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.
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.
Not every repaired donor relationship leads to a 5-figure gift but I know of at least one that did. A colleague listened to the concerns of the donor and worked within the organization to correct the problem. In an effort to reengage this donor, the fundraiser took her to lunch and was presented with a 5-figure gift. How did that happen?
Let’s look at the steps involved in repairing this relationship:
Keeping communication lines open: this can be as simple as continuing to send them stewardship reports, newsletters and other communications. Make sure that you mail often enough to keep their address current. Also, check with people throughout your organization to see who knows an unhappy donor and might be able to help you figure out why.
Listening to their concerns: many times an unhappy donor needs an opportunity to express their feelings to the organization. Listening without becoming defensive is challenging but worth the restraint. Something obviously has gone wrong. Listen with an open mind and find out where the breakdown has happened.
Admitting to mistakes and apologizing: we are not perfect nor are our organizations. Admit the mistake without throwing anyone under the proverbial bus and apologize. Determine if an apology needs to come from someone else in your organization and facilitate that if necessary.
Correcting the mistakes: this can take some time and may seem like a waste of time when there are goals to meet but don’t skip this step. In the case I heard about recently, the correction took months of coordination because it involved several parts of the organization. The development officer forged ahead – never knowing it would result in a gift – because it was the right thing to do. He knew that it was important to the donor.
The final step – and it’s really more of an ongoing process than a step – is to continue to communicate with the donor. There may never be an opportunity to ask for a gift again but you never know…for my friend, he didn’t have to ask. The donor was so pleased that the situation had been corrected that she made an additional gift without being asked.
*Really it was the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance’s dedicated members
I was there to teach but as is always the case, I learned, too. It was my privilege to provide a custom training program to those attending the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) meeting in Tampa. They are a dedicated group of staff and volunteers from primate sanctuaries throughout the US and Canada. Their mission is “to advance the welfare of captive primates through exceptional sanctuary care, collaboration and outreach.” The organization is only 2 years old but active and growing. They met in Tampa for two days and discussed a variety of issues related to the care of their residents – chimpanzees, monkeys, apes – and the running of their nonprofit organizations.
As different as every organization may seem, we all face the same challenges and rewards. One of those in the group was quick to point out to me that raising money for their cause is harder than most other nonprofits. I can’t confirm or contradict that assertion. We all have challenges. Who am I to say if theirs is greater? What I can say with confidence: while it’s tough for all of us to raise money, the most critical ingredient for success is a passionate belief in the mission of the organization. What I learned from this group: they have that most critical ingredient.
According to Giving USA, animal nonprofits raise the smallest portion of funds in the US each year. Based on that data, the members of NAPSA do have unique challenges. But all donors have similar needs. By engaging qualified prospects, they will be able to raise funds and meet the needs of their residents. Each prospective donor seeks to be engaged in our missions.
Here are three keys to donor engagement:
Show me – the work of these groups is very visual and provides opportunities for photos, blog posts, and social media interactions with prospects far and near.
Tell me – we should examine our communications to make sure we are telling a compelling story about making the world a better place. Are we sharing our successes with donors, prospects and the world at large? Sometimes we are so close to the good work we are doing, we forget that those outside our organizations don’t get to see the progress being made.
Let me – volunteer opportunities abound in our nonprofit organizations. When a person has a chance to participate in our work of changing the world, they experience the great feelings. This may be the most powerful way to convert a prospect into a donor: let them have a close-up, hands-on encounter.
At the end of our session, I was convinced that the committed and passionate people from the primate sanctuaries have great fundraising success ahead – and I’m pretty sure they believed it, too.
I watched as several nonprofits were interviewed on TV recently. As I often do, I passionately expressed my frustration. This is also known as yelling at a TV that can’t hear me (at least that’s what my husband calls it). Why, you ask? I’ll explain.
A reporter started with the question, “what does your organization do?” There it is: the million dollar question, the one we’ve all been dying to answer on television. I experienced great disappointment as the nonprofit’s spokesperson told us how long they’ve been in existence, how many people they work with and that they are a 501(c)3. Finally, she got to the answer: they create jobs. She should have started with that! That’s what they do. That’s how they change the world.
How do you answer that question? You probably don’t have many opportunities to answer it on live TV but how do you answer it on any given day?
Here’s advice the advice I was shouting at my TV: don’t bury the lead! What is your lead? What is it that you really do to change the world? Do you save lives, rescue animals, teach kids to read? Start with that. Figure out how to say it in the most succinct and dramatic way.
Remember that most people aren’t inspired by how long you’ve been around, how many people you serve or the fact that the IRS granted you tax exempt status. What inspires them? How you are changing the world. Be sure that is the first thing you say. I strongly believe the best way to convey how you change the world is by a quick story that illustrates that in a real life.
“Bury the lead” is an expression from journalism. It applies in many situations: copywriting, social media. If you’d like to read more about that, check out this blog post from Socialmediatoday.com, “Keys to Copywriting: Don’t Bury the Lead.”
If you’re not sure if you are able to tell your story this way, practice on the next person who asks about what’s going on in your life. Tell them about the good work of your organization and see how they respond. Then ask them what they think. You’ll be amazed at what you learn.
My then ten year-old daughter asked to go to Barnes and Noble on a school night after we had gone out to eat. Her younger brother’s baseball game was the impetus for the dinner out so we were already behind schedule for homework, baths and bedtime. My answer was “no.” When I asked if she thought I’d say yes, she admitted she knew the answer would be “no” but asked anyway just to be sure.
Does that sound like something we may do with our donors sometimes? We are pretty sure it’s the wrong ask but we do it anyway. What makes it the wrong ask? It could be the wrong project, the wrong amount, the wrong time for the donor.
So why do we go ahead with the wrong ask? Often it is the pressing needs of our organizations. We are doing good work. There are people to help, animals to save, diseases to fight. While all of this is very important, we can’t put it ahead of the donor.
By spending time on cultivation and creating the right proposal – we move closer to a yes. When we go ahead with the wrong ask, it will be a bad experience for the donor, for us and ultimately for our nonprofit’s mission.
Cultivation – by getting to know the prospective donor, we learn more about when the time will be right for them to make a gift. We learn where their passions lie and can work together to find the best fit for them in our organizations.
Creating the proposal – by carefully crafting a proposal, whether it’s formal or informal, we paint a picture of how this prospect can join us in making the world a better place.
My daughter knows that some nights I will happily go to Barnes & Noble. It has coffee, books, we see friends. What’s not to love? That was the proposal and she knew it had a shot with me. But she also knows that on a school night, we have to get home and don’t have spare time for browsing through a bookstore sipping lattes. But she chose to ask when she knew the answer would be no because she put her needs as the top priority. Since she was only ten, we can’t fully blame her. As development professionals we know better.
Search for the place where the prospect’s values and passion intersect with the mission of the organization. When you find that intersection, ask. You will get the answer you want – YES!
While making chili for my family, I was struck by three things about a development plan:
Expiration dates – I was pulling the spices out of the cabinet and realized some were out of date. I appreciate the way spice manufacturers put expiration dates on the bottom of the bottles now. Sometimes I’m shocked at how old my spices are. (Note: while I’m not a gourmet chef, no one has ever died from eating my cooking). The activities in a development plan should – but unfortunately don’t – come with expiration dates. Many of the fundraising activities we do, from events to mailings, are out of date but we haven’t noticed it. Take the time to evaluate your development activities individually and as part of the whole strategy. If they no longer contribute to your program’s success, toss them out but recycle the bottle (no wait, that’s just for the spices).
Onions – I was chopping the onions and working hard not to cry. Even with my fancy Pampered Chef chopper, I still have to work very hard to not weep into my chili. How does this relate to a development plan? Glad you asked! Don’t strip what you are doing of all emotion. Starting with your case for support, make sure you keep in the things that really move people – your mission. Giving is an emotional action. Your plan should reflect that.
Never the same twice – I make my chili from several recipes including my sister’s mother-in-law’s classic recipe and the recipe that came with my Crock Pot. Each time I make it, I adjust according to what I have in the pantry and the refrigerator. Again, I’m no gourmet but sometimes it has surprising results. Once I was preparing it for friends that included a vegetarian so I left out the beef and added black beans and corn. Tonight it’s my husband’s family so I stuck to the basics. Your development plan should be just like that. Take industry best practices, good ideas from other organizations, gather the strengths of your own organization and stir.
One final similarity to chili: taste as you go. I will taste the chili as the day progresses and make adjustments as needed. Same applies to your development plan. As the year progresses, examine how things are going and make the necessary adjustments.
We’re excited to have this guest post from friend and colleague Ashley Pero.
I enjoy arriving to meetings early. This isn’t just because I am extremely punctual, I also love to people watch. (You do too, don’t you? It’s okay, I won’t tell!) I often find myself wondering what people think when they are people watching me. I will be honest, some days I shouldn’t receive a glowing review. You cannot be “on” every day and no one expects you to be, but that doesn’t stop people from forming their opinions about you and your level of competence.
I had the pleasure of sitting in on Take Control of Your Professional Presence at the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay. The program is taught by a wonderful consultant, Margarita Sarmiento. (I highly recommend that you take part the next time it is offered.) Margarita explained not only the importance of your professional presence, but also how to improve your presence and control the image that you portray to the world. Below I have shared a few tips that everyone can incorporate to improve their image in and out of the office.
Smile! Not everyone is a natural smiler, but you can make an effort to smile at people. This simple act makes you seem more open and approachable.
Make eye contact. Eye contact shows that you care enough to pay attention to the other person. Even if that just means stopping what you are doing to ask if you can continue the conversation later when you can give it the appropriate attention.
Lead by example. Make sure your actions are demonstrating what you expect of others. People mimic the actions they see most often.
Look the part. Always make sure your outfit meets the 4 P’s: polished, professional, pulled together and people friendly.
Make your comments worthwhile and memorable. This will sometimes require you to stop and think about what to say, but it is worth the extra time.
Know what you’re projecting. Always ask yourself, “What message am I sending right now?” and adjust if needed.
We all want to make a great impression, first or otherwise, but sometimes forget that people are always observing. It only a takes a little more thought and a minute at the most to act on any of the tips above, but the benefit to your image is invaluable.
What other tips do you live by to improve or maintain your image?
We’re excited to have this guest post from friend and colleague Ashley Pero.
“What career advice would you give the students?” the pre-panel prep sheet asked. I was asked to sit on a panel at The University of Tampa discussing careers in the nonprofit sector for students and alumni. Career advice? In Ashley-fashion, I started by completely overthinking the question… then I got realistic, it was 5p on a Thursday and some of them had to be there for credit – what might I say that would keep their attention. Here’s what I came up with… a few things I’ve learned as I’ve navigated to where I am today.
It’s okay to not know everything. It’s not okay to not try and figure it out. We are in age where there are so many resources available to help us do almost anything – use them! That might mean calling on a colleague (more on that below), a consultant, or just digging in and figuring it out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it’s how we learn and grow.
Connecting is about more than just a LinkedIn request to connect. Having colleagues that you can call for advice or bounce ideas off of is critical to success. And when it comes to looking for a new opportunity, they are going to be the ones to help you find what you’re looking for. It’s easy to neglect those relationships, but it’s also easy to keep them alive and well. A quick coffee before work, an email with an article that would be helpful for them, a quick call to see how things are – those small gestures build relationships and relationships are what it’s all about.
Be a lifelong learner and ask questions. People are generally willing to tell you if you ask. Don’t be obnoxious about it, but if you wonder why something is done a certain way just ask… maybe your idea to improve it is a good one. A great place to get those ideas? Read, read and read some more. There are so many industry specific blogs, trainings and general knowledge out there if you take the time to find it and take advantage of it. Be curious!
Other duties as assigned. It’s always there and the percentage of time spent on it varies – other duties as assigned. The words “that isn’t my job” should never come out of your mouth. Those other things, big and small, help you prove that you’ll do what it takes to get the job done and that’s an admirable trait. Just know when to say your plate is full, your quality shouldn’t suffer because you take on too much.
If you don’t know where you want to go, someone else will decide for you. Not many people I know have decided what they want to be when they grow up and that’s okay, but don’t let someone else decide for you. Take time periodically to be sure that what you’re doing now will somehow help you get where you think you want to go. Be confident in your skills and abilities and don’t let someone else devalue them and decide what you’re good at.
What else would you add? What was the best advice career wise you’ve been given?
A colleague just got a great new development job. I started thinking of what I would tell him if he asked me (and he hasn’t but since this is a great outlet for unsolicited advice I thought I would share).
Congratulations on your new position! Fundraising is an extremely challenging and immensely rewarding profession. I’ve thought of several things I think you should do in your first few days and weeks in your new position. Here they are in no particular order:
Get a good support system – sometimes development can feel very lonely and frustrating so make sure you have a good group of colleagues outside your organization who can encourage you and tell it to you straight.
Join a professional association – development is a profession and our professional associations offer much of what we need: continuing education, a code of ethics, research, and advocacy. AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) has local chapters throughout the US; several right here in the Tampa Bay area (Suncoast, Southwest, Nature Coast, Polk). There are others for specific parts of the nonprofit sector like education (CASE) or healthcare (AHP).
Read, read, read – there are great books and blogs (like this one!) about fundraising. Read them. Not all of them, not all the time but make sure you are spending some time refreshing your skills and recharging your batteries.
Go home on time – I’m sharing this advice given by author Penelope Burk at the AFP Planet Philanthropy Conference in 2012. I was shocked when I heard it. Some of us think that we should be working day and night to get all of the money raised. Penelope pointed out that if we are working all of the time, we won’t be that interesting when we interact with donors. Have a hobby, exercise, spend time with your family – stay interesting.
Practice your listening skills – 2 of the great thinkers in the field of development have written extensively about this. Karen Osborne has a free resource on her website, Asking Strategic Questions. Jerold Panas dedicated a whole book on the subject called Power Questions.
Go get a story and be ready to tell it – every organization is full of stories about the impact they are making in their communities. Make sure you can tell a firsthand story that illustrates that impact. This may mean spending some time in the patient care areas, museum floors, classrooms, or labs of your organization.
Make time and budget for training – as you build your team, pay attention to the areas where they need additional training and the ways you can help them prepare to move up. Same goes for you, too. Don’t get so busy in the job that you forget to keep yourself current.
Enjoy it – fundraising is a challenging and wonderful profession. You are a part of changing the world and you should enjoy it.
I’ll close with: I’m happy to help however I can. Good luck!