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.

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.

Vision

  • 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.

Engagement

  • 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.

Alignment

  • 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.