Leadership Inspiration: Some Favorite Memories

The Nonprofit Leadership Center hosts an annual Leadership Conference that brings thought leaders to our community each year. While serving on the NLC staff, I had the privilege of meeting many of the keynote speakers. Since leaving staff, I’ve enjoyed the conference as a participant. 

As NLC prepares to present their 10th annual conference, I found myself reminiscing about some of my favorites. Many of them I’d never heard of before the conference but now they are my go-to resources for leadership inspiration. 

I’ve compiled a list of my favorites and included links to some of their work: 

Jon Acuff / How to Be Kinder to Yourself in 1 Sentence

Andy Goodman / The Goodman Center (whose tagline is “where do-gooders do better”)

Shawn Achor / TEDx on Happiness

Travis Bradberry / The Secret to Team Performance and 5 Strategies to Achieve It Virtually

Sally Hogshead / The Little Recession Playbook

Simon T. Bailey / Spark Opportunity in the New Normal

Dan Pallotta / Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship

Maybe after the 10th Annual Conference on October 13, I’ll have a new favorite. I look forward to “seeing you” there and experiencing the new virtual format with you!

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.”

4 Keys for Planning a Successful Staff Team Retreat

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day at your organization – doing what you have to do to get through the day and make our community a better place. Then, someone decides that all your team needs is a staff retreat to get everyone back on the same page and focused on what is ahead.

So, a calendar invite is sent with instructions for everyone to clear their calendar and meet in the conference room for a day of fun and togetherness (you know the email, I’m pretty sure you just rolled your eyes).

The day comes and it turns into a daylong meeting – with lots of PowerPoint slides, the same people talking, excruciating “get to know you” games – and, everyone leaves frustrated and feeling behind.

Let’s be clear, the intention was good. The execution… could have been a lot better. Planning a successful staff team retreat takes time, thought and preparation. We’ve got four tips to make planning your next staff team retreat a day everyone leaves feeling refreshed, focused and ready to tackle whatever is next for your organization.

1. Know your why. We have facilitated staff team retreats for a multitude of reasons – major changes on the horizon or just completed, new leadership or key team members, reconnecting a team. Once you identify the reason for your staff team retreat, you can set the agenda to accomplish this goal. Knowing this can help you with a lot of the logistic details like location and activities.

2. Don’t over fill the agenda. This can happen quickly – “oh, since we’ll all be together we can take care of this.” This is not a staff meeting, so you shouldn’t treat it like one. Going back to your why, pick one or two (at the most) major topics and allow ample time to cover them in depth. Often when prepping for a staff team retreat the most push back comes from what is seen as a “not enough” agenda from the organization’s lead. In our experience, a flexible agenda that allows for the natural flow of conversation and ideas works best.

3. Plan for active participation. Some people take more time and coaxing to take an active part in conversations. Think ahead of the conversations – how to include those people less likely to just jump in and how to temper those who are prone to taking over the conversation. Everyone on your team has a voice and brings a different perspective to an issue or challenge. At a recent retreat, the accounting person had a great idea for the thank you letters – no one had ever asked.

4. Bring in a professional. You’re great at what you do – and, that might not include planning and facilitating a successful and productive staff team retreat. Lucky for you, there are professionals, like the Sara Leonard Group, who have the experience and expertise to help you realize your why and to create an agenda to accomplish your why while planning for active participation from your entire team. A professional, outside facilitator allows full participation from your entire staff and a voice of reason and objectivity. Make sure when choosing a facilitator for your staff team retreat that it is someone who listens and understands your goals for the day. Your facilitator should be someone you are comfortable spending some time with – the preparation for your staff team retreat is really what makes all the difference.

We hope these tips help as you plan the next staff team retreat. If you’d like to discuss how we can help your organization in planning a retreat that gets the results you want, please contact us.

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!

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.

You Are Here

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It happened again last week: I got turned around at the new outlet mall. My son and I were shopping for some new items at the Disney Store and we parked in our usual place near Starbucks. But I can never seem to remember which row of shops to head down. What did we do? Used the mall map and found the “YOU ARE HERE” indicator so we could map out the best route to the Disney Store. What does this have to do with a development plan? Everything!
Many nonprofits stay plenty busy with fundraising activities. Enough to do is never the problem. The problem is usually doing the right things. The place to start is by determining where you are currently. Here’s how to start: make a list of everything you are currently doing related to fundraising and development. It’s not complicated but it’s a step that many people skip.
3 Steps to Find “You Are Here”
  1. Make a list – begin with a brain dump. List everything you do related to fundraising and development…everything. If you are part of a team, ask the rest of your team to help you. Look back at your calendar from the past year. Think back to the items on your to-do list.
  2. Examine the results of those activities – now that you’ve made your list, write down the results. Look at the revenue and expenses for each activity. Now take that a step farther: were there other benefits? For instance, a stewardship event doesn’t show a positive net income but if it gave you an opportunity to engage your donors, be sure to list those benefits. Examine the results in terms of deeper engagement with your existing donors.
  3. Determine what you want to keep, delete, add – based on the results, what is worth keeping? Make notes on how it can be improved. Now look at the things that didn’t raise much money and didn’t provide other benefits. Make the (sometimes painful) decision to eliminate those activities. At this step, take time to note the things that are missing from your development program.

Once you determine where you are, you’ll be better ready to decide where you want to be and how you will get there. That’s what a development plan can do for you: identify where you want to be and map out how to get there.

I’ve created a new online course with Louanne Saraga Walters of The Philanthropy Show. The discussion-style course will walk you through creating a complete development plan. It includes video instructions and valuable tools to create a development plan that will increase your fundraising results.  I’m delighted to offer a discount to my blog readers.
Click here for more info and to get your discount.

What 3 Things?

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I was meeting with an Executive Director and a newly hired Development Director to work on a development plan for their organization. The development director had extensive experience in the for-profit sector and had volunteered with the organization. However, this was his first adventure in professional fundraising. As we wrapped up our meeting, the ED turned to me and asked, “What three things would you tell him as he gets started?” What a great question! At first I was taken by surprise. After a quick minute of thought here’s what I shared:

1. Always have a story
We know our organizations so well but have to remember that the people we meet everyday won’t know it as well as we do. Telling an impactful story is the most effective way to demonstrate your mission in action. Forget the statistics about impact. Don’t bother saying that you are a 501(c)3. Tell me a good story to pique my curiosity. Invite me for a tour. That’s how you will begin to build relationships for your organization.

2. Listen more than you talk
Now that you’ve got a story to tell, tell it well then shut up and listen. Especially when we are new to an organization, we are compelled to demonstrate how much we have learned. Stop that. Tell your story, then stop and listen to the responses. When you are meeting donors who already support your organization, ask them questions and learn from them. (Not sure what questions to ask? My favorite resource for that is from fundraising expert Karen Osborne here)

3. Write it all down
In the busy life of a professional fundraiser, we are tempted to move quickly from one task to the next without taking the time to record important information. I warned my new colleague not to skip that step. For instance, when we are meeting with a donor and practicing “listen more than you talk,” we will probably learn new information that we think we will always remember. Unfortunately, we won’t. Write it down so that it will be recorded and available for you (and the development staff that follows you – and the data shows that you won’t be with your organization forever).

Some months have passed since this interaction and I’ve had a chance to reflect on the three things that came to mind.

Would I change my answers?

I wouldn’t. I still think these are the three things a new development director should keep in mind as they get started.

This blog originally appeared on the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay’s blog. 

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.