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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.

4 Steps to Repair a Donor Relationship

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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

What the Primates* Taught Me

Image: Center for Great Apes
Image: Center for Great Apes

*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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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

Don’t Bury the Lead

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

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

A Lesson About The Ask

Image: BN.com
Image: BN.com

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!

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

3 Things Your Development Plan and My Chili Should Have in Common

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

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