What do I do NOW?

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I was six months into my new VP of Advancement job and had one responsibility, bring home the first ever campaign for a South-side Catholic High School.  Having finally secured an appointment with the local bank, I went into the appointment confident that our preparation would pay off and we would ask for, and secure, a much needed lead gift.  As I’m sure you can imagine, my angst and discomfort rose exponentially when the President confidently looked at me and said, “I know why you’re here and we are anxious to help; we are proud to pledge $5,000 to the campaign.”

I thought……”WHAT DO I DO NOW?

A bit surprised, stunned and disappointed, I remember thinking… I owe it to the school to be HONEST with the prospect and be crystal clear what my intention was. So (with a lump in my throat) I quickly responded,

“Why thank you, the bank’s commitment is very much appreciated but I have to say, we were actually going to provide a full summary of the project, so you know what you are saying yes to and ask for a multi-year pledge that was at a higher level. If it’s okay, I’d still like the opportunity to present our proposal.”

It was the next response that surprised me the most when the bank President admitted, “Michael, that’s why we told you what we were going to give, we KNEW you were going to ask for more. But I admire your tenacity, share what you had hoped to share.”

I wish I could say that the bank ended up giving the amount we asked for but they didn’t.  The final gift was five times what they offered but ½ of what we asked for.  Both sides felt good about the exchange and I walked away with the following clarity which further prepared me for this kind of conversation in the years that followed:

  1. Whenever you meet with a prospect during a campaign, they KNOW why you’re there. Be confident and unapologetic for wanting to advance the mission philanthropically.  The prospect will respect your authenticity and passion for the mission, even if your number is higher than theirs.
  1. A little trick of mine is to envision representatives (fellow leaders, board members and constituents) watching the conversation from the sidelines. KNOWING I have their support and commitment to the mission we represent gives me confidence to ask, even when the conversation might get uncomfortable (like when the donor gets the ask out).
  1. Always, I mean ALWAYS, show genuine appreciation and empathy for what the prospect is sharing. When you do, it provides a more honest platform to share the needs of the organization.  It also gives you the opportunity to genuinely reflect and consider forging ahead with your original agenda or tabling the intended ask for a time when it may fit better with the donor’s situation.
  1. Any investment and or gift to the organization given by someone is NOT ABOUT US. As development officers, it is our job to be the bridge, or conduit, between the donor and the organization.  IF we are in a situation that causes us discomfort or uneasiness, we must accept that reality and avoid taking the easy way out.  When it feels right to push, push (respectively), the donor will respect you in the long run.

by: Michael Bruni, Partner, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

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Are You Engaging?

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I was presenting to the Board of Directors for one of my clients last week and the takeaway for the Board members was “engagement”.  Later in the week, I was with a different client, one which is preparing for a campaign.  The highlight of that conversation?  Engagement.  So…how are you engaging with your constituents?

Whether they are Board members, donors, volunteers, staff members, even clients or program participants, identifying ways in which to truly and authentically engage with your constituents is critical to the success of your organization.  While I am confident you know how to do this, here are some questions for you to consider asking next time you are engaged with someone close to your organization.

  • How did you get introduced to (agency name)?
  • Why do you choose to spend your time working with/volunteering for (agency name)?
  • What does (agency name) mean to you?
  • Tell me your (agency name) story.
  • What is your favorite (agency name) story?
  • How has (agency name) impacted you or someone you know?

These questions are great conversation starters.  Even if you have heard a story before, you may learn something new about that person.  And, by being a good listener, you will remind that person of the importance of your organization’s mission, thus increasing their level of engagement and commitment.  Make it a point to ask at least one person a question about their relationship with your organization this week.  Have fun!

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Be Interested

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When my wife and I first found out we were going to become parents, I started collecting quotes and bits of advice that I wanted to share with our children as they grew up. Some are obvious, some silly and still others likely won’t have meaning for them until much later in life.

The other day, I found myself repeating to our youngest one of the nuggets I have shared on multiple occasions with both of our boys:

Instead of trying too hard to be interesting, put your energy into being interested.

 I won’t say it is my favorite quote of all time, but the number of occasions on which it was apropos of sharing over the years clearly indicates that it is a worthy reminder.  And, while I am unable to pinpoint who deserves attribution for the original idea – as evidenced in part by the variations here from Dale Carnegie and John Gardner – I am definitely an advocate of its practice.

“It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting. Why don’t you invest more time being interested?”                                                                                                                                                              -Advice from John Gardner to Jim Collins

While there has yet to be an occasion when I’ve offered up this advice to my boys regarding fundraising, it is absolutely a habit that can and should be embraced by every development professional–and fundraising volunteer for that matter.

We all know that we should be focused on our donors’ needs and on their agenda, but how often do we find ourselves in conversations where we are more focused on persuasion than on understanding? Whether it’s meeting someone at an event for the first time, a one-on-one cultivation meeting or a gift solicitation, there is little doubt that the most effective and engaging approach is to focus our energies on their interests/stories/needs.

If your focus is on being interested, you will have a much greater opportunity to Build Meaningful Connections. As part of our capital campaign preparation efforts, I once again have the honor of participating in engagement interviews for one of my current clients. It is an hour long conversation where I simply ask for their thoughts, ideas and perspectives. The conversations are designed to learn about what drives our donors and volunteers and how the organization’s work aligns (or doesn’t) with their personal priorities. And I can say with absolute certainty, that each of these encounters creates a deeper sense of connection to the organization because our donors feel valued and heard.

When you spend more of your time listening and trying to discover what matters most to your donor(s), the odds of experiencing a Successful Solicitation increase dramatically. If we come at our donors with an avalanche of information about our needs without ever finding out theirs, we all but guarantee that we will fail to inspire them to give a gift that matches the level of their personal philanthropic passions.

For consultants and other business professionals, the practice of being interested is also critical when you are working to Engage a New Client. Our team was recently awarded a new client contract after a fairly intense process. The CEO told us that one of the keys to our success was the fact that, to a person, everyone we talked with – from executives, to Board members to junior level staff members – they all said that we didn’t just come in an make a case for why we were the best, we listened and we were honestly interested in what they had to say.

So, the next time you’re preparing for an important conversation, make sure that you are focused on what the other person is most interested in. Making the conversation about their needs and their interests will undoubtedly result in you having more success in achieving your goals.

by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Take Your Mask Off and Don’t Be Frightened

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My 8 year-old daughter recently was struggling to decide what she was going to dress up as for Halloween. She was back and forth between a current Disney TV character (that I’d never heard of) and the ever- magical Mary Poppins. It wasn’t until we were shopping in a craft store that she decided she wanted to be a stylish bat. She picked out all the pieces of the costume in one fell swoop…wings, leggings, skirt and a mask.

It was the mask that made me pause and think….the power and ambiguity of a mask. It made me reflect on all the masks that we wear or experience others wearing every single day. The description of a mask is to cover up or disguise the reality with something that is not true or unreal.

I’m often in conversations with board members, organizational leaders and yes even fundraisers about the fear they share in making the ask and the “mask” they put on during this role.

I often remind them that preparation is your biggest partner when it comes to the ask. It’s okay to be nervous, excited and even reticent the first time but when one is prepared, can articulate the intention and most importantly inspire the prospect ….the ask will and should come easy.

Fundraising is not something you should do with a mask on. It is not something done under disguise. It needs be sincere and authentic. The relationship you establish is fundamental to the prospect believing in and supporting the cause. They want to know you or at least the motivations of who is doing the asking. Unmask your hesitations during this “fun” and challenging time. Ditching the mask, being prepared, displaying humility yet staying confident are some of the key ingredients for a successful approach. Be yourself…they will know when you aren’t and they will see right through you when you have your mask on.

Happy Halloween!

by: Tim Kennedy, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

The Comeback: Three things to do when your organization must respond to scandal

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by George Rattin, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

A trusted administrator, is caught embezzling funds from your organization…A Board disagreement between your CEO and Board Chair results in a very public resignation and gives the world a glimpse into internal dysfunction…You reject a gift from a donor for the right reasons, but that donor uses the media to lambaste your organization….All these scenarios have happened to nonprofit organizations  While I hope you never have to face these situations, you as a leader of a social impact agency, may one day have to wrestle with these or other issues that begin to erode your public’s trust for your organization.  How do you recover?  How do you stage your comeback?  Here are things you can do to help reestablish public trust:

  1. Adapt your culture – Something within your organization allowed an opportunity for this scandal to happen.  Identify what that was.  Then take steps that address this.  Again, in the case of the first example, does your organization have an open and confidential whistle-blower policy?  Do you have a culture of knowledge–are important details of your organization shared regularly by multiple people?  
  2. Acknowledge the past but focus on the present and future. – Acknowledge the scandalous event, but move quickly to how you are moving forward to move beyond.  There is no hope in the past, that comes from changes made in the present and the future.  Focus on what you are doing differently and the results that come from that.
  3. Be transparent – Whatever, it was, scandal has happened at your organization.  Be clear what has happened.  Outline your plan for how this will not happen again.  Communicate regularly, your progress on implementing new procedures, and the impact of these new behaviors.  For example, in our first example.  Show how new financial oversight, and additional outside counsel is not only ensuring your organizations solid financial operations, but how this increased scrutiny/vigilance may even bring greater efficiency to the organization or perhaps, even better results.

It is important for your organization to learn and grow from this event.  By changing the culture, focusing on the present and future and being transparent in all you do, your organization can take the vital steps forward to rebuild trust with your public and continue to focus on your most-important mission-driven work.

Are you asking the right questions?

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Can I read to you the specials for tonight?  Where are you going next?  How did I do?  These are examples of questions you may have been asked in a restaurant, by a friend or by a colleague.  They are fair questions.  But they are also examples of selfish questions.  What do I mean by that?  They are questions directed to a person focused on giving another some information that THEY need.  These are selfish questions because they really do not focus on what the PERSON being asked needs.  In fundraising, how often do we get caught up in asking selfish questions?  Did you receive my call/letter/appeal?  Do you support our school/program/agency?  As fundraising professionals we should always begin asking other-focused questions.  In this way we get a clear understanding of what our potential donor might need and can tailor our message to meet her/his needs.  Here are some examples of other-focused questions:

  1. What was your best experience with our agency?
  2. Why do you so generously support our organization?
  3. Is there anything I can provide you to make your interaction with us as fruitful for you as possible?
  4. What kind of information would you like to receive from us and what is the best delivery method for you?

These questions seek deeper responses and responses that express the donor’s needs.  The best way we can serve our agencies is to know them and learn from our donors/potential donors their needs.  Then we can make real connections between the organizations and donors.  These type of connections are authentic and therefore have the best possibility to be sustainable.

Remember, temper your zeal to immediately launch into a narrative about why your organization is so great, until you first identify the needs of the potential donor.

Thriving through authenticity, enthusiasm and ethics

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You are a good nonprofit organizations making a real impact in the world.  Let’s assume that much.  On paper there does not seem to be a reason why your organization should not be successful and garner the philanthropy it deserves.  Yet…

Here you are at the end of the year worrying about why the support you believe should be there is not.  What is a fundraiser to do?  On this the longest day of the year, I bring you hope.  The right thing for you as a fundraiser to do is be relentless, but do so with authenticity, enthusiasm and ethics.  These three characteristics are fundamental  for your success.

  1. Authenticity – My 13 year old daughter says this is “being real.”  Indeed that is exactly right.  How do you act?  Do people believe you really mean what you say?  Will do what you say you will do?  Giving is personal and done between two people (one of which represents and organization).  Do people have faith in you on behalf of the organization.  They should!
  2. Enthusiasm– Let’s face it, enthusiasm is infectious.  As you promote your cause, people will pick up your energy.  If you can not get excited by your cause how will others?  Be positive and engaging.
  3. Ethics – The first two really do not mean a thing if you are not doing the right thing.  Do the right thing always (even if it unpopular, will lead to a donation or advance your career.)!  It is better that people know that you will live by your word and do the right thing, because by extension this means they can have trust in you and your organization.

Fundraisers are hard workers.  But on this longest day, I remind us all to do these things.  If you do, your organizations will be more successful!  Happy Holidays!!!