Saturday, December 10, 2011

Anyone can thank a donor. Just do it!

December is a fabulous month. This is the time year where we make a special effort to connect with people who are important to us. Many of us decorate our homes. We make special foods that are high in fat, sugar and ingredients we don’t normally use like dried fruits, nuts and cardamom. I love the smells, tastes and sounds of December.

If you work as a fundraiser in a charity December has an added dimension. This month can fly by in blur. All of your revenue channels are extremely active and suddenly your donors are ringing with special requests to be processed before year end. This is good. You should be busy at this time of year. Raising less money or being less busy simply isn’t an option when you are working to improve lives for people, animals and the environment.

In our office volumes have easily tripled. We have several direct mailings coming in, reports for corporate donors to prepare, a large campaign finishing up with a strong online component, major donor events, meetings and solicitations as well as pending deadlines for budgeting and planning for next year. Perhaps the most exciting piece is that for the first time in several years we have reintroduced a direct mail acquisition campaign. And the really good news is that people are responding. But last week I had a concern. Can you guess what it was?

Brilliant! You are of course right. I was worried about the new donors.

Acquisition is a big investment and it is very VERY exciting when the mail arrives. When I see new donors signing up I feel like Sally Field when she won the Oscar – “You like me; right now you really like me!” (Well, not me of course but you know what I mean)

I especially like the donations of $2.00 and $5.00 in cash that come in. So what is the concern?

You are so smart. That’s right – fast forward to the second gift. “Right now” they like us…what about three months from now? In order to build a strong base of support we must secure a second gift. And how do we do that? We need to earn it.

First time donors need to know that their donation to your organization was a good decision. They need to know we value them. They need to know their gift made a difference about something they care about. We must tell them these things and we must do it quickly.

It is so easy to write about best practices in isolation. It is far more difficult to implement them in a hectic and small fundraising shop. The perfect welcome pack and thank you letter looks easy in a blog post or in an exhibit on the beloved SOFII. But when you add implementing good stewardship practices to a complex mix of activities at such a busy time of year, even the simplest things can be onerous. Can seem impossible.

Implementing best stewardship practices in the trenches of a busy small fundraising shop in December is not easy. Still, I would argue that good stewardship is even more important in smaller organizations since we don’t have the large churn of donors that mega organizations have.

So what is the solution?

Ask for help.

In our organization we sent an email to all staff and invited them to help us thank donors. We now have a team of people who, in addition to their busy jobs, have agreed to be part of our Stellar Stewardship Team. Within a week of receiving their gift, often before we can process their donation, our new donors will know that we received their donation and are grateful. They will be told that we truly care about them and that they are now an important part of our community. Their tax receipt will follow and an impact statement won’t be far behind. We will get to processing the gifts as soon as we can, right now the most important thing is to say thank you.

As far as I’m concerned anyone in the organization can thank a donor. So, this is a shout out to the awesome stewardship team that I work with. Thank you for making time to go above and beyond your job description for our donors. Thank you for helping spread a culture of philanthropy throughout our organization. Thank you all for helping us to EARN that second gift.

I think there are times when we need to put the idea of “best practice” aside and just do what we can today to let our donors know they are truly appreciated and that their donation is important. I believe, this is how we will earn that second gift.

What is your big challenge this month and how will your organization innovate in order to rise above it?

Merry Christmas and thank you for spending time here,

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Emily Post's Twitter Etiquette

Many of you probably remember IFC 2009. What you might not remember is that there was a twitter hashtag for it. Howard Lake, JohnLepp, a few others and I were pioneers. (sorry I don’t remember the “few others”, so please claim your cyber moment in the comments). At IFC 2009 we tweeted for the first time - that we were aware of - from a fundraising conference. In fact, I even walked the halls of IFC with John on Skype so that he could “be there”.

Two years later, tweeting from a conference is now a big part of the experience. Conference committees initiate hashtags, we have twitter boards in public areas so you can follow the online conversation and this year at congress, AFP Toronto Chapter even appointed an official twitter team.

The AFP Toronto twitter team was made up of people who have “more advanced” twitter skills. They have followers, understand the medium and have carved a place for themselves in realm of social media. This is excellent, I’m very proud of my AFP chapter and colleague Sylvie Labrosse for trying something new and formally organizing this aspect of congress for AFP. A lot of new people joined twitter and participated in the online conversations. IRL (in real life) experiences with twitter groups were incredibly fun. There was more twitter action at this conference than any other I have witnessed. This is all good stuff. A positive evolution.

And of course with any new innovation questions are bound to surface. Skeptics will emerge. Faux Pas will be made. Boundaries will be crossed. And then we need to ask ourselves: How can we make this better next time?

After Gail Perry’s excellent session on the soft side of major giving I started to ask myself what is the twitter etiquette? If Emily Post were to write a new book about the online social space, what would she say? I thought of a couple of things and I hope you will add more in the comments.

Tweeting in sessions
If you are the speaker, ask at the beginning of the session if anyone is tweeting. This lets other people in the room understand that something good is happening with the phones and that people generally aren’t being rude and texting about rubbish. (hopefully) Next establish some ground rules. For example: I encourage tweets (because which speaker on the planet wouldn’t want their wisdom broadcast across the internet!) but I ask that you don’t tweet donor stories or anecdotes that I might share about my work. Those stories are the reason you pay and invest the time to be there in person.

If you are the delegate tweeting BE NICE!

I remember this tweet from last year: “Wow so many people walking out of this “so and so’s” session is a total fail.”

I simply do not know what would motivate someone to tweet that and frankly it is a little embarrassing for everyone. A different view point is fine, healthy debates are good but some tweets just seem mean. Don’t tweet anything about a person that you wouldn’t have the courage to say to them in real life.

Establish some boundaries

Fundraising conferences can be incredibly fun. Fundraisers work hard, are often misunderstood, have extraordinary pressure from all sides of the organization. When we get together with peers sometimes we need to let off a little steam. I think this is something one needs to experience in real life. At a certain point the phones need to be put away and the party needs to become private. 

For example: Harvey McKinnon and I like to dance as if no one is watching. You are welcome to join us anytime. But it isn’t pretty – in fact it is a wonder that people don’t end up hospitalized. I think I can speak for both of us when I say that the spectacle does NOT need to be on the internet. Just come dance with us.

Further, use your smartsense when tweeting from a cocktail party. Before you publish a photo of someone with drinks in their hand or looking slightly intoxicated stop and ask yourself: Would I put this up on the internet if it was me? Will this picture add value to anyone’s life? Or is the photo too gossipy?

Again the twitter team did a fabulous job last week and I congratulate them for their leadership and commitment to this new dimension of conferences. Emily Post did all major gift fundraisers a great service all those years ago. It is important to have a good base of etiquette to draw on in high end social situations. I feel the time has come for Miss Manners to write a new online version for tweeting in social situations.  Or at the very least before we tweet from a conference we could ask ourselves: 

What would Emily Post do?

If you were to write a Miss Manner’s book for tweeting in social situations what would you be sure to include? Let’s talk about it.

Thank you for spending time here,
PS Another question surfaced about whether people should have two twitter accounts - one for business and one for more personal tweets. I thought that might fit into this post but it is a different topic so it deserves its own page.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A lesson in good fundraising and a story about a walk in the mountains

After spending about a week doing charity work in the Kathmandu and the Terai Region of Nepal I had a few days for rest, writing and reflection in a touristy mountain village called Nagarkot.

It was the festival weekend of Diwali and sitting on the balcony of my little mountain hut I could hear singing and music below. I wanted to visit the villages and see the people. So Ram, the host of my hotel (which is so remote you have to pay cash and it does not have a website) drew me this map.

This map follows a trail that is essentially straight down and took me past a small cheese factory, a school and through several villages. My final destination was a village called Baluwa Pati.

The trail was a narrow local one and along the way I saw many children in their uniforms heading up the mountain to school.
First there were teenagers obviously having to go all the way up to Nagarkot. They greeted me with a polite “Namaste” and some snickers. At times I felt like some of them were secretly laughing at me, a silly lone western women who was likely to get lost on their small trails. But they were polite and a few even posed for pictures.

A little further down, past the small school in the mountain side were younger children. Their “NAMASTE’s” were all in capital letters - enthusiastic and very excited. These children gladly stopped to have their picture taken. Some of them even practiced their English with a shy and quiet “good morning”.

It was a perfect walk, all downhill, warm but not hot.I loved seeing all the people, their homes carved into the side of the mountain, carrying on with normal morning chores like dishes, laundry and feeding livestock. 
Eventually my interactions with the children changed. Those who weren’t at school, were still happy to have their photograph taken. The only difference is after I took the photo, instead of ‘namaste’ (good morning) or “dahanyavad” (thank you) they said: “Rupies?… one rupee?” and they followed me with their hand stretched out. At first I didn’t know what was happening. I was still experiencing the euphoria of a pleasant walk down a mountain. Then I figured it out. The expected exchange after a photograph, was a reward. After several refusals of a rupee solicitation, the asks were automatically downgraded to “chocolate?” and then “crayons?”

When I look at the amazing photos I've collected I think back and wonder if perhaps it was a fair exchange and if I should have paid for the photos. But at the time being repeatedly solicited was getting annoying. I began to dislike the mountain people of Nepal and wished to be back in the Terai region. (I also became angry at every westerner before me who taught these children to beg. But that is a topic for another blog.)

I started to see these adorable little people as annoying urchins. I stopped making eye contact, didn’t bother with my camera and there was no way anyone was going to get a rupee!  

THIS…I thought to myself, is probably EXACTLY what donor fatigue feels like.

I finally reached Baluwa Pati. A nice little place. It had more buildings than the other villages. There was also a store and a school. I had obviously reached the source of the Diwali music and the party from the night before. But, my mood to become absorbed in local culture was ruined. I just wanted to get back to the sanctuary of my quiet little off the grid room. It was then that I turned around for the first time to look up toward Nagarkot. SHIT! To reach my hotel, which I could almost see, I would need a rocket ship. It turns out that a “leisurely” walk in Nepal comes at a very high cost. There aren't any photos of this dark moment.

Then I saw the motorcycle. It was red. It was shiny. It was brand new. It appeared to be the only vehicle in the village! I needed to find the owner and beg him for a ride. I started to ask who owned the bike. No one seemed to know. No one seemed to understand. The driver was not to be found. The entire village was now surfacing, but no one spoke English and no one knew who owned this bike.

Some young men stopped their gambling to approach me. They saw that I was obviously in over my head and gestured to a rundown truck behind a building and said, “3,000 rupees.” This felt too much like extortion. I would walk up! They followed for a while and I suddenly felt very vulnerable.

Enter Prakash, a boy of 15 years old.

Prakash noticed that I was unsure of my route. He saw that I wanted to get away from the gambling men. He saw that I was tired and alone in a foreign land. He saw that I was physically weak. He also knew that I had rupees in my backpack.

Prakash was polite, spoke my language and was well groomed. Further, Prakash offered me something I needed - assistance getting back to Nagarkot and the safety of having a guide.

We did have to walk. But we walked slowly, we talked along the way. He was confident with our route. Prakash also fed me bits of information along the way - like he was an orphan and how difficult it was to stay in school. He was patient with my slow pace and very gracious about the fact that I did not share the little water I had left. I made a choice to trust him.

Two hours into our walk I told Prakash that I would give him 300 rupees to thank him. He told me that with 500 he could get a new school uniform. At this I smiled with admiration. Not because I believed him but because Prakash is probably the very best fundraiser I had ever met. I gave him 500 rupees and told him I could manage the rest on my own. He then skipped up the mountain and out of site.

For the rest of that uphill climb, I thought about the donor journey and what motivates people to give. I was solicited about a dozen times by people who just seemed to feel they deserved my money because I had it and they didn’t. This wore me down and made me grumpy. Prakash offered me a service, moved at my pace, slowly shared information and earned my financial support. Support that I gave willingly with no solicitation – AND then he upgraded me with a very specific ask!

So dear reader, I hope that you will also think about whether you are truly EARNING the support of your donors through good service or just demanding a donation because you feel your charity deserves it. I will always remember what it feels like to be treated like an ATM and will always remember Prakash's skills as one of the very best donor centred fundraisers I have ever met.

And yes eventually I did make it back to Nagarkot.

Thank you for spending sooo much time here today,

Friday, October 21, 2011

Nepal post #3 - Rolling up our sleeves

As you know Anna Walsh and I are working in Nepal for a couple of weeks. Yesterday we met the staff in the Kathmandu office of the Rural Community Development Service Council (RCDSC).

The purpose of the day was a briefing to help us better understand the work of the RCDSD and the complexities of the social society in Nepal. Sounds pretty typical.

But it was anything from it for Anna and me.

This visit was probably the best charity visit ever in the HISTORY of visits!

When we arrived all the staff came out to greet us. They had the biggest smiles and Anna and I finished the greeting with our arms full of flowers. I think it fair to say that we both felt a little overwhelmed and once again humbled.

We were guided to a meeting room with no table and only one chair. The chair was for me. I thanked them for their thoughtfulness and accepted a cushion on the floor.

Once we were all seated everyone took turns standing up and introducing themselves. It was clear that they had rehearsed their introductions and we were very touched.

We then rolled up our sleeves and got to work. The playing field was level. We were all fundraisers working for ways to make life better for the marginalized people of Nepal.

Also proud to say we only used the chair keep our flowers safe and in view. In time I will upload a video of a portion of this meeting but given the random internet access I think it best to share some photos with you for today.

Tomorrow we will be heading out into the field and I will post again when a reliable internet connection can be found.
I am currently blogging from a lobby computer in Nepal and uploading more pics seems to be challenging. But I could do it on facebook so have a look at the album here
You can read posts #1 and #2 about working in Nepal here and here.
Thank you for joining us on this adventure.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Nepal post #2 - Flooding in Mahottari

In early October I received the letter below from Ram Kapar. You will remember I talked about meeting him and my working vacation in Nepal that starts tomorrow in my post here.

If you don't have time to read the entire letter just skim it down to see more images of the floods at the bottom.

Dear Kimberley,

Rural Community development Service Council (RCDSC) is a Non-profit organization in Nepal.RCDSC has been working in the Terai Region of Nepal for
more than a decade now and has been continuously supporting the needy
people as and when necessary especially, in natural calamities. At
present, due to continuous rain for three days, there is flood in our
working area and the houses of people are drowned. People’s personal
belongings like clothes, cooking pots etc are seen floating. The
government is trying its best to support the needy community but the
resources are not reaching out to the real helpless community. Around
45,000 poor people have lost their houses (made up of clay and bricks),
lost their belongings and more than 15 children are missing. People are
running out their homes seeking shelter in flood-free area but since the
flood is everywhere in the region there is no way out. The livelihood of
the community is at risk due to unavailability of food, drinking water,
road access and almost everything. Road way has been completely blocked,
electricity is cut-off and food stored at house is swept away or is
overflowed by water.

The condition is more pathetic in Mahottari and Dhanusha district as the
embankment of river has been damaged and the water is flowing into
Jaleswar Municipality. It is obvious that the community of the region is
sure to bear water borne diseases and epidemics. First aid kids and packed
foods are the immediate need to reduce humanitarian casualties and
suffering from reaching out to panic.

Therefore, RCDSC likes to request you to forward this message to as many
support organizations as possible such that RCDSC will work this year too
like previous years for reducing fatalities and from spreading of diseases
and rehabilitation of poor people's residence after the flood is

I have attached photograph of the area where our social workers could
reach out capturing the flood of the area for your kind information and
comprehend the situation live.

Thanking for kind and generous support from you in this regards

Ram Adhar Kapar

Thank you for spending time here,

From the fundraising trenches of Canada to the fundraising trenches of Nepal

At the moment I am nursing a hangover. Not the mind numbing hangover induced by over consumption, but a physical one that can only be earned from 20 hours of traveling to the other side of the world.

As I write this, I am sitting in a tightly manicured garden (above) in New Delhi, India where the air is hanging thick with heat and moisture. There is a symphony of birds in the trees above and car horns are honking incessantly in the distance. Here I am once again, with the familiar humble feeling that I have much more to learn from this wonderful land and the magnificent people here than I could possibly teach.

I wish I could start this story by saying I have an extensive background in International Development and a deep understanding of the complex issues faced by charities in South East Asia and specifically Nepal. Surely a degree in something could be useful at this juncture. Sitting here with my swollen feet and my sandy eyes, I’ve come to realize that the only possible way to begin this story is to start by telling you about how I first met Ram Adhar Kapar.

Ram is the Chairperson for the Rural Community Development Service Council (RCDSC) based in Kathmandu, Nepal. The RCDSC is a civil society organization dedicated to the rights of excluded groups and communities in the Terai region.
The RCDSC also has a national scope and is very much a leader of social change in the country.

I first met Ram while doing research for a trip to Jaipur, India in 2008. I was going there to speak about SOFII at the South Asian Fundraising Group Workshop. Ram and I quickly decided to meet in Jaipur and discuss some strategic organizational and funding issues for the RCDSC.

When I first sat down in person with Ram and he told me about the marginalized Dalit people and the way the RCSDC works to help them lead a sustainable life, with dignity and respect in the society I was deeply moved. Ram’s passion is intense – in fact it was contagious. I was also impressed with how very smart, patient and committed he is to strengthening the capacity of his organization and reducing their reliance on international aid. You can read more about the current situation in the Mahottari and Dhanusha districts here.

It must also also be said that Ram is the most determined man I have ever met. In spite of over two years of my protests and reminding him that, at the moment, I am not a full time consultant, Ram has convinced me to spend my holiday in Nepal visiting the people he works with and learning more about his country.

So, this year instead of going to the International Fundraising Conference, I’ll be learning about international fundraising in the trenches of Kathmandu. And for better or worse, instead of an academic degree, I’ll bring forward a deep curiosity about the issues and the local people. I also hope to share my experience of fundraising in the trenches of Canada in a way that will be meaningful and helpful for fundraising in the trenches of Nepal.

Together, and with my travel companion and colleague Anna Walsh we will work on how to tell the story of the Nepalese Dalit people and the work of RCDSC in a way that compels people around the world to become engaged and make donations to help.

Please check back often to read our stories so that together we will learn more about the joys and challenges of fundraising in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Thank you for joining me for this adventure.

PS In fact tomorrow in Kathmandu will be the first time Anna and I meet beyond twitter. How we came to be traveling together will be a blog post in and of itself.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The evolution of a blog - one fundraiser's experience

When I started blogging I read a book to learn how to start. A real, hardcopy book. "Blogging for dummies" or something. Then a colleague told me to post three times a week. Advice I took seriously. If you go to the very first few months of this blog you will see a lot of mediocre posts. I'll leave them there for your entertainment.

About one year later a mentor told me to stop posting rubbish. To go for quality not quantity. It was a painful lesson. I was very proud of my blog. But he was right. So posts became less frequent and longer.

There are a few posts that people seemed to like more than others and perhaps it is worth reminding you of them:

My first post in 2008



Working with a Board of Directors

Working with consultants


Getting unstuck

Being "Donor Centred"

A blog is a place to share ideas and thoughts when you feel you have something that is worth sharing. It evolves over time as you do. For me this blog also serves to chronicle my growth - personally and professionally.

Over the next few weeks I'll be starting a new adventure. I'll be using my vacation time to travel to Nepal where I will learn about the challenges and joys of international fundraising ...from the trenches. This blog will be my place to share stories of the experience with you. So please stay tuned. Our adventure is about to begin.

Thank you for spending time here,

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Faith, Focus, Discipline and Kindness

Recently someone said to me:

"It seems like that's what you do. Your a last minute kind of girl."

That got me thinking because yes there are times when I do spend a lot more time in the IMPORTANT/URGENT box instead of the preferred IMPORTANT/NON URGENT box.

So I've been thinking why is that? Well sometimes it is just the reality of working in the trenches of a generalist fundraising shop. Spring is always busy. This year especially. In the past five weeks I have:

- presented annual results and new plans to the board
- launched a major fundraising campaign
- hosted a donor event for 80 people
- written and produced an annual report
- planning a brand new session (upon request not from my head) for AFP

Sometimes I have had to email my staff and tell them that I'm unavailable for everything - except my priority. Anything they need that has to do with the event, the campaign or the annual report, well...that's all I can think about. Focus. Delivery is about focus. But what about all that other stuff? It is still there. In my head, keeping me awake.

Most recently I've been worrying about my AFP session. There simply wasn't any room in my brain for it. When I was asked for my slides a few weeks ago I just laughed out loud and said - sorry not possible.

But this morning a miracle happened. I woke up with an outline, references and a vision for worksheets and tools. How did that happen? Well...I think it is because yesterday I also sent off the content of my Annual Report to the copy editor. The week before our major campaign launched, the week before 80 people were fed and a newsletter was written and the week before I had a major presentation to make to my board of directors.

Yes I might be a "Last minute" girl. But that is only because to do things well I need to focus on them. When there is space made in my brain the next important thing that was waiting takes over and falls into place. While it would be nice to have more time in between major tasks the reality is that fundraisers in the trenches have no control over how quickly things are going to come at us. Especially in a dynamic organization that is growing.

What is the learning here?

I think it is that in order to be remarkable - we need to be focussed, we need to have faith, discipline and finally we need to be kind - to ourselves.

Faith that we know what we are doing.

Focus on doing one thing really well at a time.

Discipline to not get distracted by things that won't help achieve our current objective.

Kindness to ourselves with understanding that sometimes are busier than others and we can only do what we can do.

I am very much looking forward to my session at AFP next week and after that - I think I'll do some gardening.

Thank you for spending time here,

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"We messed up." When bad timing makes for bad PR. How would you respond?

Yesterday devastating tornados tore across the southern United States and close to 300 people died.

Yesterday tried a fresh new approach and sent out an email entitled: "Mother Nature hates you. Deal with it."

It would seem that yesterday was also the day when a bold risk from an outdoor gear company and the weather clashed.

My honeymoon( 16 years ago!) took place above the tree line in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia. I get the idea behind the approach. A good gortex jacket can make or break an outdoor experience. On its own this is refreshing marketing. Yesterday was just bad timing.

So what did do?

They were proactive, took responsibility (even though I'm not sure they should have) and apologized. Here is the email we received today:

Subject: Apology for yesterdays email
Dear Craig,

We messed up. Yesterday, as the people of Alabama dealt with the devastating aftermath of an intensely damaging and life-taking tornado, we neglected to put a stop to the distribution of an email with the header: "Mother Nature hates you. Deal with it." This was extremely insensitive and offensive, and we are so sorry.

Please accept our sincerest apologies for this mistake. What was intended to be witty marketing copy may have been when we wrote these words two weeks ago, but in light of current events and the suffering of people affected by Mother Nature's wrath, it is not only not witty, it is completely unacceptable. We at send our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and to everyone now faced with rebuilding their homes and their communities.

And again, we extend our sincerest apologies for our lack of foresight and our complete insensitivity in sending yesterday's email.

Jill Layfield

Now I'm pretty sure that no one could have forseen two weeks ago the devastating impact this tornado would have, or even the tornado itself. I also think that our dear friend Jill may have gone a bit overboard with her humility and apologies. However, their swift action in drafting this email and sending it out admitting that they were insensitive and apologizing is very cool public relations. They turned on a dime and because of that I'll shop there more often. Will you?

Thanks for spending time here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Superhero Brain Dump – how to transform your team

Do you work with Superheros? I do. It is just that they didn’t know it until they had a chance to flex their Superhero muscles.

Staff transitions can be difficult, especially if it is a senior position and particularly when that position is the Director of Fundraising. It wasn’t any different in my organization when I started eighteen months ago. The development department had just come through a challenging time and I think it is okay to say there was a lot of blame, fatique and apathy. Going further into details would be disrespectful to the people who were there, the people who left and the organization, suffice it to say that we needed a Superhero.

One night while I was whining to my husband about how it felt like everyone was expecting me to be the saviour, the Superhero, Craig just flipped it around and said “Make them the Superheros.”

Allright I’ll admit it, there was an empty bottle of Pinot Noir between us so we were feeling… shall we say…extra creative. But the next morning over coffee we revisited the idea and I thought it was still a good one. I looked up the definition of Superhero and found:

“A fictional character of unprecedented powers dedicated to acts of derring-do in the public interest.”

First I wondered exactly what ‘derring-do’ was and how I might use that word more in everyday life, then I wondered why do these characters need to be fictional? This definition sounds a lot like fundraisers to me.

On Monday I prepared this agenda:
What: Superhero Brain Dump
When: Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Where: Mission Control (aka The boardroom)
Mission Objective: To learn more about what we do, who we are and how we work together
Come prepared to answer the following question:
1. If you were a Superhero what powers would you use to do your job?
For example: An environmental scientist might say they have the Superhero ability to clean water and air by talking to plants

2. What does your Superhero look like? (be prepared to draw it)

3. How does your Superhero contribute to the protection of wild animals and wild spaces in Ontario?

Then I pressed send and nobody said a word for the rest of the week.

Tuesday, September 29th came around and everyone dutifully arrived at “Mission Control”. I started the meeting with what I think is a very important question that should be asked at the beginning of every meeting:

What do you want to get out of this meeting?
Silence. Then finally one brave soul put the elephant on the table:“I want to know what the heck you are talking about.” Great – we now had a tone of candour and honesty. I could start.

I explained my objectives for the meeting which were:

- To try something new and refreshing
- To throw everyone out of their comfort zone
- To shift thinking to a more creative place
- To stop fundraising and to start inspiring action

Then I asked for trust.

Over the next two hours I was introduced to the most incredible Superheros I had ever heard of.

Funder Woman
Super powers: limitless memory about donor details, whenever someone wants to make a donation she would instantly appear before them, expert Raiser’s Edge skills and exceptional donor care.

Herspecia (Funder Woman’s sidekick)
Super powers: Ability to master any heavy piece of equipment like photocopiers or postage machines, psychic ability to learn more about what people need instead of running in circles, able to zap information into Raiser’s Edge.

Elestech Girl
Super powers: Can change into any shape to fit their surroundings, all her powers help other people do their work, the ability to read minds.

Moustical Minor
Super powers: Ability to sniff out donors and prospects, sneaky researcher, able to sniff out knowledge from people brains and enter into database.

Finally me The Integrator

Super powers: Ability to shift 90 degress to see everything we do internally and externally from the donor’s perspective, to quickly see the big picture, to integrate fundraising functions with programming to ensure mission delivery.

We all drew pictures of our alter egos on flip chart and posted them up on the wall. As we sat there we marvelled together at how all of these amazing abilities, when combined, did incredible things. We were able to keep people in jobs, help advocate for better environmental legislation and good policy frameworks, we saved lives by providing habitat and protection for some of the most vulnerable species on the planet and we connected people with nature thereby providing tranquility, peace of mind and better health.

I’m not going to claim the transformation of the team was instant but it was pretty darn close. From then on it felt, to me anyway, like the air in the office wasn’t s thick and that everyone was walking a little taller.

It is possible that this kind of meeting wouldn’t work again, we have tried different things since but it was incredibly fun and extremely worthwhile. As their director I quickly learned a lot about how my staff felt about their jobs and where they needed extra support. I think my staff would tell you they learned how their jobs are critical to the mission of the organization.

The players have changed a little over time and I’m not sure how long the posters stayed up on the walls of our meeting room but that day was transformational for us and I am incredibly humbled to be working with such a fabulous group of people. It is a privilege.

If you think a Super Hero Brain Dump might a good idea for your team, here is a little inspiration:

Thank you for spending time here,

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


After eleven years of attending networking receptions at fundraising conferences on three different continents, I am writing to quickly congratulate the Canadian Association of Gift Planners for their successful opening reception.

Three challenges were overcome in an incredibly innovative and fun way.

The first challenge: Meeting board members.
The committee came up with a really fun sticker game. All board members has a special colour lanyard and stickers. The goal for delegates - get all nine stickers on your name tag. At the end of the conference leave your nametage behind with all NINE stickers and it will be entered into a draw for a FREE registration at the next conference.

This activity helped all board members meet the members of their association and board members were perceived as accessible, geographically diverse and really fun. I met some great people.

The second challenge: Getting registrants to talk to exhibitors.
The solution: Exhibitor Bingo. All exhibitors had the word Thank You in a different language. The delegates job was to visit all exhibitors, talk to them about the word Thank You and get them to sign my bingo sheet. Then at the end of the conference I hand in my bingo sheet for a draw for what? You guessed it, registration at the conference next year.

The third challenge: welcoming newcomers.
As a first time CAGP Conference attendee I had a green sticker on my nametag. Veterans seeing this sticker go out of their way to make sure I feel welcome. There was a small downside is that some as summed I'm new to fundraising and planned giving. The CFRE ribbon worked to clarify that a little, but still I left the reception feeling like I belonged.

So, YES I want a free registration, YES I want something to talk to board members about, YES I want to have something to talk to exhibitors about and YES I want to feel welcomed.

Thank you CAGP for a great first impression of your conference. Others can learn a great deal from your example. Looking forward to an early night and a great day of learning tomorrow.

Have you experienced creative and innovative ways to overcome the conference challenges I've mentioned above? Please share your ideas in a comment.

Thanks for spending time here.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

David, Goliath, Apathy and Barefeet: How grassroots should trump the corporate agenda

Corporations can do good things. Their sponsorship is important to help with change around the world.

I don't intend this to be a competition. In fact it can't be. But this is a bit of a David and Goliath story. I'm asking you to support David. Well his name is really Bilaal.

In April 2009 I met Bilaal Rajan when he presented an amazing keynote at a conference called The Humber Initiative on Philanthropy. HIP is cool because it is a fundraising conference organized by fundraising students. Bilaal was cool because he is has raised over $5 million for various causes and is the youngest Ambassador ever for UNICEF, worldwide. The two together were AWESOME.

I left the 2009 HIP conference inspired and eager to read Bilaal's book. Making Change: tips from an underage overacheiver.

It is a great book and deserved a review. But, it didn't make sense for me to do it. So I asked my daughter Skye, who is the same age as Bilaal, to do it. Here is her review.

Fast forward two years and I discovered a video from Tom's shoes talking about going barefoot. (you can find the video online easily enough - you don't need the link here) I quickly posted the link on my facebook page, excited at what I thought was Bilaal's grassroots initiative with amazing corporate support. Skye and I decided we would go barefoot with the thousands of others on the day that Tom's told us. Then I looked for a connection to Bilaal. There wasn't one.

Bilaal started going barefoot three years ago during International Volunteer Week April 19-25. You can read about how Bilaal went barefoot for a whole week on his blog. I especially like this post.

I wrote to Bilaal and asked if Tom's is now sponsoring his barefoot challenge. The answer a simple, polite no. His Challenge is now taking place on the International Day of the Child, June 1st and he'd love it if I joined him.

It is great that Toms give away a pair of shoes for every pair they sell and I have no idea how long Tom's has been going barefoot. The two may have nothing to do with each other. Maybe it is a coincidence and Tom's came up with the idea all by themselves. And sure two days to raise awareness for such a big issue is a good thing.

BUT, in a discussion with my daughter about what she thought her response was:

"Bigger people will always take the smaller people's ideas. You should not get so worked up."

APATHY!? Is that how we want to raise our kids?

So I'm writing to the few of you who read this blog and asking you to join me in supporting Bilaal's initiative.

Go barefoot with us on International Children's day - June 1st. Let's also leverage our online social networks together to share this video below and try and get as much momentum as we can for what I consider to be the original Barefoot Challenge.

Please join me. Let's go barefoot on June 1st. For Bilaal, for my daughter and for all the young people who need to know that grassroots initiatives CAN and DO create change in the world. I'll keep you posted here as more information becomes available.

Ignite your enthusiasm and help make social change happen today. Read the book, pick your cause and get started, and soon the change will be making YOU happen.
-Bilaal Rajan

Thank you for spending time here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to hire a Social Media Manager

Today I had a laugh on twitter when my friend posted:

@MrsMcDowall: I love job ads asking for a social media manager with 5 years experience.

Why was I laughing? Well, because in the realm of social media and online fundraising we are literally exploring a new frontier. No one has been here before.

The very first post EVER on twitter was only five years ago in March 21, 2006 when founder Jack Dorsey made twitter history with: @jack: just setting up my twttr

Since that tweet there are now 175 million registered twitter users, 95M tweets are written per day and twitter employees 300 people. That growth has happened primarily in the past two years.

Facebook is a little older. With over 500 million active users today Facebook was founded on February 4, 2004. Their users spend over 700 billion minutes per month on ‘The Facebook’ – that is 18,000 lifetimes – per month. But even a short four years ago most of us didn’t use Facebook at all. The growth chart is out of this world.

We all know that at the moment it is very rare for a charity to actually drive significant revenue from online activities. It is just a fact. For most organizations the majority of revenue will come from offline channels. But that won't last forever. So, it is the progressive and forward thinking charity that has made a commitment to hiring a ‘professional’ to manage their social media.

With 18,000 lifetimes spent exclusively on Facebook every month if people are a part of your business you have to go where the people are. A dedicated social media person is an important and valuable addition to any progressive team. Further, if you have convinced a legitimately skeptical CEO to add this position: the pressure is on – you need to make a good hire and prove their worth quickly.

So how do we find someone who actually understands and can navigate this new frontier? This is what I would look for:

1.The ability to use and understand the languages of twitter, facebook and instant messaging. For example can they say ‘Tweet and ReTweet’ without choking? Do they know the difference between a fan page, cause page and event page on facebook? Can they pass an emoticon test?

2. Do they currently use any of these forums professionally or personally? If so how often? How many quality followers do they have? How many lists are they on?

3. Can they demonstrate how they have successfully transitioned online relationships to offline relationships?

4. How many other charities are they following online?

5. Have they ever donated online? What motivated their gift? How might they apply that to your charity?

6. Can they tell me about four different tools to measure the impact social media?

7. How would they integrate social media with our website? Do they understand the difference?

8. What is the most recent social media benchmarking they have?

9. Does their twitter stream contain a nice balance of RT’s, replies and self promotion? (google them before you call them for an interview)

10. Have they ever tweeted from the bathroom? (ok we can’t ask that but admit – you’ve all done it.)

I guess mostly though, if I was going to hire a social media manager to run my show and prove to my organization that social media is a game we want to be a part of – I wouldn’t be looking for a ‘social media guru’. I’d be looking for a relationship expert. In fact, I’d probably just hire @MrsMcDowall.

In the past couple of months I have observed Clare successfully meet, engage, promote and establish offline relationships with countless charities and fundraisers during her transition moving from Scotland to Canada. Clare is genuine, motivated and as charming offline as she is online. In fact, she and her husband @MrMcDowall have somehow ended up with an invitation to join my family for Easter dinner, and I invited her to observe a very important private workshop at my work. It all started with a simple ‘Follow Friday’.

But if you can’t hire Clare because by the time you read this she has found another job and if you don’t know enough about social media to understand my bullets above just know this:

If a candidate says they have 5 years social media experience chances are they are lying. NO one was using social media 5 years ago.

Thank you for spending time here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Legacy Giving - Starting the conversation

Every gift in every will makes a difference, no matter how large or small.

In my previous post about Legacies Colin Kemp asked how I bring up this subject with donors? This is a GREAT question. The answer to which, in my opinion, is: You Don't.

So how have discussions about bequests with donors become a regular part of my work? I believe that we have done a number of things to create a climate whereby donors come to me when the time is right for THEM to have this conversation.

I started really thinking about legacy gifts in 2008 at my very first International Fundraising Congress (IFC). Anyone who has attended a session on legacies with Richard Radcliffe is probably smiling right now. He does that. Makes you smile.

At one point Richard very enthusiastically made the statement above and then he shouted, 'PUT IT ON YOUR BLOODY BUSINESS CARD!' So I did. Richard may have been joking but I was earnest and this is what my business cards have looked like ever since.

My interest continued and I attended a masterclass on Legacies facilitated by Richard in 2009. It was fun and I learned stuff, but I still didn't know how to start the conversation about bequests.

In 2010 I started working with the AGENTS of Good and in particular friend, mentor and Canadian Fundraising 'Guru' (yes we have a few Gurus of our own) David Love. Our mission? To revitalize the Planned Giving program in my organization. Working collaboratively with The Agents we have made a number of key strategic changes that I believe have made a significant difference.

1. Personalizing the ads we use
I was reluctant to put my picture on our legacy ads. After all, contrary to how it might look on this blog, I believe the fundraisers are mere facilitators of the gift and that program staff and the CEO should have the public image in any organization. The AGENTS insisted and I now know they were right. Simply adding my picture with a statement inviting people to call me if they want to discuss their legacy has had a profound impact. I now have the sheer pleasure of receiving some of the most sincere and personal phone calls from donors. I still remember the first email I received after running the ad below. It said: 'My partner and I have included your organization in our will. We just thought you should know.' Wow.

2. A special, highly personalized mailing to long time supporters
I wouldn't do this every year. Every three maybe. With the help of the Agents we sent a very high end personalized mailing to everyone in our database who has a history of ten years or more - regardless of the size of their donations. This letter was a very soft sell. We talked about the importance of legacies on an emotional level - not the tax incentives. We let donors know that we could serve them better if they shared a little bit about themselves with us and that is why the survey included was important. The survey also connected them with our mission by asking them to 'Tell us about a time when nature took your breath away.' Everyone who responded to the survey has raised their hand and said 'Yes, I would like to have this conversation with you.' All I have to do now is reach out to them.

3. We tell stories.

The Agents call it 'Creating the opportunity for yes.' Telling stories about other donors helps people imagine how they might be able to do the same thing. Here is a story about Graeme. True this is a planned gift and not a bequest. Still the story is a good one. Graeme's mother also gave me permission to talk about her here.

4. Include an ask in speeches
At large gatherings of donors our President always mentions the importance of leaving a legacy. Sometimes he uses humour sometimes it is more sincere. But mentioning it to a crowd lets people know we are keen to talk about it without pressure on anyone in particular.

5. We are starting a Legacy Grove.
For every bequest we receive we will be planting a tree. This demonstrates to those who are still with us that when they are gone we will continue to think of them and respect them. Their legacy will live on in a hardy Canadian Red Maple.

I'm really not sure what a legacy 'expert' would think of this experience that I am sharing with you. I certainly don't remember learning any of this stuff while studying for my CFRE, in fact I haven't had to use the words 'Charitable Gift Annuity' once. I really just know two things: Legacy messages need to permeate throughout your organization and we must focus on building solid relationships through conversations that our donors initiate.

Should you choose to work with the AGENTS on your legacy program or any other initiative I must warn you. Your donors will become more engaged, some will even complain and you WILL raise more money for your cause. I just thought you might want to know that going in. (I'll blog about the complaints next weekend).

Thank you for spending (SO MUCH) time here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Legacy Giving: The greatest privilege a fundraiser will have

When my mother in law was dying I asked my friend, who is a minister, what I could do? I felt so helpless. Kirsty told me that when people are near death they really just want to talk and need someone to listen.

My mother in law took her last breath in a room that was full of laughter. She was finally at peace. I now know that death, while sad, can be as natural and as beautiful as a loud and painful childbirth. The circle of life.

What does this deeply personal experience have to do with fundraising? A lot...

This past week a man came into our office for an appointment he booked before Christmas. We had talked in December about his will and the potential of including our charity as one of his top three beneficiaries.

Dear Reader, you don't need to know anymore about that visit with 'Mr. Jone's' other than to know that I am speaking from experience and not theory. I was deeply honoured to be a part of such important decisions.

I`ve told you before that I am a generalist fundraiser and by no means consider myself an expert in any given area. But, there are some things I have learned working with Legators (people who have said they want include your charity in their Will) that I want to share with you:

Make the time

Nothing you have to do that day is more imporant than talking to someone about their final wishes in life. Nothing. A meeting that is scheduled for an hour may turn into three. Gently move it forward to make sure the business objectives are accomplished and be available to listen to your donor talk about their life, their dreams, their regrets and their final wishes. Legacy gifts are not about you or your charity. Legacy gifts are 100% donor centred. Always. Make the time.

Be sure you can keep your promise

A donor might suggest something very specific like a place they visited or a play they saw. Try to understand their motivations by asking open ended questions like:

'It sounds like you love visiting the XYZ exhibit in the museum. Can you tell me more about that?'

Actively listen and turn off the `yes but...` thoughts swimming around in your head. Be truly curious. Once you understand the true motivations of the suggestion you will be in a much better position to meet their desire to be affiliated with a certain feeling or place or program. You can then offer a less restrictive solution.

For example. Perhaps you work for a theatre company and your donor fell in love with a cutting edge contemporary new play. What the donor might say is `I love the David Mamet plays your company produces and I want to leave a legacy toward that.` Through active listening we can get to the underlying motivation. It isn`t realistic for a bequest to be directed toward producing David Mamet plays every year - in perpetuity. Perhaps the legacy your donor is striving for is an endowment to ensure that your theatre company always has the funding to try new, leading edge and risky productions.

You can get to this place through actively listening to your donor.

Be truly honest

If you don`t think that your charity is the right one or that perhaps they have your charity mixed up with another one make sure you clarify immediately. This can often happen in environmental charities. I have had a few donors talk to me and use the name of another charity and it is always a little bit risky to make sure they called the right place. No one wants a bequest that was intended for someone else.

Be respectful

This may seem like I`m pointing out the obvious but I`m doing it anyway. Your Legator is very likely much closer and more experienced with the cause than you are. Organizing their affairs may be slightly overwhelming due to frequent conversations with financial advisors, lawyers and balancing family needs and obligations. With some people, their thoughts may wander or their bodies may be frail. Respect their experience and wisdom. I believe our job is to help the process of finalizing an estate to be as simple as possible.

Through empathy and understanding of their love for our cause, we can offer peace of mind that no financial advisor or lawyer can.

Know your job

Remind your donor several times that you recommend they discuss their plans with their financial advisor and their family. Then explain why. It is very important that everyone understands that your charity is in the will because the donor wanted it there. Not because you did something to entice, manipulate or coerce. Harsh words I know. You might try saying something like this.

`Mrs. Norman, It really has been a pleasure talking to you about your estate plans. We at xyz charity are very grateful for your decision to include us in your Will. Please remember to discuss your plans with your financial advisor (or executor or lawyer)and if you are comfortable doing so, with your family. If we are all aware of your desires it will be easier to ensure that your wishes are granted.`

Discuss recognition

Wills are pretty dry reading. It can be very helpful to a charity to have details of how the Legator would like to be acknowledged, even including the wording they would like placed on a bench or a plaque. Having these details in the Will can ensure that in ten years, when the donor is gone and you have moved on, your charity doesn`t have to guess what was promised. Your charity will be legally bound to carry out the donor`s wishes if it is written in the Will. Just make sure that you negotiate something realistic and easy for your charity to implement.

In Summary

Nothing in the past ten years of fundraising has been as rewarding as my experience working on the Planned Giving program. I know that I am better able to do this work for having had first hand experience with the final stages of life. If you haven`t had the experience of taking the final steps of life with someone then I would suggest reading Tuesday`s with Morrie by Mitch Albom. This book is an amazing thesis not just on how to die but mostly how to live. And isn`t that really what legacy fundraising is all about - helping people live with peace, knowing that they have helped make a difference in the world, long after their lives will be over.

If you aren`t going to rush out and read Tuesdays with Morrie and if you still have a little time after reading such a longwinded blog this is a lovely piece on Morrie Schwartz with Ted Koppel.

Have you had an incredibly inspiring experience talking to a donor about their legacy? Please share your stories with us below.

Thank you for spending SO MUCH time here,