Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Best of Learning List

I've been in this business for almost nine years and I still feel like I have enormous learning to do. As 2008 draws to a close I thought it would be interesting to reflect on what I know now that I didn't know a year ago.

In 2008 I learned:

1. To think differently and push boundaries. The work of Bernard Ross and Clare Segal's at =mc challenged me. I've read a lot of their articles and of course the book. I remember the look on my board's face when Bernard told them the word "watershed" was not something other people use in everyday language. Better him than me! So thank you Bernard.

2. That SOFII will change the face of our sector. WOW - who would have thought that Ken Burnett put his real email address in his ZEN book and would actually write back! I became addicted to SOFII and loved learning about fundraising from around the world. This association led not only to fantastic tools that helped me raise more money and be more productive at work, but also my first international volunteer position. I'm proud to add SOFII Volunteer Canadian Ambassador to my resume. Ken you are very generous, thank you for introducing me too and creating SOFII and Thank you SOFII Team letting me be a part of what you do.

3. That International Conferences are very worthwhile. To go to IFC I actually had to get a passport, figure out where to put my garbage in the Tube stations in London, have lunch in Camden market with a soldier from the US, cry in an evensong service at Christ Church in Oxford, tour of Harwich with some locals I met in the pub, gamble with dutchmen on a boat, ride a bike through the Holland countryside (see my bike and cheese above), hang out in the Red Light District and eat at the Five Flies in Amsterdam. There was a tonne of learning there but probably not relevant for this blog!

The key was the conference and mostly the addition of the Economic Crisis Session. It wasn't in the program but people wanted to talk about it - so organizers made it happen. Thank you Resource Alliance for your willingness to step out of the box a bit.

4. How to be a board member. Our local wetland needed people and I needed board experience. I drive through the wetland everyday but never knew there was a heron colony in there or that ATV's were taking advantage of road allowances and destroying the sanctuary. Thank you Friends of the Wetlands I will watch the battle between man and the beavers with great interest! A little flooding isn't such a bad thing is it?

5. What a Blog is. The launch of the Fundraising Recession Watch blog taught me about blogging. Before then I didn't even know the word really. I love having conversations with people from around the world, who have common interests and issues. I like having a place to practice writing and to put my thoughts. The fact that people actually seem to be reading it is a BONUS! Thank you Sean Triner for introducing the forum to me and helping me figure it out. A whole new world has openned up for me - just look at all the features in this post!

6. I am not responsible for everything that happens at work. I have a President who challenges me to be better - this is a gift, he is on my side. We have a great board keen to fundraise. We are all learning, growing and responsible together. I also learned that the absolutely most important part of fundraising is what you do with the money. At Lake Simcoe the excellence in the delivery of the programs is internationally recognized. The program delivery is the backbone of our success.

7. The Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Toronto Chapter cares about small organizations. Receiving the excellence in fundraising award for small organizations was transformational for us because we were able to host our board, delivery staff and most the the donors whose gift helped start our major giving program. The 25 people there left the luncheon (of 1300) feeling like their work was important and valued. AFP also produced a video that we are able to share with other prospects and donors. The ripple will travel far. Thank you AFP - Greater Toronto.

8. Humber Students add value. Honestly I wasn't sure about fundraisers who learn this profession by books and schools. That almost seems like cheating to me since I fell into this vocation and am learning as I go. Having worked with Laurie Pringle I have to say I learned far more than she did. Not only did she raise a little money but we have had some great conversations, challenged each other and she brought fantastic resources forward that she got from Ken Wyman's program. Thank you Laurie for choosing us, you make me want to go to school full time so I can be as smart as you!

9. My family can thrive in my absence. It's okay for a mother to travel, learn and be successful beyond her family. I was an at home mother for nine years and transitioned slowly into paid work. This was fundamental learning. There are however a few tricks to this.

a) Be patient and wait until the kids are old enough to manage a bit on their own.

b) Marry someone who wants you to keep learning and growing. Who wants you to be the best person you can be. A partner who is comfortable enough with his life not to feel threatened by yours.

c) Hire a good cleaning lady. They are worth every penny!

Thank you Craig, Skye and Chase - I love you all very much.

and finally

10. I learned how to play. I am awesome at Wii Rockband! I kick ass on vocals but I'm pretty good at the drums too.

Looking back I can see very clearly that my life is richer for having had these experiences. I can also see that it is no wonder I can't get off the couch this holiday season and that I am truly truly blessed to have had so many great people come into and be a part of my life this year. I can't wait to jump into next year to see what learning, people and adventures come my way.

In the meantime, I will go skiing and cherish the time left for rest and reflection as I prepare for the adventures ahead in 2009. HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Thank you for spending time here and please tell me what you learned in 2008. I'd love to know.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Visions of Sugar Plums and Year End Budget

As we prepare our home for the steady stream of holiday visitors I find my mind wandering. The simple acts of baking shortbread, dipping chocolates, wrapping presents and doing dishes is a welcome respite from commuting in bad weather and pressures of strategic planning. Watching the snow fall outside as I do these small tasks provides the luxury of time to think and reflect on conversations with other fundraisers. They all have talked about how their campaigns have extraordinary momentum and they have exceeded their budgets. WOW! Am I the only fundraiser in the world who hasn't met her targets? Or am I the only honest one? hmmmm....

Those of you who follow the Fundraising Recession Watch blog have had the opportunity to know exactly how I've spent the final quarter of 2008. Courtesy of Sean Triner, Parts I, II, III and IV outline in detail the approach we have taken to boost revenue in the last quarter of this past year.

The motivation to organize what is being referred to as a "micro-campaign" really started at the impromptu economic crisis session at IFC this past October. That session was where it occurred to me for the first time that we were not going to see an influx of donations of securities at the end of this year. Howard Lake captured this realization to share with the world on You Tube.

On the way home it became very clear to me that status quo wasn't going to take our foundation where it needed to be at the end of 2008. We would all have to work harder.

The last ten weeks involved a lot of meetings with corporations, major donors, board members and prospects. I was out of the office more than I was in the office. My cell phone was constantly ringing. Board members and senior volunteers were a daily part of my life as were conversations with donors. We segmented our mailing lists more ways than I can count, signed the letters by hand, enlisted external help to mail letters and followed up those letters with phone calls. It has been a very very busy three months. The result?

Instead of being $200K short of budget we will only be $100K short. Yes this is about the same amount of money we raised last year and our reserves are in good shape, however, the reality is we will still fall short. I fell short.

A lot of people I work with could find excuses for not realizing the budget. The recession, our plans for growth were too ambitious, capacity issues, vacancies on the board, politics, turn over of staff, competition...... The usual list.

I think the reason we did not achieve goal is because it was too little too late. Everything we did as part of the "micro-campaign" were things that needed doing for the entire year.

Next year we will have to do better.

Something different is going to have to happen in 2009. I'll have to think about that. Once I figure out the strategy I will share it with you here so be sure to sign up as a follower to this blog.

Right now the only thing I know for sure is that I need a holiday in order to prepare myself for the year ahead. Also that the kids are asleep and it is time for Santa to arrive...

Merry Christmas and thank you for spending time here.

PS If you were challenged by this years events and perhaps fell short of your targets, the company would be welcome.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tips and thoughts from the trenches


This blog is evolving. It takes time in blogworld to figure out what you have to say, how it might be useful and who on earth could possibly be interested.

Of the blogs I follow I have observed that I am one of the few who is actually fundraising in the trenches. Yes many consultants know how to fundraise but let's be honest their blog is a way to not only be useful but also to drive business to their agency.

This blog isn't intended to do that. I don't need your business. You don't even have to like what I say and it is very possible that what I do to raise money isn't found in any book or on the CFRE exam.

If you are interested in hearing about life from the trenches of fundraising in a small shop, then this blog might be a little bit useful.

So thanks again to John Lepp - we have changed the tagline above to "Tips and thoughts from the trenches".

Thank you for spending time here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Light a Candle and Celebrate!

Imagine a time without video games, television, dishwashers, coffee machines or frozen pizza. Imagine living without electricity, having to grow your own food, build your own shelter and spending most of your time outside living in harmony with nature.

Instead of checking your email when you wake up each morning you feed the fire, walk down to the river, break through the ice and get a drink of water before you start hunting and foraging for food to feed your family.

Just imagine for a moment being so completely dependent on nature that if it doesn't rain - you don't eat or if it rains too much - you don't eat. Your entire existence depends on your natural world. This world is one you honour, cherish, respect and live in harmony with, because it gives you and your family life.

Since you are living in a time without books or knowledge of astronomy the shorter days and darker nights are a cause for great worry. If the sun continues to disappear and the days continue to get shorter, colder and darker you and your children will die. All of the people you know will die. The sun keeps getting lower in the sky and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

After many years of worry, you and your tribe start to realize that every year, just when you think the sun is gone forever it comes back.

Tentative at first you start to trust nature's cycle and have faith that you can depend on the sun and all it gives you. Life will not end. Instead of a time of great worry this becomes a time for gathering together, sharing, singing and celebration.

The winter solstice has been celebrated around the world for thousands of years. Regardless of whether you subscribe to nature based faiths, cling to scientific data or join together in song and scripture the celebration of the solstice is one we can join in together. All of humanity shares its dependence on the sun.

For me personally this is much deeper than astronomy. For me the winter solstice means that even when you are in the depths of despair, at your darkest moment and feel hopeless you can have faith that the "light" will come again. It is also a time to think about the fact that human beings aren't in control - nature is. We must change how arrogant we have become about that.

Mostly though the winter solstice doesn't have presents or shopping attached to it. In our house we gather with friends, eat wonderful food and celebrate life.

Light a candle with me on December 21, 2008 at 12:04 am and let's celebrate the light together.

Thank you for spending time here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Answer is 42! - Or Is It?

At breakfast today we were talking about one of our favourite family books, “A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. In this book the answer to life, the universe and everything turns out to be 42. There is one small problem though: no one knows what the ultimate question is.

Since early October fundraisers all around the world seem to be looking for the ultimate answer for how to deal with the current economic crisis. Many consultants have been very accommodating. We have all received a wide range of very good free advice. There is this great blog keeping its finger on the pulse and uniting us globally in a conversation. Many consultancy firms are working hard to stay in front of us and provide what seems like almost weekly updates – filling up our in box with all sorts of useful information. Or is it?

I wonder how useful it is for fundraisers to be bombarded with daily almost hourly messages about the fact we are in a very serious economic crisis and we should be very worried?

Let’s not get too distracted by all these messages about the economy. The very basics of good fundraising still apply. The most important of which is probably:


Another HGTGism but also point number one in the most recent and probably the best and most useful articles I have read on the subject of Fundraising in Tough Economic Times. In this paper Mal Warwick and Dan Doyle offer different strategies and choices for us to consider. Most of it is just common sense and good business and should be applied year round.

The truth is we don’t have control of this situation, nor have we seen it before. This isn’t a natural disaster or terrorist attacks. People aren’t dying by the hundred’s, they are loosing investments, houses and jobs. We can’t predict what might happen with our charity. Each one of our donors will be impacted differently. Staying in touch with them and providing excellent service is really just good fundraising at any time.

Like our donors we are all different, some of us have reserves, some don’t. Some have a solid monthly giving program some of us don’t. Some of us are dependant on corporate support and events, some of us have mature legacy programs in place.

How you respond will ultimately depend on what the “Ultimate Question” is for your charity.

So long and thanks for all the fish...

Thank you for spending time here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Key Folks was Integration.

I know I promised this post to Laurie last month. Since I couldn't resist commenting on LinkedIn I may as well share here.

The question posted on the AFP group was: What did you learn from Obama's campaign? This is my answer:

It is fascinating how this conversation keeps going. I can't wait for the book that someone is no doubt writing as I type this.

One key point I think we are neglecting to mention is that Obama's campaign was integrated. It seemed like all communication avenues, all messages, all donations worked together and pointed in one direction - Yes you can! It wasn't about him at all it was about hope for the American people. This is a very external or donor centre perspective.

I still want to know what the campaigns fundraising costs were and how many people he had on staff? No doubt there was amazing resource mobilization.

In our three person shop the take away is - integrate all your communications. For example: send out a letter, tell folks you did it on your facebook page, send it out by email, find some excuse to get some media attention to remind people of your work, then phone them to make sure they received it. INTEGRATED strategies. Jonathon Grapsas talks about this too.

The beautiful thing about working in a small organization is that it is relatively easy for us (well me!) to do this. I imagine in a larger organization it would take a lot of negotiation between departments and many many meetings.

Oh one other thing - We talk about this campaign as being 90% grassroots driven - Remember. There was extraordinary wealth behind this campaign. The wealthy supporters influenced the outcome significantly. Major Donors can do more than write big cheques for us. Let's remember that!

Thank you for spending time here.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

It's Not the Economy, Stupid


I realize I should probably wait at least 24 hours before posting another blog. I think that is how this is suppose to work. I can't resist though, be sure to read the post on SOFII from yesterday (or you could visit Sean's blog because apparently we are talking about the same thing!)

People are asking me what I think about Canadian Politics at the moment.For the 50% of you who read this who aren't from Canada you should know things are a bit of a mess here right now. I work with a lot of politicians, have managed to raise money in this job during a total of 5 elections and government matches a lot of the private money we raise, so it is a little dangerous for me to make my position public. Fortunately, I don't think any of them are reading this blog and it is mine, so here goes:

I don't care anymore! I want a government that can lead. After three dysfunctional minority governments we have reached the depths of despair. Something really big needs to happen to get us out of this horrid cycle. I was hoping it would be the Govenor General - apparently not. Today in our national newspaper The Globe and Mail, Rick Mercer has not disappointed. We do need to be taken over by aliens Rick - that is probably the only thing big enough to stop this mess. Read Rick's great article NOW!

Thank you for spending time here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Who Needs a Museum of Fundraising Anyway?


Many of you have heard of SOFII and have even registered. I'm an early adopter. Working in a small organization SOFII has proven to be an invaluable resource. We use it. We love it. We talk about it.

Ken B and I (not Branagh the other one)have had discussions about whether SOFII is a museum of fundraising or a database of best practice that can be pinched and used to help people like me.

I argue that museums are dark, dusty, old, irrelevant and places for people who have run out of things to do. Fundraisers live in a fast paced world and need, new, relevant, tested, examples of best practice.

During my reading time this morning all the newspapers were saying the same thing (Canadian Government is in chaos did you know?) so I thought I'd poke around SOFII a bit with my coffee. I discovered an article "Dislocation, dislocation" by George Smith. I don't know George and wouldn't dare say he should be in a museum, but I'm guessing he has been around awhile. The essay is something to be savoured, read slowly - with a dictionary, reflected on and thought about. It is difficult to decide what to quote because every word has a purpose and is important. George says things like:

"This used to be such a simple business. Your communications always sought to explain a need, to make the point that we privileged people should help less privileged people. If you were healthy, well-fed, well-housed, then do something for cancer patients, the hungry, the homeless. Say please. Say thank you. Treat people as adults. Give them a sense of achievement.

Such simplicities, though they have underpinned do-gooding for centuries, now fall foul of the new need for pomposity and the new and cerebrally-terrifying craving for conformity – a world in which the only prizes will go to those who look, sound and act familiar. You only have to look at your television schedules to see how far and how quickly we have tumbled into this world. Can you see any programme there tonight that is not a derivative of something you have seen before?"

That is briliant! The difference between the two paragraphs is case and point really. I read it twice and am still thinking about it hours later. Spending time reading this essay left me richer for having had the experience. Sort of like how you feel after going to a museum!

So if you have registered for SOFII surfed around once and moved on I encourage you to take a slow stroll through the website again this weekend. Use it, think about it, talk about it and contribute to it. We are all building something really important here. Our history AND our future - at the same time.

Thank you for spending time here.

PS There are now over fifty of you reading this blog. Some of you even come back again. If you find it even moderately entertaining, can you please do me a favour. Sign up as a follower. I'd like to have more followers than Sean Triner before he gets back from vacation! Can you do that for me? Thank you.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fundraising and the Economy what else...

Hi -

I'm tired of all this talk about a recession and agree that bad fundraisers will use it as an excuse and good ones will get out and take care of their donors.

So we could talk about the economy I suppose....or you could go where they already are talking about it and check out Fundraising Recession Watch blog.

Thanks for spending time here.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Are Consultants Dominating the Marketplace?


My husband doesn't think I should post this. He thinks I might get into trouble. So guess what I'm going to do...

I'm a pretty transparent person. No secrets really (well none I would share!) I've decided that maybe it is time for me to start presenting at conferences. A friend charmingly persuaded me into this transition at IFC this past year. That was a good thing and I'd like to do it again.

I have finally figured out how this works. If you are an actual fundraising professional with a job that you get paid to go too and you think speaking at a conference might be a fun thing to do - listen up.

1. You have to find out about session submission deadlines. These are anywhere from 8 - 18 months ahead of the actual conference.

2. You have to figure out what you want to say that could add value.

3. You have to maneuver your way through a series of online forms that don't actually work. (this wasn't just one conference btw)

4. Once you have figured out that the online forms don't work you have to rewrite your submission in WORD (or you could start in word and save it! which might have been a good idea) Then find the right email address to send your submission too.

5. You have to wait for four to six months to find out if that block of time that you set aside is going to be needed.

6. You have to lie awake at night trying to figure out if the outline you submitted could actually turn a real conference session.

I spent my weekend doing these things for a few conferences next year.

During my research I noticed a puzzling trend. The majority of presenters at the three largest conferences I looked at are consultants. What is happening? Where have the charity fundraisers gone?

I know that the presenters aren't suppose to use the conferences to solicit clients...but let's be honest here guys. No matter how soft the is a sell. AND let's face it, it is the business of a consultant to be at the conference. This is a good thing - we get to know them before we hire them.

I wonder though, does a fundraiser like me have and hope breaking into a marketplace that requires so much effort to get in the program? Consultants do this for a living some even with personal assistants, I squeeze it in on a Sunday afternoon.

If invited (Admittedly less likely after this blog) I'll go enthusiastically of course- in part to to demonstrate that people can still share at conferences as a voluntary altruistic gesture to make the sector stronger.

Thank you for spending time here. Comments, especially from consultants :-) are welcome.

PS I do actually like most consultants, some of them are even my friends (or were)