How to Become a Fundraising Favorite

If you’ve been a fundraiser for long — whether in higher education, healthcare systems or large nonprofits — you’ve probably heard these phrases:

The fundraising team loves that program.

That program gets all the funding.

That faculty member is advancement’s favorite.

And the reality is, it’s likely true! We know that not all initiatives are created equal, and philanthropy reflects that. But we also know there are plenty of strong fundraising opportunities that can be created when faculty/physicians/program leaders invest in becoming a fundraising favorite.

Of course, we cannot raise money for every program within our institution, no matter how important the cause. But we can raise more money for the programs with leaders who are strong partners. That’s why we, as fundraisers, need to be honest about that, and then clearly define how a program can become a favorite.

Expectation-setting is critical. Leaders new to this area may expect quick magic, rather than the thoughtful process of building toward generosity. Expectations that I share regularly include:

  • Not every program will have the same fundraising results.
  • Fundraising must be a true partnership between advancement and program leadership to be successful.
  • Leaders need to consistently make time for fundraising.
  • Donors have their own interests and we support those interests, even if it means a gift to a different program.
  • This work takes sustained effort and time – the results will not be immediate.

Then we must outline that we need the leaders’ partnership in three key areas: vision, engagement and alignment.


  • Define a clear vision and impact for the project.
  • Engage in a transparent budgeting discussion.
  • Be prepared to demonstrate milestones and outcomes along the way.


  • Be prepared to communicate directly with donors.
  • Share your research, lab, classroom or other showcase opportunity for donor tours/visits.
  • Don’t feel that you need to go it alone – advancement will partner with you to create donor strategies, communications and more.
  • Be available to edit communications/proposals.
  • Learn to speak passionately about why philanthropy matters to your project – but know that your fundraising partner will solicit the gift.


  • Speak about the institution positively.
  • Be a champion for your project and institution, both internally and externally.
  • Be a true partner with advancement, working together to align communications calendars, messaging, donor outreach and more.
  • Do not keep your own database: provide all engagement and biographical data updates to your fundraising partner for the university’s database so there is one accurate tracking system.

We know that leaders who partner with us by committing to supporting vision, engagement and alignment will be fundraising favorites. Let’s share this message with our internal partners and invite them in!

Rejection? Try Redirection!

This past weekend was full of emotions as our youngest son graduated from the University of Arizona. One of my favorite things about higher education is the tradition and pageantry of commencement, and the weekend was even more special as our family came together to celebrate and connect.

The all-university ceremony featured Wildcat alum Michael Tubbs, who was both thoughtful and inspirational. He delivered a key message that works as well for new graduates as it does for those of us on the front lines of philanthropy: Turn rejection into redirection. What a positive way to approach growth opportunities!

KDD Philanthropy has recently led several qualification trainings, where we emphasize the need for using a beginner mindset to build your prospect qualification skills. One of the key reasons we often don’t pick up the phone, or send that initial email, is the deep-rooted fear of being rejected.

Michael’s comments about redirection give us all a new way to gather up our courage and do the hard work. Our role as advancement professionals is to advance our institution’s mission. This is important, valuable work, and if we fold at the thought of rejection, we will simply not do as much of what matters.

However, if we approach our qualification outreach by reframing rejection as redirection, we can use it to make us more effective fundraisers:

  • Redirection to a new approach when our first attempts have not yielded the intended results.
  • Redirection to include a colleague, natural partner or volunteer to energize our efforts or to provide a new hook for our outreach message.
  • Redirection of the negative stories in our heads (“I am a pest,” “They don’t want to hear from me/us,” “I am not any good at this”) to a narrative that motivates and celebrates (“I got this,” “Our mission is worthy of partnership/support,” and “Conversation leads to meetings”).
  • Redirection from a challenging conversation with a prospect due to a campus, healthcare or guest experience, to one that allows us to do service recovery leading to renewed engagement and eventual partnership.
  • Redirection from meetings that are not a good use of time to a conversation about where your time is best served for your institution.

We will always have hurdles in our work, but those hurdles become roadblocks if we allow them to become our narrative. Actively redirecting allows us to re-think, re-approach and re-energize our work, ultimately removing the roadblock and the false narrative that goes with it.

It’s worth considering: What would you accomplish today if you used a challenge as an opportunity to redirect?

And for all you parents, grandparents and friends that are celebrating a commencement … Congratulations! You get to celebrate too!

If you’re looking for more tools to strengthen your approach, consider hiring a KDD Philanthropy executive/fundraising coach to support your efforts!

Making Magic Happen

San Diego State University’s incredible run in the NCAA tournament this year had many people cheering on the Aztecs. However, “Aztec for life” has resonated for me since I began my time at SDSU as a student. From my early days as an undergraduate and student leader, to my times teaching and volunteering, to my time as orientation co-advisor, my move to an advancement professional and leader, and most importantly, as a proud alumnus, the culture has spoken to and been a part of me.

We used to call San Diego State a roll-up-your sleeves type of place — a campus where the impossible becomes possible. Not a lot of resources, but a desire to leave camp better than you found it. Tenacity paid off. Hard work was a staple. And our can-do attitude was hallmark. As was our Aztec Pride.

As I continue to relish the Aztecs’ historic run to the final dance (and especially the Butler Buzzer Beater in the Final Four), I can’t help but think of the parallels between the Aztecs’ run and our work in fundraising.

Our Aztec dream team was filled with persistence. Tenacity. Collaboration. Strong coaching with a commitment to individualization. Fun in working towards a common goal. They gave us something to dream about and believe in. At the finals in Houston, the Aztecs created bonds, rekindled memories and friendships, and created a greater passion for the work of SDSU. March Madness built community.

While we do not all have March Madness or cheering in the stands, every day we create magic at our institutions. And we use the same traits to make it happen: Persistence to create that magic and to invite others into it. Collaboration with our internal partners who set vision and carry it out, and with colleagues who help the entire advancement function rise together. We invite prospective donors in and engage them as individuals toward a common goal, toward a vision. We dream, and we invite these partners to be part of the dream through their generosity. When we do it at our best, we create life-long connectivity, and a greater passion for our institution. We build community.

The question for each of us, then, is whether we’re creating magic for the institutions and causes we represent. What does our magic look like, and how can we use it rekindle our connection to our supporters and build shared passion? How can we use that spirit to build a community of generosity?

We all have that opportunity if we’re willing to take it. And we all have it in us if we’re willing to try.

Creating Your “Unhooking” Strategy

Work events: Whether it’s a gala, a homecoming event for university parents, a campaign launch or any other community-facing event, there’s a belief among folks who aren’t frontline fundraisers that we just love to attend these. That we’re naturals at introducing ourselves, making conversation, working the room, and using it to move strategies forward. What many of us know, of course, is that this is not true, and that events often push us outside of our comfort zone, requiring us to be even more intentional in order to be strategic.

So we use that intentionality to introduce ourselves, make conversation, and to make that conversation purposeful, in support of philanthropy at our institution. There’s a lot of talk in our field about “hooks” to engage supporters in meaningful ways around our role and philanthropy, and those can come into play for events too.

But in a recent conversation with a professional new to advancement, we began discussing “unhooking” — exiting event conversations that are lovely, but not strategic or in alignment with our role of introducing or reaffirming the importance of philanthropy.

Imagine you’re working an event. You’re chatting with a fantastic supporter, one whose annual support is thoughtful but who will not be growing that support. Or you’re chatting with someone who is in someone else’s portfolio, and you are not able to move that relationship forward yourself.

How do we as fundraising professionals “unhook,” or exit the conversation gracefully, but with intention? I shared a few examples with the colleague of how we can leave the conversation with as much strategy as we entered it:

  • “It was so nice talking with you! I don’t want to stop you from visiting with our other guests/going to the food stations/etc., so I’ll let you do that. But thank you so much for your support of our organization. It makes such a difference, and I’m really glad you can be here for us to show you how you’re making a difference and say thank you!”
  • “I’m so glad we were able to connect! I’d love to introduce you to my colleague who works with alumni and supporters of our school of engineering, as I know she would be very glad to chat with you. Let me introduce you – she’s right over here.”

Each of these further build the groundwork for the individual relationship by reinforcing the role of events and/or advancement professionals. I’d argue that each of us can build our impact even more by making sure we have the thoughtful “unhooking” language that works for us at the ready.

What language do you like to use? We would love to learn your tips and tools.

Keeping it Simple

I was recently conducting an assessment that will lead to a strategic plan outline for a client. As a part of the process, I had the honor of speaking with a handful of passionate stakeholders: alumni, parents, trustees and donors. Each showed up with incredible passion for their institution, and a deep-rooted desire to support the growth of a philanthropic program.

As we discussed the approaching fall season and all that comes with it — sporting events, homecoming and reunions, campus productions — I kept hearing a message from these committed stakeholders: “keep it simple.” And throughout these conversations, that message kept echoing in my ear.

Now, we know that the things that look “simple” to our supporters often are much more complex for those of us implementing them.

But there’s a message in here that I think we need to hear. A question for each of us to reflect on: How do we take time to slow down to truly create engagement opportunities that will support our greatest outcomes — building relationships that lead to philanthropy?

Our to-do lists and moving through the actions is at exact odds with what we are consistently hearing from our most important stakeholders. But are we listening?

As we plan for filling an athletic suite or a homecoming lunch, are we aligned with what our most important stakeholders are looking for? Are we discussing the desired outcomes through their lens, or ours?

Keep it simple is actually a request. Think about what’s often most important to those returning to campus or attending a regional event: a conversation with a beloved professor, the opportunity to walk through storied halls or favorite campus landmarks or seeing old friends and laughing about memories.

Fall events provide an opportunity to build pride and passion for our institutions and our vision. It is the conversations that happen after these events where our best work in philanthropy can come to life.

How can we keep it simple so that we focus not on our to do lists, or how busy we are, but make time for the most important interactions?

As you plan for fall, ask yourself: Are you creating spaces for meaningful, memorable interactions? And how will you build on those interactions to create deep-rooted, long-term relationships on behalf of our institutions?

Measuring what Matters

The topic of metrics comes across my desk regularly. It may also be one of the more challenging topics in fundraising, as metrics is both an essential tool and one that is often misused, thus causing damage to morale.

In a conversation I had last week, we discussed my approach to metrics: Advancement leaders should create a system that incentivizes and celebrates performance, rather than a system that is punitive.

Think about the traits that support long-term, generous relationships: collaboration. engagement, and perseverance. Metrics can incentivize and reward each one of these. For example:

  • Some teams allow only one team member to take “credit” for a gift, which is counterproductive. Shared credit, when used correctly, incentivizes our teams to be more collaborative, to think about the institution first (versus the unit), and to elevate the role of donors in their giving. Not doing this creates silos and competition.
  • Building the donor pipeline is both essential and often neglected. Give credit for outreach activity and for qualifying (or disqualifying) prospects, and team members will more clearly see this work as a non-negotiable part of their role. As a result, they’ll be better positioned to remain persistent in the face of “no,” or resist silence when reaching out to new prospects.
  • Engagement leads to generosity, so measure and reward activities like donor visits and phone calls. By giving credit for this work, you’ll help motivate the team to stay focused rather than getting caught up in less important activities.

When we only focus on the financial goal, and not the activity that leads to the greatest generosity, we become more transactional in our approach. By creating a system that celebrates the hard work of building an authentic relationship that leads to generosity, we remove barriers that can stand in the way of team members collaboratively building authentic, sustainable relationships that reflect an institutional approach.

Metrics do matter. I believe in them and I used them when I led a team. But what I know from experience is they can be as effective in creating fear and poor behavior as they can be in motivating excellent work. And the only difference is leadership: what we choose to measure, what we choose to reward, and how transparent we are about those choices.

What metrics do you use that incentivize strong fundraising? And what might you change?

For a deeper dive into how data and metrics can support your leadership style, check out our recorded webinar Beyond Metrics: How Data Can Strengthen Your Management Style.

How to Build Proactive Time into Your Daily Work

“I’m too busy.”

“I’m just trying to keep up.”

“My to do list is overwhelming.”

We rarely do our best work under these circumstances, moving reactively from task to task, and yet these are such common statements from those of us who work in advancement.

It’s easy to see how we can get stuck in this pattern, but what’s often harder is recognizing the pattern and the toll it takes on us and our work — and finding a way beyond it.

While we each face different circumstances in our work, I’ve seen time and again one thing that we all have in common: that a more proactive approach to our work not only creates better results, it also helps us manage our own feelings of “busy” and regain control over our own work patterns.

What would this look like, feeling less at the mercy of whatever comes into your inbox? Thinking through strategy and approach in advance? I’m willing to bet it will lead to better results. More time and space for collaboration. Stronger strategies that have been fully thought through.

Here are a few proactive planning strategies. Can you benefit from any of these approaches?

  • Calendar block: Put holds on your calendar for your most common tasks like prospect outreach, donor/partnership follow up, donor strategy, catching up on email, or editing/writing. By honoring those holds, you both dedicate the time you need to proactive work, but you also know that you’ve set time aside for other tasks — so you don’t have to react the second they come through.
  • Create a plan: Do you have a donor event or donor visits coming up? Take time now to write down how you’ll manage the follow up. Maybe you’re divvying up the RSVP list for follow up and meeting requests. Draft your outreach language now, before it’s urgent. Do it during your calendar block for writing! Whatever you’re planning for, by outlining related activities in advance, you’ll have time to sit with your plan and tweak it as needed before it’s implemented — creating a better strategy.
  • Identify challenges: Look ahead at your calendar and identify any roadblocks that may be coming up. Maybe you have a few days in a row full of internal meetings, but you know you need to get out and spend time with donors. Make a point of sending several meeting requests before the meeting-heavy days so you know you’re still booking visits and will be able to move easily back into donor engagement after your internal-focused days.

It can be easy to fall into the pattern of taking things as they come at you, and there are times when this approach makes sense. But most often, taking control of our work by proactively planning for and managing it will make us far more effective.

And every bit as important: It will make us feel more in control of things too. And I don’t know anyone who couldn’t benefit from that!

If you’d like a coach to support you in developing a more proactive approach to your work this fall, please reach out! Our coaches at KDD Philanthropy are here to help!

Happy New (Fiscal) Year!

Happy new year! Yes, it’s July, but for many of us, July 1 marked a new fiscal year. And a new fiscal year usually brings with it two things:

An opportunity to reflect on what went well in our last year — and I hope you truly took time to celebrate what you learned, what you accomplished and what you made possible!

And, an opportunity for anxiety as you look toward new goals and metrics with financial reports that put us back at the starting line. 

Rather than “going back to start,” I encourage us to look at our new fiscal year as an opportunity to affirm and refine our approach, work and goals. The best place to start is with reflection. Ask yourself:

  • What am I most proud of accomplishing in the last fiscal year, and how will I continue to build upon those foundations?
  • What was a hurdle, and who can assist me in removing or reducing the hurdle?
  • What is my top professional growth goal? How can I break that goal into manageable pieces so that I see progress throughout my journey?
  • What skill would assist me in building collaborative and authentic relationships with donors, with colleagues, with members of my team?
  • How am I utilizing my calendar, my metrics and partnership with my manager to ensure I am focusing on my most important work?
  • Who on the team motivates me, or do I respect for their approach to their role? Can I schedule a coffee (in person or virtual) to connect and be inspired?
  • Can I attend a program, class or lecture and get re-inspired by my organization’s mission and focus?

If last fiscal year was a successful year, reflecting on what skills, approach and attitude assisted you in getting there should provide the confidence that “you’ve got this.” And while yes, July does represent a new year, it does not mean you are starting over.

If last fiscal year had you wanting to increase performance, be honest with yourself about what you wish you’d done differently. Then take time to identify what may have gotten in the way. Proactively look for strategies to remove those hurdles so you can do your most effective and important work.

If you could benefit from a partner and champion in your growth, our team of coaches at KDD Philanthropy are here to support your growth through webinars, individual coaching and team training. Our approach is built on years of in-house experience leading teams and fundraising, and we enjoy our conversations with each of you who play a role in inspiring generosity, too!

Happy (fiscal) new year! We look forward to cheering you on!

Does Your Calendar Resemble a Patchwork Quilt?

We are tired. We are busy. We just cannot seem to get to everything on our list. I have this conversation almost daily with clients and colleagues, and what’s worse is that many of us have reconciled that this is our normal. Unfortunately, this “normal” is also what leads to lost productivity and burnout. Which is why each of us must use the tools we do have to take control of our time, and to use it well.

I’ve found that calendar management — simple as it may sound — is one of the most overlooked and easiest-to-employ tools in the face of this challenge.

If you’ve attended my webinars or trainings, you know I’m passionate about calendar management. Our calendars can support focus, deep work and balance. And yet many of us are not using it this way, and that leaves us feeling overwhelmed.

We can use our calendars to ensure the things that are most important (both professional AND personal) are prioritized. Whether for a vacation next year or donor calls tomorrow, blocking your most important activities ensures they’ll happen.

To truly get ahead of the game and stay focused on the important (versus the urgent, or someone else’s fire), we need to use our calendar as a strategic tool. These tips will help get your calendar back to manageable:

Set ground rules for your calendar. My personal ground rules include 30 minutes for lunch, and three 10-minute blocks a week to handle anything urgent or to make quick calls. Your ground rules may include a personal break (walks, journaling), or time for productivity, strategy, or to-do lists. Share your ground rules with others so they can support you.

Know your own patterns. As an early riser, I’m at my best in the morning. As such, I block that time for my most important tasks (strategy development, creating of a presentation, creating two touches with clients or donors). On the other hand, I have a colleague who doesn’t like to make donor outreach calls until after lunch, so she books as many meetings and other tasks for mornings and leaves afternoons for donor outreach. What patterns can you formalize on your calendar to support your best work?

Break the big things in to smaller pieces. For example, if you’re holding time for an employee evaluation in a few weeks, block time now to write it. Consider switching your 60-minute meetings to 50 minutes, allowing time each hour to handle immediate, quick needs.

Start your day with an activity that sets the tone. During my years as an in-house advancement professional, I started each day by making two outreaches to donors. It allowed me to begin the day focused on my purpose and doing something rewarding. Consider an activity that you might use to kick off each day, and how that can support your best work.

Look back and reflect. Look back at your calendar and identify the activities that were not a good use of your time. Whether those are meetings, a type of responsibility that would better live elsewhere, or another activity, talk to supervisors and natural partners, and then take steps to remove them.

Build your calendar with intention. Rather that allowing your calendar to become a patchwork quilt (accepting any meeting, at any time), set boundaries around how you schedule meetings in a way that supports your best productivity. Block times for the most important parts of your job, and do not give those times away (this may require some coaching up and across, but the results are well worth the fleeting discomfort). If you lead a team, book all team meetings on the same day so you can immerse yourself in that perspective for a few hours. If you are frontline, use a pattern to block holds for frontline activity so you can book meetings in a predictable way — and then support that work afterward. A week full of engaging donor visits will miss the mark if you have not blocked time for follow up, strategy updates and time to get things into your donor database.

The time of having too much to do is most likely not going to change. But how we approach our “get to do list” is ours to manage, and we should use every tool we have to manage it well. Intentionality does us all good.

Looking for more tips on prioritization, balancing competing priorities, and calendar management? The KDD Philanthropy team is available for calendar management coaching calls!

The Three Keys to Strong Fundraising Partnerships

In recent months, I’ve had several conversations about the challenges of working with and staffing our internal partners physicians, faculty, program leaders, and others — in a virtual environment. With fewer unstructured connections and in-person opportunities to engage, creating an open and authentic partnership is requiring more intentionality than ever.

This partnership is critical: Our internal allies are the best representatives of their work, and they can inspire greater levels of generosity and impact than fundraisers can alone. In my coaching, I talk about three critical elements to developing trusting and authentic relationships: We must be educators, navigators, and negotiators.

Education: Our internal partners are often brilliant … but they’re rarely fundraising experts. We can play an incredible role in increasing partners’ buy-in and comfort, and therefore fundraising success. Let’s take every opportunity we can to do just that, by educating on how this work happens and their role in it by discussing:

  • The process of prospect assignment and building portfolios.
  • The steps for building an effective new fundraising initiative.
  • Partnering with our central advancement colleagues — and the value in this partnership.
  • Building a strong prospect relationship, and how we invite prospects to become philanthropic partners.

Navigation: Fundraising can be tricky! Where resources are involved, navigating those dynamics becomes key. We can build trust and buy-in by skillfully navigating scenarios to create the best possible outcome for the program, the donor, and the institution, and provide guidance to our partners on how to navigate these challenges as well. For example:

  • Considering multiple strategies or approaches to find the best one for a donor.
  • Two deans working together on an interdisciplinary fundraising priority when their visions do not align.
  • A donor seeking more transparency to better understand how a gift would be used to create real impact.

Negotiation: Fundraising is full of varying personalities, priorities, and preferences … all requiring regular negotiation. As gift officers, the more thoughtfully we can negotiate competing desires and approaches, the better we can build internal partnerships and move toward results. The opportunities for negotiation, and for guiding our internal partners in negotiation, are frequent:

  • A potential gift requires a fair amount of negotiation with the donor, and our partner needs assistance in managing that process skillfully and with patience, understanding that it will be worthwhile.
  • A partner’s priority initiative is not seen as aligned with the institution’s strategic plan. And therefore, not an approved fundraising priority.
  • A partner is in a leadership role, and is approached by a team member requesting fundraising support. That support isn’t readily available due to other priorities, but the leader needs support saying “no” (e.g., a dean you work with is approached by a faculty member).
  • A physician wants to solicit a prospect for a new piece of equipment, but you know the prospect has a different priority.
  • A donor offers a gift that isn’t in alignment with the program’s vision.

The investment that we make to educate, navigate, and negotiate should build relationships that allow philanthropy to do its greatest good. But this won’t happen by accident: We as fundraisers must have the courage to lead those discussions in a timely and appropriate manner. Think about your most important internal partners — are there any topics you’re leaving on the table? How would it build your relationship if you took on those topics through open dialogue and a commitment to education, navigation, and negotiation?

Looking for more tools to strengthen how you work with your key physician, dean, or program partner? Our recent webinar series on being a unit lead is great for team discussions, learning, and practicum.