It’s Good When it Works

April 25, 2011

I had a great conversation with a program staff member the other day. Maybe I’ve become a little bit jaded in my time as a fundraiser in that I don’t expect program staff to like me or respond well when I ask them for answer of constructive input. I’ve worked for too many organizations where a program staff person does not feel that it is part of his or her role to spend any time explaining what the program is and how funding will impact it. Traditionally I have to drag them through the process.

I’ve also found that the funder/grantor side of the system sometimes becomes too efficient. There are hundreds (actually probably thousands) of foundations giving money for student scholarships, food for the homeless, global health. Don’t get me wrong– that is a really good thing. But, after a foundation or business has received 100 requests and given a couple of grants, they start to settle into the business of the process.

A few days ago, a program staff member came to me with a new idea about what fundraised dollars could do for their program and a new group of funders we could approach. The program staff member got really excited about the questions that I had and excited about working with me to create an inspiring proposal that would speak to this specific funder population. While we were building the proposal we started the conversation with the new funder pool. She got really excited about this new idea; about what she could do to make real change in an area that she believed in.

We will always run into business as usual; none of us have the ability or energy to work on everything for the first time. In fact, it is usually the business-as-usual organizations and individuals that make the biggest contributions and biggest difference for our nonprofits. But, it is always refreshing when you have a moment that reminds you of why you do what you do. It makes a difference in my day when, for a moment, I’ve caught a glimpse of the difference I’m really making.

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How Do You Engage Your Board?

April 21, 2011

We do regular tours of the organization and hold events for board members and volunteers to invite their friends. There are always a few board members who are phenomenal at inviting their friends and associates to events and tours. And, there are a larger number of volunteers that do not make those kinds of introductions. Why is that?

What do you do to engage your board and your close volunteers? What techniques do you use to get people to regularly introduce people to your organization? Do you take regular time out of your board meetings to ask them to make introductions? Do you provide packets of information? Pre-written emails? Talking points?


You’ve Gotta Be Vulnerable

April 18, 2011

Relationships are built on honest communication sharing frustrations, concerns, and joys. Donor relationships are the same way. I have worked for a number of bosses and organizations that are convinced that vulnerability is the wrong way to go. There is something innate in us that wants to convince everyone that we are in complete control and without weaknesses.

There are right and wrong times to be vulnerable. The best time to be vulnerable is in a relationship-building conversation. It is more difficult to be vulnerable in the right way during a solicitation conversation as it can give off the impression that you don’t really know what you are doing.

A great way to treat a donor as a person is to let them know an area you are struggling with within your organization. Give them an opportunity to share a bit of their strengths with you to round out an area of weakness or lack of experience. This can be in how you design a new major gifts program or your donor acknowledgement process.

Vulnerability can be rather close to humility and can even be seen as a sign of wisdom or good management. Take some time to think about what it is that you do well and with what you struggle. Take a second to have that conversation with a trusted board member or volunteer and see what happens.


What Do You Talk About?

April 13, 2011

Under what pretense do you set up a meeting with new potential supporters? What kinds of questions do you ask that have been effective in engaging new people?

In the last post, I talked about the value of using an individual’s expertise as a way to build a relationship and get some great feedback on your organization. What are some other kinds of meetings you’ve set up that have worked really well? Here are a few I’ve tried; I’d love to hear from you:

  • Monitor the community’s perception of the organization. This is a great barometer to measure what people think of your organization. You can also get a description of what people think your organization does.
  • Learn about their philanthropic passion. I am interested in what motivates people to give as I find that where they give is often an area of great personal passion.
  • What is their interest in the organization and/or community? It is always valuable to learn more about what connected an individual specifically to your organization or community.

Review Experts

April 11, 2011

Would you be willing to help me pilot a new idea? Would you be willing to respond to the messaging of this proposal? What does and does not resonate with you? People love to give their input. And, if I may be so daring to say, nonprofits often do not ask for input. Over the last few weeks I’ve started a new strategy in creating new relationships. Instead of asking if I can talk with someone about the organization or a component of the organization, I’m asking for feedback and advice on a program, a case, or project of the organization.

The advantage of asking for someone’s point of view is the ability to refine the messaging of your case to really speak your donors and the community. The individual you speak with offers information about what is the most meaningful to them and what speaks the strongest. I always jump at the opportunity to learn a piece of someone’s story. When an individual’s personal story connects with your organization, this becomes a great start to a new relationship.

For a while I had been attempting to engage new friends of the organization by asking them if I could talk about them: what their interests are, why they give, how they first connected with the organization. But, I found that most people did not see the point or the value that they were adding to the organization. When I was clear about using the conversation as an opportunity to refine the messaging and approach of the organization, I was really surprised at the success of that kind of engagement.


Meeting Outcomes

April 4, 2011

I wrote a post on January 24 called Organizing Your Acquisition, that gives some tips on how to set up multiple meetings and connect with a number of new potential supporters. There were some great follow up questions. What outcomes do I have when meeting with new people? What makes it a good meeting? How do you measure the effectiveness of a first meeting?

When measuring the success of a meeting, there are a number of potential outcomes which depend a great deal on the specific individuals and my meeting with them. If I’m looking to connect with someone that I would like to use as a referral donor, success looks like creating a deep enough relationship that they acknowledge a willingness to make an introduction for me. If I’m trying to gauge the future interest of a donor who has not given in a long time, success looks like identifying what his or her interests are and why the connection lapsed. When meeting someone brand new to the organization, my intention is to make a strong enough connection so that I can talk with them again or that they would be willing to take another call from me.

Setting meetings to build new relationships can be a very difficult thing to measure directly. Building relationships with donors in this way can lead to more donations, larger gifts, and longer-term giving, but you will not always see a direct relationship between each meeting. One of the largest immediate benefits that I’ve found is in the new relationships that are created with the organization. I will often learn something new about a local business or industry. Because of a comment during the meeting, I will often change my messaging or how I promote a specific project within an organization. These meetings can lead to new board members or volunteers.

How do you measure your meetings with donors? Do you have specific outcomes in mind when you go into all of your meetings? Are they specific to each individual donor or do you have a checklist or process you go through?