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.