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.