Homeless youth

Homeless youth
People we don't see.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Staying focused in LA

I recently celebrated my one year anniversary at the non profit where I head development and communications here in LA. Time flies when you're having fun.

The longer I am in LA, the smaller the city I came from, Denver, feels.

LA is huge. Our agency serves the entire county. That's a county of some ten million people. And 32,000 kids in foster care, the population we serve.

It can become overwhelming if you let it. When those feelings start for me, I go back to basics.

Like passion for mission.

An abused kid is an abused kid, no matter where she lives.

Homelessness is a societal issue everywhere. It's in the news a lot here in LA because the homeless population is very visible. Yet those calling the streets and alleys home are not any better off than homeless people anywhere else.

The non-profit community here is huge, and the corporate philanthropy is not huge. Similar to many other cities.

What has worked in this amazing, magical city for me as a development person and fundraiser are the same things that worked for me back in Denver: relationship building, passion for mission, and donor-centered fundraising.

Whenever I get overwhelmed I jump back into these basic tenets of my work.

In general, many development people and fundraisers for non-profits get overwhelmed. This is why the average time in position is only 14 months. This is why so many of us are looking for jobs.

When I stay focused on my basics, things are good. When I move into other people's negative opinions, lack of passion for mission, or frankly anything that I have no control over, things get messy.

When I stay focused, everyone benefits, including me, the abused kids we served, and all of those who are passionate about serving those kids.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

We must be inclusive in fundraising

I recently met with a development person from an organization that we support financially. We are new to LA and they were one of the first organizations we donated to upon our arrival one year ago. Our first donation was not our last, and now we are "members" as well as being vocal supporters.

NOTE: As long as I have been writing this blog and as long as I have had my @FundraiserDan Twitter account, I have gone out of my way to keep my fundraising world separate from my personal world. With this encounter that I am writing about, I believe it's necessary to bring in my personal life. I won't necessarily make a habit of it.

Donors come from all walks of life. We are different genders, races, martial statuses, gender identities, orientations (as in sexual), faiths, classes and this list could go on and on.

We as development professionals and fundraisers need to be inclusive. Yes, there are some non-profits that might not want donations from certain parts of society, yet for me, serving and agency that advocates for abused kids, I work to be as inclusive as possible, and as honorable as possible to all donors.

I say "I work to be" because I give it an honest try. I may not always succeed.

From how we use salutations in our donor letters to how we refer to a donor's significant other, to how and who we thank, this is something we really need to pay attention to.

As a donor and a huge supporter, I was pretty disappointed when the development person I was meeting with referred to my husband as my partner. In our conversations prior I had used the term husband and even in that same conversation I had used the word husband twice.

I'm sure it was not her intention, but in one swift sentence, she demeaned my marriage.

Too sensitive, no way. This is a new world. Yes, gay people are actually married these days (and have been for over 10 years.) Let the donor inform you as to how you should be referred to or as, and I did that.

Yes, not all gay couples are married, or want to be. I am, and I very much do.

We have to pay attention to this. And not only this. Gender pronouns are important, as is making sure we thank the wife if she is the donor or at least both people in the couple. Too many donors are thanked via their spouse and their spouse only.

If you don't know, ask. I assure you there will not be any offense taken. In fact, you might just catapult the level of your donor relationship.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

August is almost December in the fundraising world

Yes, it's already August.

August is the time I create our end of year fundraising plan. What does it look like? What would success look like? Who is involved? When does it officially begin?

August is the time to create your end of year fundraising plan. Invite your team for a meeting. Ask everyone to bring their calendars, creativity and ideas.

Sitting down with your elite team of fundraisers and development staff (you choose who this is for you) start plugging in dates. I start further out and work back. For example, when do do I actually want our first direct mail piece of the campaign to land? I write that in and then work back all the way to the date where we first discuss the piece.

Who do I want to be involved in the end of year fundraising? Do we do just one mailing or more? Any events?

#GivingTuesday is right in the middle of my typical campaign so I have begun using that to support my efforts. Any board or other donor holiday parties or gatherings can be helpful too.

Then there all of the face to face meetings with donors, my favorite!

Finally, when everyone else is taking off, the last few days of the year here are spent calling every donor who gave the year prior but has not yet given. It could be several hundred calls. Where I currently work, our office is actually closed the week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Yet the development team is here making calls, answering the phones and making sure we are here for any last minutes donor needs. Then we take the next week off!

How you work your end of year fundraising is all up to you. It can be the most fun part of your year. The main thing is to start planning it now.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

One priority today

Recently in our development team meetings we have been talking about our priorities. Not just as a team, but individually.

As each team member talks about what they are working on for the week, they share with the team their main priority for the week.

Just one.

It's so helpful. So powerful. Just one priority.

Cancel out the noise of the daily craziness and think about what one thing you want to rock today. Make a solid choice to go for it today. Don't let anything or anyone get in your way.

This cam make a huge difference for any development team, but the idea of focusing on one priority isn't exclusive to non-profit fundraising.

Go for it.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Pick up the phone!

It's so easy.

In donor-centered fundraising, it's crucial.

Every day I try to respond to emails by picking up the phone and calling the person who just emailed me. They are usually happily surprised.

Then we get to talk. How is their day? How are we doing in our programs?  Yes, our Gala was incredible. Our relationship just got stronger.

Calls don't have to be reserved for donors. Call your vendors too. Build relationships everywhere you can. Your development and marketing efforts can only get stronger because of them.

Plus, in some cases, who will make someones day.

It's easy. Just pick up the phone.

Thank you for reading!

Friday, August 5, 2016

So many fundraisers looking for jobs

In the last couple of weeks I have had the chance to engage with fundraisers and development professionals from all over the LA/southern California area.

I was struck, and can't stop thinking about this, by how many asked me if I knew of an open position somewhere, or if I had any openings on my team.

I believe the most recent number for development staff in regards to how long they stay at a non-profit on average is 14 months.

Just 14 months. Imagine the effect this has on the agency, their donors and stakeholders, their mission, and their staff.

I believe if a development staffer is paid well, respected, engaged, empowered, treated kindly, asked to contribute at high levels and knows what is expected of them, then the chances they are looking for something else decreases significantly.

So what are we non-profits doing wrong? Is it all about salary? I don' think so. Many of us work in the non-profit world because of our passion for the cause, because we want to change the world.

I believe it comes down to how development staff is treated. Unfortunately not all development staffers feel empowered. Many I spoke with said they do not feel respected at their agency. Many feel overworked, with crazy expectations. These are just a few of the things I have heard in the last couple of weeks.

Food for thought. I wanted to write this because I love being in non-profit development and I think we can create amazing opportunities for those we hire. Then with move forward and raise the critical funds needed for our missions to succeed.

I also think that we as non-profit and development professionals need to look in the mirror more often. What are we doing that needs to change so that our development teams will thrive, and stay?

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 29, 2016

I made a mistake

I don't think mistakes are only made by fundraisers or those of us in non-profit development. Yet I do think that the more we make as fundraisers the stronger we become, the more knowledgeable we become, and the more successful our fundraising efforts are.

It's not easy when confronted with a mistake. Whether it's around your style of leadership, a fundraising campaign, a special event, an interaction with a staff member or board member. I guess this list could go on and on.

I definitely learn from my mistakes. That's the whole point. If I can't learn from them I am pretty much doomed. If I can't figure out what was going on or what happened, or even care to take the time to look at all of that, I'm doomed.

If I am afraid to take risks or try something new, success is not going to happen.

I have to constantly be open to learning, to the feedback of others, and to be taking those risks.

Fundraising/development is ever-changing in our world. The way we build relationships, or even how we think of donor and partner relationships, is different than it was just five years ago. Direct mail is changing and how we look at special events is changing. And then there are those things we don't know until we know, especially if you are new to your development team.

Learn from your mistakes. Take risks. Be donor-centered. Rock it with your team. Honor them. Remember that those doing the amazing, life-changing work for your agency cannot do it without your successes. They and those your agency serves are counting on you.

Have an awesome day!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Losing a donor

Let's face it, if you are a development and fundraising professional who is hugely passionate for the work your non-profit agency does, losing a donor can be heart breaking.

I remember getting an email from a donor who I had been trying to connect with. Being new, I had only met them once while they were in the office, and it was a great conversation.

I had no idea that while I planned meetings with them, trouble was brewing.

While none of my emails were being returned, a decision was being made to not donate again.

Not because of anything program wise or due to any lack of program work. When I finally heard from them, it was a simple email about a challenge in their perception on some things the agency was doing with staffing. I say perception because for the agency and those served, the changes were great. This donor perceived them to be negative. And because of this they would not donate again.

I of course looked in the mirror. After a lot of time going back and forth in my head, I realized I had done everything right in regards to my profession. There was nothing I could do.

The breaking up email was sent to me and our CEO. At least I was included. My response was thanking them for the honest feedback, and letting them know that the voiceless and invisible population we serve needs them, so to please connect with me if anything ever changed.

Being one of the most positive people I know, I feel they will come back one day. They haven't yet. I will check in once in a while with a personal note.

I allowed myself time to be disappointed and then I jumped right back into being as strong of a development person as I could be, focusing my eyes on the prize and constantly working to ensure the donors that sustain our work always feel in positive relationship with us, to the extent that I have control over that.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, June 10, 2016

3 quick actions for today

It's Friday.

We all have our own rituals throughout the week, and on Fridays I like to have a long list of action items for the day. I try not to schedule any off-property meetings and focus on one thing: donor relationships.

Three actions that are consistent for Fridays with me are:

Call a donor. Or several donors. Not a donor who is getting close to their time for the annual donation. A donor who you just want to say hi and thank you to.

Do a site tour with a donor. Some of you might not have this option. In that case invite a donor for a coffee. Yes, face to face time with the donor is the key here.

Spend some time on your next current-donor mail appeal. It might not be for another few months, but some creative time spent today will totally pay off. Remember, donor-centered.

I absolutely love time with donors. If you are new in fundraising and still uncomfortable with calling a donor or meeting with a donor, I promise that the more you do the more comfortable and even fun it gets. Your passion for the mission of your agency and the donor's passion/vision for the mission can only grow stronger when you spend time with them.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Working on your next annual budget?

Another budget season is upon us and although this is the time of year where many in non-profit leadership go crazy, I must admit that I am a budget geek. I love creating budgets. After inheriting a couple of budgets that seemed unrealistic at best and after several years of experience in creating budgets that support programs without putting board members in a position of saying "where in the heck is that money going to come from", I'd like share a few thoughts that might make your budget process a little more fun, or at the least help create a process that doesn't leave you dreading the next one.

These might be oversimplified for some, but even then they might be a good reminder.

For me, budgeting is an ongoing process. Every team member in development has a budget sheet that they add to throughout the year. Whether it's a training they might want to attend next year, new staff, a new fundraising event or a new fundraising campaign, everyone keeps a list and we go over the lists throughout the year. We also make notes about whether the current budget we are working in made sense.

An easy way to start the budget process is to simply ask program folks how much money they need to do the mission and development folks how much money they think they can raise. If those numbers match (ha!) then you are good to go. My experience is that there will be a good amount of money in between the two. But at least you have a start.

In the non-profit world we do not create target budgets. We do not set a goal for fundraising and hope we get there. This is one of the key difference between us and the for-profit world. This means no pie-in-the-sky revenue budget. If a non-profit isn't making budget, cuts have to made. You never want to be in this position.

Have a plan for any increase in revenue. I have seen budgets where individual giving increased 200% with no plan in place as to how that was going to happen. It sure is easy to just add revenue here and there, but someone is going to have to raise that money, and if they don't then we're in a situation like I mentioned in the prior paragraph. There are many times when it's easier in the moment to just add revenue here and there to make up the difference between revenue and expense. Don't do it unless there is a clear, realistic action plan to raise that revenue.

Have a finance committee go over your budget. This typically happens as part of the budget process. I want finance committee members to particularly pay attention to increases in revenue based on forecasted revenue for the year, not budgeted. This is very important because if you have a budget line that is below in revenue yet create a line item for next year based on what was budgeted, you are comparing apples to oranges. This can easily happen with events and individual giving, and create tough times for you next year.

Here's an example: You have $500,000 budgeted for individual giving and are forecasting ending the year with $350,000 in individual giving revenue. When working on next year's budget you increase your line item to $600,000 which means next year you need to raise $250,000 more than the year prior! Don't do it!

Finally, someone needs to support decisions made by the development team in regards to revenue. If something really doesn't feel good in reference to revenue and your ability as a team to raise, don't budget it. That's not always easy, yet in the end you, your team, your staff and those you serve will be so much better off.

Thanks for reading!