We are all scrambling.
The situation with COVID-19 changes day-by-day and hour-by-hour. Hopefully by now, nonprofits have taken steps to allow all but absolutely essential personnel to work from home. Fundraising, while essential, is a function that can be done from a home office. The big question is:
How can we keep our donors connected to our organizations in this unstable environment?
When it became clear that I would not be allowed to travel anymore for work, I fell back on a maxim I heard somewhere early in my fundraising career. It rhymes so that’s convenient and an aid to memory.
In any circumstances where rapid change is taking place, we must take great pains to keep our donors near, dear, and clear. What does that mean as a guide to practical action and how can we all undertake those functions while protecting ourselves and our donors from coronavirus?
Let’s take each part of the maxim in turn:
Near: Be in Contact!
You will need to leverage all forms of media at various levels to keep in touch with your donors.
First, for your major donors, set up as many one-on-one Zoom meetings as you can reasonably handle each week to check in with them and make sure their families are doing okay right now. Take it week-by-week so it will not be overwhelming but striving for 6-8 substantial phone calls or Zoom meetings with major donors per fundraiser seems appropriate.
Secondly, utilize digital means of connection as much as possible. The president of the institution I work for is doing a series of Facebook live discussions this week at the same time every day. Send email updates or text your constituents. Don’t bombard them with info but if you have meaningful information to report, do so on all available channels. If you have Facebook groups, use those to communicate too. Encourage your supporters to share info so it gets in more Newsfeeds and inboxes.
Third, for your mid-level donors or major donors that you cannot check in with immediately, don’t forget about good old mail and phone. You can do a quick check-in calling campaign one day per week and write some hand-written notes. (Of course, please be careful with your mail protocols for hygiene. Use self-adhesive stamps and tape if possible. Barring that, seal or affix with a sponge. And wash your hands well before handling mail to be sent out.)
Dear: Express Gratitude
Your messaging needs to let donors know that you care about them as people. It’s not just about expressing our usual level of stewardship and gratitude. This is thanking them for believing enough in your organization’s mission to hang in there in this time of great change and uncertainty.
Express gratitude not only as a staff member but express gratitude on behalf of those your organization serves. Let them know that because of them, your mission continues and will continue after COVID-19.
Clear: Have Clarity, Openness, and Honesty
Make sure your organization is crystal clear on its priorities. The first of which should be the health, safety, and welfare of those they serve and those who work for the institution. Repeat this often to your constituents.
However, do not shy away from honestly telling donors how this crisis is affecting your organizational needs and its finances. Your major donors and board members especially deserve the candid talk about what is needed, what might be needed, and why.
Did you find the framework of near, dear and clear helpful in thinking about how you are keeping donors connected these days? What other strategies have you tried in the last couple of weeks that keep donors near, dear, and clear? Tell me below in the comments!
Again, I hope this was helpful to you. If it was, please leave me a comment below.
Also, if you found this very helpful, I hope you’ll subscribe. By doing so, you’ll get my FUNdraising Friday emails every Friday with pick-me-ups, helpful articles, and cool freebies. Humor and a commitment to continual learning will no-doubt help us all through this crisis.
Take care and be well,
PS - If you are feeling stressed and anxious and burnt out due to coronavirus, you're not alone. Because so many are facing unprecedented challenges and pressure right now, I'm hosting a free webinar on the topic of Self Care for Non-Profit Professionals. It will take place April 1st. Register today as there are only 100 spots!
Most fundraisers travel at least some of the time. Many of us are “road warriors” who travel at least 25%-75% of the time. After almost two years of 50% travel, I have found some iPhone apps to be nearly indispensable to me for smooth and safe travel. Here's 10 of my favorites in no particular order. All of these are free to download.
I’m not really sure how I would have done this job before Google maps! I would have a stack of old MapQuest print-outs as tall as Moby Dick without it. I’m a bit of a control freak and I hate being late, so this app is great for me because I can plan what traffic is likely to be at the specific time of day I plan to be somewhere. I also like that I can select car, public transport or eve walking.
Furthermore, I use this at home when planning a trip to select restaurants convenient to the donor’s home or work, find centrally located hotels, and assess how far constituents live from a metro center I’m visiting to determine whether I could make it that far to see them. Bottom line, it is a crucial tool for my work as a fundraiser.
Clio is a landmark and history app. It senses where you are and tells you which historic landmarks and museums are near you. It’s fun when you have some extra time to fill between meetings or when you are traveling with kids. I’ve learned a great deal about cities around the country that I wouldn’t have learned without Clio.
Feeling like Mexican? How about Lebanese? Just type it into Yelp and it will tell you where the closest restaurant of that type is to you, whether it is open now and how much it is likely to cost. The ratings and reviews are good too if you can’t decide.
Lyft is my new favorite app. I’m from the South and wouldn’t know how to hail a cab if my life depended on it. So, when I needed a cab, I would walk to the nearest taxi stand. Now, wherever I am, Lyft gets me to my next destination. I’m so excited that they are expanding into the South now too.
Lyft usually arrives within 5 minute or less, shows me my driver’s picture and tells me the make, model, and license plate number of the vehicle. It texts me with a “bing!” to let me know when my driver arrives. I don’t have to pull out a credit card, as it is saved in the app. When the ride is over, I pull up the app to add a tip and the receipt arrives in my email inbox.
And if you are traveling with a group or with children or strollers/luggage, Lyft will let you select a larger vehicle so you are sure to have space for everyone and everything.
The Hilton app keeps all my reservations in one place. I can check in the day before I arrive, letting them know when I’ll be there. I usually can select my room in the app. It’s nice to have the addresses and phone numbers of the hotels at my fingertips.
Airline Specific Apps
United and Virgin have great airline apps. You can check in and even pay for your baggage via the app. Both of these have the ability to use a digital boarding pass on your phone. Delta and American also have apps but they aren’t quite at the level of the others I mentioned.
Quick and easy and more reliable than Skype on the road. Essential for keeping in touch with my kids and my husband when I’m not home.
I love audiobooks. Hoopla Digital is a service you sign up for using your local library card. With my library, I can “check-out’ 8 titles per month via the app. They have e-books and videos too, but I like to use mine for audiobooks because you get more hours of content per check-out. Being able to download a specific title is a nice feature because then you can continue to listen even in airplane mode. I listen to fiction, non-fiction, business and personal development titles.
Your iPhone camera is good for so much more than just pretty pictures. I like to take photos of my parking space numbers at the airport or my hotel room number, so I don’t forget. You can snap photos of posters for events that you want to remember later. I also use my camera to take pictures of flowers and other little things that my daughter would love and I send them to her (via my husband or my mom) to let her know that I’m thinking about her.
For the school that I work for, showing up at donor meetings with a notebook or executive pad would be wildly too formal. But often, a donor will get energize and begin throwing out names of people I should meet or follow up with. The Notes app takes the place of paper. I also use it to jot down any ideas I might have when pulling out my journal at that moment would be a pain. I’ll get a ton of ideas as I’m listening to audiobooks (via Hoopla) and I use notes to record those on the go.
Are there other apps that I didn't list? What are your favorites?
As always, comments and questions are welcome and encouraged!
PS - If you liked this post, you might also like these:
PPS - If you found this article helpful, please comment and let me know. Also subscribe to Real Deal Fundraising so you don't miss a post! You'll get my guide to Call Center Games for Free!
Connecting with a donor or potential donor is so vital before you ask for a gift. It's like removing many of the roadblocks between you and that "YES!" response you want.
People want to give to people they like. It's not much of a secret. Ultimately, as a fundraiser you are a conduit for the relationship between that donor and the institution (not with you personally) but they must enjoy speaking with you to want to continue a relationship with the institution.
This is an important skill for any fundraiser to develop, from phonathon callers on up to executive directors, deans and development officers.
I have been to MANY call centers where they use the same tired rapport-building questions year after year after year. We cannot let this happen. No one wants to spend their precious time telling a new person why they haven't been back to campus lately just like they did last year.
Bad rapport-building has the opposite effect on the donor than that which we wish to cultivate.
The first rule of building rapport is it must be DIALOG not MONOLOGUE. You must ask questions that will solicit meaningful conversation and back and forth. You (no matter if you are a student caller or the Vice President of Advancement) must not deliver a litany of great-stuff-happening-at-our-institution without stopping for breath.
So, following this rule, we must construct meaningful rapport building questions.
The second rule about rapport building is that these questions get stale. Every year (at least) new rapport builders should be generated and put into rotation.
Here is some guiding criteria for generating these questions. Rapport building questions should:
What are some examples of strong rapport-building questions?
Does your rapport building need a refresh? Do you have some favorite rapport-building questions that I forgot to mention on my list? Comments and questions are, as always, welcomed and encouraged!
PS - If you liked this post, you might also like these:
PPS - If you found this article helpful, please comment and let me know. Also subscribe to Real Deal Fundraising so you don't miss a post! You'll get my guide to Call Center Games for Free!
This week's feature is an interview with Nick Foster, who serves as the Associate Director of Development for the School of Medicine at the University of Virginia. We covered a lot of topics, including how he plans his travel schedule, questions to ask on donor visits and how to stay connected to your children when traveling. And I learned about a very special bear in the process! Enjoy!
Q: How much do you travel for your position? How do you decide where to go?
A: I cover a total of 11 states, and two cities in Virginia (States: Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin. Cities in Virginia: Lynchburg and Richmond).
To cover the territory effectively I visit one or more of the states in any given month. A trip could be “simply” traversing Los Angeles, or making the 600 mile trip from Minneapolis, MN to Chicago, IL via Rochester, MN, La Crosse, WI, Madison, WI, and Appleton, WI.
For the first twelve months in the role I divided my time, proportionally, between the states. For instance I visited California, with over 500 med alumni, four times; and Mississippi, with just over 100 med alumni, for just three days. Now, as I’ve qualified individuals, and gift discussions have developed my travel schedule is determined more by these conversations than simply trying to visit a territory.
Q: What's your theory on travel planning? Get the anchor visit first or just go for it?
My theory is “You’re not going to raise money, that often, from behind a desk. Get on the road and engage those individuals who have shown they are invested in your program by the giving of their time, talent or treasure.”
I subscribe to the “book it and then secure the visits method”. Working with physicians everything can be very last minute. Trips generally come together a couple of days out. As I sit here writing this (Thursday) I’m going to Michigan for four days next week, I have seven confirmed visits, three “I’d love to see you, call me when you’re in town”, and two “I won’t know my schedule until Monday, call me then”. You just have to do it and if you have spare time when you’re on the road, you can always focus on your moves management plan for donors who aren’t in the area.
Q: What are your favorite questions for donors on a discovery visit?
A: The general theme of the conversation is to get to know the individual. I usually I like to hear about their current relationship and feelings towards UVa, what their time was like in school, were there any mentors, why did they go into medicine, how did they get to UVa, where did they do there residency, how did they ended up in the city they are currently working, how long have they been in the area, family and pastimes. I like to ask if they have any questions, or if they keep up with the news from the school.
Most importantly, I always thank them for their support and ask what inspires their philanthropy, and ask if there is anything I can do for them.
Q: What are your best 2nd visit questions? How do approach a donor to see if they will entertain a proposal?
If the first visit has gone well, then I try and interact with the alumni between visits. This might be sending articles in their practice area, telling them how their giving makes a difference, inviting them to events etc. (I use the fundraising software to remind me and then track these interactions, try not to go rouge with shadow databases!)
On a second visit I might ask “you mentioned in our first visit that you’d received a scholarship and that gave you the opportunity to come out of medical school virtually debt free. I hope that gave you the opportunity to select the area of medicine that interested you the most. The financial aid package that you likely received was most likely due in part to a generous alumni, like yourself, making a commitment to the school and endowing a scholarship fund. Doc, you’ve been a loyal and generous supporter and I was wondering if we could have a conversation about ways that you could set up your own scholarship and give students who are coming out of medial school now a similar opportunity to the one you experienced.”
Q: What are your favorite travel loyalty programs?
Q: Tell me about Stuffed. What other things do you do to stay connected with your son while you are on the road?
Stuffed is a travelling bear that my son gave me. If you press his paw he says, in Henry’s voice, “Hi Dad, I love you and I miss you”. Stuffed sits in the passenger seat when we drive, and he loves having his photograph taken when we visit interesting places. You can follow him on Facebook at The Adventures of Stuffed the Talking Bear.
When I’m on the road I’d like to say that we Facetime each evening and I read him bedtime stories, but Henry isn’t interested in that! I might get a quick “Hi Dad, I’m going to play, bye Dad.” I do try and get a good morning “hello”, and check in after school to hear how his day went. I also text pictures of Stuffed.
I also try and bring back a gift that is from the area, for instance I brought him the book The Three Little Javelinas from Phoenix, and Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding from New Orleans. He also just got a Cub’s t-shirt from Chicago!
More about Nick Foster: Nick started his working life in the music industry. For six years he worked for a record label and events company. In this role he oversaw 120 events a year and was part of a team that had success with getting a record in the Top 10 of the UK Singles Chart. It wasn’t until he moved stateside that he decided it was time to take his career in a different direction. Following a short spell at Waffle House, everyone should work as a line cook or waitress at some point in their lives, he ventured into the nonprofit world.Nick started working for a small school in Mobile, AL that served children with Autism. Under Nick’s leadership the school successfully grew its annual fundraising totals by over 150%. After a brief stop in Hattiesburg, MS at The University of Southern Mississippi, Nick found himself at The University of Virginia, working in the School of Medicine. Nick’s role at UVa is to work with enthusiastic alumni who want to partner with the University to make the student experience and our worldwide research reputation as strong as possible. Nick will play a significant role in the University's upcoming Third Century Campaign.
Make a practice to remember the little details you hear in conversation with donors, even if it seems irrelevant to fundraising. I promise, it matters. I'm not talking about remembering what their career is or how many kids they have. Those details are not irrelevant. These details impact your work directly.
Here's an example of what might have otherwise passed me by. I had a casual conversation with a board member and we talked about how his wife is into weaving. Although that's not a hobby of mine and has nothing what-so-ever to do with the mission of the organization we both serve, I made a mental note.
At a national convention associated with our organization, I was talking with another donor to told me that she wove one of the tapestries that hang in the school. A light bulb went off! Since the board member was East Coast and this donor was West Coast it was unlikely they had me beforet. I introduced that donor to the wife of the board member at our Gala and they talked most of the night. The donor is a graduate and the board member of course is intimately connected to our school right now, so the fact that they met and bonded over weaving as a mutual hobby ultimately strengthen their connections to the school.
Similarly, when you email a donor and get an out-of-office message, read it. If it says they are traveling to Europe, inquire about how their trip was when you follow back up. (You did put a calendar items in to follow up with them a few days after their out-of-office message says that they'll be back right?)
Long-story-short, remembering the little details that don't seem at all connected to your goal (raising funds) will show your donor that you care enough about them as a person to pay serious attention. And it gives you the raw material to make connections and introductions that will be meaningful to your donors.
Mock Calling is a critical part of any new caller training session. It's also important for new major gift officers and leadership giving officers to practice in this same way. All-to-often, though, the exercise becomes stale and perfunctory. Here are 5 ideas to re-invigorate your mock calling practice, whether you work in phonathon, annual giving, or major gifts.
Have your callers each call from their cell phones and leave a voicemail on your office line of an abbreviated script. Then have the entire training class listen to each voicemail and critique the caller based on enunciation, speed, sincerity and other qualities.
Create a set of cards with fake prospects on them. Create corresponding cards with background information on how the prospect is predisposed to react to an ask. Pair up callers and give them several sets of cards to work through alternating between caller and prospects. (This works for leadership and major gift officers too. Just practice asking for a visit and handling objections to taking the visit.)
Have one caller go to a nearby office (far enough so they cannot see or hear the group) and have them call a line with a speaker phone function. Put the call on speaker phone so the rest of the class can hear the conversation. Make sure everyone gets a turn and that you debrief after every call what went well and what could be done better.
Rapid Fire Objection Practice
Divide callers into teams and have them stand in two rows. Give each caller at the front of the line an objection. “I can’t give this year. I just had a baby.” Caller must respond immediately. After each round, have an impartial judge (student supervisors or lead caller) award a point to the team whose caller handled that round best. Winning team gets a prize. Judge selects an MVP from both teams. (For full-time fundraising staff, just practice objections to taking the visit.)
Power Intro Drills
Practice just the first 10-15 of a call, including asking for the prospect, introducing the institution and yourself and lastly stating why you are calling. Every caller gets several chances and then everyone gets to go again at the end of practice. Select a most improved caller or two who show significant improvement. Judge their intros on sincerity, diction, energy and enthusiasm. Every fundraiser needs a strong introduction whether they are a student caller or the CEO.
If you found this article helpful, you may also be interested in my e-book How to Staff Your Phonathon Super-Fast: Seven Secrets to Fill the Seats. It's on sale now for $40 with the coupon code fillseats (valid through 9/1/16). This book guides you through innovative ideas and practices to turbo-charge your phonathon staffing efforts and break free from the hamster wheel of turnover. It also includes an appendix full of templates and samples to get you started implementing this system fast.
This is the final installment of my series on improving phonathon contact rates.
With average student loan debt loads reaching astronomical levels, many institutions have questioned whether they should give their new graduates a break and exclude them from traditional solicitation methods like mail and phone. (Click here, if you’re interested in learning more about student loan issues.)
This is a dangerous consideration for the immediate profitability and long-term viability of phonathon programs. The reason why lies in the history of cell phones. Here’s a quick history lesson and some other reasons why I don’t think you should stop soliciting your young alumni through mail or phone (regardless of student loan status).
As I’ve discussed in this series, contact rates are a key statistic that governs the productivity of phonathon programs. Two macro-forces are at work which make young alumni some of the best pools for contact rate these days.
Wireless number portability
In 2003, it became mandated that users could keep their cell phone number when they transferred wireless vendors. Before that, cell phones numbers were much less stable. Today’s student will likely keep their cell phone number well into adulthood if not forever.
The Virginia Tech Effect
Since the shootings at Virginia Tech (2007), universities have been implementing systems to collect student cell phone data so that mass text alerts could be sent out on safety issues. The long-term implication of this process is that the numbers (at many institutions) migrate over to the alumni database upon graduation, which is great news for phonathon programs.
ACTION ITEM: Check with Advancement Services to make sure that when they undertake their “grad loads” the cell phones on record are coming over as well and are being coded properly.
Size of young alumni pools
Aside from your institution being able to contact these alumni more easily, these are also probably some of your largest groups. Most institutions have grown leaps and bounds over the last 30-40 years. It’s likely that your organization graduates many more alumni each year now than the institution did 20-50 years ago. If you hopes to keep pace with peer institutions in terms of alumni participation, calling these large, well-connected groups is essential.
ACTION ITEM: Do a quick experiment, find out how many alumni have graduated in the last 10 years and then see what just those alumni represented to your phonathon in terms of contacts, dollars and donors. The significance of the number will likely surprise you. Although the average gift is often lower than other groups, participation is usually higher and volume is on your side. Totals add up fast when you have such large groups.
Case Building and Setting Expectations
Even if a prospect tells you no this year, an important process of philanthropic education occurs. The student caller has still presented the needs of the university and planted a seed which may grow into future giving. The benefit of this cannot be overstated. Solicitation is important even when it results in a refusal.
If, for instance, those with student loan debt cannot give this year, having a phone call begins a process of case-building which may resonate in the future when they are able to give.
ACTION ITEM: I recommend capturing refusal reasons so they can be tracked over time. If possible, I recommend adding a custom refusal reason for student loan debt and utilize this over the next 3 years to track trends with respect to this refusal reason as an analytical tool. However, restricting solicitation is not the best method for dealing with this refusal. Building a better case over time would be a better way to handle it.
Long-term lead generation
A report on Cultivating Lifelong Donors (2010) from Blackbaud states:
“Research shows that donors make $1,000 gifts to organizations most often when they have already been giving to the organization for about seven years. Long-term research with successful nonprofits also shows that those very same donors are approximately 900% more likely to make a major gift in their lifetime than individuals without that progressive history.”
For those of us in higher education, this means that we must acquire our new alumni very soon after graduation. Otherwise, they will develop a habit of giving to another non-profit organization and any major gifts they might make later in life are less likely to be given to our institutions.
I hope you found this blog post insightful and helpful. If you did, please subscribe to Real Deal Fundraising.
I love to learn new tricks in MS Excel. Learning about how to use filters and specifically the "filter by color" function has helped me to stay organized in my work. In this video, I show you how I use Excel to get my visits for donor trips, including how to use filters and "filter by color".
If you found this video helpful, subscribe today to Real Deal Fundraising. You will immediately receive a free e-book, "15 Best Call Center Games" and you'll be entered to win a copy of my upcoming e-book "How to Staff Your Phonathon Super-Fast: The 7 Secrets to Fill the Seats". Click the button below to sign up.
A solid strategic plan is not an easy thing to write. Ideally, it should have a balance of big picture thinking and sufficient detail so that it can be implemented. A strategic plan cannot be pie-in-the-sky but it also cannot be a user’s manual full of which button to push.
I would advise that strategic planning begin with 3 steps:
Do you have staff and budget to promote planned giving opportunities? What can you afford to do in terms of direct mail, phonathon, donor relations, etc.? Don’t forget about crucial areas like stewardship and fulfillment (pledge follow up). Also, pay special attention to data integrity and enrichment. You cannot afford to ignore those important areas.
Now, you have to combine your various vehicles for communication with the content: the case for support. What will you be focusing on this year? What are the needs of your institution? Scholarships? Program support? Operating expenses? What’s the impact that the donor will have in the world if they make a gift this year? Begin to weave these messages into thoughts about how to segment your data this year.
The final part of your strategic part is to have a calendar. You know enough now to lay out the steps. Don’t go into too much detail but have a month-by-month list of what major action steps need to happen to accomplish your goals. Review this calendar regularly at staff meetings.
It is inevitable that you won’t get to all your great ideas in one year. I’ve found it helpful to add a section at the end of my plan called “And Beyond” where I can stash my great ideas for future years. It keeps me inspired and helps me not to forget. Encourage other staff to join you in adding to that list throughout the year.
Most importantly, the strategic plan cannot be a lifeless document. If you aren’t referencing it at least once a month (preferably more), it isn't working for you. Start over. Make it a living document that guides you to your goals.
Deciding where you need to go is the first step to planning your travel. In the absence of wealth screening data or other ratings, I've found it helpful to run a list of every donor who has given $1,000 or more in the last 5 years to my institution. That provides me with a basis for deciding what major metropolitan areas I should visit over the course of the next year.
Then you'll need to decide on your travel method. I have used car, plane and train to get where I need to be and each has its own set of pros and cons. You will need to try out different methods and develop your own personal preferences of course.
For flights, I start with kayak.com. I like it because I am close to at least 5 possible airports and Kayak gives you great results for looking at nearby airports. This means I can quickly see which airport has the best possible prices for my organization's budget. Then I also check out Southwest too. Southwest airfares won't be in any of the standard databases or searches. Once I have decided on the exact flights I want, I go over to expedia.com because I can pick my exact seat on every flight. This is useful if my family is traveling with me (as they do from time to time) because I go back and purchase the same exact flights with my personal card and select the seats right next to mine.
I'm a Hilton Honors member, so I often make that my next stop. (It doesn't matter which loyalty program you join but you will want to join one of them.) I use the Hilton website in close concert with Google Maps because I want to know where my hotel is compared with the home and office locations of most of the donors I need to see. I especially need to know how close everything is so I know whether I require a rental car. I find I'm partial to Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, and Hampton Inn brands. They have tea always available in the lobby, generous breakfast and most have laundry on site (a must if you ever travel with kids).
For rental cars, I like priceline. I try to avoid doing rental cars whenever I can use public transport and/or taxis to get to my visits. When I must have one, I'm not loyal to any one vendor. Price is the big factor.
When I arrive, I make extensive use of Google Maps and also Yelp to find places nearby to eat. To make reservations for donor lunches or dinners, I like Open Table. I also like a little history app called Clio. If I'm ever waiting anywhere, I just pull this up and the app shows me all the historical sites that are nearby. It's a great way to get to know a city even if you are too busy to actually go see much of it.
I have a very specific way that I prep documents for my travel too. Check back for that post next week.
Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.