If Not Now….When?

In every crisis, there are opportunities for improvement and joy in both your personal and professional life. For me professionally, it has me returning to my roots as a writer, as I am back writing blogs on best fundraising and board management practices. For me personally, it took only 16 years of marriage and a global pandemic to convince my wife this is the right time to purchase a hot tub.

How are you using the Covid-19 pandemic to better yourself and your organization? By asking yourself, “If not now, when?” you can identify opportunities that will strengthen you professionally and improve your organization. Below is a list to get you thinking. By taking this time to address the items on the checklist, I promise that you will enhance your job performance while positioning your organization to maximize its success both during and after the Covid-19 crisis.

  •  If not now, when…. will you identify or update your Top 50 donors and Top 50 prospects? Hey, don’t stop there. Identify 100 or 150.
  •  If not now, when…. will you create a stewardship plan for your Top 50 donors? Donors can choose who to support. Make sure they know the impact their gift makes on your organization.
  •  If not now, when…. will you call your Top 50 donors just to let them know how appreciated they are to you and the organization? And if you already called them, call them again. And, send a personalized handwritten note.
  •  If not now, when…. will you identify all donors who have made gifts in the past five consecutive years and develop individual moves management plans and engagement opportunities for each? They are your present. They are your future. Plan for them. Invest in them.
  •  If not now, when…. will you create a first-time donor thank you packet? First time donors have a return rate of less than 20 percent. You must both educate them and treat them as special.
  •  If not now, when…. will you review your database for duplicate entries and accuracy? Is your database perfect? I didn’t think so.
  •  If not now, when…. will you complete an ROI on every special event to determine if each is still worth doing? Be honest. It has been in the back of your mind for a long time. Just do it.
  •  If not now, when…. will you set milestones to celebrate your achievements? You work hard. Celebrate your achievements.
  •  If not now, when…. will you create or update your annual fundraising plan? Self-plug: I wrote a great how-to book on this subject. It has become a trusted resource for fundraisers worldwide.
  •  If not now, when…. will you review and update your fundraising policies and procedures? You are endangering your entire fundraising operation without current policies and procedures. Make this action item a high priority.
  •  If not now, when…. will you review your Board of Directors insurance? This insurance is often overlooked, yet vital to protect both your board members and the organization.
  •  If not now, when…. will you complete a profile of your board members in preparation of identifying and recruiting a diverse board? Your board needs to be reflective of the community and the constituents it serves.
  •  If not now, when…. will you create or update your orientation procedures for new board members? Immediately engaging and educating new board members will greatly enhance their involvement with your organization.
  •  If not now, when…. will you create or update board job descriptions or expectations for all board members? Clearly defined roles, expectations and responsibilities are vital components for successful boards.
  •  If not now, when…. will you ask board members to suggest 3-4 individuals to add to your prospect pool? Provide your board members an opportunity to become ambassadors and relationship builders for your organization.
  •  If not now, when…. will you review every page of your website for accuracy, timeliness and relevance? Outdated information is a quick turnoff and tune-out.
  •  If not now, when…. will you update information on your social media platforms? See above.
  •  If not now, when…. will you engage a trusted consultant to provide expertise and guidance? The decisions a good consultant helps you with today will positively impact your organization for years ahead.
  •  If not now, when…. will you complete your CFRE application? Professional certification is always a benefit.
  •  If not now, when…. will you polish your shoes? Hey, you are going to have to get closer than six feet to someone again someday.
  •  If not now, when…. will you get that hot tub you’ve always wanted? Sorry, that one is just for me.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Work Smarter, Not Harder

I think we can all agree that we work hard. But do we always work smart?

An annual fundraising plan (AFP) can help fundraisers do just that: Work smarter.

Creating an AFP is easy. It’s a great way to manage and motivate your staff, volunteers, board members and supervisor. An AFP develops outcomes that can be used for organizational assessment and future planning. An effective AFP sets expectations and helps staff members reach their individual goals while clearly defining their roles and responsibilities. It is the road map for staff and key stakeholders to move their institutions forward.

First, ask yourself this question: “How would you describe your institution’s current annual fundraising plan?” Here are a few common answers and some thinking to guide where to go from there.

Plan? What plan?

Let’s be honest: Most fundraisers, especially in smaller fundraising shops, do not have a comprehensive AFP. You may have a plan for specific campaigns or programs, or staff members may individually plan what they are working on, but there most likely isn’t an AFP for the entire unit or team. If you’re in this situation, that’s okay. Begin a conversation today with your fellow staff members on the benefits of creating a comprehensive AFP that includes all stakeholders’ participation. (My bookAnnual Fundraising Plans Made Simple: A Road Map for Community Colleges and Small Development Shopscan also help you get started.)

We have a plan, but it isn’t working well or meeting all of our goals.

You may have an AFP (usually limited in scope), but all or most members of the team have difficulty sticking to it. If that’s your situation, don’t be discouraged! You are already heading in the right direction. Your AFP may need some updating. One explanation: Those responsible for implementing the AFP may view it as an unnecessary inconvenience in a busy workday. There are many ways to overcome this hurdle. One is to review the targeted outcomes with your team to ensure that these outcomes are based on metrics and not-pie-in-the sky projections. Others may have an AFP that they adhere to, but it may not be working well or meeting their goals. If that’s you, don’t be disheartened. Take a step back for a moment and re-evaluate. Clear your head. Try to look at it from the viewpoint of a third party, such as a consultant. Remember, you are the one who is closest to all the action. You have the expertise. You just need a little separation. When you look at your AFP again, you may be able to do so a little more objectively. Your AFP is probably not working due to one or both of these factors:

  • The plan is not clear and concise.
  • The tactics in the plan are not being implemented effectively to attain the desired outcomes.

We have a plan, but it’s not realistic.

Still others may have an AFP, but it isn’t realistic. A common pitfall when creating an AFP is to over-promise and under-deliver. When this happens, people quickly determine that the AFP isn’t useful, which often has a negative impact on morale. The AFP may be placed on a shelf, never to be looked at again. Don’t fall into this trap. For an AFP to be effective, it must be realistic.

We have one, but it needs improvement.

Finally, you may have a pretty good AFP, but you know that there is always room for improvement. For the individuals in this group, I commend you for your effort and interest in continuing your quest for improvement. I encourage you to celebrate achieving your milestones.

You have the power to make your life easier with an AFP. You have the power to lead your staff, volunteers and board members. It starts with you.

What does the term “mission fundraising” mean to you?

I define mission fundraising as sharing the purpose or reason of existence for your organization with donors for the purpose of raising much-needed philanthropic support, so the organization may advance its mission or cause. It sounds simple. But in reality, how simple is it?

Understanding and communicating your mission is one of the most vital components of fundraising. Before you kick off your next fundraising campaign or program, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I know my organization’s mission statement?
  2. Do my colleagues know the organization’s mission statement?
  3. Can my colleagues and I enthusiastically share our mission with our constituencies?

Let’s go back to the first question: “Do I know my organization’s mission statement?” If you do, say it out loud right now (if you are in a coffee shop or another public place, you may want to whisper under your breath). Now, go “old school” with a pen and write your mission statement on a piece of paper. Next, go online or look anywhere your organization’s mission statement is published, and compare what you see to what you said and wrote. How close are you?

Now go through the same exercise with your colleagues. At your next staff meeting, ask, “Do you know our organization’s mission statement?” Ask your colleagues to write it on a piece of paper. Then read the mission statement aloud. Don’t be disappointed if all your colleagues don’t know the organization’s mission statement. Rather, use this as a learning opportunity.

You are now ready to tackle the next question: “Can my colleagues and I enthusiastically share our mission with our constituencies?” This is a challenging question, since having the ability to enthusiastically share the mission of an organization and being comfortable doing so can vary greatly from person to person and from situation to situation. Here’s a strategy to implement: Include your organization’s mission statement on your website, board agendas, and every piece of literature that goes to any of your key stakeholders. I have found that once the mission statement is prevalent online and in all print materials, it becomes easier and more natural to express.

Mission fundraising is extremely powerful. But to maximize its effectiveness, you must first know what your organization’s mission is; ensure that your colleagues know what your organization’s mission is; and become comfortable and confident in sharing your mission with key stakeholders of the organization. 

Lose the Lingo

I am a big baseball fan and have been for as long as I can remember.

But there is one part of baseball that annoys me to no end: Baseball lingo. There are Banjo Hitter (a player who lacks power), Bazooka (a strong throwing arm), Pickle (a rundown), and RISP (runners in scoring position), just to name a few.

That got me thinking: As development professionals, oops, I mean professional fundraisers, we have also created a vernacular all unto ourselves. Much like baseball, ours is a universal language that we understand, but few outside our profession grasp. Let’s have a little fun at our own expense.

Annual Fund. Planned Giving. Development. LYBUNT and SYBUNT.

Let’s start with Annual Fund. I believe that Annual Fund was a term created by a lazy Development Director – I mean Fundraising Director — who only wanted to send mail once a year. As we all know, a comprehensive annual giving program – I mean Direct Response program – is a 12-month effort.

Fundraising Director: Doesn’t that sound better then Director of Development? At least if you tell someone you are a Fundraising Director, they know what you do for a living. When I had the title of Director of Development, I would frequently receive direct mail solicitations for real estate ventures. I once asked a successful Major Gifts Officer if he thought his title made it more difficult for him to get appointments and secure gifts. His response to me was telling, and one I’ll never forget. He said his title opened doors and lines of communication for him that otherwise would have been closed. He believes that by having your title explicitly identify your role, it is upfront and easier to build relationships with high-end donors because they know what you do and what to expect. I couldn’t agree more.

Planned Giving: There’s another term I would like to see mothballed. Let me ask you this: Have you set up a will or bequest with an attorney on behalf of yourself or your family? When you set the appointment, did you say that you wanted to create a will, or did you say that you wanted to put your planned giving in place? Most donors don’t know what a planned gift is unless they are properly educated by a Planned Giving Officer. Maybe it would be better if Planned Giving Officers were just called Major Gift Officers – because truly, that’s what they are. 

LYBUNT and SYBUNT: I saved these two terms for last. They are my favorites. They are fun phrases to say: I’ve even been known to utter them aloud myself. But watch the company with whom you use these terms. Sure, it might be useful and even a little entertaining to throw those phrases around to your development – there I go again – I mean fundraising committee — to impress your leadership with your vocabulary. If this is the route you choose, look at their facial expressions. Wait a moment to see if they have enough courage to ask you what LYBUNT and SYBUNT mean, or if they just let you continue speaking with the hope that you’ll be done shortly. Wouldn’t it be much clearer to say a donor who made a gift last year but has yet to make a gift this year (LYBUNT) or a donor who made a gift in the past but not last year or this year (SYBUNT)?

Here’s your assignment: Ask your fellow fundraising professionals if they like their current title or if they believe it hinders them in their job. Ask your friends outside the scope of fundraising if they have ever included their favorite charities in their will or bequests or as beneficiaries on any of their financial assets or accounts. If they say “yes” – which I hope they do — then ask them if they know they had made a planned gift. Their answer may surprise you.

So, what do you think? Are you ready to lose the lingo, or did this blog just put you in a pickle?