Are You Interesting?

Photo credit: William Leonard
Photo credit: William Leonard

Are you interesting? As a fundraising professionals, our job is to develop relationships on behalf of our organizations. If we are going to do that well, we have to be interesting. How do you get interesting? Get out of your office!

Many fundraisers wear ‘working all the time’ as a badge of honor. They brag about being the last one to leave the office every night and repeatedly work on weekends. I’m here to tell you to stop doing that. Leave on time. Stay out of the office on weekends.

There are reams of research that prove you have to step away and unplug occasionally to be your most productive. Now I’m adding another reason that is specific to fundraising:
if you work all the time, you won’t be interesting;
if you aren’t interesting, your prospects and donors won’t want to talk to you;
if your prospects and donors don’t want to talk to you, you won’t be a good fundraiser.

Here are 5 ways to make yourself more interesting this summer. Whether you have vacation time available or just need to leave the office on time, try these and let me know how it works.

1. Get outside – get out of your cell phone’s service area or go somewhere not safe for your technology (think water, sand, wind, rain). Go for a hike, kayak, paddle board, sit on a beach. Visit a national park or just sit on a park bench.

2. Read fiction – Remember how teachers used to describe reading when you were young? “ Visit a foreign land, travel in time, meet famous people.” That still applies! Not sure what to read? Here’s what’s on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

3. Read nonfiction – Try the latest business book or revisit a classic like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Here’s the New York Times nonfiction best sellers. 

4. Eat something new – Try a new restaurant, experience a new type of food or check out a local dive. Did you know that Food Network has an app that lets you search for featured restaurants? Have you checked to see what local restaurants have made it on the air?

5. Be a tourist in your hometown – no matter where you live, visit a few places that are tourist destinations. Visit Trip Advisor, then for “Where are you going?” type in your own city and select “Things to do in.” Have you been to all the places that come up on the list?

What does all of this have to do with fundraising? NOTHING! That’s exactly the point. If you work late every night and all you think about is fundraising, no one will want to talk to you. So go – get out there and make yourself more interesting. Your donors will be glad.

Effective Out of Office Messages

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’re delighted to have this guest post from our friend and colleague Ashley Pero.

Are you getting ready for some time out of the office?  It is important not to forget to set your out of office email and voicemail messages. You can easily set a task reminder for the day of your departure to pop up in Outlook. And, if you do forget it is worth a trip back to the office (or a quick remote in) to get it set. An effective out of office message can save you time when you get back to the office and also lets people know why they haven’t heard back from you. These people can be coworkers, donors, clients, volunteers or that all important potential donor – you don’t want to leave them thinking you are unresponsive or don’t care.

You can craft an effective out of office message by answering a few simple questions:

  • When will you be out of the office and what day will you return?
  • Will the office be closed during any of the time your away?
  • How can you be contacted (if at all)?
  • Who can they contact while you’re away?

An email out of office example:
Hi! I will be out of the office with no access to email until (day of the week), (month and day). I will respond to all emails upon my return. 

If you require immediate assistance please call our office, (888) 888-8888, and someone will be happy to assist you. 

The office will be closed (dates office will be closed). 

Thank you. 

Your voicemail out of office can be similar, but try and keep it short with just the important information.

  • You could also have limited access to email/voicemail or available only by cell phone – if that is the case let them know how long they should expect a response to take.
  • If there is a particular person they should ask for in your office list that person’s name, email and phone number. If there are certain people for certain issues list them all (being mindful while recording your voicemail out of office).

And one last thing, if you are using Outlook make sure to set both the internal and external message (both tabs). The same message can work, but you customize both depending on your office size and office requirements.

Originally published on the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay blog.

Giving Tuesday at Planet Philanthropy

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Last week it was my privilege to present at Planet Philanthropy – Florida’s AFP conference. I taught an interactive session on how to use #Giving Tuesday to boost your year-end giving results. I shared several valuable online resources that day and I’d like to share them with you, too.

Giving Tuesday Tools
Toolkits, case studies, logos, and much more!

Everything You Need to Know About #GivingTuesday
from Salsa Labs, includes a link to a campaign planner

Central Florida provides a great example of an entire region getting together to make a greater impact:
Rollins College Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership Center
Giving Tuesday Central Florida Facebook page

HOW TO: Tap Into the Power of Cause Awareness Days
Heather Mansfield of Nonprofit Tech for Good

Give Local America Nonprofit Toolkit
I especially like the “Social Media Toolkit” and “Sample Messaging for Nonprofits.”

Giving Day Playbook
The Knight Foundation

Now is the time to make your year-end giving plans. Be sure to look for ways to include the Giving Tuesday movement in your efforts.

Do you know of other resources? Please share!

Crash In Turn One of a Major Gift Cultivation

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“Crash in turn one” – that’s one of those phrases that no race fan wants to hear. At this year’s 99th running of the Indianapolis 500, it was a crash in turn one of lap one. That means that after spending the month of May getting ready, the 500 mile race was over for one team after less than one mile of driving. This brings to mind a famous quote, “You can’t win the Indianapolis 500 on the first lap but you can lose it.” The whole race is about patience. That has to be hard for drivers who are going 200+ miles an hour. But it’s a long race and in order to lead the last lap you have to get through the first lap.

This philosophy also applies to major gift fundraising. Major gifts can’t be raised the first time you meet a prospect but they can certainly be lost. If you make a misstep on that first meeting, you will never gain the trust of your prospect and never find yourself at the finish line: a major gift. Here’s what a major gift cultivation “crash” looks like:

  • too much talking about yourself or your organization and not enough listening to your prospect,
  • making it all about raising money and not looking for ways to engage the prospect in your organization’s mission,
  • asking too soon.

If there were an announcer in my career, I think that I would have heard those disappointing words a time or two: “Sara Leonard has worked hard to get this meeting and engage this prospect but she has crashed in turn one.” Fortunately I learned from those mistakes. Has this happened to you?

Don’t Confuse Overhead with Fraud

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Yesterday’s morning paper greeted me with a big headline about charity fraud. The Federal Trade Commission has filed a complaint against three national charities. I am pleased that action is being taken against charities who claim to make a difference in people’s lives but don’t. However, I fear that a national conversation will lead to confusion between overhead expenses and fraud.

If you missed the story here it is: Tampa Bay Times 
It was also on TV: CNN 

What are fraud and overhead? I like to start in the dictionary. Here’s how Dictionary.com defines them:
fraud – deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage
overhead – the general, fixed cost of running a business, as rent, lighting, and heating expenses, which cannot be charged or attributed to a specific product or part of the work operation.

The charities in question claim that their high expenses are overhead. Charities need overhead, “fixed cost of running a business,” to operate. Staff must be paid. Buildings must be repaired. Fundraising activities must be conducted. I would urge everyone – nonprofit employees and board members, individual and institutional donors, regulators – to not confuse legitimate overhead expenses with the fraudulent practices at corrupt nonprofits.

As a career fundraiser, I am very aware that fundraising expenses are often maligned in these conversations. Many people say they want all of their donations to go directly to program support. That is not realistic. What if everyone said that? Nonprofits would not be able to operate without someone supporting the overhead expenses, including ethical fundraising activities.

In a written response to the action of the Federal Trade Commission against the three national charities, Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) President and CEO Andrew Watt stated, “These kinds of fraudulent organizations are not charities in any sense of the word, nor do they in any way represent the vast majority of charities that work tirelessly on a wide variety of causes.” I am a member of AFP and proudly adhere to the Code of Ethical Principles and Standards.

When making decisions about where to make a charitable gift, do your due diligence. Make sure that the organization is providing the program support it claims. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that any amount spent on overhead is bad. Those overhead expenses keep your favorite nonprofit operating and thriving. If you have questions about an organization, do some research before you give. There are resources online to help. The best way to learn more about a charity is to get involved – volunteer, take a tour, ask how you can best help.

Don’t let yesterday’s news deter the work of your nonprofit or your charitable giving. Never confuse fraud with overhead.

If you are interested in learning more about the Overhead Myth, check out these resources:
The Overhead Myth 
“The Way We Think About Charity Is Dead Wrong” a TED Talk by Dan Pallotta

No You May Not Pick My Brain: 8 Ways to Squander an Informational Interview

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Image courtesy of Master Isolated Images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Because I’ve been fundraising for more than 25 years, I’m often invited to meet with people to talk about their careers. These are often referred to as “informational interviews” but just as often someone asks to “pick my brain.” I’ve always been happy to talk to people and share what I know about the fundraising field and the nonprofit sector.

Some people come in prepared and make the most of our time together. Others, not so much. The ‘not so much’ have inspired me write this blog post. I’m sharing with you 8 ways to squander the time you have with me or with any other experienced colleague.

  1. Don’t know about my background – in the days of LinkedIn, there is no excuse for this. When you meet with me, it saves us both a lot of time if you have already looked at my background.
  2. Don’t prepare any questions – I’m really not a “stick to the agenda at all costs” kind of person (is that a thing?) but it helps if you think through some things you’d like to ask me. This has everything to do with #1. Look at my background then think of some questions I could answer that would help you.
  3. Don’t offer to treat for the coffee – remember that you invited me. Many times, I won’t take you up on your offer to treat but you should at least offer.
  4. Run late – this is the height of time wasting for me. Remember that you have invited me and I’m taking time away from my paid job to help you. I’m happy to do that or I wouldn’t have accepted your invitation. However, if you are running late, you are taking advantage of my generosity.
  5. Don’t thank me – since my expertise is fundraising, by not thanking me for my time with an e-mail or written note (either will work for me) you are demonstrating a lack of fundraising skill. This will be a challenge later on if I hear of a job that you might have pursued.
  6. Don’t keep me posted – if you don’t touch base every few weeks, I’ll probably forget that you are looking. Just like with the proper thank you, this is a way to demonstrate your skills as a fundraiser. I recently forwarded a job opening to someone who had met with me only to learn they had taken a job in a completely different field. I was deeply disappointed.
  7. Don’t take me up on offers for help – if I’ve offered to help by providing feedback on potential employers and you don’t take me up on it, I’ll assume you don’t need my help and forget about the conversation.
  8. Don’t let me know when you have landed your next adventure – I’ll be honest, the first time this happened it hurt my feelings. The scenario: I met with someone and gave them advice on applying to work for my employer. I learned they had been hired from – someone else in my organization. A simple phone call or e-mail would have been enough.

Before you conclude that I’m a complete grump, I’ll say that most of these interviews go very well. Some have even been the start of a professional friendship that lasts to this day. If you are considering a career change, reach out to trusted colleagues and ask for an informational interview. But make sure you make the most of your time and of theirs.

4 Steps to Keeping Your Give Day Tampa Bay Donors

Give Day Tampa Bay logo

Give Day Tampa Bay is May 5, 2015 – just one week away. Are you ready? Are you ready for what comes next? Give Day Tampa Bay is a 24-hours online giving challenge led by the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and the Florida Next Foundation. The midnight-to-midnight went showcases our local nonprofits and makes giving easy for first-time donors or long-time supporters.

To get the most benefit from your efforts, make sure you are thinking about how to retain donors after May 5. Across the nonprofit sector, donor retention is very low. Don’t believe me? You can see for yourself at the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. How do you beat those statistics? Donor engagement!

Just like with any fundraising program, you have to plan for the follow-up with your donors on Give Day Tampa Bay. Make sure your plan covers these 4 things:

  1. Say thank you – start with a timely, accurate thank you. Should it be electronic or written? Yes or what about both? However you do it, make sure you convey that you are happy to receive the gift and you will put it to good use accomplishing your mission. Be sure to find everyday language to describe how your mission will change a life and make the world better. For Give Day Tampa Bay, the donor makes the gift to the Community Foundation but that should not change the sincerity and timeliness of your acknowledgement. Make sure the donor knows that your organization is grateful for their gift.
  2. Engage – engage them in what you are doing. Invite them for a tour, tell them good stories about the beneficiaries of your work. Ask them to join you as a volunteer. Make them the superhero. Meet them whenever possible and listen to them. Ask questions like: How did you come to support us? What is special to you about the work we are doing? What other information would you like to receive and how would you like to receive it?
  3. Drip feed your mission – don’t pour it out fast like a fire hose. Organizations do many things and we are compelled to tell the donor everything we do in every correspondence. Stop that! Remember when you first starting learning about your organization? You didn’t understand it all at once so don’t expect your donor to do that. Tell them one story at a time that demonstrates your work.
  4. Tell a story – Stories are the best way to convey information. I had a professor in graduate school who told lots of stories and guaranteed his students we would remember the stories but not the theories in the textbooks. Now it’s 20 years later and I can tell you he was right. That’s what I remember. Your donors will remember the stories and that’s what will move them to make another gift.

I’m often asked, “How soon can we ask for the next gift?” There is no magic timeframe. More important than the number of days, weeks or months, answer this question: how have you thanked and engaged the donor? Once you have done that well, you’ll be ready to ask for the next gift.

Where There’s a Will

I made my YouTube debut this week with an appearance on The Philanthropy Show. Beverley McLain from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and I join host Louanne Walters to talk about planned giving. Louanne opens with the question posed by many nonprofit leaders: “When can we start brining in some planned giving?” The answer: right now. Here are a three highlights from our discussion that are helpful for your nonprofit:

  1. You don’t have to be an expert to get started – many nonprofit employees and volunteers don’t talk about planned giving because they know they aren’t experts. Don’t let that stop you. You need to be an expert on your organization then turn to professional advisors for help with the legal parts.
  2. Listen – as with all parts of fundraising, it’s better to listen than to talk. Conversations with donors are what lead to planned gifts. If you are doing all of the talking, you will miss the opportunities to deepen a relationship with your organization through a planned gift.
  3. Create a legacy society – Beverley has some priceless tips on getting this started in your organization. Be sure to start by asking who has already named your organization in their estate plans. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

As I say in the show, “I’m no planned giving expert.” But 25 years of fundraising experience has allowed me to be a part of raising planned gifts. Don’t be afraid to get started. Be sure to subscribe to The Philanthropy Show so you will know when new episodes are posted. Even the commercials are helpful. This one is from Jennifer Dodd, Education Manager at the Nonprofit Leadership Center. She’s got great tips on blogging.

Green Means Go

FreeDigitalPhotos.net
FreeDigitalPhotos.net
In my favorite sport, auto racing, a green flag signifies the start of a race. My favorite moment at the Indianapolis 500 is when the green flag waves and 33 cars come roaring past us on their way to turn one. It makes my heart race just thinking about it. This blog post also makes my heart race – for many of the same reasons: it’s the start of the Sara Leonard Group.
In launching this business I am committed to being your partner in doing more good.
What does that look like?
  • Fundraising – every nonprofit needs resources to accomplish their mission. I can equip you to get the resources you need whether you are starting from scratch or fine-tuning.
  • Training – I love creating and delivering training to nonprofit professionals and volunteers at all skill levels. I can help you and your team build skills, confidence and motivation to succeed.
  • Coaching – through fund development coaching, I can assist you through the process of achieving specific professional and organizational results. I am available to work one-on-one with CEO’s, executive directors, board leaders and fundraising professionals.
  • Facilitating – as an objective, informed outsider, we can provide the facilitation your group needs to accomplish important objectives. Let us help with board retreats, staff retreats, meetings, strategic planning sessions.
As I wave the green flag to start my business, I’ve got to ask: how can I help you? I’m here to be your partner in doing more good.

Houston, We Have a Problem!

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’re excited to have this guest post from friend and colleague Ashley Pero

It’s funny how your earliest jobs can influence your views. I spent my teenage and early 20s working in retail – and firmly believe that people should have to take part in that rite of passage. It is most likely because of that experience that I have such high expectations when it comes to customer service. My paycheck depended on how well I treated my customers and their experience in the various stores that I worked – money is always a good motivator to learn the best practices.

I was pleasantly surprised recently as I personally experienced a local company’s service failure process. Our AC had gone out – and June in Florida with no AC a happy person does not make! We called our normal AC company but they were unavailable until the next day, so we called another company who saturates the market with “we’re here when you need us” ads. They could be out between 9p and 11p, which meant no sleeping in the heat. Then at 8:50p we received a call to tell us they couldn’t come out until the next afternoon with no explanation as to why. Furious I took to Twitter, Facebook and sent them an email explaining my frustration and disappointment in their customer service and company. By the time I woke up the next morning I had genuine responses with apologies and an offer to correct on all media fronts. While I was still uncomfortable as our house reached over 80 degrees, I felt heard. I responded with my appreciation of a response and an explanation and could honestly tell them they I would consider their company in the future. And that is the story most people have heard – the story of their recovery not their mistake.

Does your organization have a service failure process in place? If something goes wrong can you quickly act to offer the customer, client or donor an apology, explanation and solution? It could be the difference between losing that person and all of their friends, family and colleagues hearing about the bad experience or turning the situation around so their friends, family and colleagues hear about how you went above and beyond to make it right.

Originally posted on the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay blog.