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.

What Are We Doing: Fundraising or Development?

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Image credit: Jennifer Davis Dodd

Since starting my job at Lakeland Regional Medical Center Foundation more than 25 years ago, I’ve been explaining what I do. That’s natural; since my title included “development,” and many people weren’t sure what I was “developing.”

Throughout my career, my titles have included “development” and “advancement” in several iterations (associate, director of, officer). To simplify I’ve usually explained, “I’m a fundraiser.” But since I’ve been at this for a while, I’ve realized there is more to what I do than fundraising.

Let’s start with some definitions from the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Dictionary:
Developmentnoun; the total process by which an organization increases public understanding of its mission and acquires financial support for its programs
Fundraiseverb; to seek donations from various sources for the support of an organization or a specific project
Fundraisernoun; a person, 1. paid or volunteer, who plans, manages or participates in raising assets and resources for an organization or cause. 2. an event conducted for the purpose of generating funds.
Philanthropynoun; love of humankind, usually expressed by an effort to enhance the well-being of humanity through personal acts of practical kindness or by financial support of a cause or causes

I’ve noticed that we can’t even decide what to call ourselves within our professional field. Click through these links to discover the various ways we describe ourselves:
Association of Fundraising Professionals
National Philanthropy Day
Association for Healthcare Philanthropy
Council for Advancement and Support of Education
Certified Fund Raising Executive

We can’t even decide whether we want “fundraising” to be one word or two.

What Really Matters

My dad used to say, “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for supper,” and I think that applies here. It doesn’t matter what you call it, what matters most is how you do it.

Development is about developing relationships on behalf of your organization.

Fundraising is a transaction.

If development were a line, fundraising would be a spot on that line.

Here’s what matters most: how do you treat your donors? Do you treat them as a means to a transaction? Or do you treat them like friends and family, like someone who has a relationship with your organization?

If you’re treating them like a transaction, they won’t stay.

If you build a relationship, they will stay.

So what do you call it at your organization? Development, fundraising, or some of both? And how do you approach it: like a transaction or a relationship?

No matter what your job title might be, don’t strictly fundraise. Invest your energies in developing relationships with the donors who support your organization.

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“?

Letter to a New Development Director

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A colleague just got a great new development job. I started thinking of what I would tell him if he asked me (and he hasn’t but since this is a great outlet for unsolicited advice I thought I would share).

Dear friend,

Congratulations on your new position! Fundraising is an extremely challenging and immensely rewarding profession. I’ve thought of several things I think you should do in your first few days and weeks in your new position. Here they are in no particular order:

  1. Get a good support system – sometimes development can feel very lonely and frustrating so make sure you have a good group of colleagues outside your organization who can encourage you and tell it to you straight.
  2. Join a professional association – development is a profession and our professional associations offer much of what we need: continuing education, a code of ethics, research, and advocacy. AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) has local chapters throughout the US; several right here in the Tampa Bay area (Suncoast, Southwest, Nature Coast, Polk). There are others for specific parts of the nonprofit sector like education (CASE) or healthcare (AHP).
  3. Read, read, read – there are great books and blogs (like this one!) about fundraising. Read them. Not all of them, not all the time but make sure you are spending some time refreshing your skills and recharging your batteries.
  4. Go home on time – I’m sharing this advice given by author Penelope Burk at the AFP Planet Philanthropy Conference in 2012. I was shocked when I heard it. Some of us think that we should be working day and night to get all of the money raised. Penelope pointed out that if we are working all of the time, we won’t be that interesting when we interact with donors. Have a hobby, exercise, spend time with your family – stay interesting.
  5. Practice your listening skills – 2 of the great thinkers in the field of development have written extensively about this. Karen Osborne has a free resource on her website, Asking Strategic Questions. Jerold Panas dedicated a whole book on the subject called Power Questions.
  6. Learn the key things about your organization – a great book on this subject is The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave by Harvey McKinnon. Check out those questions and make sure you can answer them for your new organization.
  7. Go get a story and be ready to tell it – every organization is full of stories about the impact they are making in their communities. Make sure you can tell a firsthand story that illustrates that impact. This may mean spending some time in the patient care areas, museum floors, classrooms, or labs of your organization.
  8. Make time and budget for training – as you build your team, pay attention to the areas where they need additional training and the ways you can help them prepare to move up. Same goes for you, too. Don’t get so busy in the job that you forget to keep yourself current.
  9. Enjoy it – fundraising is a challenging and wonderful profession. You are a part of changing the world and you should enjoy it.

I’ll close with: I’m happy to help however I can. Good luck!

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