Quick Tips for Managing a Career in Fundraising

At the end of a very interesting NYU panel discussion last month, the panelists offered some great quick tips for managing a career in fundraising and philanthropy, which I am pleased to share with you below:

  • Stay immersed in the current topics in your field (the specific issue area in which your organization works AND fundraising/philanthropy overall).
  • Think reflectively on the skill sets that you possess and what others may be necessary in the sector.
  • Assure that you are fluent in the various parts of fundraising, as you should find it easier to be more of a generalist and have the flexibility to comfortably work on different pieces of the puzzle.

Do you agree with these tips?  Have you used them in your own career?  What other tips would you suggest for managing a successful fundraising career?

If you did not read my recap of last month’s NYU panel discussion on how fundraising and philanthropy are faring as the American economy recovers, check it out here.

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Navigating the “Recovering” Economy

Last month I attended a panel discussion entitled “Fundraising & Philanthropy in Today’s Economy,” sponsored by the NYU Wagner School’s Alumni in Fundraising & Development and Alumni in Philanthropy groups.  (Full disclosure: I am a co-chair of the fundraising alumni group.)  The panelists were: Sonia Gonzalez, Director of Membership and Individual Giving at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden; Cheryl Green Rosario, Director of Philanthropy at American Express; and Sandra Toussaint-Burgher, Director of Development at Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence. The panel was moderated by Margaret Coady, Director at the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.

When the panelists were all asked to rate where they felt the economy currently was on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the worst), they all agreed on a 6 or 7, which I don’t think surprised any of us.

Each panelist shared an interesting perspective that provides a glimpse into how fundraising & philanthropy are being affected as the American economy is recovering:

  • Ms. Rosario shared that the philanthropic budget at American Express was at $32 million prior to the recession in 2007 and is currently at $27 million.  When an audience member asked if there was any hope of those cuts being restored in the future, Cheryl responded by explaining the paradox of “making do with less,” whereupon she and her team have been able to continue pursuing the company’s philanthropic priorities, which then does not encourage her bosses to restore the budget cuts.
  • Ms. Toussaint-Burgher shared that her organization is particularly dependent upon corporate funding.  She expounded upon the importance of showing return on investment in securing corporate support, specifically how they (a potential corporate funder) could get their products/services in front of a market/population.  On this larger point, she also noted that with the decrease in corporate cash contributions, there has been an increase in non-cash/in-kind support.
  • Ms. Gonzalez pointed out that while individual support may fluctuate over time, this particular area has expanded year-to-year over the last 10 years at the Garden, with an average increase of $10,000-20,000 annually.  One particular strategy that she used at the Garden during the economic downturn was to position it as a special place for “stay-cations.”  She also highlighted the special programming that was a part of the Garden’s Centennial Celebration as something else that helped expand their audience at a time when other cultural institutions were losing audience share.

When asked how their organizations changed or initiated new strategies as the economy begins to improve, the panelists shared some very smart ideas:

  • Ms. Toussaint-Burgher discussed a long term revenue-sharing agreement that Count Me In has made with Federal Express, whereby the organization gets a percentage from their members’ usage of FedEx delivery services.  CMI is also beginning an individual fundraising program among its community of female entrepreneurs.
  • Ms. Gonzalez mentioned that she expanded acquisition direct mail to encourage current Garden members to upgrade their membership in honor of the Garden’s Centennial year.  They also expanded the use of guest passes for members by also providing them for exclusive events, so that members could bring non-members and show off some of the benefits of membership.

At the end of the discussion, the panelists agreed that it will take another two to three years for the economy to fully recover.

How is your organization changing old strategies or introducing new initiatives as the economy has begun to recover?

In my next post, I will share the panelists’ quick tips for maintaining a successful career in fundraising & philanthropy.

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A New Perspective on Board Recruitment and Retention

Yesterday on The Michael Chatman Giving Show, the guest was fundraising coach and non-profit communications strategist Lori Jacobwith.  I have followed Lori for most of the last year that I have been on Twitter, as she is a really smart non-profit professional.

Lori made a few particular points about non-profit board recruitment and retention which have stuck in my mind since yesterday’s show:

1.  Before joining a board, the prospect should ask for a job description and discuss the expectations of board members with the organization’s leadership.

I agree with Lori that this proactive approach would help prevent the way that most boards are measured by the easiest metric — how much money each person contributes.  By focusing on what skills are needed on the board and what is expected of them, there should not be any rude awakenings six months in when each trustee is asked for a five-figure gift (for example).

2.  Only 6% of non-profit organizations provide any training to their board members (whether on governance, fundraising, or any other skills that they are expected to use in their board roles).

I have been thinking about this one myself, with special focus on ways to transition my organization’s board into more active fundraising with individuals and institutions.  Without providing training for our trustees, it simply is not fair to expect them to show up with these skills.

3.  Non-profit organizations need to stop treating board members like ATMs and get back to engaging them in the work as key partners.

By engaging our board members (and all donors) as key partners in pursuing the organization’s mission, they will be more likely to give generously by feeling like they are invested in the work (and not like we only want them for their financial support).

To hear the full conversation between Lori and Michael, listen to the podcast here.  There is an amazing anecdote that Lori shares near the end of the show about how a non-profit leader cultivated a relationship with a prominent business leader by engaging him first as a mentor, instead of immediately trying to get him to join her organization’s board.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but will encourage you to listen in and take notes!

What does your organization do in regard to recruiting and retaining board members?

If you are not aware of it, The Michael Chatman Giving Show is a great resource to learn about the intersection of business and philanthropy.  The show is hosted by Michael Chatman, a Harvard-trained entrepreneur, founder of the Association of Maverick Philanthropists and an expert in the field of celebrity-charity partnerships.  You can catch the show’s live webcast every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. EST at 880thebiz or on Michael’s website.  You can also follow the chat each week by following me and the members of the “Philanthropy Mafia” on Twitter:
@IanMAdair @NickSava @FundraiserBeth @DomDJones @officialjos @michaelchatman

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Fundraising: A Team Sport

I was honored to co-host the April #ynpchat — an amazing Twitter chat for young non-profit professionals — with the chat’s dynamic duo of Allison Jones & Rosetta Thurman (full disclosure: both of them inspired me to join Twitter and to start this blog) on the topic of fundraising.

One of the big topics that we covered was making sure that all non-profit staff play a role in and have a basic understanding of fundraising.  I was particularly impressed that we all agreed about the importance of including the entire staff in these efforts.

One key question that we focused on was: What are some challenges in getting non-profit staff involved in fundraising?

Interesting responses included:
@ajlovesya: Making the idea of fundraising accessible. Also I find that many people do fundraise but dont call it that
@NickSava: Message has to come from the top (i.e. Exec. Dir.) that fundraising is everyone’s job. Need org. culture of communication
@IanMAdair: They feel overworked providing direct services and usually feel fundraising is someone else’s job.

Another key question was: What resources/strategies are helpful in getting non-profit staff to participate in fundraising?

Some great responses that we got included:
@NickSava: You have to help out program staff in their activities. I scratch your back….
@DonorSnap: it helps to create a culture where fundraising is the norm for staff
@NonProfit_Meg: Make sure staff understand how fundraising directly benefits their program/department. People want to know what’s in it for them
@dan_blakemore: It’s also about showing staff that they don’t have to make an ask. They can serve as event hosts or greeters, share their story & passion for the work, make thank you calls, etc.

The central point is that you must demonstrate how everyone’s involvement will only strengthen your organization and help them realize that they are already organizational ambassadors (whether consciously or unconsciously).

How do you engage your colleagues in your organization’s fundraising efforts?  Have these colleagues been receptive to this role?

If you are on Twitter and have not participated in the monthly #ynpchat, you are missing out!  Please don’t let the “young” moniker fool you, it’s a great opportunity to engage with a diverse group of non-profit professionals on interesting topics.  Chats usually happen on the first Wednesday of each month from noon to 1 p.m. EST and I hope you will join in.

Did you join in last month’s chat?  You should be sure to read Sarah Pierce’s guest post that arose out of a side conversation we had during the chat.

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Guest Post: Donors as Investors

By Guest Blogger Sarah Pierce

For a long time, on behalf of the nonprofit sector, I’ve been jealous of the corporate sector. Corporations have investors who, via financial interests, are tied to the future of the company. These investors seek out information on the corporation and identify themselves with the company. Is it possible to harness that relationship and help donors to be similarly invested in nonprofit organizations?

Last week, Rosetta Thurman and Allison Jones hosted the monthly Twitter chat #ynpchat with Dan Blakemore as guest host. The chat for young nonprofit professionals focused on fundraising and discussed how we define fundraising, what role we play in it, challenges it presents, and fundraising resources. As it is each month, the chat was filled with passionate individuals and fascinating side-conversations, including one spurred by Dan and Red Cross Development Director, Patrick Sallee: How does donating compare to investing? And what can we, as fundraisers, learn from the company-investor relationship?

The Company-Investor Relationship

In the corporate sector, investors are shareholders. As shareholders, each person legally owns a share of stock in the company. Shareholders also hold special privileges with respect to the company that can include the right to vote on or nominate directors, get dividends or share in the company’s success, and the right to vote on other important company decisions. All of this means that investors and shareholders feel a sense of ownership about the company and its future.

What’s more — the relationship is mutual! Every corporation has a legal obligation to work to earn money for their shareholders.

The Nonprofit-Donor Relationship

Nonprofit organizations have a similar ongoing structure that misses one key element: the return shareholders (aka donors!) get on their investment. At the heart of every nonprofit organization is the social good contract it maintains with the public. The organization does social good and the public supports it with donations. The key for every nonprofit organization is convincing the public that by donating to the organization, they’re investing in receiving a return – a social good.

If nonprofit organizations had a way to make their social good more like the return that shareholders get on their investment in corporations, donors would feel more ownership over the organization and the part they play in it.

I’ll never forget my Business Associations professor explaining that he invests in The Walt Disney Company because it felt good to be a part of The Magic Kingdom. Nonprofit organizations need to find a way to give donors some sort of return on their investment that helps them to feel a similar ownership over the organization.

Sure that’s nifty, but how do we go about doing it? How do we give them ownership and a return?

A feeling of ownership can be established through knowledge and power. Nonprofit organizations already have a pretty strong handle on the knowledge aspects. We educate donors through blogs, newsletters, emails, mailings, events, and just about any other existing channels. The more familiar donors are with the workings of the organization, the more they feel a part of it.

The harder things for nonprofit organizations to emulate are the power and return aspects of the company-investor relationship.

One of my favorite examples of empowering donors is the model that FORGE uses. FORGE is a U.S. based nonprofit that gives donors the power to select the specific project to which they would like to contribute, and educates them on how much the project costs overall and how much has been contributed so far. Thus, donors know exactly what their money is being used for and how they are helping.

The return aspect however, is still trickier. I think a big part is the message Dan gets across so clearly in this blog: stewardship. It gives donors the return of both the appreciation of the nonprofit organization and knowledge of what a difference their funds are making. Personalizing thank yous and appeals to each donor can make him or her feel some of the positive impact the gift made on the organization and ideally help to create a long-lasting and meaningful relationship.

But that can’t be the only way! Are there other ways to establish the company-investor relationship with donors? What should the “return” be? And are there downsides to doing this?

Guest Blogger Sarah Pierce is a third-year law student at the University of Iowa and the Director of Outreach at Child Soldier Relief.  While in law school, she has interned at Human Rights Watch and the California Appellate Project.  You can follow her on Twitter @sarahcpierce.

Are you retaining your (fundraising) staff?

This recent post on the 101fundraising crowdblog got me thinking about conversations I have had since starting my current position.  In most conversations about the particularly high turnover among fundraising staff, the focus is on the plentiful opportunities in the field, the tendency among many to leapfrog from one organization to another in one to two years and the innate pressures of having to raise money (especially in an economy like this one).  It is especially important that non-profit organizations focus on retaining their development staff members, as the role of institutional memory is critical to the long-term maintenance of donor relationships.  However, one point that rarely comes up is the responsibility that each non-profit has to retain its staff.  As I have been very pleased to gush to anyone who will listen, I-House has particularly impressed me with how staff appreciation is ingrained into the organizational culture (especially in comparison to where I have worked in the past).

A few I-House examples that other organizations could consider replicating:

-Mid-year and annual performance reviews
-A staff development line in each departmental budget to support professional development activities
-Quarterly stipends for perfect attendance
-Grocery store gift cards for the winter holidays
-Recognition of milestone staff anniversaries (people are known to work here for many years — my boss just hit the 25-year mark)
-The Dining Room (a special one for my fellow foodies out there or those who just don’t want to leave the building everyday to get lunch)

Of course, I understand that many non-profits cannot implement all of these initiatives easily or quickly, but I want to get professionals in our sector thinking about ways to be more intentional about staff retention.

Non-profit organizations should not feel like all staff appreciation activities are high-cost or that a simple “thank you for your hard work” cuts it all the time.  Young non-profit professionals like myself especially thrive on regular feedback and will work ourselves silly for our cause (as will most other non-profit professionals); regular acknowledgment and sincere appreciation help “grease the tracks” and keep staff members going when multiple projects are due or a big event is coming up.  While this is a decent start, I hope that you will encourage our organizations to become more intentional about staff retention.

How is your organization explicitly or implicitly encouraging you to stay there?  Did a former employer do anything that encouraged you to stay longer or to leave sooner?

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Seminar Recap: Ethics & Stewardship in Planned Giving

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the last session of the Philanthropic Planning Group of Greater New York‘s The ABC of Gift Planning seminar series, which focused on ethics and stewardship in planned giving.  The seminar was facilitated by veteran fundraiser and consultant Davida Isaacson; you can read Davida’s full bio (and more about the seminar) here, but let’s suffice it to say that she is one of the big names in the field especially after her amazing tenure at WNET/New York, where she helped raise $30 million in planned gift initiatives for the $65 million Campaign for Thirteen.

I learned a great deal in this session and want to share with you some of those lessons that may help you in managing your planned giving program (or serve as points to consider as you add planned giving to your fundraising program):

The primary ethical issue for fundraisers in planned giving is the tension between who’s interest are you serving — the donor or your organization?
As a fundraiser, you likely have a long and trusted relationship with your planned giving donors, but you also have a responsibility to secure gifts for your organization that will help support its mission for the foreseeable future.  When a donor wants to make a gift that may be more beneficial to him/her and not as useful to the organization, on which side will you fall?  [This is when Davida would start advocating that every non-profit organization compose its gift acceptance policies, which would provide a clear understanding of what gifts will be accepted; the processes of evaluation, valuation, disposal, etc.; what gifts you will not accept; etc.]

Planned giving is more vulnerable to ethical issues.
“Why?” you may ask, well you are usually dealing with older donors, with whom you and/or your organization tend to have longstanding relationships and are likely to trust you.  One particularly interesting issue that can arise in this work is the mental competence of the donors making these commitments.  How would you deal with a donor who is showing signs of dementia but wants to make a planned gift?  Is it even your place to bring this up?

Access to your fundraising database usually presents an ethical issue.
Have you considered that volunteers using your fundraising database could access all sorts of private information on your donors, board members, etc.?  Only because this came up while managing interns have I given this some thought before.  You should set up restricted access logins for your volunteers and anyone else who may need to access a certain part of your fundraising database; if this is not an option, you need to set some office policies in place about how information is provided to volunteers.

Your gift servicing operations must be viewed as a part of the stewardship process.
Providing tax reports, copies of completed agreements, endowment reports, acknowledgments and the like are another way to solidify the relationship with your donors.  By getting documents like these to the donor in a very timely manner, they are more likely to trust you and may even consider making another gift (especially when this is paired with more ongoing stewardship activities).  Be sure to review these processes in your organization and assure that there is a maximum turnaround of a few days.

A few other quick tips:
-When making calls to planned giving prospects or donors, do not get into too much detail if you have to leave a message.  Davida made a great point that the spouse or family of a donor may not agree with his/her intention to make a planned gift and may not pass on the messages if they know why you are calling.
-Use a gift disclosure form like this sample that Davida provided in the seminar materials.  A document like this gives you and your organization some extra protection in the case that the family or other potential heirs of your donor want to contest the gift at a later date.

Have you thought about any of these issues before?  What changes would you make to your planned giving program in light of these points?

P.S.  If you would like to see Davida in action and live in the NYC area, you should join PPGGNY or keep your eyes open for the class schedule at NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy & Fundraising.

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Stewardship: A Key Part of the Fundraising Diet

The Food Pyramid


As a fundraiser who focuses on individuals (and as you may have guessed by the name of this blog), I absolutely believe that stewardship is at the heart of successful fundraising.

I believe that stewardship:

  1. Shows your donors what you are doing with their contributions
  2. Provides opportunities to build trust and share your org’s successes, while also deepening
  3. Way to reconnect with lapsed donors
  4. Translates well with individual and institutional donors

In my current position, I have had great success with expanded stewardship initiatives like the following:

Named room reports
For more than three decades, donors have been able to name a resident room for a a major gift in the low five figures.  However upon my arrival, I found that there had been inconsistent stewardship of these major donors and proposed that we provide annual reports to these donors about the resident(s) who lived in their named rooms.  These reports allow us to be in touch with these donors without asking for a gift, to thank them again for their past generosity and to show why their continued support is needed.

Annual President’s Report to Donors
As our printed Annual Report is produced in small quantities and shared primarily through e-mail, I thought that it would be worthwhile to provide a regular update in hard copy that is personalized to a range of donors, especially while we are in the last year of a multi-million-dollar challenge grant.  These letters are another touch point and provide an opportunity to follow-up with special event donors and other key constituencies as necessary.

Admission application copies
From its founding almost 90 years ago until about the 1970’s, my organization maintained resident records in detailed individual forms.  An easy way to show appreciation to our dedicated alumni donors from these time periods is to send them a copy of their admission application (especially if there is an old photo of the donor attached to it); it brings back treasured memories of their time, friends they made and can help reconnect them with our work at a very low cost.  One particular donor wrote a kind note saying that he felt very appreciated and welcomed back into the organization’s community after receiving a copy of his admission application.

Do you have any innovative stewardship strategies that you have used?

For further reading on stewardship, check out this great post by Barbara Talisman (I hope to cover some of her key points in future posts).

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Who Is Leading Your Next Event?

Former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. (D-TN)

In a recent conversation with Former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. (yes, I could not resist this name-dropping opportunity) at a recent NYU donor reception while talking about my work at I-House and my past work, he recalled that he had recently sent in a contribution to one of the settlement organizations here in the city.  He made a point of noting that friends of his were chairing this organization’s upcoming gala and that their involvement led him to make a contribution.  He also said that a good friend of his always told him to make these kinds of contributions, as he never knew when he would find himself leading an event and sending benefit committee letters out to everyone in his Rolodex (which can be particularly important for a politician like Congressman Ford — in the event that he jumps back into electoral politics now that he is getting settled in New York).

This was a very simple reminder of how important it is that the individuals lending their name to your special event should be dedicated to your cause and willing to reach out to their networks on your group’s behalf.  Thus far in my career, I have seen both extremes of special events — where leadership almost had to be begged to chair an event and those where supporters have been so committed to these events that they are known for taking part and playing a major role in the event’s success; as a fundraiser, I clearly prefer the latter approach, as it will not only make it easier to work with the leadership, but they will be more willing to get in and work with you to assure the event’s success.

So I ask — who is leading your next event?

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How Receptive is Your Donor Reception?

The President of Eastern Virginia Medical School thanks donors for their support in 2010 and sends the message home with the banner behind him.

Last month, we hosted a donor reception at work specifically for loyalty donors (those who had given consecutively for at least five years) and recent reunion alumni who had contributed toward a named resident room.  Earlier this month, my graduate alma mater — NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service — hosted its annual reception for donors.

After going through the donor reception experience so recently on both sides of the fence — as both a fundraiser and a donor — I wanted to share some tips for making these events a success:

1. Matching up donors with those benefiting from their generosity

A colleague of mine matched up a small group of I-House residents with the donors who were attending the reception.  These matches provided each donor the opportunity to get to know a resident directly and see the use of his/her Annual Fund dollars over the years.

2. Personalize invitations, so that donors know why they are being invited/recognized

When you are inviting donors, you must make it clear why they are being invited.  When you use vague language, your donors are likely to be confused.  One quick story that I must share on this point:
I made numerous follow-up calls to loyalty donors who had responded to the invitations that we had mailed out.  When I called one in particular, she asked why she had been invited (assuming that only major donors were invited for donor receptions) and I got to explain to her that she had been supporting our organization for many years and we appreciated her dedicated generosity.  Even after we were explicit in the invitation that she was being invited for her “many years of financial support,” she still assumed that there was some sort of mistake.  (At a later date I will explore in greater depth the fact that many donors are so ill-stewarded that they don’t know what to do when they are truly thanked and appreciated.)

3. Create a draw for your event, aside from being thanked in person for their support

It always helps to have some well-known people in your organization’s universe to take part in your donor receptions.  The chance to meet and greet with these people will encourage some donors to attend your reception, though it will also provide some good photo opportunities that can be used later  to further cultivate and steward the donors in attendance.  While we scheduled our reception to begin immediately following a meeting of the board of trustees, which allowed donors to network with a good group of them.  NYU Wagner had Former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. make some brief remarks and take questions from the donors in attendance (he has recently joined the school’s faculty as a Distinguished Practitioner in Residence).

What successful donor reception strategies have worked for you?  Please feel free to share in the comments.

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