The Two Most Important Words for December

Last Saturday I had dinner with the president of a private equity firm. He’s a brilliant guy and I am lucky to call Terry a very close friend.

At one point I looked at him and said, “The work you do and the work I do are just about exactly the same.”

“You’re right. I’ve known that for a long time.”

Think about it for a second. The success of private equity firms is based on the depth of the relationships with their investors and the quality of the companies; that is, the investments they invite their clients to make.

When a private equity firm every so often wants to establish a new corpus of money to invest in companies, and reach out to individuals and families for that, they call it – fundraising.

Advancement and private equity are so alike it is scary.

Now I was getting warmed up. “You know, donors are looking for only two things from the nonprofits they support. They want to know the impact of their gift and they want to feel appreciated for it. Generally, organizations do a lousy job of the latter.”

“Let me tell you something,” Terry said. “When we bring our investors together to report on how we’re doing with their money, at the beginning of the meeting, the very first thing we do – is say Thank You.”

The most important thing in Terry’s work – and our work – is relationships. And the two most important words in any relationship?

Thank you.

These last days of the year, while our focus is on getting the gift, let’s remember the two words our donors most want to hear.

How to Be Heard

You’re overwhelmed right now. Worried, too.

So are your donors.

It’s the biggest double whammy fundraisers can face. Uncertain times, and the last weeks of the year – aka, giving season.

How to give these last eight weeks the best you’ve got? You know how.

Stick to your plan. Don’t be tempted to take on too much. Focus like crazy on the one most important thing to accomplish every day.

Get personal. Send handwritten notes with live stamps. And not just one or two a week! Round up volunteers and make your “lybunt” campaign a handwritten letter campaign! It will not fail you.

The bigger question is not you, but your donors. How can you get your donors to listen? To answer your call or email? How can your message be important to them?

Here’s how.

“Please, call 911!” That request is urgent. When we hear that, we respond right away. What can move our donors to action? Communicating  the urgency of our cause.  

Will that student be able to return to school next semester with a scholarship? That’s urgent. Hunger is urgent. A homeless family sleeping in their car is urgent. How can you communicate the urgent nature of your work to your donors?

Good fundraising centers on the relationship we have with our donors. What is the basis for any strong relationship? Good communication.

Here are five more ideas that can “move the needle” with your donors during these last weeks of the year:

Pleasant Persistence. Think for a moment about your competition. (Yes, you have competition for your donors’ philanthropy.) They’re not being shy about staying in touch. Don’t be shy. But please, don’t be a pain. Stay gently but persistently in front of your donors, keeping the ball in your court. Time and again, think “what next step can I take that would make sense, seem appropriate, to this donor?” One of the best things is:

Good news. Be relentless in sharing good news about your organization with your donors. The good news you share may be the only good news they hear today. “Mary and George, I knew you’d want to see this!” A note, a letter, the website, an email. Donors will think, “You know what? Those folks are winners.” And donors flock to winners.

Kindness. Keep your radar up for any and every opportunity to express kindness to your top donors. Someone is sick? Chicken soup. Bakery goods on their doorstep, or an online card. Whatever you do or consider doing needs to meet the litmus test of “What would seem appropriate and not over the top, not phony, to this donor?” Hint: Thanksgiving.

Don’t Look for New Worlds to Conquer Right Now. The 4th quarter of the year is the time to focus your attention on who loves your organization – now. There will be plenty of time for new outreach in the new year. Not now. Are there donors waiting for you to ask them? Gifts waiting to be closed? That’s where your focus should be.

The Big 4: Are there gifting opportunities your donors may not remember, or may not think you will accept? You can bet the ranch on that. Gifts of Appreciated Stock. A gift from their Donor-Advised Fund. A Qualified Charitable Distribution from their IRA. A bequest intention. All ways for donors to help, other than cash. Share those ideas.

All ways for us to help our donors do the great things they want to do.

Have a good week, my friends.


What Your Donors Are Starving For

Recent headlines in the Chronicle of Philanthropy have taken a decidedly dour turn. Your annual performance review didn’t go well so you’re down in the dumps. And honestly, there’s not much positive news in our world at the moment.

For fundraising professionals, a consistent focus on what’s wrong is bad medicine. Consider this:

The ballroom was packed. The chairman stepped up to the podium, took a look around and said, “Rather than speak to you tonight, I want you to hear the words that inspire me every day.”

The lights dimmed. The crowd murmured. Faintly, then louder and louder were the sounds of an orchestra and Frank Sinatra singing. On two giant screens to accompany the song were photos of teachers working with students, coaches and their teams, alumni meeting their scholarship recipients, and volunteers at the Phonathon.

The song Sinatra was singing? “Here’s to the Winners.” It lasted two and a half minutes. There was not a dry eye in the house. The entire room jumped to their feet and cheered.

There was nothing left to be said. “Here’s to the winners all of us can be.”

The phone rang. Phil was calling. As always, he got right to the point. “So how’s it going?”

“Phil,” I told him, “it’s going great!”

“You son of a gun,” he said in mild exasperation, “Every time I call you tell me the exact same thing – it’s going great.”

Somehow I was inspired to answer,

“Phil, if I don’t tell you things are great at your alma mater, who’s going to?”

Silence. “You know what, my friend?” he said, “You’re right.”

That’s what our donors want to hear. They want to hear it’s going great. They want to jump to their feet and cheer. They want their association with our organizations to make them happy.

They don’t want to hear about our problems. Or our struggles. They have plenty of their own. Donors want to hear about our successes, our victories, and how their gifts made them happen.

Every donor I know wants to be associated with a winner. The tricky part is that “being a winner” is something the donor perceives about us. It’s not something we can “do,” like making an ask or sending a letter.

What makes you a “winner” to your donor? I think it boils down to four things.

Look like a winner. Stand up straight. Smile when you say hello. Take pride in your personal appearance. Does your building shine? Is the lobby welcoming? Does your communication, down to every single thing the donor receives, reflect how you want to be perceived? None of this is expensive. It just takes a little care and effort. Being “classy” is not the same as “gaudy” or “expensive.”

Think like your donors. They are desperate to feel appreciated. By anyone! Give it to them! Make your donors feel so genuinely appreciated that they want to be with you more than with your competition.

Share the success. Every single day, look for the good in your organization and find someone to share it with. Think of organizations you perceive as winners. Why do you think that way about them? It’s because of good news or success you’re heard from them recently. Your pride and enthusiasm in your organization is a “drug” to your donors and they want some of it!

And finally, live “quiet confidence.” When I told Phil things were going great, it wasn’t just what I said but how I said it. Every great fundraiser I know lives quiet confidence. Not cocky, not even close to that. A quiet confidence in themselves, in the message they have to share, in the organization they represent.

Here’s to the winners all of us can be.

(excerpted from Winning: The Five Truths of Fundraising)

Thoughts on “Team”

Your personal life. Your professional life. At work, your development team is your professional family.

What makes a great team?

The head of the team is, in many respects, the head of the family. That person has the responsibility to nurture the members of the team, to protect, and above all to provide leadership. Just like a family, the members of a team are all at different points in their life, their career. They each have different needs and different goals.

Like families, teams can be small, or big. A development shop of one is like a family of one. When that is the case, the development officer may look to the organization as a whole to create a family, just as the single person looks outside to create theirs.

Not every team is great. Some, sadly, are dysfunctional, just like families can be. But every team has the potential to be great and when that happens, perhaps once or twice in your career, it is very special indeed.

Members of great teams genuinely care for one another. You rarely hear, “That’s not my job.” Team members may not necessarily be drinking buddies (actually, it’s better if you’re not), but you hear “good morning” and “have a good night!” a lot in the offices of great teams. Birthdays are noted with a card and a smile. Low points are noted with empathy. Do members of great teams have disagreements? Bumps in the road? Of course they do, just like families do. But great teams know that will happen and when it does, the bumps are addressed and smoothed out.

Great teams have little customs, little traditions. Not everything is top-down. The great team has all the characteristics you would expect to find. Respect for one another. People who are genuinely nice and who work at it.

The one big difference between a family and a team; team members know they each have a job to do. The success of the team depends in large part on how seriously each person takes their own responsibility to the success of the team, not just their own personal success.

You need to hold up your end of the deal.

So, it’s not only how you relate to the other members of your team but how you regard your own work, and how that work contributes to the success of the team.

The second big difference between a family and a team? You don’t have to love your team. But you do have to respect them. If you don’t, it shows through everything.

Members of great teams respect one another.

The Cafe

In a country far away, old friends sit around a table in a café drinking tea as they do every evening.

“Can you believe what happened in Texas?” asked one.

“The shooting?  Unbelievable.  Those poor children.  Their families.  I can’t imagine the pain. When will it stop?”

They all were waiting for the elder of the group to speak.

“It is amazing to me how America ignores the obvious,” he said.

“What do you mean?” they asked.

“It astounds me that the strongest country in the world, the most generous country in the world finds itself impotent to stop their own children from being butchered.  They will mourn the murder of these innocent babies. They will say what they believe are all the right things but are actually platitudes.

And then they will move on.  Move on? What amazes me about America is that in the face of their children being slaughtered, there is no resolve.

“The shooter?  If there had been no guns available to him, if those who govern America had any modicum of courage, those children and their teacher would be alive today.  There have been 15 mass shootings in America in the last 10 days. 27 school shootings this school year and 198 mass shootings in the last 19 weeks.

In Chicago, children are murdered walking to school.  Children are murdered in their homes, with bullets coming through the windows.  These killings are tolerated.  No other civilized country does.  And yet America accepts this.”

To the elder’s right, a friend said, “Their argument is that guns don’t kill people, people do.”

“That is stupidity,” the elder said.  “There will always be crazy people in the world.  In our country and virtually every other country of the world, we make it very difficult, nigh impossible for crazy people to get their hands on guns.  For anyone to have a gun.  If there had been no guns available to the shooter, those precious children would be alive today. 

“It is as simple as that.”

From another friend, “But what about their Constitution?  It tells Americans they have the right to bear arms.”

The elder smiled ruefully. “Americans, for reasons I cannot fathom, insist on maintaining an archaic and literal interpretation of their founding Constitution, 241 years after it was written.  Do they still believe that God created the world in seven days?  No. Do they maintain the same interpretation of scientific principals they had 200 years ago?  When that amendment to their Constitution was written, Americans did have reason to fear invasion of their homes by foreign countries.  They are no longer under attack. 

“Except by themselves. 

“I think of the children’s tale of ‘The Emperor Who Had No Clothes.’ He was so consumed by himself that he was unable to see how truly pathetic he looked.

“Americans wail about the deranged among them who commit these atrocities, as if the deranged are the evil. They are not.  The evil among them are the guns. And those who allow guns to be as plentiful as loaves of bread.

“What they don’t realize is that the rest of the world is collectively shaking its head at America.  The greatest country in the world? When their absence of will, their absence of laws or enforcement of laws allow innocent children to be slaughtered?

“Don’t make me laugh.”