Are you remaining curious?

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Recently, the founder of one of the world’s largest Public Relations firms in the world passed away. Al Golin, (the name of the firm that still bears his name) died at the age of 87 years after 60 years in the business and never having retired.

Al is best known for being the guy who made a cold call to the founder of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc, asking Mr. Kroc if he needed help telling the story about this new restaurant business he was hoping to expand across the country.  Al was hired on the spot and became a pioneer as he helped the young company adopt a culture of getting involved in the community, partnering with local organizations and establishing charitable tie-ins….now a prerequisite in the world of corporate America.

Though Al is best known for that encounter with Ray Kroc and advising this corporate behemoth to implement what is now known as Corporate Social Responsibility into their business plan, what he’s truly known for was his integrity, thoughtfulness and curiosity.

As my colleague David Gee shared in a past blog post, Be Interested, focusing on understanding and striving to be interested not interesting will certainly help with building connections vs one-time encounters. Al Golin was notorious for building connections. He was always interested in others, and asked tons of questions learning their backgrounds, their story and about their families.  He was never too busy or too important to answer a question or talk with his employees about a project or client. He was always learning and pushing others to strive to learn more. Because of this, GOLIN still works for McDonald’s today….the longest PR agency and client partnership in history.

As you head in the summer months, I challenge you to remain mindful of being present with your key stakeholders, your most loyal donors (large and small), maintain the connections and touchpoints through the summer and at the same time strive to learn more about them as well as your own development efforts. Strive to learn more on how to enhance your donor recognition efforts, strive to learn more by brainstorming innovative stewardship practices, strive to learn more on how and when your donors want to be communicated with. Are you remaining curious on how they react to your appeals? Your annual reports? Your fundraising events?

Whether it’s with proposal submissions, appeal letters, general stewardship or board member interaction; maintaining the connections, being curious and always striving to learn more on how to be a better development professional are things we constantly need to be mindful of.

We all can learn from an old PR legend like Al Golin who knew how to maintain and keep long standing relationships.

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

Attention to Detail

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In his blog post two weeks ago, “Are you loyal to your loyal donors?” my colleague Steve Murphy provided a very tangible and fundamental post on being loyal to your most loyal donors. If you missed it, I would strongly encourage you to go back and read it and share it with your colleagues, your boss and even your board. The organizations that take the time to recognize gifts properly, steward strategically and pay attention to detail will stand out and will further the giving cycle.

Speaking of paying attention to detail and standing out, I recently received a thank you letter in the mail acknowledging my wife and my annual support to an organization over the past calendar year. It was nicely written highlighting the accomplishments of the year, the impact the organization is making in the community and the bold program goals for 2017, but in the valediction the signature of the author was missing. Yes, you got that right the letter was not signed…. THEY OMITTED A SIGNATURE!

I couldn’t help but take a deep breath, then have a nervous laugh, took a deep breath again and then I found myself really annoyed. This is my profession and a detail such as this cannot be neglected.  I absolutely understand we make mistakes (wrong addresses, ink that doesn’t dry on the letter, etc…) but this is one you just don’t forget to do. I was more worried for the organization than the letter to me. I don’t want this to hurt their stewardship efforts and I will respectfully share my concern with them and offer the appropriate suggested follow up to the donors.

Steve posed the question in his post – “Do they even know that I value their mission and consider them one of my top three charitable interests?”  Getting an unsigned letter further signified the importance of Steve’s question. As development professionals we need to find this answer out. We need to dig a little harder to know who the donor is and where the organization falls in their priorities.  We need to pay attention to detail, ask our colleagues to double check our work, slow down and spend as much time on the thank you letter as we do on the appeal letter or on the special event invitation we are producing.

Details matter and sloppy development work results in unhappy investors. Unhappy investors equate to lost money…and lost money is a hit to the mission.

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

The Value of Proof(ing)

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If you are responsible for producing an annual report for your nonprofit, I have a piece of advice that could save you embarrassment and preserve your major donors.

Build time into your production timeline for a preliminary mailing of the annual report proof to your donors. This should be marked “proof” and be accompanied by a letter asking the donor to confirm the accuracy of their name on the donor list in the report.  This proof is sometimes referred to as a “blue line” mailing, which is an old printing term from a time when a printers proof actually appeared in blue text.

In a rush to get the annual report in the mail, we didn’t take this extra step with my client last year. That was a mistake. We heard from two important donors.  In one instance, names were duplicated and appeared in two different giving levels, each of which were more modest levels than where they should have been listed.

A second long time donor was disappointed that we had not called out separately, the names of her family and friends who made donations in memory of her mother.

These both could have been easily caught ahead of time if the proof had been mailed out. I am happy (and relieved) that these oversights have not affected the relationship with these two donors, each of whom receives services for their loved ones at this particular nonprofit. But there are literally thousands of new nonprofits entering the marketplace each year…all vying for attention, love and loyalty by OUR valued donors. Obviously we cannot control this, but there is no room for error in our communication with our investors. Nothing should jeopardize their faith or erode trust in our nonprofit. So this year, for the important things that we can control, let’s be sure we are all on our “A Game” and use the blue line proof.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Gold vs. Platinum

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David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

 Donor stewardship has been a more frequent topic of conversation with our clients lately. We all know that inspiring new donors is much more difficult and costly than building stronger relationships with the people who are already supporting our efforts. And, while there are many layers to forming an effective donor relationship strategy, for today I’m just focusing on one key ingredient.

Growing up, many of us were taught the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s a good rule and one that certainly can help children understand how their actions might make other people feel. Full disclosure, my wife and I referenced the Golden Rule on countless occasions while raising our sons.

Nevertheless, if we adhere to the Golden Rule when building donor relationships, we are simply not honoring our role in the most effective or authentic way. Thankfully there is a more considerate rule for us to apply, the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” More simply, where the Golden Rule says we should treat others how we like to be treated, the Platinum Rule accommodates for the fact that not everyone likes to be treated the same way and mandates that we instead treat people the way they want to be treated.

As Dr. Tony Alessandra writes, “The focus of relationships shifts from ‘this is what I want, so I’ll give everyone the same thing’ to ‘let me first understand what they want and then I’ll give it to them.” He goes on to say, “The goal of The Platinum Rule is personal chemistry and productive relationships. You simply have to understand what drives people and recognize your options for dealing with them. ”

Think about some of your major donors and what motivates them to support your mission. Do you know what aspect of your work or which programs are of a specific interest to them? What life experience or personal philanthropic goal is connecting them to your organization?

Using the Platinum Rule as a guide, what if you invested time in learning the answers to these questions with your key supporters? Some folks may like an annual face-to-face meeting, while other people may prefer a phone call once a quarter. You may also have donors who are so busy that their preferred mode of conversation is via email, because it affords them the opportunity to respond when their time allows.

At the end of the day, if we commit to the Platinum Rule and to prioritizing our donors’ needs/desires/motivations over our own, we will absolutely have greater success in building lasting and rewarding donor relationships.

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David Gee is an experienced development professional with particular expertise in capital campaigns, major gifts and donor stewardship. David joined the HUB Philanthropic Solutions team after serving as The Chicago Bar Foundation’s Director of Development. Prior to that, he spent 18 years working as a professional actor in Chicago. Among his volunteer activities, David serves on Forefront’s Resource Development Committee, the Development Committee for All Chicago and as the Local School Council Chair at Beaubien Elementary School.

Fundraising & Dating…a potential marriage?

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by Tim Kennedy,  HUB Philanthropic Solutions

I recently read an article shared by a friend on the topic of dating. The article was based on a college story going back 20+ years dealing with a bad breakup then the ultimate avoidance of dating because of the fear of rejection and failure. The article went on to make the point that with rejection also comes opportunity and then ultimately success by getting back in the game which in this case the rejected had to call on quite the number of prospects to land the one.  I never really took into account how dating in many cases correlates very closely to the fundraising world, especially the solicitation process (albeit removing the intimacy aspect of it obviously!).

It may seem like a stretch to compare dating to fundraising but if you think about it through the lens as a fundraiser it actually makes a lot of sense. Effective dating starts with establishing a relationship, getting to know your date, learning details on their background, their education track, classifying their personality, identifying what their interests may be….all things we do when researching a current or prospective donor.

When it comes to stewardship, it’s really not much different. We have to show our suitor that we are interested in them and what they can bring to the table and to our relationship.

And then there is the reality of rejection and failure. We don’t land every gift. We don’t always have perfect solicitation calls (admit it, it’s true!) and we do get rejected from time to time (admit it again, it’s true!). However, with rejection comes opportunity to learn from the donor visit. Usually we get insight on how to improve for next time or what not to say or do again, and hopefully a chance to ask again at some point in the future. From the dating perspective, it’s no different as every interested person may not return a call, email or text, the first date isn’t perfect, breaking up happens and through it all we learn and get a better sense of what makes us happy and what we need to work harder on or avoid in a relationship.

As a fundraiser, we know all too well that the answer is “no” if you don’t make the ask. Fundraising success is built and based on a sound plan, great execution, close relationships and numbers….lots of them.  To execute any fundraising plan, it is subject to a numbers game as there must be a certain number of calls, visits and asks. Give them the chance to say no…don’t give them an out by not asking. All things one must do to land a date!

Whether you are in the camp that sees relationships as superior to numbers or in the camp that believes you can’t have numbers without relationships the bottom line is they are both necessities to be successful at growing the organization and having success with your fundraising.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

— Robert F. Kennedy

Requirements and Best Practices – Organizational Gift Substantiation

by George Rattin, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

As consultants, we speak often about “best practices.”  Those are the habits and behaviors that individuals and organizations should undertake to provide the highest quality and levels of service.  However, best practices are not requirements (typically).  Though many best practices are driven to ensure we do the best for our organizations as well as the donors who support them, they are simply conventions that allow organizations to be the most effective.  Over the next month or so, I will take a look at the requirements that reside behind best practices.  Today, I look at organizational requirements for gift substantiation.

IRS Publication 1771 provides an explanation of the requirements of Charitable Contribution substantiation.  The IRS imposes record keeping and substantiation rules of charitable contributions and disclosure rules on charities that receive certain quid pro quo contributions:

  • Donors must have a bank record or written communication from a charity for any monetary contribution before the donors can claim a charitable contribution on their federal income tax returns. „
  • Donors are responsible for obtaining a written acknowledgment from a charity for any single contribution of $250 or more before the donors can claim a charitable contribution on their federal income tax returns. „
  • Charitable organizations are required to provide a written disclosure to a donor who receives goods or services in exchange for a single payment in excess of $75

Though there are many best practices that would direct an organization to provide a gift acknowledgement in timely manner, the IRS does not impose a penalty on organizations that do not.  They instead say it is the donor’s responsibility to seek out the required documentation for gifts over $250.  However, if an organizations fails to provide written substantiation of a quid pro quo payment, the IRS can impose a penalty of $10/contribution, not to exceed $5,000 per fundraising event or mailing.

Example of a quid pro quo contribution: A donor gives a charitable organization $100 in exchange for a concert ticket with a fair market value of $40. In this example, the donor’s tax deduction may not exceed $60. Because the donor’s payment (quid pro quo contribution) exceeds $75, the charitable organization must furnish a disclosure statement to the donor, even though the deductible amount doesn’t exceed $75.

As organizations look to build or revise policies and procedures it is essential to know what you are required to do.  However, rarely will requirements alone suffice to build and grow donor support.  Once you have a firm understanding of your requirements,  build procedures that support your donors and build loyalty.  What follows are a few best practices regarding organizational contribution gift acknowledgements:

  1. Provide donors with written gift acknowledgements that specify if any goods or services were received and if so, providing detail and value of said goods and services.
  2. Provide gift acknowledgements in a timely manner, typically within 48 hours (business) of when the gift was received.
  3. For donors who provide multiple gifts to your organization per year, provide a year-end summary outlining all gifts made within that year and provide that prior to April 15th of the following year.  The closer to year end, the better.

 

Taking Inventory of Your Development Department

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by Susan Bottum, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Over the past several months, I have been in a number of conversations with clients regarding the structure of their Development department.  These conversations have been interesting and have pushed my clients to think objectively the needs of their organization today.  Often times, Development departments “evolve”, based on the skill set of the team and the immediate needs of the organization.  I find it beneficial to take a step back every now and then to take inventory.

First, make sure you have a good understanding of the organization’s goals:

  • What are the organization’s objectives over the next 12-24 months?
  • What is the Development department’s role in helping to meet these objectives?
  • Do we have the right roles in place within the Development department?
    • If not, what roles are missing?
    • What roles are no longer needed?

Next, take inventory:

  • Do we have the right skillsets within our current team?
  • If so, are those skills aligned to the correct positions?
  • If not, what is missing?
    • Can we identify training to address this?
    • Do we need to add resources to the team?

This exercise can prove beneficial in ensuring the right support for the organization and it can often prove uplifting for members of the Development team.  Sometimes a little change to a current position can be exciting and energizing with new opportunities and challenges.

Lastly, if you determine the need to hire a new person, here are a few good resources for non-profits:

Job posting – You can post your position at npo.net for as little as $70.  Most of my clients have used this website and have had good luck in finding qualified candidates.

Salary information – If you are unsure about a salary range for a position, go to Payscale.com.  It will provide salary ranges and other details free of charge.

 

Spring has Sprung! 

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by Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

It’s time to clean out your closets and wash your windows…spring is here!  As development professionals, spring is also a good time to consider mailing to lapsed donors before your organization’s fiscal year comes to a close.  Many nonprofits used to mail to donors only once a year… at the close of the calendar year.  However, it has become standard practice – best practice – to mail to your donors more than once a year.  So, in between spring benefits and fall walks and galas, write an appeal and start with your donors who have lapsed in the last year.  One client that I worked with started small and only mailed to lapsed donors from the previous year.  They had success in capturing some folks that had fallen to the wayside with their giving.  However, the second year, they added more to the spring mailing pool.

How about some special personalized letters to those that you’d like to ask for a specific project or program that was just launched?  Or, perhaps ask a donor to consider making a spring matching gift, or for that matter, why not ask several donors who can pool their funds for a match?

After several years of mailing at spring time, one of my clients who utilized a pooled matching gift actually raised more money as a result of the spring appeal than at the calendar year-end.  Some donors like to give in spring.  Why?  The Holidays are expensive and donors often see an increase in spending for holiday gifts and gatherings.  Others get so many requests, that they select just a handful of charities that make the cut at year-end.  I am not suggesting to stop mailing at year-end all together, but, adding this spring time appeal can be very fruitful.  Be creative!  Another client organized a spring appeal committee where they wrote personal letters to new folks that they wanted to engage with their organization.

While you are taking a break from window washing or closet organizing or getting the garden ready, look at your data and see who has fallen by the wayside and send them a letter this spring!  Here is to clean windows, organized closets and renewed donors in spring!

The Value of Volunteers

 

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By George Rattin, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

The Independent Sector recently announced on their website that the 2015 value of volunteer time increased 49 cents over the value of a volunteer hour in the year prior.  The study shows that the 2015 national value of a volunteer hour is $23.56  (Illinois avg. = $25.34 a 2.4% increase over 2014) the survey shows a steady growth in the value of a volunteer hour since 2001.  More than anything, I believe this study shows that volunteers do indeed bring real, measureable value to an organization.  Over my career, I have come to know organizations that use volunteers in different way.  Many treat volunteers as a “necessary evil” instead of a strategic resource.  The strategic organizations acknowledge that volunteers are a valuable resource and plan accordingly.  Here are three things your organization should do  to effectively use volunteers:

  1. Budget a staff member’s time to coordinate the work of volunteers.  Boards, Committees and Councils are comprised of volunteers.  The best of these groups actively work to advance the organization, but also have need for information, support, etc.  Make sure that someone has designated time in his or her work schedule to provide the support necessary.
  2. Create projects with anticipated needs and clear objectives defined for volunteers.  How will you use volunteers?  This is a critical and strategic decision.  Effective organizations make plans with clear objectives to utilize volunteers and anticipate their needs.  Is the plan for a committee to identify, five new Board member prospects in the next 90 days?  What are the interim steps?  What materials will Board members need?
  3. Take the time to celebrate victories – Remember, volunteers are not staff.  Take the time to celebrate the “wins” that volunteers allow your organization to experience.  This will reinforce with the volunteers how impactful their time is to your organization and will show your appreciation for their generous gifts of time and talent.

As the Independent Sector points out, volunteer time is a precious commodity that comes with a real and tangible value to your organization.  Be strategic when thinking about how your organization will  plan clearly, budget for the support necessary for their success  and make the time to calibrate the impact they have on advancing your organization.

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.