Lessons Learned from Six Years of KDD Philanthropy

It’s incredible to think that six years ago this week, I launched KDD Philanthropy as a full-time practice to support the exceptional work that leaders and fundraisers like you carry out at institutions every day. I can still remember the nerves as I sent that introductory email, hit the “go” button on my web page launch, and dove in with both feet.  This path has been filled with peaks and valleys, but it’s also been buoyed by the opportunities, challenges, and sometimes-crazy moments that we’ve shared together.

It is the conversations and partnerships that have been the most rewarding element of this journey, and it’s been a remarkable journey so far! Thank you!

During these six years, I’ve traveled over 475,000 miles, visited over 50 institutions (in four countries), and provided too many impromptu (and rewarding!) advice sessions to count. And, I’ve learned some invaluable lessons too, including:

  • Our work has always been about the people, and will continue to be about the relationship we cultivate, not the programs we build.
  • Many of you know that accountability may be my favorite and most-used word. But over the past six years, I have learned that while accountability is an anchor, HOW you cultivate accountability is what builds teams, relationships, and generosity.
  • Efficiency is important, but in roles where we will never finish everything on our to do lists, it is being effective that truly matters.
  • Consistent donor outreach has always been the hallmark of high performing advancement officers, and our new virtual tools (from Zoom, to utilizing our iPhones for impactful video messages to ThankView) allow for truly organic, authentic, frequent outreach.
  • Your calendar is your fire extinguisher, no matter what: aim it where your time is most valuable. And calendar blocking works just as well in the office as it does from a dining room table or seat 18A on my company plane (Southwest Airlines).
  • Hope is never a strategy. We must work our strategies (and write them down, it does work!) to inspire the most impactful generosity.
  • One of the things that attracted me to this work was the fun! I think we sometimes forget that we can — and should — have fun in our work.
  • We have some of the best jobs in the world, truly. And I am grateful for the many ways you remind me of that each and every day.

Thank you for your support, advocacy, and trust as we work together to build the teams and tools that inspire generosity. I am so appreciative for the opportunity to learn from you, grow our industry, and have laughs, celebration of milestones, and fun in doing something we are so passionate about. It’s an honor to support the institutions and professionals that are working to build a better world, and I look forward to many more years of partnership!

Rethinking the “A”

Last month, I wrote about what to do when we’re in a rut. That blog received a lot of attention and direct emails, reinforcing how universal this experience is. Thank you to so many for sharing that you were feeling the same, and how empowering it felt to say those words out loud (or an email): I am in a rut, and it is OK!

I agree! It’s so easy and normal to find ourselves lost in the daily routine of our work and forgetting to take joy or pride in that work — but beating ourselves up for it is not the answer. We often talk about kindness and grace in our work, for those we love, and in the world, but I find that few I speak with are actually giving themselves that kindness and grace.

I’ve had so many discussions around why we put so much pressure on ourselves to keep reaching new levels of excellence, how we only settle for 100% from ourselves, how we feel unsuccessful or defeated when we do not complete our to-do lists. But none of this is healthy, and it doesn’t work either.

Our overachieving selves need to start looking at this through another lens: Many of us are in higher education, where an “A” is 90%. And I suggest that we might want to use that same grading pattern for our teams, our work, and ourselves. Achieving an “A” is a source of pride, but rarely does that “A” reflect a score of 100%.

Every day I talk with individuals who are hitting 90% plus, and yet I hear about what they do not get to, what they’re disappointed by in their own performance. But when I think of “A” students, I think of an ability to prioritize the most important work, not to add a myriad of other topics to the curriculum.

In advancement work, focus and discipline on the right things lead to success. Which is why rather than trying to achieve 100%, we would be better served to focus on our most important tasks, be honest about the things that do not meet that definition, and then aim for that 90% “A.” And let’s celebrate every achievement on the way: The cold outreach, even though some of it will go unacknowledged — it’s still critically important for building pipeline! The disqualification of a prospect for major giving — they’ll still feel more connected in the support they do provide. And so many more opportunities to find and celebrate our success along the way.

I suspect that redefining how we give ourselves an “A” will help so many of us feel much better about our achievements and truly focus on our most important work: advancing relationships that lead to generosity. And isn’t that what this is all about?