After two solid weeks of work travel (during which I managed to keep my blogging going strong), I came home and found that I had a pile of work planning and home responsibilities that needed my urgent attention. So, my valiant efforts at continuing to post this week fell off.
To that end, I've decided to take a break. Sometimes we need to know that we can take a break on some things and when it is appropriate to do so.
I'll be back on Monday, September 19th with fresh content for you all week.
I'm hoping to spend the rest of this week catching up at work and with home-front stuff and then use my weekend to tippy-tap-type and blog away.
Until then, you can check out some of these posts that you might have missed on Real Deal Fundraising and please remember to share and subscribe:
And for all you phonathon hacks out there that are bummed that Stanford dropped their phonathon, here's some inspiration:
And for a limited time, I'm going to offer my e-book How to Staff Your Phonathon Super-Fast for HALF PRICE. Yes, you can get all this critical info for only $25 until October 1. Snap it up today!
The coupon code is
That's my thank you for being patient while I take an unexpected blogging vacation. Thanks, readers!
You might have seen the various memes with 10 things that require zero talent. It’s a great list. Here are the 10 things:
It’s worthwhile to look at each of these and evaluate yourself as to whether or not you are maximizing this category for career development and self-improvement. I try to cultivate all of these qualities and habit in myself and my work, but there are ones that stick out as potential areas of improvement. For instance, I know that if I get bored or feel helpless/hopeless in a role, I will check out in the passion area. Also, my “coachability” varies based on the demeanor and presentation of the person doing the “coaching”, if you know what I mean. I could stand to work on both of those things.
Beyond that, here’s my key insight for your Monday: While none of those ten things require talent, they do -- in aggregate -- create what we call talent.
If you practice all of the ten skills (behaviors, habits, etc.), you will get better in your chosen vocation and if you practice them all long enough, you will become an “overnight sensation” so to speak. You will slowly build up a critical mass of knowledge and self-correct from potential mistakes so often that you will break through. Keep plugging away at the little things. It becomes the big stuff.
Most fundraisers have to travel for at least some portion of their time. My daughter (now 7) was very spirited and attached to me. So, I didn't travel without her until she was 3 and a half. We are are very lucky because my husband is a stay-at-home dad and he was happy to travel with me to conferences a few times a year. Since we homeschool, they still travel with me quite a bit
Luckily, my son (almost 2) is a bit more independent and doesn't mind short-term separations. This means that I travel without my kids more and more these days. And it's important to me to keep connected to my kids when I'm on the road. Some days it's really tough because my schedule is packed, morning to night. Other times, I'm just exhausted from time changes and travel delays.
Here are some quick ideas that have worked for me to stay connected with my kids when I'm on the road.
1) Facetime and Skype
This one is obvious but it wasn't that long ago that these tools weren't widely available. Now, they are available to use almost anytime and anywhere on your phone. I can call from the airport, hotel or even when I'm out and about. These tools are especially important for my son who is too small to talk on the phone or understand when I send messages in any other format. With my daughter, I get updates on what she did for school work and her current projects and with my son I mostly sing songs that we sing at home, etc.
2) Flower power
My daughter and I have a thing that whenever she's not with me, I take pictures of beautiful flowers and send them to her dad (or sometimes grandmother) so she can see the flowers. But, really it is just a confirmation that she's continually on my mind and she gets to be a part of the trip. Beyond flowers, I also take pictures of anything that I think she would love to see or would find interesting. (Photo above was one of the pictures that I took and sent to my daughter while I was in Boston today.) I took a trip this week and she got 5-6 flower pictures, a picture of a replica ship from the Boston Tea Party, and a picture of the pastry cases in a fabulous cannoli shop.
If your kids are like mine, they have ENOUGH knickknacks. Our fridge isn't magnetic and I can't abide the idea of trying to keep a snowglobe from breaking in my luggage. So, we have a few preferred types of souvenirs: pencils (that she can use for her schoolwork and be reminded of our travels), patches (which we sew on her travel backpack), and educational books or coloring books.
Do you have travel rituals that keep you connected with your kids when you are doing work travel? Any additional good ideas for the little kids?
When I was 22 years old, I got my first professional fundraising position. The philosophy of the organization was to hire new college grads who were smart, enthusiastic and cheap! Then, they basically threw us into a ton of job situations that we weren’t fully prepared for. It was a stressful, sink-or-swim situation and eventually was a major reasons why I left this job.
I’m so very grateful for the time I spent there.
Surprised? Don’t be. I would like to make a case for being deep in the job chaos. This is where you learn the most and grow both as a professional and a person. I planned a national convention, led a database conversion, started an internship program and I did all those things at the same time. When I left at age 24, I had gotten more experience than I would likely have in ten years at any other organization.
Embrace the job chaos.
Try to ride the wave and think of how much you’ll be prepared to put on your resume. You’ll have so many stories to reference in future job interviews. Use the wide range of experiences like a menu to decide which tasks you truly like and those that you don’t. Then you’ll know for sure what area you want to pursue with more depth in your next position.
Although it never seems like it at the time, the chaos is a gift. Take advantage of it.
Motivation goes far beyond call center games. Games are one of the most visible manifestations of external motivation in the call center but I have seen too many well-meaning managers become over-fixated on games. It is important to have other things undergirding your motivational strategy so that the games become only the icing on the cake.
Make sure your call center has:
All of these things come before the nightly games. It is also important that games not detract from the purpose of the calling shift, which is to raise money efficiently. Games should never take time away from calling or create a situation where callers are disturbed or distracted when talking with prospects.
That said, call center games are a cornerstone of what makes having a such a hard job FUN! You can get some great ideas for new call center games (and new twists on old favorites) by subscribing to Real Deal Fundraising. My "15 Best Call Center Games" guide is my gift to you for subscribing to this blog. Click here or the button below to sign up for updates today.
When your team is working on your strategic plan, you’ll find that sometimes you will have a hard time imagining what environment you will be working in beyond 2 years or so. Here are two things you can truly be certain of: 1) If you don’t do anything different, things will not get better. 2) There will inevitably be a change in circumstance that you will not have been able to predict. Things will change in ways you don’t expect.
Strategic planning should mostly be about things you can control. Actions you will take in order to increase revenue for your organization’s mission. But, an amazing strategic plan takes into account the unexpected.
For instance, there is for most areas of the country, natural disasters of one kind or another that are likely to occur at some point. Where I live, it’s hurricanes and tornadoes. At the seminary I work for in California, it is earthquakes. Floods and fire can happen anywhere. Your strategic plan should think through how your organization will handle these kinds of emergencies.
On the first level, there is preparedness. Do you back-up files regularly? Every employee should regularly back up key files on a thumb drive and those should be collected and kept at an off-site location (perhaps the CEO’s home). Your staff should regularly review emergency plans at staff meetings (once or twice per year) including contingencies for fire, tornado and active shooter incidents. This should also be part of any new employees’ orientation process. For instance, in every office at the seminary I work for, there is a 5 gallon bucket filled with earthquake supplies and the protocols are reviewed regularly with staff. The school estimates that it could take care of 100 people for up to 3 days if necessary.
But, your fundraising strategic plan should go to another level with this preparedness. You should plan for how your staff will coordinate a response in the event of such a crisis and, if necessary, how you will mobilize quickly to maximize fundraising. Your constituents will want to help immediately if a disaster affects your organization.
I got experience with this first-hand at The University of Southern Mississippi, when a tornado sliced through our campus in 2013. We had a website and a new emergency relief fund ready within hours, and a huge direct mail campaign within 2 weeks (which was record breaking). We blocked affected zip codes from phonathon calling immediately. Luckily, our phonathon was off-campus so we didn't have to stop calling entirely. Within about 2 months, we coordinated our first “Day of Giving” campaign to raise funds to replace over 70 lost trees and restore the beautiful landscaping. Was it grueling and sad to see our campus and community so damaged? Yes. Was this campaign a tremendous success that helped the school recover, including funds given directly to affected employees? Yes.
Who will be responsible for the different elements (data, web, social media, etc.)? What if those employees are affected by the same disaster? How will you cross-train employees so that you have back-ups for all functions in an emergency? How might you continue phone fundraising if your student callers aren't allowed on campus or have been affected by the disaster? What are the public relations elements you must think through? It is likely that your CEO will be too busy to provide intense direction in this kind of a situation, so review how protocol will be modified now. Think through these things now and train your staff to think this way. If the unexpected happens, you will be glad you did.
If I ever saw Mary Louise Parker in an airport, I would probably run to her screaming, “Oh my Gosh! Nancy Botwin!” and hug her. After security pulls me away from her, I would consider a peak experience of my life.
Weeds is one of my shows. I haven’t just seen the entire series. I’ve seen the entire series (all 8 seasons) multiple times. I love the quirkiness, the drama, the humor of it all. If you have never seen it, it begins as a show about a suburban housewife in California who sells marijuana to make ends meet after her husband dies of a sudden heart attack. It starts there but the twists and turns the series takes is absolutely addictive.
So, for a show with arguably shaky moral grounding, what can non-profit fundraisers learn from this show, particularly from Nancy Botwin?
You really can take inspiration from anywhere. Even a fictional drug dealer can be a source of motivation. If Nancy Botwin can survive and thrive, you can too.
In 1999, I saw a blurb on the Honors College listserv advertising for job in the call center. I thought, “Hey, I can talk to people. Why not?” (Little did I know that I would still be writing about phonathon and doing fundraising some 17 years later.) I interviewed and was hired. I arrived excited but a bit nervous for my first night on the job.
I entered the room and the manager told me, “Sit behind Julie and watch what she does. When you feel ready, you get on the phone too.” I watched Julie manipulated the automated computer and calling system and listened to her phone calls. “Do you have a script or checklist?” I asked. “Not really,” she said. “Everyone kind of makes it up as they go along.”
Really, this was my introduction to being a student fundraiser! It’s amazing to me that I stayed. But, I’m stubborn. The manager that hired me left and soon a student supervisor, Becky, graduated took over operations. Becky taught me something very important: Look to best practices in order to improve and grow. She read books about how other call centers operated and visited phonathons at both peer institutions and aspirational schools. And she began to change some things. I became one of Becky’s student supervisors and was helping her implement these positive changes.
She did things that made us feel like Chicken Little. “Instead of giving up immediately after one ask. We are going to ask two times for money,” Becky said. “Oh no! The sky is falling!” the supervisors would cry. But it didn’t. Our participation rate soared.
Becky said, “I am going make it mandatory to ask for a credit card.” “The sky will fall!” we asserted. It didn’t and our credit card giving rate went through the roof.
Time after time, this was the story. Soon, we began to believe her when she made “crazy” suggestions. I had no idea at the time but I was learning the basics of “evidence-based fundraising”: looking at the data to drive your decisions, not anecdotal evidence or your gut feeling. Your gut feeling is fallible.
At the heart of it, evidence-based fundraising is about using the scientific method. Testing things and looking to the numbers to tell the truth of the situation.
Complaints in the call center are one example of this: your boss hears of 3 complaints. To them it seems like a pattern, perhaps the beginning of a crisis. But – you need to put this into context for them. You could have had over 10,000 contacts that year. That means those complaints represent only 0.03% of your interactions with constituents! That’s pretty great. This is evidenced based fundraising at work.
We can all be a bit “Chicken Little” sometimes, so we have to have the discipline of the evidence to fall back on before we make decisions that can keep from our full potential at best, or at worst, can hurt our institutions.
Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.