Intentionally Connecting With Your Guests

September 30, 2010

At your events, the most important thing you can do is connect with your guests. Attendees come to the event from many different places, some are already close to the organizations, some are just trying it out for the first time, and then there is everyone in between. I find it really easy to get lost in a good conversation and then miss an opportunity to meet someone new or connect in a deeper way with a guest still learning more about the organization.

Especially when you have an event that is well attended, it is important that staff and key volunteers can come into an event with a couple of assignments. Assign two or three names of guests to each internal attendee before the event. It’s a good idea to do a little bit of research beforehand that will help staff get a conversation started. Let them know the names of the people you want them to connect with and give them a little fact about those guests such as where they work or if they are a part of rotary. Sometimes those little facts are a great way to start a conversation.

This way you can focus on a couple of key actions yourself and you know that every guest will be taken care of. Circle back with each internal player after the event and ask them how their conversations were. This reinforces the value of the internal individual as well as allowing you to capture some valuable information on the attendees after the event. If your guests receive a take-away packet or are considering making a gift, you now have a person who can naturally follow up with them.

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Party with your Host’s Friends

September 27, 2010

A house party is a great way to cultivate a group of donor prospects in an informal and intimate way. Each house party is different and will be unique to the hosts of the event and will change from house to house. At some parties, the host only expects to open up his or her home and the organization’s role is to invite the guests. Other parties will be focused specifically on the friends of the host family. And most parties will fall somewhere in the middle with some friends of the host and a handful of friends of the organization.

You will be the most successful if your host takes an active role in inviting his friends and contacts to the event. House parties can be a great opportunity for a donor to introduce friends to an organization that they strongly support and believe in. Guests feel more interested when they have a personal connection; it gives them a feeling of being a part of the “in crowd.” An environment like this also helps guests to feel more comfortable and be open about what their real interest level is in the organization. If your host invites his friends, there is a good chance you will be able to bring some people closer to the organization that you would never have been given an opportunity to meet.

As you are planning the event and working with your host, have an open conversation as to whether they would be interested in inviting their friends to the event. Make invitations and planning as easy as you can for your host. You may have to find a couple of different polite ways to ask for potential guest names from your host.


Mental Follow-up Games

September 22, 2010

Our minds play games with us about making follow-up calls. It is really easy to talk yourself out of following up with a donor. I’ll often hear myself thinking, “I just talked with them last week,” or “If he really wanted to hear from me, he’d have called me back.” But as the development staff members, if we do not make follow-up a priority, nobody will. You’ve probably heard the mantra that you will never get a gift unless you ask for it. We could probably even extend that mantra to include follow-up.

If you don’t follow-up on your solicitations, then you will never get a gift. Donors, on occasion, will play games with development staff. Sometimes donors play these games intentionally and sometimes they are accidental. Unless a donor has thought and planned long and hard about a gift to your organization they will often procrastinate about making that decision, especially if it is a large gift. It is our phone calls, emails, and physical visits that remind them of the urgency of our organization’s needs.

Many donors will wait for an organization to follow up with them in a specific way or to see if they are going to follow up at all before they will make their gift. It helps a donor to know how serious the organization is and how valuable they really are. I have to force myself to remember the importance of follow-up; sometimes I’ll even write a note to myself that I can have right next to me at the beginning of each day reminding me to make a call or send an email.


This Thing Called Follow-up

September 20, 2010

We always like to hear a “yes” immediately after a solicitation. One of the most exciting things about fundraising is successfully asking for a gift. But often times the answer you will get from your donor prospect will not be an immediate yes. Many people like to take a couple of days to think about the solicitation. In this case, it is absolutely essential that you take the time to follow through.

After a solicitation has taken place, make sure that everyone knows what the next step is going to be in order to close the ask. If the donor prospect needs time, then make sure you have let him know you have a specific time that follow-up will take place. Sometimes follow-up can take as much time or more than preparing for the solicitation.

Follow-up is one of the easiest components to forget or to postpone. After all of the preparation time and scheduling, it feels like the solicitation meeting is what everything is being prepared for. But, unless you follow through on the solicitation, your first meeting is in vain. So much can get in the way of good follow-up, so be diligent and proactive.

If you are using board members, volunteers, or executive staff, make sure they understand the value of follow-up. Make sure they have time on their calendars for a meeting or phone call to the donor prospect after the meeting. It can be helpful to even have 15 minutes pre-scheduled before you go into the solicitation on the calendar to make sure your follow-up gets done.

Do you have any stories illustrating the value of follow-up? What tricks do you use to ensure that you connect with your donor prospects after a solicitation?


Featured Fundraiser: Miriam Barnett

September 15, 2010

This month’s Featured Fundraiser is Miriam Barnett. If you know of a fundraising professional that I should feature here, I’d love to hear your nomination just send me an email. – Jason

What kind of fundraising do you do and who do you do it for?

I have been doing fundraising since 1987 when I entered the field of nonprofit management. I just finished raising close to $5 million for a capital campaign for a new domestic violence shelter for the YWCA Pierce County where I am the Executive Director. It was a complete joy since the YWCA has not done a capital project for 83 years. I also teach in the Fundraising Management Certification Program at the University of WA, Tacoma campus.

What keeps you going? Why do you keep working in development?

Fundraising is all about connecting people who care with causes that matter. It is about creating meaningful relationships and giving people the opportunity to make a difference. I love that I can play a part in making a connection for people to a cause that matters. I think of myself as someone who can help connect the dots. Mission plus passion plus connection equals positive change. It works the same when I am teaching. If I can help the students I teach connect their passion to make a difference with the passion of a donor to make a difference, the world benefits. My personal mission is to do whatever I can to create a better world and promote the greater good. I can’t think of a better way to meet my mission than to work in development.

What tips/advice do you have to other fundraisers in your field?

Never be afraid to ask. If you don’t ask, they can’t say yes. I always tell my students that if a donor says no, they probably have a good reason. It is not a personal rejection. Live with an attitude of abundance and don’t slip into scarcity thinking. Abundant thinking believes there is enough….enough money, enough goodwill, enough for everyone. Scarcity thinking thrives on fear; it paralyzes and allows us to make excuses for not asking….like blaming the recession. Believe you will succeed and you will. Believe you won’t and you won’t. It’s a choice! Choose abundance!

What is the most frustrating or difficult thing about fund
development?

The most difficult thing is that the reward for meeting your goals is higher goals!

Do you have any memorable donor visits or solicitations that
you’d like to share?

One early morning I was sitting at my desk before we open at 8 am. My office is by our front door. It was dark out, and a homeless looking man, knocked on my window. He said he had a small donation for the YWCA and he wanted to bring it by himself. He handed me an envelope. I thanked him profusely for the envelope and off he went. In the envelope was a check for $7000. I tried to find a number for him. The check did not have one listed. I was finally able to track him down and I asked if I could meet with him to thank him personally. He came by my office. I asked him why the YWCA?

He told me that recently a woman approached him who was beat up. She had 2 children in her car and all her possessions and she needed $20 for gas. So he went to the bank and got her $20. But what he really wanted to do is figure out how to make a greater impact. So he did research and found out about our work (domestic violence). For 2 more years, he knocked on my door. Two years ago, he left me a message and disappeared. He always was a bit of a mystery in that I never could figure out what he did. I think of him often and hope he is ok and that one day I will be able to see him again.

What is an observation you would like to share about fundraising?

Like the story above illustrates, you cannot judge a book by its cover. I have met extremely wealthy people who give small gifts and people with hardly anything who have made huge gifts. Some wealthy people have all their resources tied up in large homes and other investments. So treat everyone equally. I treat a donor who gives $5 like I treat a donor that gives $5000. I always write a personal note on both their thank you letters and call (or have a board member call) to than them whenever possible.


Question: Are Strategy & Mission The Same?

September 13, 2010

Strategy, Vision, Plan, Mission—these words gauge a strong response from anyone who is listening to them. Too much strategy talk has always bothered me, so I wanted to hear from you.

I believe it is important to have a plan for the work that we do, whether it is an overall annual plan or a plan for each specific project. It is also necessary to have something like a mission that you can use to describe the work that you do. How else can you concretely say, “Yes, we do that,” or “No, we don’t,” without one?

Beyond having a mission and a plan, it seems to me that everything else is repetitive. How is vision different than knowing where you want your plan to ultimately take you? People often confuse the difference between mission and vision. In most planning discussions that I’ve participated in, the first 30 minutes to an hour are spent trying to explain the difference between mission and vision.

What are your thoughts on strategy, vision, mission, and planning? Do you believe each of these ideas are unique to the success of an organization or do you believe that they describe the same concept?


Social Media Planning: It’s All About Engagement

September 8, 2010

Do you run the Facebook page or Twitter profile for your organization? Have you ever experienced the moment where you are asked to explain what your plan is? I recently had a group of volunteers I was working regarding social media, and the first thing everyone wanted to do was create a fool-proof plan. It really bugged me at first, and I couldn’t figure out why. I realized that it was because everyone was viewing social media in the same they viewed any other marketing project–create a plan and push it out to your audience.

Social media is all about community-building and engagement. Running a successful social media campaign can take significant planning. But in the first several months of using a new social media tool it will take time to build your community. The first three to six months of using social media is all about building your network and growing your community. Until you have a good group of people, a critical mass, having a comprehensive social media plan does not do a lot of good.

If you are starting a project and everyone is asking for a plan, ask them if they would commit to engaging in the medium as you get started. Most people want a plan because they are unsure of how to use the medium. A social media plan will be more successful if it is modeled by its implementers than if it is imposed upon an audience. Ask the volunteer or staff group that is helping you get things started to “like” your status updates, retweet your twitter messages, and leave comments on your blog. This is the best way to get your community started and to a point where you can do some big planning. You will also be able to use your volunteers to get things jump-started and everyone will be more comfortable with the work when they see how easy it is to promote your content.