Thoughts

Got ABS, bro?

Abs are great and all, but have you ever tried being a great steward of the trust your donors put in you by contributing to your organization?

See for me, that’s abs: Always Be Stewarding. It’s somewhat of a lifestyle for me, the way exercise might be for others. I write about it a lot, though I’m not sure it can be overstated.

Over 15 years in and around nonprofits, one sees myriad ways of demonstrating appreciation. Some organizations barely scratch the surface (thank you letters/emails) while others are utter rockstars with full stewardship programs (donor newsletter, event invitations).

Forever I worked in arts and culture, before transitioning to other types of nonprofiteering. Different sectors appreciate their donors differently, though I’ve consistently found a foolproof practice of sharing what you might consider “mission moments.” In this way, rather than telling donors what they get for their giving, show them how their generosity makes a difference.

I tried this at the end of last fiscal year a simple one-page letter with five short paragraphs, each spotlighting a different area of our work. I titled it simply, “impacts and benefits.” Nowhere in the letter did it ask for anything, rather, it was straight appreciation. This wasn’t novel, and in fact, it was a lightbulb idea after talking with a friend who’s a donor to the organization. And something funny happened.

A few weeks later, we started getting checks in the mail. And most of them were additional gifts beyond what the donors had already gave — not renewals of previous gifts, but increases. Again, we reinvented no wheels, but we put some gas in the car. This was sort of wonderful, and rather affirming to know people felt strongly about our efforts.

So how are y’all getting your abs?

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Thoughts

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Most of us are familiar with the classic holiday Andy Williams song. But the song was actually co-written by George Wyle and Edward Pola. Behind the scenes, the two crafted possibly one of the most well-known Christmas songs, ever. A lot of great things happen behind the scenes, and the movers and shakers often get less credit than they deserve.

As a nonprofiteer, I think about that a lot during the holidays. I think about all the terrific things happening throughout the year, and I certainly think about the equally terrific people who make those things happen. In our world of fundraising — especially as it relates to corporate and foundation partners — those people are not always the top figures. They might be coordinators, executive assistants or other complementary collaborators.

Each year, at some point between Thanksgiving and December 31, I always make it a point to set aside a good chunk of time to not only reflect on the past year’s meaningful experiences, I make sure to thank each and every one of those complementary collaborators. I pick up the phone, I write notes, I send e-mails. Some I’m closer with, and some I’ve never met, but in no small way, they have all made my life easier and better, and they deserve exceptional appreciation.

So as we inch closer to December 31, won’t you all join me in sharing thanks with these superheroes? Because really, it IS the most wonderful time of the year.

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Thoughts

The Calligraphy of Gratitude

Note: This is an update from a 2017 piece on the topic of being thankful, sharing again under the guise of Thanksgiving!

In my last office kitchen there was a microwave. This wasn’t a special microwave, though when your food was ready, the screen flashed: ENJOY! Not DONE or FINISHED—instead, it displayed a warmer sentiment. It was a light touch, though every time I warmed my food, it was a pleasant surprise.

For me, it’s the same when someone shares a “thanks” when you hold the door, or a “gesundheit” after a sneeze. Expected? Maybe. Typical? Not so much. It’s 2018 and things are only moving more and more quickly — like Brooks said in Shawshank Redemption, “…the world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.” We sometimes forget, while these little social graces are pleasant, they are meaningful.

If we think in terms of business, like a meeting, a donation or any transaction, we have a tendency to rely on quick, standard, electronic-only gratitude — a “thank you” e-mail, a social media post or the dreaded e-newsletter auto-signup.

I challenge that we give thanks in a more personalized way.

This can be difficult with today’s pace. We get so fixated on quantity over quality,  at times we feel fine with complacency. Truth be told, our stakeholders (defined however you do in your industry) are generally fine with it, too. Though, who ever really shined in their efforts by being “fine?”

Thank You

Matt Jones (Unsplash)

So, what can we do? You can start by spending a few moments more when you show your appreciation:

  • Sending one of those “thank you” e-mails? Personalize the header from “Dear Mr. So and so” to “Dear Bill” (if appropriate) and make it an actual letter or card. Mailing addresses are pretty easy to find these days.
  • Posting some social media love? Share the appreciation more publicly in a way that stakeholders will see, like in-office, in-store or elsewhere.
  • Auto-signing someone up for that flashy e-newsletter? Pick up the phone and share some exciting news about a program or product.

And another thing, while we’re on the subject…

  • Something not go exactly your way? Take the opportunity to travel the high road and—even in response to an unfortunate experience — share your gratitude.

I believe these are things we can do with ease, and even begin to enjoy. Think about calligraphers and how they spend their time meticulously crafting their words in a creative, meaningful way.

So, be calligraphers of gratitude. You’ll thank yourself for it later.

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Thoughts

Donors and Pets

I was recently talking with a nonprofit board about the importance of continuously and consistently engaging with donors. “Because it’s a good thing to do” wasn’t cutting it, so I attempted a metaphor.

There are steps in the donor cycle — identification, cultivation, solicitation AND stewardship. It’s not solely about asking for money. Not that asking isn’t important, though it’s not where you generally spend most of your time. And it most certainly shouldn’t be the only time your donors hear from you. You go to an ATM when you need cash, not your supporters.

But where were we? The metaphor, right.

For anyone with pets, one thing you do with some frequency is take them to the vet. Sometimes for illness, others for a routine checkup. Either way, most people probably travel to the vet in a car, and for some, it’s the only time little FooFoo goes in the car. So when little FooFoo sees the car, little FooFoo knows what’s up.

Dog

Other people take their pets for car rides all the time. To the store, to the park, to pet play dates, etc. In those instances, when little FooFoo sees the car, it may just not be a wholly traumatic experience. In this metaphor, here are the players:

  • Little FooFoo: Your donor
  • The Car Ride: Your engagement with the donor
  • The Vet: The once-a-year solicitation

This seemed to resonate with the group. And it’s not meant to be silly, it’s reality-based. Long gone are the days when one touchpoint a year is adequate with your supporters. In a time when information is available in a flash — and over one million nonprofits are vying for the same dollars — your people need to hear from you. You need to take them in the car with you all the time (or at least often), and not just to the vet.

You’re doing a new program in-line with some of your donors’ interests? Shoot them a note! You just voted on a great new board member who will help really boost some aspect of your work? Let your donors know! You reached some sort of epic programmatic or financial milestone? Tout it!

There is such a thing as over-communicating, though we’re in the field of feel, and our donors are engaged for reasons of personal significance. More often than not, I’ve found if people don’t want to hear from you, they’ll tell you — either directly or by unsubscribing to your mailing lists. We have such opportunities to be stewards of our organizations’ missions, and in doing so, can be really great stewards of our donors.

So let’s do ourselves a favor; let’s take little FooFoo all over the damn place. The more familiar with the car ride, the less stressful, and you may just clean up less pee along the way — and isn’t that the goal?

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Rants

Dear [donor]

I believe people like to feel special. That can be inherent, or it can also be an outcome, like when someone buys you flowers, or compliments a job well done.

GREATjob

Special feelings are, in my view, sort of a superpower in nonprofits — we have the ability to be transformative with our work. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, we are fortunate enough to receive donations as a result of that work. When that happens, we should always share our appreciation with those donors.

There are innumerable ways to steward philanthropy, but one pretty typical, immediate standard is a thank you note. I hear a lot of debate on whether those should be paper, email, postcard, etc., but whatever you choose, please for crying out loud be accurate. Know if the recipient is a man or woman, if their spouse is alive or deceased, or if they’re Michele with one “L.” Above all, have a system in place that allows you to be vigilant about what goes out the door.

One organization I support recently sent me a gift acknowledgment letter which opened with:

Dear [donor]

Not my name, but literally “Dear [donor],” which I’m guessing was the likely result of a lazy mail merge. If that weren’t egregious enough, it was as form a letter as you could find. No mention of my specific gift amount, no messaging about how it supports the mission, no EIN (tax number) for me to keep on hand for tax purposes and — to bring it all home — the letter was a photocopy. #SMH, or so the kids would say.

For me personally it was disappointing, and for the organization it was a total missed opportunity. Granted, I don’t give them a lot of money, though “fixing” these letters would be a really simple task. They already wasted the sheet of paper, why not spend a few minutes more on some simple tweaks? I can’t imagine if I were a major and this showed up in my mailbox, I’d be like:

RipPaper

So let’s do better by our most trusted supporters y’all, okay? There are too many organizations out there they could support, but they chose ours, so let’s act like we care, all right?

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Thoughts

…Thank You?

It’s a simple enough thing, saying “thank you.” It doesn’t even need to be those exact words — Thanks so much! Appreciate it! Xièxiè! With much ease, there are myriad ways to show gratitude. It’s the only sentiment I know in nine different languages, because I wholly believe it’s that important. And it’s one of the most glaring missed opportunities I’ve found in nonprofits.

I had a manager once who seemed allergic to the words. Even some of the worst bosses feign being grateful… sociopathically. However, I can count on one hand the number of times this particular one actually took a moment to thank me, or anyone for that matter. I can’t tell you how crappy that made me feel on almost a daily basis.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not (entirely) needy. Not every single thing done needs an overwhelming display of recognition. But I tell you what… in all my years seeing people disenfranchised with, or because of nonprofit work, never once was it the result of too much appreciation. Have you ever known someone who left an organization because they were thanked too often?

There’s no great mystery to it, and I once neatly heard the concept phrased as an attitude of gratitude. And I really do think it can be an attitude or, more specifically, a behavior.

I have really fond memories of a peer who really lived this attitude. He was the organization’s tech/AV/guru-of-all-things; you know, one of those positions that works 100-hour weeks with little praise. He approached every single interaction with grace, even (and especially) if it didn’t go smoothly. He would always thank me for my time and my input, and it made me value his time and input even more.

All this is to say… approach your work and your colleagues as if their support is welcome, and makes a difference, even if it’s that one boss who never does the same for you. You’ll thank yourself for it later.

Thanks

Morvanic Lee (Unsplash)

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