Fundraising Tricks and Secrets

Because I write this blog for Sara Leonard Group, I tend to notice the titles of other people’s blog posts. They often include the words tricks and secrets. Recently, those words really hit the wrong nerve and had me very annoyed.

The reason? This field doesn’t really have any tricks and I’ve never had a fundraising colleague who kept their tactics a secret.

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There is no trick to what we do. It’s steady, hard work that raises money for our organizations. We are in the relationship business and building relationships takes time. I wish there were a shortcut, it would certainly make things easier and bosses and boards happier.

As far as secrets, I’ve been working in this field for a long time and I can’t think of a single time that I called a colleague with a question that they didn’t share their experience and/or expertise with me. Successful fundraisers don’t have secrets, they have hard-earned experience. Most – I’m not willing to say all because there’s an exception to every rule, right? – will help a colleague. Of course, there is a strict code of confidentiality, but we can share the things we’ve learned without sharing donor information.

Still want to get your hands on these “tricks” and “secrets?” Here are a few suggestions:

Practice
I think this is in some ways the opposite of tricks, it’s putting in the reps. For fundraising that means meeting with donors and listening to what they have to say and getting used to hearing no. It might be drafting an appeal letter and asking for feedback from a more experienced fundraising writer. It’s committing to getting better each time.

Learning
The opposite of secrets, learning the fundraising profession can take on many forms. We have a stellar professional association, Association for Fundraising Professionals, with local chapters across North America. There are great books on general fundraising and every specialty area. I’ve got a few favorites, I’m always happy to share recommendations. There are many reputable publications that provide access to up-to-date results and information on fundraising, The Chronicle of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Quarterly are a couple of my go-to resources.

Participate
This is the key to unlock the “secrets.” Get out from behind your desk and participate in our profession. I’ve been a member of AFP and participated in our Tampa Bay Chapter for over 25 years. I’ve made lasting friendships and learned an encyclopedia-sized volume of “secrets.” Local AFP chapters have various volunteer opportunities to practice new skills and learn from others.

Interact
With our modern ways of email and online learning opportunities, there’s a risk that we try to do it all from our computers. There is value in getting into your local nonprofit community. For my Tampa Bay colleagues, I recommend programs at NLC. In Florida, we have the annual Planet Philanthropy conference. Almost every community has some way to convene a group. If yours doesn’t, take it as a challenge and get a group started.

The bad news – there’s no shortcut to effective fundraising, no “tricks” and “secrets” to making you a better fundraiser.

The good news – there are lots of ways to learn to do it the right way.

Let me know if you need some help with this. A development coaching session might be the key to get you started on you way without any fake “tricks” or “secrets.”

Help – Thanks – Wow

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Last month I completed my term as president of the AFP Suncoast Chapter. That milestone led me to reflect on my term and write some closing thoughts. I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s book “Help Thanks Wow.”  Her writing inspired my thoughts about the past two years in our AFP chapter.

Help
The board members and volunteers have provided help to the fundraising professionals of Tampa Bay. The resources from AFP International have enriched the help we have provided. That help came in the form of education, advocacy, resources, scholarships and friendship. Our job board helped people find jobs and helped organizations find valuable staff members. Everything we do is to help professional fundraising colleagues and the nonprofits where you work.

Thanks
I have been honored to serve with the dedicated board members and volunteers who make this chapter work. Because our board is an operating board not a governing board, each board member worked with a committee of volunteers to make the magic happen. And it is magic! All of those people are busy professionals who find the time to give back to AFP.  Thanks to everyone on the AFP Suncoast team!

Wow
Each time I’ve stood at the podium of our chapter meetings and looked at all of you, I’ve been touched by the impact you make in our community. Wow! You – my fundraising colleagues – represent nonprofit organizations that are changing lives and saving lives. You educate children, feed hungry neighbors, shelter victims of abuse. You make the world brighter and lovelier with art, music and history. You care for the environment and animals. You work every day to improve your corner of the world. I’m glad your corner is my corner, too. Wow!

In her book, Anne Lamott calls help, thanks and wow her “three essential prayers.” For me, these are the three essentials words that express my appreciation for my colleagues and friends in the AFP Suncoast Chapter.

Help. Thanks. Wow!

Close Your Door

Closed door
Image courtesy of paisin191 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being on a plane and not connected to the internet made me realize how out of practice I’ve gotten at staying totally focused. I found myself looking down to check the mail icon on my laptop to see if I had any new e-mail messages but of course I didn’t have any.

Did life as I know it cease to exist? Of course not. I was actually getting more done. There was a crying baby behind me and a guy sleeping wide next to me but I was still able to get some quality work done. How? Those distractions are more like white noise while the distraction of e-mail requires my brain to shift gears.

Research says we lose 15 minutes when we hop from task to task. I could have purchased WiFi to use the internet on that flight but I gained more in productivity by focusing on the tasks at hand (including creating this blog).

So what’s on your agenda that needs your focus? How are you going to get to it?

Here are 3 suggestions:

1) Create a closed-door policy
I’m not suggesting that you keep your door closed all the time but there are times when you need to excuse yourself from the distractions like drop by meetings. This applies if you are the boss, too. Tell your teammates that you need some time to focus on an important task but you will be available in an hour. If you have a position that doesn’t allow this, look for someone around you that would trade an hour – you cover for them, then they cover for you.

2) Work out of the office
“Working at a coffee shop” brings to mind a peaceful setting but a few years ago my office was across the street from what seemed like the world’s busiest Starbucks, or at least the noisiest. There were still times that I could go across the street and accomplish something important because I could focus on the task at hand, not the priorities of my coworkers (and boss). If you’re like me and can work in a noisy place you’ve got unlimited options. If you need things quieter, try to public library or a restaurant during their slowest times.  Looking for more proof? Check out this TED Talk “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.”

3) Schedule the big things
Determine the time of day when you are the most productive and schedule the big things for those times. Click here for a blog from Evernote on finding your most productive hours.
Once you determine your most productive times, don’t spend those hours on the small and mindless tasks. Use them for the big things like creating a major gift solicitation strategy or writing your annual appeal letter. Take a few minute to review your to-do list to find the most important items that require the most concentration. No one you work with will make this happen for you, you have to make this happen for yourself. Schedule a 2-hour item on your schedule that says “create development plan” then protect that time from other demands. I’ve started using a different color for those items in my calendar.

Do you believe that the work you are doing is important? I do. Our work in the nonprofit sector saves lives and changes lives. That work is worthy of your focus. Don’t let the daily distractions keep you from the big things.

6 Reasons NOT to Attend Planet Philanthropy

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Planet Philanthropy is coming to Tampa June 25-27 – hooray! The Florida fundraising conference moves around the state each year and for the first time in many years, we are hosting it right here in downtown Tampa. I think this is fabulous but I realize not everyone agrees with me. So for those who aren’t sure, here are 6 reasons not to attend (and why I think they are wrong).

1.  It’s too close to home so it won’t be fun
Sometimes the fun of attending a conference is getting to know a new city, I get that. But when is the last time you explored your own city? Our colleagues at the downtown jewels like Florida Aquarium, Tampa Theatre, and the Tampa Bay History Center, support amazing missions that make Tampa a fun location for any event. I encourage you to stay at the Hilton Downtown Tampa and have the full conference experience. I’m going to.

2. My organization doesn’t pay for it
I understand that challenge because I have been there. More than once in my career my employer didn’t support continuing education but I came to the realization that I had to make the investment in my own career. Fortunately, Planet Philanthropy is affordable and you can minimize travel expenses. If you decide not to stay at the hotel, valet parking is available at a very reasonable price.

3. I’m not a CFRE/I’m already a CFRE
You might think that CFRE hours don’t matter to you because you aren’t pursuing that certification but I would encourage you to consider that you might pursue it in the future so keep track of your continuing education hours now. If you already have the CFRE designation, Planet Philanthropy will give you a healthy number of continuing ed points for your next recertification (and it’s coming faster than you realize…it’s always coming faster than you realize).

4.  The networking won’t be good because everyone will be from Tampa
This is a statewide event and while the Tampa Bay area will be well represented, the presenters, exhibitors, sponsors and guests will be from across the state and across the country.

5.  I’ve been in fundraising a long time and I’ve seen/heard it all
With that in mind, the conference planning committee has been diligently researching best practices and securing presenters to cover the latest and greatest.  Click here to see the full list of offerings.  If you’ve been in fundraising a long time, it may be time for you to take a mentoring role to our younger colleagues.

6.  I’m between positions so the timing’s not good
I’ve witnessed more than one spontaneous recruitment at Planet Philanthropy through the years. A nonprofit CEO once told me they would never send another development director to Planet Philanthropy because the last two had used it to get a new job. (Note: I think the problem there is with the CEO but that’s a topic for another blog, another day)

You may have other objections to overcome in order to attend. I encourage you to overcome those challenges and get yourself registered today. Hope to see you there (or here)!

One more thing to share: I am honored to be presenting “Best Practices for Fundraising from a Modern Family,” where I’ll talk about the differences in how generations give. 

Mentors

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I didn’t go looking for a mentor but one sort of showed up in my life. Let me tell you how: right out of college I was working in residential mortgage lending, a terrible fit even though my dad had been a banker. A contact I made through some volunteer work encouraged me to apply for a job in fundraising at a hospital. At that time, my boyfriend’s mom ran a nonprofit so I called her to see what she thought about a job in development. She was very encouraging and helped me through the interview and hiring process. She became a tremendous mentor and fundraising turned out to be a good fit for me. Full disclosure: I married that boyfriend. Just so I’m completely clear: my mother-in-law has been my greatest, but not my only, mentor. I know how amazing that is because many people struggle just to communicate with their in-laws.

If she were writing this blog, Nancy Leonard would have started at the dictionary, so I did. The dictionary says “mentor” is of Greek origin and defines it this way:
     Men’-tor – Noun
     1. A wise and trusted counselor or teacher
     2. An influential senior sponsor or supporter
     Synonyms: adviser, master, guide, preceptor

I like that “mentor” has Greek origin because she was the Executive Director of a Greek letter women’s fraternity for over 20 years. She would assure you that “fraternity” is the right noun because the organization is older than the word sorority. She was like that. She wouldn’t have raised her fist for women’s rights or bristled if you tried to correct the statement. She knew her stuff and generously taught the rest of us so much.

That’s a good trait in a mentor: extensive knowledge but no need to show it off. Here are some other traits I’ve valued in my mentor:

Bright – she was very smart and had a love of learning that insured she kept getting smarter. Her brightness also extended into her sense of humor.

Talented – she was musical, artistic, a brilliant writer and a relentless proofreader.

Respected – she was a leader in her field and set a great example on how to earn respect through years of dedicated service to others.

Varied experience and interests – she started as a business teacher (and could write in shorthand!) but also hosted a children’s TV program, and directed public relations for one of Indianapolis’ biggest festivals. Add to those: a love of sports, musicals, politics and current events and I had a mentor who could help in a lot of areas.

Genuine interest in helping younger people – I was not her only mentee, I was one of dozens. She used her positions – both personal and professional – to help younger people. She had empathy for our challenges. But if I’m going to say “empathy” I must stress not sympathy. Nancy never let me wallow in self-pity. If I didn’t like a situation, she encouraged me to change it or change my attitude.

Ability to offer critique, not criticism – she could have the tough conversations with me but always left me feeling like I could get better.

Willing to be honest with me – not be critical or harsh but she encouraged me to look at things objectively and take the appropriate action.

Willingness – many talented people have been a good influence on me but her willingness to invest time and energy into my life is what made her a true mentor.

I am realizing now that my life is filled with mentors. Some have been long-term and close, while others have been in my career for a brief time. That is an additional trait: the right fit at the right time, whether through a formal program or just coincidence.

I remember the first time someone introduced me as their mentor. I was shocked and pressured. Had I signed up for that assignment? Was I worthy? Had I really added any value? Since then, I’ve learned to answer those questions with a resounding “YES!” As a way of thanking my mentors, I am committed to being available for those around me.

I’ve been thinking about mentors because January is National Mentor Month. I originally wrote this tribute when my “wise and trusted counselor” passed away.  I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on how blessed I was to have known her. I’ll close by saying: thank you to all of my mentors. I appreciate what you have done for me. Most especially, thank you to Nancy Leonard – mentor, mother-in-law and friend.

Plan Leads to Fundraising Success

 

 

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Exciting news: new online class is approved for 3 points toward CFRE certification

Not all online classes are created equal – I get that. Many online classes involve watching slides and listening to a lecture. Our class is completely different. We call it discussion-style because the class is a series of video conversations between Louanne Saraga Walters and me. We walk through the steps to create a fundraising plan and include worksheets. This isn’t just watching, it’s doing.

3 times you’ll benefit from the new Fundraising Succe$$ class:

1.  Need a new development plan
If you are raising money without a plan, STOP. Well don’t stop raising money but stop trying to get it done without a plan. I’ve got the help you need. Fundraising Success: The Complete Development Plan will walk you through step by step to get you from where you are now to where you want to be. Feel like you are out there on your own? Creating a development plan can fix that. One of the key steps is defining your team.

2.  Time to update your plan
If you have a development plan but it’s been a while since you looked at it, that’s a sign that you need to update it. A development plan should be a living, active document (printed or digital) that everyone on your fundraising team uses to know where you are going and how you are going to get there.

3.  Need CFRE points
Fundraising Success: The Complete Development Plan is applicable for 3.0 points in Category 1.B – Education of the CFRE International application for initial certification and/or recertification. Once you complete the online videos, we’ll send you the points tracker. If you are already certified (congrats!), use the points toward your next recertification. If you are pursuing it, use them toward your initial certification. Not sure what I’m talking about? Click her for CFRE info

But don’t take my word for it, take the class and let me know what you think. The Udemy platform allows for student/instructor interaction (that’s you and me). This is the first in a series that provides the tools you need to experience fundraising success in your nonprofit.

If you’re reading this blog, I’d like to offer you 10% off your registration of Fundraising Success: The Complete Development Plan. Register now and let’s get started.

Inspiration from Under the French Fries

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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“?

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.

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.