When Was the Last Time You Reflected?

As we move forward our careers, it’s time to bring back that early sense of reflection. Reflection is an exceptionally powerful tool. It supports our professional growth, but even more importantly it supports our wellbeing.

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The Chutes and Ladders of Qualification

When we think about a successful gift officer, many of us think of someone who puts together strong donor strategies or compelling solicitations. We commonly overlook the most foundational, ongoing work of productive gift officers everywhere: prospect qualification.

In a recent training, I shared the idea that qualification work has a lot in common with the game many of us spent countless hours playing as kids (or as adults with children): Chutes and Ladders. The game has ups and downs, rewards and consequences. It can feel like you’re soaring at one moment then falling behind the next. Doesn’t that sound exactly like qualification?

It’s challenging to engage new prospects! We must implement persistent, thoughtful, varied outreaches to prospective donors … and many of them will never respond, while another subset will be open to engagement but be disqualified as having strong donor potential.

At the same time, this is the only way to build and maintain an active, productive portfolio and create more philanthropic impact for our institutions. It’s the source of countless new, mutually fulfilling relationships and acts of generosity. And, it’s necessary to our success as gift officers.

As we undertake this essential activity, it can be helpful to remind ourselves of the lessons of Chutes and Ladders that can help motivate and inform our approach:

  • The route to success is varied, reflecting our need to vary our messaging and outreach vehicles, from phone and email to LinkedIn and more.
  • We will absolutely have setbacks and make mistakes. But that setback may line us up for the next success perfectly.
  • Sometimes things will move quickly and sometimes they’ll move slowly; but every step is required to get to our destination.
  • Some opportunities come to us by surprise, but we still have to play the game by putting in the work before we can find them.
  • It’s essential to not give up. Even when we feel like we’re not making progress, we are just getting closer to the next big leap forward.
  • And finally, never steal prospects. Always coordinate with the prospect manager, because a coordinated, transparent approach is always best for the prospect, the institution and the reputation of the gift officer. The other approach is a long chute back to the beginning!

What analogies do you use to help motivate you through this critical work?

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.

Jim Ryun said, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

Given that Jim is a former Olympian, he is likely less vulnerable than the rest of us to starting a resolution with intention and motivation … and losing steam and focus.

This happens to all of us, doesn’t it? We start the new year with resolve to do things differently in our personal lives and our professional lives … and so often, the business of getting through the day pushes those resolutions further and further away.

But a new year is another opportunity for change, and being professionally successful this year will require us to build new and better habits — and maintain them — for how we show up professionally.

Building new habits is challenging! However, this excellent tip sheet on Therapist Aid provides easy-to-implement advice for doing it, and it’s directly applicable to our work in philanthropy. For example:

  • Differentiate between goals and habits: Your goal may be to spend more time on donor relationships. Identify and implement the habits that will get you there: reviewing your portfolio each Monday to prioritize outreach, marking off time on your calendar each week for donor engagement, etc.
  • Start with small changes: Immediate, dramatic change can be unsustainable, but starting with small changes will create new habits. For example, if your goal is to ask more probing questions, write out three and use them consistently with donors over the next six weeks.
  • Tie new habits to other activities: To create consistency, use “After I _______, I will _______.” For example: “After I eat lunch every day, I will call or email five donors.” “After a great virtual conversation, I will reach out to natural partners to further explore how collaboration will strengthen this strategy”.
  • Celebrate your successes: Creating new habits takes time, and raising meaningful gifts takes time too. That’s why it’s critical to identify shorter-term successes and celebrate them — don’t wait for the next “yes” or a signed gift agreement! Did you take the time to better understand a donor’s motivations? Try a new way to virtually engage a donor or prospect? Utilize new and more compelling language in a first outreach? Brainstorm a challenging topic with a colleague? Take a moment to celebrate and reward these steps on the path of change. Better yet, send a note of congratulations to a colleague on a shared accomplishment.

If you’re looking for tools and insight that will support your toolbox of good habits in 2024, join us for a webinar, Bootcamp or online workshop. We explore a variety of timely issues and actionable strategies that will support your success this year and beyond, and provide a post-webinar exercise that reinforces key learnings and starts the process of turning them into habits. Check out what we have to offer.

Reconnect in the New Year

As we come to the end of 2023, we begin thinking about the new year and new goals. January is the season of resolutions—resolutions to spend more time reading, budget better, exercise more … the list goes on and on. Odds are, some of us in fundraising are making resolutions around more qualification, stronger donor relations, more meaningful solicitations, and other similarly important activities.

But the more I get to know professionals within our field, the more I’m convinced that the foundation of fundraising success is connection—connection to what drives us to do our best work every day.

This is why I propose that reconnecting be at the top of our professional resolutions for 2024—a commitment to tending to the passion and relationships that give our work meaning and keep us engaged and effective. Consider the opportunities you have to build connections at a deeper level:

  • Reconnect with your organization’s mission. When was the last time you did something specifically to remind yourself of the good your organization creates in your community? For example, sat in on a favorite professor’s class, participated in a service delivery project, watched pets walking out the door with their new adoptive families, etc? These are the activities we delay in our rush to get the work done, but push them aside for too long and we lose contact with the passion that keeps us going each day.
  • Reconnect with your colleagues. This isn’t just saying “hello.” This is about staying in tune with their wins and their challenges, and with how your work is intertwined in ways obvious and subtle. Remembering that we’re not alone in our work, and that we’re working together to create a better world, can sustain us in challenging times. When was the last time you invited a colleague to lunch, asked how things are going, and truly listened?
  • Reconnect with your donors. Those that I work with know my mantra “one more meeting each week.” But that’s not what this resolution is about; it’s about asking thoughtful questions, listening with intention, and truly engaging. At your core, you share a passion for a cause. Be intentional about kindling that shared passion and drawing strength from it.
  • Reconnect with yourself. This is an opportunity for reflection. What drew you to this field? What unique strengths do you bring to your role? What have you learned about yourself, your community, and your world through your work? What growth goals do you have, how can you work toward those this year, and how can your peers and mentors support this growth?

The power of connection is well-documented in social science. Studies have connected it to mental health, immune system strength, healthy lifestyle choices, and even longevity. Let’s harness that power to fuel the critical work we will do this year, and stay connected to the value of our work throughout 2024.

Two Touches

Advancement professionals think about our donors and prospects regularly – whether we’re wondering if a prospect will fund a gift proposal, a donor will take our meeting request or a faculty partner will tell us if she identifies a new potential prospect. But as much as these prospects and partners may be top of mind, our actions can send a very different message. We get busy, or focused on just a few relationships, and can let months go by without communicating with those we want to draw closest.

This pattern is why I’m a champion of a Two Touches exercise: starting every workday with two outreaches, or touches, to donors or organizational partners. This habit is an easy way to ensure we start every day the right way: focused on relationships! When we begin each day this way, we’re reinforcing discipline and a focus on our most important work: building, enhancing or growing our relationships and the strategies that support them.

These daily touches are simple:

  • A hand-written note card of congratulations on a recent achievement (personal or professional)
  • An email sharing some news that might be of interest (our organizations are diverse, our outreach should be as well!)
  • A note in a birthday card that is truly personal
  • A news release that provides follow-up while rekindling the fire for your institution/organization
  • A text message with a photo of something happening at your organization (e.g. a commencement ceremony, a new wing opening or a new program opening)
  • A message celebrating a program milestone

Every strategy we build relies on a relationship, and every relationship requires interactions both big and small. Focusing on the moves is important, but our strategies need both moves (active fundraising) and interactions (passive fundraising) to truly be successful. The Two Touches technique, when implemented habitually, creates ten small interactions per week – or over 400 per year.

How would these touches strengthen your strategies?

Begin by keeping a stack of organizational note cards on your desk as an easy reminder to keep this important activity front and center. You’ll be glad to see the results of making sure your donors, prospects and partners actually know when you’re thinking of them!

Who are you going to outreach to today?

Approaching Professional Development More Organically

I was talking with a manager a few weeks ago about their team and the need to invest in professional development. This person was doing so many of the right things by sending their team members to conferences, webinars, and more.

And that’s good news! Many of us recognize that professional development builds skills, confidence, and retention rates.

But, what if just sending our team members to outside sources for their growth isn’t actually enough? In that conversation with the manager, we began to discuss internal, institutional investment in professional development … and quickly realized that this internal development approach was actually a huge missing piece for the team.

This likely applies to a lot of managers. It’s so easy to send team members off, ask them to do a quick report out upon their return, and check it off the list.

This approach is leaving so much potential on the table, squandering both the opportunity for truly meaningful investment in our teams and the money we’re spending on those sessions.

Because at a foundational level, we as supervisors and leaders must invest our own time, energy, focus, and care into our team members. This cannot be outsourced.

Where to start? First, it is critical to be present and truly listen to what your team members’ growth goals are. While investing in external opportunities is important, if you are not present and interested in having meaningful growth discussions, these investments can feel disingenuous at best.

We see this regularly with our coaching clients: staff who want to be seen by their bosses, and to be recognized for wanting to grow, contribute more or to receive guidance in constructive ways.

This responsibility falls on us as leaders. We have the tools right at our fingertips:

  • Ask questions about skillset growth goals, and listen.
  • Find opportunities for team members to shadow you or others in areas they’re seeking to gain knowledge.
  • Be generous with your own insight about what it takes to achieve what your team member is hoping for. How did you learn to raise significant gifts, or lead a team, etc? Share your own experiences and earned wisdom.

Discussing growth proactively, openly, and regularly is an essential element of strategic leadership.

Once you’re laying that groundwork, external professional development is at its most effective – as a complement to your own investments, not as a stand-alone. And you can make the most out of that too by pairing every webinar, conference, coaching session, and more with the following:

  • A discussion with your employee before they attend, asking them to identify three clear goals for attending and learning.
  • A debrief afterward for your team member to share what their top take-aways were, and how they’d like to integrate those into their work.
  • A commitment from you as the manager to identify opportunities for your team member to use and explore the new skills and ideas learned. For example, maybe they’re a gift officer who heard some interesting best practices about stewardship reports. Could you arrange for them to meet with the donor relations team to learn more about how they do their work and put together their reports?
  • A 90-day check-in on the items explored above.
  • A brief presentation to the team about key take-aways.

It doesn’t take a lot to make professional development so much more effective. But it does give a LOT back as learnings become anchored in and your own investment becomes clearer for your team.

Looking to expand your approach to professional development for your team? KDD Philanthropy is here to support you! Contact us about the tools we can offer.

Build Recruitment into Every Day

Hiring continues to be top of mind for leaders across advancement shops, as there has been no decrease in folks leaving our industry, moving to a new opportunity, or retiring altogether. This is nothing new: Recruitment and retention have been buzzwords for years now. And yet, too many shops aren’t taking action to build a culture that actively supports successful recruitment.

This is where many of us turn to search firms when we have a position open. Search firms can be great partners; but, not miracle workers. They need us to do our part too. Yet, I find so many of us aren’t sharing our recruitment goals with our teams, and even fewer are blocking time on calendars to make connections, mine LinkedIn, host informational interviews, or create a proactive plan for growing candidate pools.

Imagine what just 5-10 minutes a day dedicated to spreading a positive word about your team and your institution would do to support your efforts next time you hire someone. Don’t know how to begin? Start here:

  • Think about the most ambitious, positive language you can use to share about your team, your institution and your cause. Now, where do you share it, both internally and externally? Remember that retention is more effective than recruitment, so make sure you use your language with colleagues too.
  • When you and members of your team attend conferences, webinars or other professional development or networking events, how do you talk about your institution and open/upcoming positions? What tools are you providing to support these important discussions?
  • How are you networking with institutional partners (admissions, career services, annual fund, patient services, etc.) to find new talent that can be a transferable skills hire? Are you sharing your openings across your alumni network, volunteer/auxiliary groups, and program staff?
  • Every member of your team can contribute! How do they speak and post online about your institution? Are they networking? What tools can you give them to support your growth efforts? (My favorite is a card that shares your team values, with a QR code linking to open positions.)

We are in a fight for talent. But we are also an industry of incredible purpose and mission. Many of us even came to this field by accident. And now our role is to educate others about how our own teams can offer careers that provide fulfillment, joy, and impact on issues we care about deeply.

We can do this in just 5–10 minutes a day — a small investment that could yield you and your team some incredible new teammates.

Handoff Versus Transition

“Handoff” is transactional — It indicates a lack of collaboration, and rarely reflects a thoughtful pathway for someone who is supporting our institutions. So how do we move away from this transactional reference, and embrace our very best work?

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