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Category: Development Officers

How to Engage Your Front Door Partners

How many blogs have you read, or conversations have you had, about engaging executive leaders in your work? Deans, star physicians, executives, program leaders … these are the first roles we think of when it comes to collaborating with partners in advancement.

But there’s another group of natural partners about whom we should be thinking. Not those in leadership roles, but those who are often the “front door” to the institution or to a leader who also plays an important role in building a successful culture of philanthropy.

Our “front door” partners are often some of our best allies, but only if we are intentional in cultivating this engagement. Intentionality can take many forms, such as:

  • Implementing a meeting to introduce yourself and discuss your role and the larger advancement effort to key new employees.
  • Finding opportunities to regularly share stories of wins, including a monthly email, department meetings, year-end celebrations and more. Be expansive in defining wins, such as updates for the database, assistance with scheduling an important meeting or helping a donor with a request.
  • Presenting at department/program meetings about how everyone contributes to the patient/guest/alumni/etc. experience and therefore can support generosity — or take it off the table with a bad experience.
  • When announcing a gift, share specific examples of colleagues who supported the process along the way, including those who did so behind the scenes.
  • Regularly sharing stories and context. For example, if a parent prospect interacts with program staff and then makes a gift, come back to program staff to share that they helped create an experience that supported generosity.

Think about your language too. How do you discuss donors and the fundraising process? Do you represent the meaningful, enjoyable elements of the work? Do you acknowledge the donor’s experiences with the institution as a whole, rather than with only advancement and leadership? These messages make a difference!

Underlying these opportunities is a simple concept: When we lead with openness and gratitude, we create a dynamic that others want to engage in. Take the time to ask yourself who the “front door” colleagues are to your institution and whether there may be more you can do to create an impactful partnership.

Gratitude: It’s Critical for More Than Just Donor Relationships

Gratitude is an anchor that all of us at KDD Philanthropy feel is an imperative in our fundraising work. Affiliate Carol Spychalski does a beautiful job in outlining the importance of gratitude within organizations, our teams and with each other. I would be remiss in sharing Carol’s blog, if I didn’t share my immense gratitude to each of you who bring the fabric of the KDDP online community to life. We are incredibly grateful for your contributions, your support and your feedback. Thank you.

“Thank you. You matter.” This is the essence of the words I say, to those who support my organization, constantly. And if you, like me, are an advancement leader, you know why: because demonstrating gratitude is absolutely foundational to effective donor engagement.

We live and breathe gratitude for our donors in our work. Whether we plan events, process and acknowledge gifts, are major gift officers or any other role within our field, we regularly demonstrate our supporters’ impact and our appreciation. Thoughtful messages, milestone celebrations, customized gifts related to the cause, lunches with leadership … it’s nonstop!

We do this because it matters — and yet, somehow, we often forget that gratitude matters every bit as much for our teams and colleagues. We’re busy, or distracted, or mean well but just never get there. However, the internet is rife with articles about why leaders should regularly and actively thank employees for the value they bring: research has demonstrated that doing so increases productivity, retention, and morale.

As advancement leaders, then, one of the most important activities we can undertake is to apply the same intentionality we have for donors to our own teams:

  • We know that not every donor wants public recognition, or lunches with the dean. Every employee is different too. We should work to understand and honor their preferences.
  • We would never thank our impactful donors only through group messages. That’s why activities like telling the entire team at a staff meeting that they did great isn’t enough. Gratitude should also be individualized, shared one-on-one and specific.
  • Just like with supporters, milestones are an easy way to show an employee they matter. Whether it’s a birthday or work anniversary, something as simple as a note card can go a long way.
  • Gratitude is built into our language with donors: “Your gift makes a difference.” “Thank you for supporting us on Giving Tuesday!”

It should be as natural with team members: “Thanks for taking care of that.” “Great job on that presentation.” “That was a great meeting you ran.”

  • Impact is critical for our supporters. They want to know their gifts matter, and our field communicates that regularly.

Impact is important for team members too. “Your creativity in coming up with new engagement opportunities is really building momentum for this initiative.” “Your willingness to take on extra projects really makes it possible for a lot of things to move forward that wouldn’t otherwise.”

And let me be clear: We’re not going to be awesome at all of these. I haven’t celebrated an employee anniversary … ever. It’s just not how my brain works. (I’m sorry, team!) And I’m more comfortable sharing gratitude one-on-one rather than in front of a group. But if each of us is intentional in finding expressions of gratitude that do work for us, while honoring the styles of those we’re thanking, I’m positive that our teams and our cultures will be stronger for it.

For a deeper look at how to express appreciation to your gift officers, sign up to join us for KDD Philanthropy’s Leadership, Management, and Fundraising webinar series!

Five Things Gift Officers Need Right Now

Beginning this month, KDD Philanthropy is pleased to add another voice to our offerings. Our blog, “Five Things Gift Officers Need Right Now,” is the first from affiliate Carol Spychalski.

In her monthly writings, Carol will bring her perspective as an in-organization fundraiser and leader to the opportunities our field faces every day. She’s passionate about creating cultures that allow advancement professionals to do their best work, and believes strongly that an institution’s mission is best met when leadership, staff, and donors work together in mutual respect for the value of each role. (Learn more about Carol here.)

See what Carol identified as the top five needs for every gift officer today, and let us know what you would add to the list!

I’ve just returned to the office, and to seeing donors in person, for the first time in more than a year. And it’s a hard transition! Yes, I’ve spent 17 years doing this exact thing every day without questioning it. Yes, I love my organization, my role, and the people I work with. But still: it’s stressful!

Maybe you feel stress or out of sorts right now too. So many people I speak with are for wildly varying reasons. While some of us have long-since-returned to the office, some of us aren’t returning, and some have never left, recognizing this moment is critical for all of us as employees and as managers.

This moment is critical for fundraising teams for numerous reasons: A greater emphasis on portfolio diversification requires rethinking prospect identification and qualification. Greater attention on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion have raised the bar for employers to truly embrace these values. Those of us whose organizations experienced a “COVID boom” in giving are grappling with how to maintain momentum as we move past the urgency created by crisis — and those who didn’t must find a way to build back. And that’s just the beginning of what fundraisers are experiencing right now.

That’s why this is a critical time to re-invest in ensuring every gift officer has what they need to stay connected, motivated, and effective in five key ways.

1. Re-connection to the cause: If you work at a university, consider sitting in on a class. If you work at an animal welfare organization, walk the halls and visit with the animals. Or do whatever works for you — but what’s most important is that in the rush to get work done, your work is grounded in passion for the mission.

2. A clear vision in a post-COVID-crisis world: Institutions whose work have been directly or tangentially COVID-related will need to prepare for the inevitable waning of interest as COVID moves from peak crisis. Those whose work has not been impacted by COVID still face a public profoundly changed, and will need to be able to articulate their value in this new world, with the needs it exposed.

3. Clear giving opportunities that align with impact: The shared crises over the past year+ (COVID, social and racial injustice, etc.) created a sense of urgency, and giving was a clear way to help. Donors who felt a more-concrete-than-ever sense of “doing something” do not want to go backwards. The better you demonstrate the impact they can have through a gift of any amount, the better positioned you are to capture prospects’ passion and move them to action.

4. Engagement opportunities: Just like clear giving opportunities, donors are looking for ways to get involved in the communities around them. This nation’s experiences have inspired in many a greater sense of collective action and responsibility. Make sure you can provide an avenue for those desires.

5. Grace: It’s critical to remember that we are not “back to normal” — and that “normal” was still deeply flawed for many. The last few years have exposed deep fault lines across our society. Many lost family members and weren’t able to properly say goodbye due to COVID. Schools may be open, just to close again for quarantines. Whatever the details, real trauma was experienced. If you’re a manager, and you’re not making space for your team to be distracted sometimes, to struggle with coming back to the office or returning to in-person donor visits, to expect their workplace to demonstrate a greater commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (in practice, not principle), etc. — you’re missing the boat. And manager or not, each of us should be making space for ourselves. We can be our harshest critics, and we must give ourselves the grace we would ask of others.

For a deeper look at how to set gift officers up for success in today’s climate, sign up to join us for KDD Philanthropy’s Leadership, Management, and Fundraising webinar series!

What are you doing to prepare for a return to the office, or what did you do if you’ve already returned? Share your tips in the comments!

The Power of the Briefing

You’re a development officer, looking forward to a prospect meeting next week. The location is booked, prospect confirmed, and your faculty champion has agreed to join you. You’ve discussed this meeting with your faculty partner, so now you’re good to go, right? Not quite… a meeting without a strategic and thoughtful briefing is a waste of time for both the donor and the champion.

The written briefing document is an irreplaceable tool in staffing faculty, physicians, volunteers and organizational partners/leaders who are so important to our work with prospects and donors.

As someone who has staffed leadership, and been staffed as leadership, I have seen too many briefings that miss the mark. These briefings missed desired outcomes, sought after goals, or why my presence in a meeting is important. I have reviewed briefings intended for key institutional leadership, and could not discern what role they should play, and why that might be important to the overall strategy. I have read pages of background information, none of it tied to the purpose or reason for the meeting. Or worse, too much background with no connection of dots. I have received briefings an hour or two before a meeting … far too late to be able to contribute to a strategy, let alone be prepared for the meeting I was to attend, lead, or otherwise add value to.

However, briefings can be a vehicle for us to do some of our best work. Are you ensuring they serve this purpose?

When our partners give their limited time to development efforts, we must steward that time effectively. This means preparing them to be as effective as possible, and demonstrating confidence in our strategy and our use of their time. The written briefing accomplishes both of these items in one efficient tool.

Why? Because a briefing document ensures you and your institutional partner are on the same page, with key messages, goals, and information recorded clearly. It demonstrates the larger strategy by including context and vision, further building respect for the process and the expertise of the development officer. And, it clearly demonstrates thoughtfulness for the role of this partner, and a respect for his or her time.

The written briefing must incorporate key elements to achieve all of these goals. To serve your prospect/development strategy, it should include:

  • Purpose of the meeting or event – placing it in the context of an overall strategy
  • Role of the partner in the meeting or event and in the larger strategy – demonstrating that his or her presence is a good use of time
  • Key talking points – who is responsible for carrying which key messages
  • Anticipated outcomes – and how to get them

And, don’t forget the logistics too:

  • Dress code
  • Location and parking instructions
  • Critical times for participation (if an event)
  • Phone number for a staff member who will be available that entire day in case of emergency or last-minute request or question

Remember, our prospects and donors want access to leadership, and including institutional partners in our work provides this entrée. Access helps move relationships, and our job is to make it as easy as possible for our partners to provide it.

When we implement this tool of the trade, we get rich returns. By putting our most professional foot forward, we earn the respect of our colleagues and secure the strategic outcomes we need. Our partners and our donors deserve this effort!

 I challenge you to implement or retool written briefings and share your successes here!

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3 Ways to Provide Growth Pathways for Retaining High-Performing Fundraisers

Throughout my career as a fundraiser and manager, I have interviewed countless candidates who told me the reason they are leaving their current position is a lack of opportunity for growth. Whether the individual works for a non-profit, healthcare institution, or university, I’ve heard that statement time and again.

Don’t let this happen to you and your organization! As you recruit and retain high-performing fundraisers, take steps to advocate and create pathways for these valuable team members. They want to know they make a difference and have a future with your organization. You can use these three strategies to provide growth opportunities for the employees you want to stay with your organization.

  1. Identify whether your high-performing development officers are ready to take on more of a leadership role. Opportunities to lead can come in several forms, not simply giving someone the title of “director.” For example, assign a team member to lead a taskforce or work group. Or, perhaps you can charge the individual with best practice development, such as standards for fundraising travel. Looking externally, are there community groups or committees the individual can join to represent your organization?
  2. Use the power of mentorship as a growth pathway. If your employee aims to eventually supervise staff and become a manager – but they need to expand their approach or style first – ask them to serve as a mentor to a colleague or new hire. Or, perhaps you can put them in charge of developing the on-boarding process for your department. If management is not a goal, identify a mentor for the development officer who is a leader in ways outside of management. For example, provide an opportunity for them to your high performer can shadow you or another leader on an important project to see how you staff a board, build a fundraising initiative, or partner with programmatic staff.
  3. Carve out ten percent of your high performer’s job description for special projects. This is a great way to invest in your super stars while benefiting the larger team. And, your employee will know that you are willing to make a true investment in her when you specifically make time for it. For example, find projects that grow skills in management, volunteer leadership, mentoring, or complex gift strategies.

Your most valuable employees are in high demand in the development community, and regularly see outside opportunities that will allow them to grow. This environment demands that managers be proactive, creative and dedicated to these employees in order to retain them and best serve their organizations. Creating growth pathways is one of the single-most effective ways to ensure your top players will want to stay and continue performing at their best.

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The “Secret” Skills to Being a High-Performing Fundraiser

I am often asked what skill or trait is most needed to be a high-performing fundraiser. I have been working in the field of philanthropy and fundraising for more than 21 years, for organizations that range from institutions of higher education to healthcare organizations. And over the years, my answer has stayed consistent.

The first skill development officers need to have is confidence. As front-line fundraisers, we are often the representatives of our respective institutions. Whether it’s intentional or not, donors and prospects see us as the face and voice of our organizations. This is why it’s so critical to maintain a confident nature and be the best outward face possible.

Developing a strong sense of confidence is also critical because – let’s face it – we receive a lot of rejection in our field. That is the nature of fundraising. We need to learn to not take this rejection personally.

My second answer to what trait is needed to be a high-performing development officer is polite persistence. Fundraising is not for the faint of heart. It takes an average of 11 outreaches for a prospect/donor to respond “yes” to a meeting. This translates to a balancing act between polite and persistence to get to a “yes.”

However as our industry continues to evolve, I’m finding there are two more critical skills that are becoming increasingly important to be a high-performing fundraiser. Those attributes are focus and discipline.

Many development officers I’ve worked with over the years did not know how to develop focus and discipline when it came to fundraising. They were hired into fundraising positions to build relationships that lead to meaningful solicitations. Yet when it came to developing a system to consistently do the work and make progressions, they lacked the skills to make this happen. Focus and discipline are often neglected at professional development conferences and I believe it is one key reason why our industry faces such high rates of turnover.

In order to become a high-performing fundraiser, you need to look at what’s holding you back from succeeding. Is it a fear of rejection? Is it failure to be persistent and follow through? Or perhaps it is, quite simply, that you need someone to help you grow your confidence and show you how to focus your development efforts.

This is where ongoing training and support is critical in our field. In order to survive and thrive in today’s development climate, organizations must ensure development professionals receive coaching and guidance on even the most basic fundraising skills. Investing in advancement training is not only a retention tool; it is critical to create long-term, high-performing front line fundraising teams.

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