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How Late is Too Late for a Holiday Message? Part 2

W&M YouTube screen shot
Is an e-mail holiday card the right way to go? My opinion on this is no and yes. Here’s what I mean:

NO – an e-card is not the right means of communication for your top donors and prospects. This group should be receiving a personal (hand-signed, hand-addressed) message from whoever in the organization has the closest relationship.

YES – an e-card is an excellent way to communicate with the larger audience of supporters (annual giving donors, alumni, volunteers). Use photos, artwork and whatever best demonstrates your mission. Use the holidays as a way to communicate with your social media audiences too – post, tweet, and all the other things you are doing.

Because development is about building relationships with individuals one at a time or large groups via mass communication – your message should focus on how the support of your donors changed the lives of your constituents and how much you appreciate them.

The challenge – and this is true with any development communications – is to make it meaningful to the donor and representative of your mission. As with many things, holiday e-cards have become pretty common. You have to make yours stand out. My favorite example of this is an e-card the College of William & Mary sent to donors and alumni a few years ago. They showcased students and used images that were meaningful to their audience. You can see the video portion of the message below.

Don’t let time be your excuse for not communicating with your donors and prospects. As I said in my last blog, it’s never too late. Send an e-card for the new year, Valentine’s Day, the start of a new semester or whatever fits with your organization’s culture and mission.

Why? Your organization’s supporters are like family: they want to see those pictures and hear those stories. Use the holidays to do that.

How Late is Too Late for a Holiday Message? Part 1

Holiday stamps
Image courtesy of nirots at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

It’s happened again at my house: the lovely photo cards have arrived in plenty of time to get them out but the busyness of school programs, shopping and family activities have distracted me. My friends and family will tell you that our family card is rarely (OK, maybe never) received before December 25. One year it was mailed around January 4 – ugh! But I always mail them anyway because I’m so proud of my adorable children and know that their aunts and uncles want to see their photos.

So how late is too late for a holiday message from your nonprofit to your donors? NEVER!

A Thanksgiving message would have been great but it’s too late for that in 2015. So instead try a New Year’s card to thank donors for the great 2015 they made possible in the lives of your constituents. If you think mailboxes are too crowded at the end of the year, send a “welcome to 2016” message that arrives around January 4, the first Monday of the new year. A few years ago, one dear friend was running so late with her family Christmas cards that she dressed her kids up in beads and made it a “Happy Gasparilla” card. It’s a Tampa thing and I loved it! It stayed on my refrigerator most of the year. What’s going on in your organization that you can celebrate?

Some of you may be asking, ‘should we even send one?’ I say YES and here’s why: development is about building relationships and sending cards on special occasions is a natural relationship action. What about the idea of offending some of your audience? Don’t! You know your audience; pick a theme and message that reflects your organization and it won’t be offensive. Faith-based organizations have the leg up on this issue. They can celebrate their sacred holidays, but what about the rest of us? Pictures are the best way to communicate what we do so pick one great “money” shot that illustrates what you do and use an online ordering site like Shutterfly or Vista Print. If the card focuses on the good work you are doing, it won’t be offensive.

If I’ve convinced you this is a good idea, your next questions should be ‘who should get them and who should sign them?’ Send them to your board members, top donors, volunteers, vendors who give you generous discounts, and your organization’s friends. They should be hand signed by whoever knows the person best. What do I mean by hand signed? Signed by a human hand with a real pen. If you are sending too many to hand sign, you are sending too many. While you’ve got your pen out, they should be hand addressed. If you are sending too many to hand address, you are sending too many.

Does all of this sound too complicated? Don’t have the time to create a custom card? Then run to a drug store at lunch today, buy a box thank you notes and send them to the 20 most important donors to your organization. Write a note that says something like, “when you made a gift to us earlier this year, you didn’t know who your gift would help. Today I was reminded that it helped someone like…”

Your organization’s supporters are like family: they want to see those pictures and hear those stories. Use the holidays to do that.

Inspiration from Under the French Fries

French fries with salt
Image courtesy of phasinphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Inspiration comes when you least expect it. While having dinner with my children at McDonalds, I was challenged by the verbiage on the tray liner. You know the tray liner – that piece of paper lining the tray that usually contains a special offer for an amusement park or a promotion of the latest McFood. But this time it was a statement about McDonalds’ corporate beliefs, starting with “We believe that when you say something people should be able to believe it.” They concluded with this statement: “To be the best company we can, we have to create the best opportunities. And we’d like to believe that some of the best ones around, are right here.

So here’s the challenge to us in the nonprofit community: do we offer our employees the best opportunities around? Do we invest in their training and development? Do we let them try new things? Do we listen to their ideas?

Many – maybe even most – of our employees took their current positions because they believe in the mission of our organizations. Sure, they need the paycheck but there are plenty of places to get those. Do we capitalize on their commitment to our organization?

Although we often blame ‘tight budgets’ for our lack of employee development, some opportunities are free. Even the opportunities that require some budget are worth it. By investing in an employee’s next step – through training and opportunities – we develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders.

Training and education
The nonprofit sector has a language all our own and some basic training will benefit employees at every level. Watch for web-based trainings, share interesting articles or invest in training from a professional association like AFP.

Opportunity
Find where their interests lie and let them work on a project, try out a skill or pitch in when things are exceptionally busy. Look for areas where your organization is lacking talent, social media for instance. Challenge an employee to become a specialist in that area by researching best practices in other organizations.

Feedback
One of the most valuable things you can provide aspiring leaders in your organization is honest feedback on their performance. Find places they can improve and be proactive in providing the opportunities needed to make those improvements. Don’t wait for annual reviews, provide ongoing feedback so your team can be constantly improving.

I have no idea what kind of workplace McDonalds truly is. But I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for over 25 years. Can the employees in the nonprofit sector agree with the statement on my McDonalds tray liner: “we have to create the best opportunities. And we’d like to believe that some of the best ones around, are right here“?

10 Free Giving Tuesday Resources

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Happy October! Now that we have entered the last quarter of 2015, you should be working on your year-end fundraising plan. I highly recommend integrating the celebration of Giving Tuesday into your plan.

What is #GivingTuesday? Here’s how their website explains it:
“We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

It’s a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to come together to give something more. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. Join us and be a part of a global celebration of a new tradition of generosity.”

One great thing about this open source movement is the spirit of cooperation among the founders, corporations, nonprofits and donors. This has led to a valuable set of FREE online resources. If you work for a nonprofit organization and want to be a part of this, check out the resources below for lots of help.

Giving Tuesday Tools
From #GivingTuesday: toolkits, case studies, logos, and much more! And it’s all FREE.

Easy Communications Timeline: Planning Your #GivingTuesday and Year-End Campaigns
Timeline from Network for Good helps you organize all of your communications are very helpful to integrate your year-end giving plans with #GivingTuesday efforts.

#Giving Tuesday Trends Report
and many other resources from Blackbaud

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:
Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership at Rollins College
Giving Tuesday Central Florida Facebook page

Several innovative organizations from the Tallahassee area have teamed up to create
Big Bend Gives Back

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

Do you know of other resources? Please share!

I’ll be watching (and giving and retweeting) on December 1st to see how creative you can get.

Comfortably Accountable

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I recently worked with Steve King, Executive Director, and Dennis Pitocco, Board Chair of Meals on Wheels of Tampa to present an educational session on increasing board members’ participation in their fundraising efforts. Like many boards, this board sees the opportunity for improvement in this area. One of the challenges expressed by many: how do we hold board members accountable when they are just volunteers, not staff members. The next question is often, who should hold them accountable?

In our preparation for the educational session, Dennis said that as board chair  his goal was to hold board members “comfortably accountable.” I love that phrase! We want to hold board members accountable but in a way that is comfortable for the board member, the board leadership and the staff.

Here is the goal: comfortably accountable. Here is the What, Who and How of “comfortably accountable.”

What?
Comfortably accountable is an approach that allows board members to hold each other accountable, not with an atmosphere of intimidation and guilt but with an atmosphere of encouragement and celebration.

Who?
The best person to hold a board member accountable is another board member. Board member to board member is a peer to peer relationship. Both are volunteers.

How?
How do we achieve comfortably accountable? I recommend these 5 things:

  1. Clear expectations – start with clear board expectations during recruitment and revisit them at least once a year.
  2. Focus on the mission – make sure each board member sees how their involvement and investment helps the nonprofit reach their mission.
  3. Thorough follow-up – insure that board members are communicating on their progress.
  4. Collegial atmosphere – find opportunities for your board to get to know each other and build trust as a group. Often a board retreat or social gathering is the way to encourage that collegial atmosphere.
  5. Celebration of successes – make sure that board members appreciate each other and celebrate the successes of the board and the entire organization.

No one wants to serve on a board that is ruled by guilt and fear. Conversely, no one wants to serve on a board that doesn’t really need them. The way to make sure you don’t face either of these extremes is to seek an atmosphere of “comfortably accountable.”

4 Things to Remember in Year-End Planning

Image courtesy of amenic181 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of amenic181 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pumpkin flavored lattes have arrived. The Halloween costume shops have opened. Labor Day has come and gone. What does all of that mean for fundraising? Even though it’s still 90 degrees in Florida, this is the time to get your year-end fundraising plan together.  Make sure you think about more than how you are going to ask for money. Remember that the fundraising cycle includes these steps: identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship. For year-end giving, we tend to focus on solicitation but you can make sure you touch every step. Here’s how:

1. Identification – look back over the first 9 months of 2015. Who has been newly introduced to your organization? Look for ways to reconnect with them. Ask board members to help make these connections.

2. Cultivation – The end of the year is fast approaching but you’ve got four months left to engage your prospects in your organization’s good work. What is coming up in your organization’s activities that could be cultivation opportunities? Are there any celebrations? Do you have holiday related activities? Make sure you are inviting your prospects to see your mission first hand.

3. Solicitation – More than half of all charitable giving takes place in the last quarter of the calendar year. Remember that is you aren’t asking your donors for a gift, many other organizations will be. Make a plan to ask your supporters for a gift in the last quarter of the year. Find a way to work Giving Tuesday, December 1, into your year-end solicitation strategy.

4. Stewardship – The last quarter of the year provides many natural opportunities for saying thank you to your donors. Thanksgiving is our national holiday for this purpose. Be sure your donors know that you are thankful for them. National Philanthropy Day is November 15. This is a national event with many local celebrations including these Tampa Bay area AFP Chapters: Suncoast, Nature Coast, Polk County and Southwest Florida. In December the media will be flooded with ‘best of’ lists. Use that idea to tell your donors that they accomplished great things through your organization. Be sure that your communications are more than just asking for year-end gifts.

With four months left, you have time to wrap up 2015 in grand style. Don’t forget that the end of the year is more than asking for one more gift. It’s a chance to engage your donors in your mission.

If You Can Read This . . . You Aren’t Out Meeting With Donors

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Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many years ago at a conference I picked up a give away from Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, a large fundraising consulting firm. It was a table tent – a piece made of card stock that folds in order to stand up. It had a simple saying: If you can read this…you aren’t out meeting with donors.

I think this should be the mantra of every fundraiser, especially those who are responsible for raising major gifts for their organizations. But it is easier said than done. There are many things in the jobs of fundraisers that keep them from the most important tasks.

Here are some things you can do to make sure you are focusing on the most important work.

1. Take a hard look at your calendar – I’m not one for dwelling in the past but look at your calendar over the past 6 months and evaluate where you’ve spent most of your time. Was it out meeting with donors? For the times you were in the office, did you spend quality blocks of time reaching out to donors for in person meetings? Once you have reviewed your calendar, commit to making changes for the next 6 months.

2. Make calling on donors your top priority – create a list of your top prospects and commit to contacting them on a regular basis. Contact should include writing to them, meeting with them, and bringing them to your organization for tours. It takes time to plan and execute donor cultivation. It will include many phone calls and correspondence.

3. Be relentless in protecting your priorities – after you commit to making calling on donors and prospects your priority, there is a danger that other things will creep back onto your calendar. Things like internal meetings, special events, and temporary assignments. Don’t let that happen. Always give donor interactions the highest priority.

4. Be open with those you work for and with – sometimes fundraisers are tethered to their offices by the expectations of those around them. Talk openly with your supervisor and explain why you aren’t always at your desk. Be sure they are clear that this will lead to increased results for your major gifts efforts. Same goes for those who report to you or are on your team. Help them to understand why you are often out. If those people are also fundraisers, work as a team to encourage each other in being out more.

5. Don’t judge your productivity by how much time you spend in the office – when you create a ‘to do’ list (and I LOVE lists) make sure that your meetings with donors are at the top. Don’t fall into a trap where your productivity is judged by things that are accomplished inside the walls of your office. In major gift fundraising the most effective thing you can do is get out and meet with people.

So let’s get started now. Who should you call first and ask for a meeting? What are you waiting for?

Accepting Illiquid Assets: The Devil is in the Details

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I was delighted to join the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning of Tampa Bay today for a program on accepting illiquid assets. My fellow panelists were Frank J. ‘Sandy’ Rief, III, a shareholder with Allen Dell Attorneys at Law, and Deborah McCarthy, CFO, Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay. Beverley McLain, Senior Vice President of Philanthropic Services, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay expertly facilitated the program.

As promised, here are the links to the resources that were mentioned during the program. If you weren’t able to join us, never fear – these resources can be useful to all nonprofits and donors. 

Let me start by covering a few questions that were discussed:

‘What’s an illiquid asset?’ An illiquid (or non-cash) asset is anything that can not easily be sold or exchanged for cash. Be careful that you don’t interpret ‘can not easily’ for ‘can’t ever.’ Illiquid assets can be sold, just not as easily as an asset like stocks. I would simplify the definition to something you can’t deposit in your bank account or a brokerage account. These items include artwork, real estate, and jewelry.

‘Should I care about this at all?’ I think you should if you are raising support for a nonprofit organization. There are many opportunities to accept illiquid assets but you have to be well informed. For instance, a donor could give your organization a building that becomes your permanent location. There are substantial tax benefits for the donor and your organization receives a valuable asset.

‘Is there any risk for my organization?’ Absolutely! That’s why you need to do your homework before accepting any non cash gifts. Several examples were cited of organizations that accepted non cash gifts that have eventually cost the organization more than the value of the gift. The first step in protecting your organization from unnecessary risk is to create gift acceptance policies.

‘How does my organization proceed?’ Carefully and armed with plenty of resources! Here you go:

Resources

Gifts of Non-Cash Assets
Community Foundation of Tampa Bay – Specific Property Gifts

Gift Acceptance Policies
Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) – Sample Gift Acceptance Policies
Partnership for Philanthropic Planning (PPP) – Model Documents
BoardSource – Nonprofit Policy Sampler
Kathryn Miree and Associates – Sample Gift Acceptance Policies

IRS Forms and Publications
Publication 526 – Charitable Contributions
Publication 561 – Determining the Value of Donated Property
Form 8283 – Noncash Charitable Contributions
Form 8282 – Donee Information Return

Ethics
AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards
The Donor Bill of Rights

One of the most important takeaways from today’s session: know when to ask for help. I am not qualified to give tax or estate planning advice. But I do know when to call the experts.

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.