No Batteries Needed: My Gift to You …The Twelve Essentials for 2013

I love lists, don’t you? Especially short ones, and I think twelve is pretty much pushing the limits on my own attention span, but possibly not yours.

Why do we love lists so much?  Especially lists that include the words, “essential” or “critical” or “must-have”? It’s that sense of urgency they create, and the (often false) sense of being able to accomplish something so carefully defined.

My gift to you is a very realistic list that doesn’t have wrapping paper to dispose of, or gift tags to yank off, or batteries installed. My  2013 “The Twelve Essentials for 2013” manages each of those prerequisites and then some. It is meant to do the hard work for you – I’ve siphoned off the themes of many of my recent blog postings in a neat-and-tidy (and no particular order) list for you to use as your guide as you refresh your development program and strategy in 2013:

  1. Know your Top 25 donors. (It doesn’t matter if the last few only gave a couple of bucks!). Print off their list of names and tape it to the wall next to your computer.
  2. Add up how much, collectively, they gave you in 2013. Now set a goal of doubling that number in 2013.
  3. Take a board member to lunch once-a-month. (Oh, and no, it can’t be the same board member.) Listen to why they chose to serve and what it is that motivates them to be involved.
  4. Initiate a new donor “welcome” program. Combine good manners with something unique to only your mission.
  5. Start recognizing and thanking each donor on their yearly anniversary (yes – of being a donor to your organization!)
  6. Challenge your program staff and leadership to consider the feasibility of a social enterprise. Or if you have one already, let your next goal be to create a “round up” program for futher revenue and joy.
  7. If you are lucky enough to have them, find a small way to recognize the efforts of your staff monthly.
  8. Form a Stewardship Committee.
  9. In conjunction with that committee or despite it, dust off all of your thank you letters and update copy, signatures and consider adding a photo, graphic or quote.
  10. Drop one event. You and I both know why.
  11. Meet face-to-face with your top 5 corporate donors. If that event you just dropped includes additional corporate supporters, meet with them too and explain why and ask to transfer their support to another event or program.
  12. If you aren’t working under clear financial goals, with monthly metrics that tout your success and/or struggles, ask permission to create them. Consider it your gift to yourself and your mission.

Now what good is a gift that you can’t share with others? Pass along this blog to your development committee and see what they think … maybe they’ll help you tackle one or more of these, or swap out a few for things more important to your program.

And let me know how things are going! Check back in with me about the things that work, and the things that don’t — I want to hear everything and am here to answer your questions and provide you the confidence you need.


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There’s still time … tell them their money is missed!

Do this tomorrow:

1. Run a report showing who gave to your organization last year but who you haven’t received a gift from yet this year.

2. If the list is lengthy (I hope not), highlight a certain percentage of bigger gifts that you really were counting on.

Do this Wednesday of next week:

1. Spend the entire day calling these donors to tell them how important their donation was to your organization last year, and how you hope they’ll give again before the end of the year. Remind them they can give on-line or via phone.

No short cuts! No emails, and it is way too late for a letter …you are going to take the old-school approach and pick up the phone!

(Tip for 2013: You can do this on a quarterly basis … it’s a great way to ensure steady cash flow throughout the year, not just at the end.)

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The evolution of corporate giving, chapter 2013.

Next year we should expect even more corporations to enhance their giving policies and procedures – everyone from small, mid-size to large national organizations.

What does this mean for you? Depends who you are…

If you are a board member or volunteer inquire with your own company about their giving program (or if they don’t have a formal one, that they consider the benefits one could generate). Encourage them, if they aren’t doing so already, to further align their values with their giving. The more focused giving, the better the outcomes and the community impact. This doesn’t mean that they need to cease donating to multiple organizations in town, rather, that they should be clearer around what they expect from these organizations and how they might integrate their employees in the giving and volunteering process.

If you are a non-profit, just be prepared to reduce the number of “throw the request over the moat and see what is thrown back” corporate solicitations. You’ll be waiting forever. We have seen great changes already, and without an actual “in” – whether that be a personal call or a relationship that is leveraged – the likelihood of a gift from a letter is all but gone the way of the record player.

Stand out from the competition and start the year with scheduling a meeting with key corporate donors to discuss what changes they see ahead of them in this area, how your organization can best be prepared to continue to benefit from their generosity and how you can help them position better or gain targeted market attention. Share one key success story from your mission and tell them about your volunteer programs so that they can share those opportunities with their employees.

While financial support from the corporate sector will never be a majority percentage of your overall giving, we should be looking deeper into these organizations, at their people and their values to see how we can help them achieve their own evolving charitable and workforce goals.

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Is there a philanthropic response to the tragedy in Connecticut?

I have been pondering what to make of the most recent school shooting, on many levels and with a confluence of emotions. And then I considered how to place it within the context of my professional life, hoping maybe there I might find an outlet towards hope or action, because personally, I’ve all but felt paralyzed and powerless, stymied by the gravity of the issues that surround this kind of senseless violence.

And there I wondered, is there a philanthropic response to the tragedy in Connecticut? Is there a way to use or leverage our charitable acts to send a message, assuage our grief or find just a glimmer of hope and solace in the future?

You know the answer: yes, there is. Use this horrific tragedy to carefully select the type of organization that resonates most with you – gun control, mental health, emergency response, school safety programs. Get involved — donate money or time towards what they are trying to change or empower.

Then go one step further. Does your non-profit have an endowment or hold investments? Do you know what companies are profiting from the investments in your portfolio? Have you ever asked your financial advisor? Are there socially-responsible mutual funds that you should be considering?

Let your money send the message you want heard.

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Developing a strong “minor” league in 2013.

What return to your mission can a $1000 investment create? $2500? $5000? I suspect a great deal, even if the payments were spread out over 1-2 years, right? (Money is money!)

As we work to diversify our donor base, and involve more young professionals and families in our mission, we need to provide them opportunities that are sensitive to their particular lifestage earnings and strongly correlated expenses. Plus allow them ways to pledge support over a 12-month to 24-month period of time. We need to get them used to giving little-by-little, and with stewardship, slowly increase their investments and involvement over time.

By converting a big program or service into “bite-size” pieces – the college outreach component of a HIV prevention strategy; the ongoing supplies needed to outfit the nursery on a monthly basis; the quarterly graduation event for a recovery program – you’ll accomplish a few things quickly: 1) you’ll make an often amorphous and complex mission seem easier to understand  2) you’ll attract new or younger donors to be able to make a difference now, versus later and 3) you’ll be able to report meaningful outcomes (four campus presentations, 22 boxes of diapers, 15 diplomas and hugs from separated family members) unlike ever before!

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Be your team’s #1 fan.

It can be lonely being a development officer.

Sure, we eat most meals out, get to attend frou-frou events and hobnob with the social-climbing set, but this is work folks! We make you think we love it, but it’s not always fun raising money — you try keeping a toothy smile on your face while making small talk for seven hours straight, just to end the evening picking up the trash after all the guests have gone home to bed.

So it is not a huge surprise that our turnover rate is ridiculously high. Recently I heard a new stat that a development officer spends on average 16 months with an organization. Ouch! Besides wreaking havoc on a budget, if your organization has turned into a human turnstile, it can also send an incredibly bad message to your stakeholders and donors, not to mention the professional angst of being in a constant training mode.

As a supervisor or board member, what can we do to minimize this?

Try shifting gears and slooowing down 10% more. Take the time weekly to check-in on what key projects your team is tackling, who they are visiting with, and how their weekend was for heaven’s sake. Instead making that-noise-you-know-you-make when asked if you “have a minute”, smile and say “of course” and actually pull out a chair. As supervisors we can forget our primary role is a coach. Try hard not to allude to, or taking pleasure in, detailing how incredibly busy you are, as it can be demotivating to a work culture. Start out the next board meeting with a positive accolade about your team and be certain you are empowering them to think for themselves by bringing you solutions first, not just their issues for you to solve.

(And save a plate of food for them at the event.)

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Permission to have favorites.

Not children, nieces or nephews – they talk, and that can backfire – but donors.

Imagine it is February and you’ve shed those extra pounds and freed up at least an extra few hours a month after downsizing a golf tournament or two. Replace time by pulling a few reports off your database – your 12 best donors over the past 12 months. Look for those who both gave the most and who have been giving consistently for a very long time.

Don’t fall into the same trappings and gravitate to those you know well … select a majority who you aren’t familiar with, who you don’t yet know their “story”. Take each one to lunch a month in 2013. Invite your board chair to join, or maybe your executive director, or fly solo. Ask them what made them choose your charity to support? What keeps them giving? Who else do they support? What kind of legacy do they want to leave for their company, their kids, the community?

This is why we do what we do … as fundraisers we have the absolute privilege of listening and learning and being inspired by other people’s success, failure and ultimately, decision to provide opportunities for others. What a fabulous profession, and gift, we have been given.

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