my career.

I recently asked a group of talented fundraisers what they wish they knew when they first started working in the field of philanthropy. As I read through these colleagues’ feedback, clear themes emerged. Their answers provide a critical foundation for those new to the field, as well as valuable reminders to those of us with years of experience. Here are some of the key lessons learned.

Introvert v. Extrovert: It Doesn’t Matter

  • Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, you must enjoy talking with people and develop a curiosity about them.
  • Expressing enthusiasm for a cause or institution may come easily for those who are naturally expressive. But others will need to identify their personal connection and hone language that reflects it.

Maintain Morale and Nurture Persistence

  • Fundraising brings with it highs and lows, rewards and challenges. There will be incredible wins, but they take time, persistence, and patience.
  • We all get rejected. A lot. It’s normal and if you let it stop you, it will be that much harder to find your next achievement.
  • Donors give to accomplish something that matters to them – there is honor in facilitating and maximizing this.

Build Internal Relationships

  • Be mindful of office dynamics, especially early on. Spend time listening and learning before you form and share your opinion.
  • You likely didn’t close that gift alone. Give credit freely and genuinely. Recognizing others’ contributions won’t diminish your effort or dull your shine.
  • Find a way to love (or accept) your people – all your people. Difficult donors, persnickety prospects, demanding deans, frustrating faculty … there is something in each of them that you do or could like. Find it. Connect with it.

Build Good Habits

  • Prospect outreach and meetings are sacred. Proactively schedule time for it and make internal meetings work around your external work.
  • It’s easy to hide behind researching prospects and working on projects, and to rely on email rather than picking up the phone. But there’s no success without consistent outreach across all channels.

Evaluate New Opportunities Thoroughly

  • Fundraisers will regularly weigh new opportunities, and chasing the next best position can create a history of job hopping that makes a candidate less competitive over time. Consider whether you’re staying in roles long enough to demonstrate that you have the ability to achieve and maintain success.

November is a month of gratitude. For those of us fortunate enough to work in philanthropy, this is a time for us to celebrate our profession and the people that make it possible (all the people). Take the time to assist those newer to the profession to build better habits, and remember why you made the choice to devote your career to philanthropy. Remember the why and what you’ve learned, as well as helping others, assures all of our relationships are meaningful and our work matters to the organizations we serve.

Looking to expand any of the skill sets above? We would love to partner with you in coaching to ensure you have the best tools in your toolkit.

How We Can Train Leaders to be Philanthropic Allies

Perhaps you saw the recent LinkedIn post from Regina Bergeron in your feed:

“Hey fundraising friends! Doing an informal survey. What are the MOST common mistakes that nonprofit leaders make related to raising resources??!!!”

The responses came quickly and were unsurprising: Leaders not trusting development professionals. Unrealistic expectations. Not being willing to give their time to fundraising. Refusing to invest in major gift staff. And too many more to list.

We’ve all worked with leaders who’ve been challenging. While the temptation can be strong to throw our hands up in the air, this is where our real work kicks in. Training an organizational leader to be an ally to the philanthropic process is a part of the value we bring to the table as development professionals. While we might ultimately find an executive to be un-coachable, we do a service to our industry when we try.

In my experience, the ability to coach an executive requires a solid foundation of respect. Respect alone doesn’t solve every issue that you and a leader may disagree about, but it does give a platform for honest conversation, and makes it more likely that the leader will be open to your counsel. I’ve demonstrated and earned that respect with techniques that are not new, but do require intention and consistency:

  • Having a plan. From preparing annual plans to ensuring every event has specific goals, I establish credibility by showing that my team’s activities are coordinated, strategic, and moving us toward success.
  • Protecting their time. This includes creating meeting agendas that support focus on the most important topics to sending concise emails with clear action items.
  • Never allowing an executive to walk into a situation unprepared. Whether it’s an internal meeting between deans, a donor event or a Rotary lunch, I make sure the leader knows why they’re present, what is expected of them, and any necessary background.
  • Demonstrating honesty, even when it’s difficult. I want leadership to have confidence that if we disagree about something, they will hear it from me. Delivery requires tact (and asking myself whether it really needs to be said at all), but the dialogue is critical.
  • Being accountable for myself and my team. Whether a communication was sent with a mistake, an event’s details weren’t well planned, or any of the numerous other opportunities for error, I don’t deflect responsibility. Own it quickly and strengthen the process to ensure stronger partnership in the future.
  • Being a true partner. Showing up, leaning in, and recognizing the myriad of other responsibilities our leaders have on their plates. Provide strategy and empathy, be a true area expert on philanthropy, and understand how and where this priority fits when looking at other responsibilities our leaders have.

What tools and experiences do you use when coaching executives to better partner with development? Share your thoughts in the comments so we can continue to learn from each other.

KDD Philanthropy can help your organization strengthen its culture, build tools and expand partnerships throughout the organization. Contact us today about how we can help your team achieve even greater success.

The Value in an Objection in Donor Relationships

Overcoming objections: a topic we as fundraisers think through, write about, train on and – occasionally – obsess over after making a solicitation. Being prepared for objections, including how to anticipate them and how to respond, is one of the most important traits of being a strategic and relationship-based fundraiser.

When I’ve prepared to ask for a gift, I aimed to know as much as possible: what motivates the prospect, what size ask is best, and what factors will be present in that prospect saying “yes” or “no.”

But the reality is there may be something I won’t know or didn’t anticipate, and sometimes that thing is only surfaced in response to a request. Often, the objection is where the most important information comes out. And if we do our work well and ask meaningful questions, objections come much earlier in the relationship than the ask: we field concerns throughout a relationship, about everything from our institution’s efficacy to its leadership to its policies and more.

These doubts can not only shut a fundraiser down, they can turn off our institutional partners who we count on to help build prospect relationships. That is why it’s so important to frame the surfacing of objections, and addressing them, as a necessary, normal, and productive part of the process.

When prospects tell us what concerns might get in the way of their generosity, they are handing us incredibly valuable insight. Which is why our opportunity is to engage in those objections – not so much to immediately overcome them, but to dive deeper in, seek to understand, and then to work together to move past them.

Of course I still advise identifying potential objections and preparing responses. But it’s in the objection that the most productive insight can be unveiled, and the most impactful work can be done to move a prospect toward generosity if we’re willing to listen, understand, and engage.

KDD Philanthropy can help your organization strengthen its culture with fundraising essentials training, including preparing for and overcoming objections.. Contact us today about how we can help your team achieve even greater success.

Meeting the Need for More Advancement Professionals

If there’s one narrative that’s held true in the world of fundraising for years, it’s the difficulty in hiring and retaining talented advancement staff. Studies show major gift officer tenure is anywhere from 1.5 to 3.5 years, and similar retention issues for other positions, driven by a demand for talent and a shallow talent pool.

We all struggle with the impact of this reality. But how many of us are proactively working to address this problem at its source, inviting others to consider building a career in our field?

Agreeing to informational interviews for those who are interested is an activity we all can – and should – commit to, even when we feel too busy to squeeze one more appointment in our calendars. Consider what you could accomplish in just one conversation:

  • Kindling a passion for advancement work in new graduates and experienced professionals with transferable skills.
  • Educating about the nuances of our field: what it takes to be high performing, the struggle against job-hopping, and more.
  • Building a wider understanding of the value and professionalism of our work, a shift underway nationally but still too-slow moving.

When you say “yes” to an informational interview, keep in mind a few tips:

  • Come prepared with actionable advice for moving forward in the advancement field – from attending professional development events to relevant volunteer opportunities to offering additional contacts.
  • Be honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly, allowing for informed decision-making and better self-selection for fit.
  • Above all else, remember what brought you to this profession. Was it a passion for a cause? The idea of helping others do good? Partnering with visionary faculty, physicians, or programmatic staff? Share that inspiration and seek to spark it in others.

When was the last time you agreed to coffee with someone who wanted to learn more about your work?

Today I challenge each of us: schedule one of these meetings in the coming weeks. Say “yes” to someone in your network, tell your alumni group you’re available for fellow alums, or tell your on-campus career counseling center you’d be happy to be a resource. Whatever tool is at your disposal, be a part of recruiting others to help us build a more philanthropic world.

For tools that decrease turnover of your staff once they’re hired, see these 5 Strategies for Retaining High Performing Staff.

When Fundraisers are too Distracted for Success

Most fundraising teams have no shortage of work – and fundraisers can get bogged down in everything from administrative work to planning events to drafting communications.

But the largest opportunity for philanthropy is on the frontline, and long-term success in this role requires a partnership between fundraisers and their leaders. Otherwise, fundraisers will be busy without ever achieving the success that means so much to them, and more importantly, the organizations they serve.

For managers, the answer is to start by asking yourself key questions:

Have I established agreed-upon outcomes?
Does your team member know exactly what is expected of them, and how success in their role is defined?

Am I prioritizing?
Do you want your staff member to focus on the frontline, or to plan a series of events, manage communications, or help you with your own projects? For your staff to succeed, you need to choose.

Am I asking the right questions?
Consistently ask probing questions about the fundraiser’s work, and you’ll be able to identify and remove barriers to success early.

Do I have productive conversations about performance?
The more quickly a potential performance issue is addressed, a positive outcome is more likely. Talk about performance early, often, and directly.

Fundraisers and their leaders should have tools to support this focus too:

Effective calendar management
Every fundraiser should block time on the calendar every week for donor outreach. And, they need the discretion to say “no” to some meetings in order to make that time.

Constructive performance metrics
Metrics can be a tool to motivate, or they can be punitive. If you measure the right activity and not just outcomes, you have a better tool for coaching and rewarding both effort and outcomes.

Written strategies
Writing a strategy front-loads the hard work of thinking through meaningful engagement, timeline and internal partners, and creates a roadmap to success. Strategies also ensure you have a tool to support your work when sharing with leaders and academics.

Great fundraisers don’t just show up focused and stay that way. They’re given tools, support, and rewards for concentrating their efforts on the unique skillset for which they were hired. Great leaders make this all possible.

KDD Philanthropy can help your organization strengthen its culture, build tools and expand partnerships throughout the organization. Contact us today about how we can help your team achieve even greater success.

6 Tips to Rekindle Your Professional Fire

When I decided to make the switch from a career in hospitality and event management to philanthropy many years ago, I was driven by a desire to have a voice in the issues that mattered to me, and to support programs/initiatives that I truly believed in. I was eager to work with other idealists – with colleagues, volunteers, and donors that shared a desire to make a difference and to act on them.

Those of us who have built a career in advancement tend to be optimists at heart, inspired by the opportunity to impact the issues we deeply care about. And likely many of us have experienced periods where that optimism, and the incredibly positive power of our profession, feels far away. We’ve felt very removed after days spent navigating bureaucracy, sitting in meetings that seem far away from intent, and focusing on internal “politics.”

Summer – with its longer days, vacations, nature, and barbecues – brings us the perfect opportunity to reflect and rekindle that passion for the incredibly meaningful work we do. Here are my favorite ways to recharge:

1. Take your vacation time. Get away from work and the day-to-day, and experience something new. Spend some of that time in nature, as there is plenty of research demonstrating the restorative power of being outdoors. It’s hard to find joy in your work when you’re overwhelmed by it, so use your vacation to find distance and reflect.

2. Go look at the impact you’re having – literally! Move away from your computer and go watch students interacting in the commons; see animals getting ready for their new homes; families receiving the assistance they need to stay whole. Say to yourself, “I helped make this happen. Colleagues and donors contribute to something meaningful. We are conduits for change.”

3. Talk to a donor who is passionate about your organization’s work. This doesn’t have to be a major donor, but someone who cares deeply about your cause. See their passion and hope, and let that remind you why you’ve built the career you have, and what an honor it is to work with these individuals.

4. Think about your successes. Have you helped a donor make an exceptionally generous gift? Coached a colleague through a difficult situation? Created a stewardship experience that touched your supporters? It’s so easy to forget what you’ve done that matters – remind yourself instead of all you are bringing to those around you. If it’s not easy to remember, start a file of “jobs well done” to reflect on whenever you need a pick-me-up!

5. Remember that we advancement professionals are not the only ones who feel this way! I wrote this post after being inspired by this Forbes article, about these same issues from the perspective of a funder. Every professional faces challenges in the workplace, but not every professional gets to work toward a better world.

6. If you still can’t find joy in your work, it’s time to ask yourself tough questions. Are you still in the right field? In the right role? At the right organization?

Our profession allows us to take our strengths and use them for issues we care deeply about; to spend time with others who share our passion and who are deeply generous; to see our impact every day, if only we stop and look. I invite you to spend this summer “looking,” and rekindling the passion that brought you to this profession in the first place.

KDD Philanthropy can help your organization strengthen its culture, build tools and provide coaching to yield successful results. Contact us today about how we can help your team achieve even greater success.

photo credit: Pexels

The Power of Specificity

In 1997, Arthur Aron and fellow social psychology researchers at Stony Brook University in New York released the results of a study: when two individuals ask and answer 36 specific questions of each other, the process accelerates the creation of intimacy between them. In the years since, this study continues to be a pop culture phenomenon, explored in articles, podcasts, and more.

In fundraising, romantic intimacy is certainly not our goal – but creating mutual trust and engagement around a cause most certainly is.

The topic of probing questions is constant in our fundraising world: how the right questions qualify a prospect, identify areas of passion, inspire their own enthusiasm and generosity, and more. I’ve shared in previous blogs my personal philosophy about how just a few probing questions create an impactful prospect visit.

But are we asking the right questions – the specific questions – that bring us to the place of shared trust, understanding, and engagement that accelerate generosity?

And there’s another factor: our prospects are busy. They may not have an hour to walk down memory lane with us, to answer broad questions, and to see where the conversation takes us.

When we ask, “Tell me about your experience with our organization,” we may not be getting to the heart of the matter or respecting a busy prospect’s time. Probing questions find their power, instead, when they are specific.

Imagine if you rephrased your question to:

  • “What was the best part of your experience as a student?”
  • “Where on campus has your student (child) found their niche?”
  • “How has your experience with our oncology department made a difference in your care?”
  • “Where did you learn compassion for animals?”

When we hone in on the things that matter – rather than the whole story – we are able to match our prospects to the people, programs, and research that are most important to them. We are better able to discuss the areas of our organization that have significance to them. We are able to foster closeness more quickly. And ultimately, we are able to partner with them on gifts that are meaningful to us both.

Is this a technique you use? I’d love to hear how rephrasing your probing questions leads to powerful outcomes and stronger philanthropy.

KDD Philanthropy can help your organization strengthen its culture, build tools and expand partnerships throughout the organization. Contact us today about how we can help your team achieve even greater success.

Prospective Parents are Prospects Too

Not long after our family celebrated our daughter going away to college did we begin preparing for our son to select his university. A high school junior, he is visiting campuses — parents in tow — to find his match.

While I’m there as a parent, my fundraiser hat never truly comes off (which could probably be considered a hazard of a career in higher education).

And this part of me – the part that believes deeply in the power of generosity – was disappointed at the missed opportunities. At the five different institutions we visited thus far, public and private, not a single one mentioned philanthropy or a parents fund during the admissions office overview or during the campus tour. And an online review of other institutions fared only marginally better.

It’s easy to imagine how those running these programs don’t see how philanthropy fits in. Admissions requirements, student experience, academic programs – these make sense for prospective families. But donating?

However during these campus visits, we discussed study abroad opportunities, scholarships, campus improvements, new majors, and more. And at most campuses, every single one of these programs is fueled by generosity.

Those of us who make our profession in advancement do so because we know that the act of giving makes the extraordinary possible. Generosity gets students to college; exposes them to a broader world; creates student experiences and relationships they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives; and facilitates deep investigation of our world through research and teaching.

Our role is to bring our pride in this knowledge to every audience we have, and that includes prospective parents and students. Philanthropy is woven into our institution’s being, and we should be honored to carry that message forward and educate at every opportunity.

If you haven’t explored how your institution shares this message with prospective families, now may be the time.

To explore tools to build an all-campus approach to parent giving, contact KDD Philanthropy today.

Image credit: janniswerner via iStock

Senior Class Giving: the Beginning or the End of the Relationship?

As college students are having visions of spring break, many university annual giving offices or student foundations are putting the final touches on their senior class gift campaigns.

These campaigns so often center on ideas like a capstone gift, leaving the university and other language and concepts that represent finality. So while senior class campaigns were created to shift student culture around giving, the very words that we use to inspire our students may actually be sending the opposite message.

While many of these campaigns are quite successful, imagine how they could truly support life-long relationships if more of them embraced a beginning rather than an end.

If we truly want to inspire ongoing philanthropy, shouldn’t we invite these students to become a part of our giving traditions? Wouldn’t we be better served by championing gifts in celebration of joining our alumni ranks and the donor family? What if rather than using past senior class gifts alone as role models, we demonstrated the power of young alumni giving?

These messages aren’t exclusive of the successful tools of celebrating the student experience and paying tribute to their memories. They are, however, an opportunity to lay the groundwork for the beginning of a long and rich alumni relationship.

How could a fresh approach to your senior class giving campaigns bring about buy-in for the tradition of a lifetime of philanthropy? How could a change in language invite, educate and inspire our students to join our giving families for the long term?

Need help strengthening your fundraising infrastructure? KDD Philanthropy can assist your university through consultations, individual coaching calls and workshops. Send us a message to discuss how we can help.