I recently attended an event with the founder of a national search firm that manages many fundraising searches annually.
One of the interesting things that he advised was to stay in a fundraising position for a minimum of 3 or 3.5 years. In his opinion, results from your first two years of any position are predominantly a result of things done by a predecessor (unless of course it is a new position or there are other mitigating circumstances to consider) and that it isn’t until your third year on the job that your own ideas and initiatives begin to produce results. While I don’t totally agree with this assertion, I do understand it.
Do you agree or disagree with this assertion? I’m very interested to hear your thoughts.
As I am currently knee-deep in data for International House’s Fall Appeal, I thought it would be timely to share a dear friend and mentor’s story of a year-end appeal that she received from a school that she attended. I’ll let her tell it . . .
I received the company’s year-end appeal — a very long, boring, obviously mass-directed letter with this salutation “Dear Jane Arthur-Arthur Doe” — so many mistakes right off the bat. For years, I’ve received mail from the company addressed this way and for years — by phone, emails, and snail-mail — I’ve tried to correct the error without success. The letter’s BRE attracted me because it included a check-off box for donors-on-the-fence; it followed the box with something like, “If not now, perhaps later” and included a few lines for an explanatory note.
I took the company up at its offer, checked the fence-sitting box and, without resorting to verbal violence, told the Director of Development that: 1) Basic English usage for salutations required “Dear First Name or Dear Nickname or Dear Ms./Mrs./Miss/Mr./Dr./Professor/Reverend/Pastor/Rabbi (etc.), followed by a Last Name; 2) I’m an alumna known as Jane Arthur Doe — one Arthur and no hyphens, please; 3) As an alumna, I deserve a special letter when you’re asking me for money or telling me anything — “attention must be paid” (all credit due to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman) with a letter based on some research, not only for the correct use of my name, but in acknowledging my status as a former dancer and contributor to the company’s remarkable history.
My note obviously took up more than a few lines so I inserted it into the BRE and mailed it — prepaid, of course. Two weeks later, I received a brief note from the DOD. She corrected the salutation and hoped that I’d reconsider and support the company in the future.
Since my dear friend told me about this, I’ve been pre-printing the donor listing as we have it on file for each donor on the buckslip that comes in their direct mail appeals. Though most people have not paid it much attention, it has been nice to receive updates from I-House alumni and donors confirming how they prefer to be addressed. As my mentor said, it is important to provide these opportunities to meet the prospective/current/lapsed donor on their own level.
How do you assure that your organization’s donor data is up-to-date and correct? Do your direct mail appeals provide an opportunity for donors to update or correct their contact information and listings?
I recently contributed a piece on 3 Elements of Successful Annual Appeals to BenchmarkEmail’s Presence for Non-Profits blog series. I hope that you’ll check it out and share your thoughts here or on the BenchmarkEmail site.
In my experience, most annual fund appeals consist either of a letter or a brochure/flyer with a short note seeking your support. Whether you are at a large organization or a small operation, asking donors to make charitable contributions is one of the most important things on your annual to-do list. While there are a myriad of variables to consider in regard to your annual fundraising strategy, I have boiled them down to three key elements of successful annual appeals:
Read more . . .
While attending a session on Working with Your Board at last month’s Fundraising Day in New York, one of the speakers shared how her organization frames the fundraising expectations of its board: give, get or connect.
While most fundraisers are used to the give-or-get concept, but I found it interesting that value was placed on making meaningful connections. I think that it is particularly important to acknowledge those connections that are made, whether in supporting program operations or identifying new donors, especially those made by board members who may not have as much money to give directly as some others.
How do you measure your board’s fundraising effectiveness? Does your organization have a give or get policy? If so, what is it? And if not, why?
While attending last month’s Fundraising Day in New York, I sat in on a session focused on understanding family foundations. During the conversation, one of the panelists reminded me of a very useful resource that some fundraisers may not be aware of: the Bank of America Philanthropic Solutions Grant Search. On this site, you can do some quick prospecting among a group of foundations for which the Bank serves as a trustee or co-trustee.
This is another resource that I wanted to be sure to share with you, dear readers. Please let me know if you come across any good prospects and especially if you end up building new relationships with potential funders (or get a grant!).
While recently moving, my wife and I made numerous trips to our local Goodwill store and donation center. On one particular trip, I dropped the bags in the large donation bin and one of the store associates asked if I wanted a receipt and I politely told him no. After this, he thanked me for the donation and for helping support the Goodwill’s work — this was the first and only time during our visits that I was thanked in this manner, or at all. (I don’t mean this to be a critique of Goodwill’s employees, but more recognition of a job well done in this case.) This thank you really resonated with me and I wanted to be sure to share this experience with you, my dear readers; it made me feel like I was helping make a real difference.
When did a thank you or acknowledgment from a non-profit really touch you? Why did it reach you? Did it spur you to action? Do you support this organization now? And how do you adjust your organization’s acknowledgment strategy to touch your donors?
While reading this New York Times article about ghostwriting for celebrity cookbooks last month, it made me think about how fundraisers spend their careers writing in the voice of their organizations and its leaders. Now I don’t think that we require the same sort of acknowledgment as book ghostwriters, but I wanted to draw attention to this skill and how it is something that is not easily explained (or replicated). As I write, I can still mentally revert back to writing for the Executive Director at my former organization (not to mention the elected officials for whom I worked while in high school and college).
If you are not familiar with this phenomenon, ask some of your colleagues about it. When I started at International House, I made a point to read through recent correspondence from my boss and the President, as I knew that I would be responsible for preparing document drafts (appeal letters, acknowledgments, stewardship reports, etc.) and wanted to get an idea of their respective voices. After that, I jumped into my writing assignments and got their direct feedback along the way to learn those subtle nuances (e.g. which words they never use, which phrases are their favorites, what they only say to donors with whom they have close or personal relationships). I think that it took me about a full year to feel reasonably confident writing in the voices of the Director of Development and President, though even after being at I-House for almost three years they still surprise me every now and then with very particular edits for outgoing correspondence.
How have you honed this skill during your fundraising career? Do you think that non-profit organizations effectively identify people with this skill?
Greetings from Toronto Pearson International Airport! As I write this, I’m waiting for my connecting flight to get to the AFP International Fundraising Conference in Vancouver. Since the airport has free wi-fi — I knew that I could trust my neighbors to the north — I can share this with you in reasonable real time.
While coming through customs, the customs agent asked me why I was coming into the country and of course I told him about the conference. He was very curious about professional fundraising . . . it was a nice change to have someone genuinely interested in our work after learning what I do for a living. After I gave him the 15-second intro on International House and he stamped my passport, the agent asked me what was “the one trick to fundraising” and after briefly considering the question, I told him that there wasn’t a silver bullet.
But as I left the customs area and proceeded to grab my bag, I realized that I know the one trick to fundraising (wait for it) . . . . KNOW YOUR DONORS! Now I cannot claim that I came up with this bright idea, so I must acknowledge Lynne Wester and the recent ADRP NYC Regional Conference for really bringing this point to the surface for me. It’s a very simple idea and one that should really be at the heart of all of our fundraising programs.
If you don’t know your donors, you can’t:
- effectively engage them in your organization’s mission and work, as you don’t know what first attracted them to it or how they prefer to be engaged;
- easily cultivate them for major and planned gifts; or
- personalize your messages based on their interest areas.
The only way that you can get to know your donors is to TALK TO THEM! You can do this through surveys
, by picking up the phone on a regular occasion or just asking a few good questions when you see them at your events.
How have you gotten to know your donors? Did this engagement allow you to deepen their relationship with your organization?
Photo credit — Toronto Pearson International Airport
After attending the Association of Donor Relations Professionals New York City Regional Workshop last Friday, I am feeling a bit refreshed and full of new ideas to try in the next year. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, as the conference season is getting under way. I say it all the time and will say it again — fundraisers need professional development opportunities (and many other things) to stay sane and effective.
There are many reasons that professional development is critical for fundraisers, but here are my top three reasons:
- Time to recharge — We all can benefit from some time away from the office, which allows us to see the bigger picture and return to our work refocused.
- Source of new ideas and inspiration — Conferences and workshops are always full of the latest and greatest ideas and strategies. As Lynne Wester reminded us at the ADRP Regional Workshop, we can all learn from each other and borrow ideas that will help our fundraising efforts.
- Expand your network — Being able to pick up the phone or send a quick e-mail to a few fellow fundraisers with a question or issue is absolutely priceless. Professional development events are the best place to make these connections and you should capitalize upon these opportunities to meet and get to know your colleagues.
What professional development events and associations have been useful in your fundraising career? What events will you be attending this year?
For your information, I’ll be attending AFP’s International Conference in Vancouver next month (which I’ll be writing more about very soon), the New York Philanthropic Planning Symposium in May and Fundraising Day in New York this June. I look forward to sharing some of the lessons I glean from these upcoming events with you.