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.”

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.

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“?

What Do People Think When You Walk in the Room?

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’re excited to have this guest post from friend and colleague Ashley Pero

I enjoy arriving to meetings early. This isn’t just because I am extremely punctual, I also love to people watch. (You do too, don’t you? It’s okay, I won’t tell!) I often find myself wondering what people think when they are people watching me. I will be honest, some days I shouldn’t receive a glowing review. You cannot be “on” every day and no one expects you to be, but that doesn’t stop people from forming their opinions about you and your level of competence.

I had the pleasure of sitting in on Take Control of Your Professional Presence at the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay. The program is taught by a wonderful consultant, Margarita Sarmiento. (I highly recommend that you take part the next time it is offered.) Margarita explained not only the importance of your professional presence, but also how to improve your presence and control the image that you portray to the world. Below I have shared a few tips that everyone can incorporate to improve their image in and out of the office.

  • Smile! Not everyone is a natural smiler, but you can make an effort to smile at people. This simple act makes you seem more open and approachable.
  • Make eye contact. Eye contact shows that you care enough to pay attention to the other person. Even if that just means stopping what you are doing to ask if you can continue the conversation later when you can give it the appropriate attention.
  • Lead by example. Make sure your actions are demonstrating what you expect of others. People mimic the actions they see most often.
  • Look the part. Always make sure your outfit meets the 4 P’s: polished, professional, pulled together and people friendly.
  • Make your comments worthwhile and memorable. This will sometimes require you to stop and think about what to say, but it is worth the extra time.
  • Know what you’re projecting. Always ask yourself, “What message am I sending right now?” and adjust if needed.

We all want to make a great impression, first or otherwise, but sometimes forget that people are always observing. It only a takes a little more thought and a minute at the most to act on any of the tips above, but the benefit to your image is invaluable.

What other tips do you live by to improve or maintain your image?

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

5 Nonprofit Career Tips

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’re excited to have this guest post from friend and colleague Ashley Pero

“What career advice would you give the students?” the pre-panel prep sheet asked. I was asked to sit on a panel at The University of Tampa discussing careers in the nonprofit sector for students and alumni. Career advice? In Ashley-fashion, I started by completely overthinking the question… then I got realistic, it was 5p on a Thursday and some of them had to be there for credit – what might I say that would keep their attention. Here’s what I came up with… a few things I’ve learned as I’ve navigated to where I am today.

  • It’s okay to not know everything. It’s not okay to not try and figure it out. We are in age where there are so many resources available to help us do almost anything – use them! That might mean calling on a colleague (more on that below), a consultant, or just digging in and figuring it out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it’s how we learn and grow.
  • Connecting is about more than just a LinkedIn request to connect. Having colleagues that you can call for advice or bounce ideas off of is critical to success. And when it comes to looking for a new opportunity, they are going to be the ones to help you find what you’re looking for. It’s easy to neglect those relationships, but it’s also easy to keep them alive and well. A quick coffee before work, an email with an article that would be helpful for them, a quick call to see how things are – those small gestures build relationships and relationships are what it’s all about.
  • Be a lifelong learner and ask questions. People are generally willing to tell you if you ask. Don’t be obnoxious about it, but if you wonder why something is done a certain way just ask… maybe your idea to improve it is a good one. A great place to get those ideas? Read, read and read some more. There are so many industry specific blogs, trainings and general knowledge out there if you take the time to find it and take advantage of it. Be curious!
  • Other duties as assigned. It’s always there and the percentage of time spent on it varies – other duties as assigned. The words “that isn’t my job” should never come out of your mouth. Those other things, big and small, help you prove that you’ll do what it takes to get the job done and that’s an admirable trait. Just know when to say your plate is full, your quality shouldn’t suffer because you take on too much.
  • If you don’t know where you want to go, someone else will decide for you. Not many people I know have decided what they want to be when they grow up and that’s okay, but don’t let someone else decide for you. Take time periodically to be sure that what you’re doing now will somehow help you get where you think you want to go. Be confident in your skills and abilities and don’t let someone else devalue them and decide what you’re good at.

What else would you add? What was the best advice career wise you’ve been given?

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

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.