DX: The Donor eXperience

Cheese Slicer

Every time bad fundraising happens, it hurts all of us. Like a cheese slicer shaving off a thin layer of donor goodwill from the entire sector, eroding it away until we are left looking back saying “where’s the cheddar?” (I hope the double-meaning of cheddar for fundraisers isn’t lost here!)

It’s a hard truth that fundraisers must face. We’re forgetting about our donors. The numbers don’t lie. Donors are speaking out with their giving. According to the 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report by AFP, as a sector, we lost 103 donors for every 100 gained and we lost $95 for every $100 gained.

Does anyone else have a problem with that? I sure do.

The root issue is the DX: The Donor eXperience.

Donor fatigue doesn’t exist. What donors get tired of is poor fundraising. Far too many donors have this experience with charities:

  • Lack of prompt and proper gratitude: Often, there is no proper acknowledgement or thank you for a donation. Proper means at least one communication with no ask or implication of an ask. It isn’t sending a receipt which happens to say thank you in the letter. It isn’t a generic email sent 2 months later.
  • Impersonal communication: We are in the information age, collecting more data than ever before, and yet donors receive so many generic appeals with no consideration of the donors relationship with the organization or their interests – information we already have in our hands. Plus the donors who receive “Dear Friend” letters, which is bad enough when a mail merge takes literally 5 minutes to set up – it’s even worse when the address label is customized, indicating the ability to do so.
  • Uninspired messaging: When we forget about who our audience is, we end up with organization-centered, own-horn-tooting communication which forgets to give the donor credit for their role as a change agent and investor in good. Donors want to see and hear the impact in creative, tangible ways, and they want to feel good about giving.
  • High ratio of asks to other touchpoints: While getting asked to donate multiple times a year per charity isn’t inherently bad, it’s brutal when coupled with all of the other issues outlined here. We’re drawing from the goodwill bank without putting anything back into it.
  • Randomness: For example, mailings with random costly enclosures and swag that have nothing to do with the charity. I get it. This is intended to stimulate reciprocity – but if it has no meaning, then in my opinion, it is actually just stimulating guilt.

When we have so much evidence that personal, tangible, meaningful appeals followed by prompt gratitude and demonstration of impact are fundamental ways to strengthen the DX and raise more money, it’s amazing how much bad fundraising behaviour is still taking place.

Sure, sometimes, doing these things works in the short-term. But just because something works, it doesn’t mean it’s right…or that your DX is strong. Even if you can raise a few more dollars by using fundraising tactics that are manipulative, lazy and uninspired, you are not building trust in the Donor eXperience – and that hurts all of us. This is the cheese slicer whittling down the delicate block of positive affinity that the public has towards giving to charities. Having an insular, short-term view of fundraising sentences all of us to a world of low retention rates, lack of engagement and poor public perception.

Okay, that’s enough of the bad. Anyone who knows me knows I’m an optimistic, positive guy (my #1 Strength in the StrengthsFinder test was Positivity) – all hope is not lost!

There is a solution to all of this.

A big dose of #DonorLove. It is the single best way to enhance the DX and ultimately build stronger relationships with donors.

So what does #DonorLove look like? How can you create a better DX?

  1. Make donor relations a priority: It should already be a top priority in your fundraising and development departments, but for this to really work, you need coordination and buy-in across all areas of your organization – senior management, programming, marketing, finance and the Board of Directors to name a few. Engage them in the vision and discussions for the DX that you want to see.
  2. Listen to your donors: Whether it’s a focus group, a survey or just looking at their giving behaviour and response patterns, your donors will tell you what you need to make their experience better if you give them the chance.
  3. Invest in your systems: There is no excuse because we know doing this works. You might not be able to do everything at once, but once you start investing in the DX, your donors will respond positively, leading to better results and you can build from there. Plus, if you have done #1 well, it should be easier to get the financial and human resources you need to get things moving.
  4. Have a personality: There is no reason why fundraising can’t be creative, interesting, playful and fun. In fact, it is the best way to stand out and will draw your donors closer. It builds credibility and likability for your organization. Brands have a certain “feel” that you have the ability to influence.
  5. Inspire and wow at every opportunity: Every single interaction with a donor is a chance to build positive affinity, including an ask. What can you do that is different, unique and meaningful? It might take a bit longer to develop or be harder to implement, but the efforts will be rewarded.
  6. Be an advocate for #DonorLove: When donors feel good about giving, they give more everywhere. Encourage other fundraisers to take the high road and put donors first. Speak up when you see something happening that you don’t agree with or that could damage relationships with donors.

There is no doubt that part of our goal is to raise more money. However, we have to find the intersection of where achieving your financial metrics can actually strengthen donor relations, rather than depleting them.

While I am a strong advocate for #DonorLove, I cannot take credit for creating it. Some of this is the very basic, rudimentary, foundations of successful fundraising about which we must be constantly vigilant or be in danger of forgetting. I’m also not the only one speaking out about this. There are a number of people who are donor champions, standing up for their rights and a better DX.

An amazing team of disruptive, thoughtful and uber-passionate fundraisers, led by Rory Green (aka Fundraiser Grrl) and Maeve Strathy (What Gives Philanthropy) have put together the #DonorLove Rendezvous to address this issue exactly. It’s not your average conference. It will be a group of people who not only want to create a better DX, but want to see our sector push itself to be better too!

I hope you will join us at the #DonorLove Rendezvous on May 11, 2016. You can register and learn more at www.donorlove.ca. It will be one of the best investments you can make in your own development, your fundraising shop’s DX and in our sector.

Donorlove Rendezvous

Constant Questions: Do you think fundraising is doing alright the way it is? What examples can you share of a really strong DX? Will you join us at the #DonorLove Rendezvous? Did I confuse the wrestling fans who thought I would be posting about Degeneration X?

Career Shift: From a large shop fundraiser to a small shop Executive Director

When you look at career paths, you might think they are linear, but in reality, they can take many turns.

(PHOTO CREDIT: Demetri Martin, “This is a Book“)

This drawing fittingly explains the reality of what career success will look like for many of us in the new age of employment. It is well-known that we have moved from the days of one career to having multiple careers in our lifetime – and this applies to all industries and sectors.

I recently had a conversation with someone who has worked with hundreds of executives in the charitable, government and social profit sectors. She was adamant that the successful leaders of the future will not be the ones with the most knowledge, the most skills or the most experience, but with the strongest ability to adapt and change. This requires gathering a variety of skill sets and perspectives – the type you can gain from shifting career paths.

In that case, experiencing multiple careers is not a bad thing – it can actually work in your favour and prepare you for the employment landscape of the future.

After 8 years working at an internationally known charity, being provided opportunities to advance into new roles, and ending up in the helm of the fundraising department, overseeing a team of 8 people and raising over $8M annually – I decided to take on the role of Executive Director of a much smaller (or as I prefer to say, small and mighty) organization.

How to decide if a move like this is right for you?

My current seat is within an organization that I volunteered with intensely for eight years before joining as the Executive Director. I felt deeply invested their success before starting. While this move was a difficult choice because I felt very much fulfilled and connected to my last shop; the decision to move ultimately came down to a matter of following my gut and asking some key questions to engage my brain:

  • Can I be the lead champion for this cause? Can I demonstrate boundless passion and share the vision to draw others in?
  • What skills, knowledge, perspectives and new connections do I stand to gain by making this move?
  • What risks am I taking by leaving my past role and stepping into something very different?
  • Where are the current knowledge and skills gaps, and in what areas would I need to learn and grow immediately?
  • Who are the current staff I will be working with? Is the right team in place to achieve success or are significant changes needed?
  • What is the culture of the Board of Directors? What type of relationship are they looking for with the Executive Director?
  • What supports do I have to guide me through this journey?

Asking yourself questions like this will serve as a self-interview, making sure you are listening to your heart and your head in the right quantities.

What is the difference between heading up fundraising at a large organization and leading the charge at a smaller organization? 

If you are considering such a move, there are some important differences between large and small organizations, and between lead fundraising roles versus lead management roles, which you should be aware of. The following tips may help you prevent total culture shock when you make the leap:

  • There is a huge learning curve around administration – payroll, HR, finance, governance, marketing and communications – think of it as running a small business. All bucks stop with you and you wear more hats than LL Cool J. There is no director of marketing or vice president of human resources – it all comes down to you.
  • Small organizations require tremendous entrepreneurial spirit, lightning fast decision making, and the ability to take risks on a regular basis. It’s not that these don’t exist in larger organizations, because they certainly do, but often they can conflict or become lost within larger structures.
  • There is a much less established fundraising program. The base of donors, average gift and largest gift are much smaller, and there are less fundraising channels and tools embedded within the organization. There are likely two to three pillars such as a key campaign, funder or event. What this does mean is you have the chance to work from a clean slate and build great new programs with no existing structures to break down – sometimes that can be easier.
  • You are now reporting to a Board of Directors instead of a CEO. This requires a different approach to reporting, relationship management and governance. Working with a Board of Directors means you have a large in-house pool of talent, wisdom and mentorship to draw support from, and this also means there are more people you need to keep aware, informed and engaged with your work on a regular basis.
  • Working long, hard hours…no wait, that isn’t any different!

Strategies to shifting into an Executive Director role?

Here are four key things I learned making the shift to being an Executive Director:

  1. Seek advice and mentorship from those that have done this before or who are leading organizations successfully – in this sector, there are many generous and wise leaders who want to see you succeed. Ask and you will be surprised who says yes to being a support for you.
  2. Establish your presence right away with all your stakeholders. Spend a lot of time up front listening, engaging and making yourself known. As the face of the organization, it is critical that key donors, funders, volunteers and partners begin to get to know you and trust you, as you will be working together.
  3. Don’t try and fix problems that you don’t understand. Talk to the people – they often have the answers – or at least can clarify the issues.
  4. Be very conscious that what you did to be successful so far is not the same as what you will need to be successful going forward. Old habits may need to change. Rethink and unlearn.

Making a career shift can be scary, but can stretch your perspective, challenge you to build new skills and be a wonderful stage in your journey. There is no one right way to do things – it depends on your personal definitions of success. Wherever you go, bring your best self, develop positive reputation and stay in touch with the people who matter – that is always important. Besides, this decision is never final – you can always go back the other way, now armed with some new skills and a broader lens that you bring with you.

This article was originally published in Hilborn Charity eNEWS

Smash Your Ego! Why Humility Matters

Hulk Smash Ego!

Humility may be losing ground.

However, for some reason I value it more than virtually any other human trait. I don’t know why, but the people I respect most are the ones that are out there, doing incredible things, but are so humble about it that it makes their accomplishments that much more amazing.

A colleague once told me about an author that she really liked and that she was excited to meet in person at a conference. Then she met this author and got the sense that he was pompous and it totally turned her off. It’s difficult to say what function this serves for us as human beings, but it’s wired into us.

It’s important to acknowledge that in our “marketing wins” world, you do have to promote yourself. I’m not advocating for a silent promotion strategy. What’s important is how you come across – in my opinion, you should be confident but not arrogant.

Note for the psychology majors: I know that an ego itself is not a bad thing. It is your definition and perception of yourself, and without one, you would be lost. A healthy ego is important for self-esteem. Here, I am speaking about common usage of the term – like in the phrase “Wow, that guy really really has an ego.”

Here are some considerations when you are telling others about yourself, your business, your charity or your product.

Don’t: Have an overly inflated ego.
Do: Value yourself. While it is possible to overdo ego, this does not mean you shouldn’t have pride or a sense of self-worth. True confidence comes from self-acceptance and embracing who you really are, not trying to be someone else.

Don’t: Only talk about being good. It will likely have the opposite effect you intended.
Do: Be good. Be your best self and you will build a strong reputation, which will serve you well in the long run.

Don’t: Put yourself in the spotlight all the time.
Do: Encourage and support shining a light on others. Give them the credit they are due.

Don’t: Promote yourself heavily or loudly to the point of annoyance.
Do: Ensure others know you exist and the value you can add for them. Stay in touch, add value over time and be consistent. That will do more for you than just trying to be the noisiest.

Don’t: Dominate conversations.
Do: Listen strong and let the other person speak. It will help you build a stronger connection, give you information that will help you better serve others and meet their needs.

Don’t: Assume you can solve all of the problems of the world alone..
Do: Ask for help. Give others a chance to succeed, present ideas and speak up. Sharing ideas can yield a better solution and a place to build from together.

Don’t: Brag.
Do: Connect.

There’s always a place and a way to sell yourself, get in front of the right people, let others know you exist, and show your value. Just don’t overdo one-sided self-promotion.

Smash your ego. Channel your inner Incredible Hulk.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. C.S. Lewis

Constant Questions: Do you agree with this view of confidence, humility and self-promotion? How do you feel when you meet someone arrogant? Do you feel that it doesn’t matter how you come across because you are just so amazing, awesome and the best person ever and no one else is even close to as good as you? You might need some ego-smashing.

This video does a great job of explaining the difference between confidence and arrogance.

Watch Your Language: Why We Should Stop Skinning Cats

Language Wordle

People often ask what is more important – what you say or how you say it?

They are both important – this post focuses on the language we use to convey our ideas, and how they can effect the conversations we have.

As someone who believes that life is 50% content, 50% presentation, the language we use in our daily lives fascinates me. I’ve seen people who have a lot of great things to say, but their delivery made for a less than compelling message. On the flipside, I’ve heard people who are amazing presenters and communicators, but they lacked substance. In the marketing world we are in, we tend to embrace the latter, and they may succeed at least in the short-term. Ideally, you can have a strong message that is presented well, and it ‘sticks’.

Why do we talk the way that we do? Do you think about the origins of what you are saying or the impact of how you speak on the effectiveness of your message? Or the end results?

The words we use affect our conversations. Think about a racial slur, a derogatory term, a swear word, a slang word for a body part. These have more obvious effects because of the societal taboos put upon them. They draw instant emotional reactions.

Now think about these other categories of phrases and words that we use that impact your conversation in ways you may not even think about – until now.

Phrases with violence to animals

For some reason, a lot of these phrases have made their way into our regular vocabulary. They are quite graphic and violent, and yet are spoken by some of the most mild-mannered and peaceful people, because they are widely accepted phrases.

  • There’s more than one way to skin a cat
  • Kill two birds with one stone
  • Let’s stop beating a dead horse
  • Not enough room to swing a cat

Instead, can we find less violent alternatives? They don’t have to be boring and can convey the same message. How about instead of skinning a cat, we say, “There’s more than one way to scale a mountain”?

Failure talk

When we use certain words or phrases, there is a subconscious psychological effect on ourselves or others. These phrases can be especially toxic in organizations because they can destroy productivity and creativity.

  • “I will try…” or “I aim…” or “Hopefully…” or “If we are successful…” – these phrases imply the possibility of failure and are proven to make the achievement of whatever you say afterwards less likely to happen. Instead, say “I will…” or “When we succeed…”
  • “It’s impossible…” or “I can’t do it…” – by saying these phrases, you are creating negative reinforcement pathways in your brain. Steve Jobs had the sentiment that you can achieve the impossible if you don’t know that it is impossible. Keep an open mind and think about how you can make something happen, and you will be surprised at the results. If you must say you are not doing something, say “I choose not to…”, which at least reinforces your own power to make choices.
  • “That’s a bad idea…” – as adults, we often shut each other down before letting great ideas breathe. This can stifle creativity and eventually make us stop generating or sharing ideas. This is an innovation killer. Open your mind to new ideas. At the very least, we can learn from and build on ideas that initially may not make sense to us. Huge change doesn’t happen without creativity.

Bad apologies

Apologizing is a difficult thing to do. When done right, you can rebuild bridges, repair relationships and ease tension. When done poorly, you can make things much worse very quickly. The first step is being sincere about apologizing. Next is making sure the language you use doesn’t have the opposite effect you intended to have.

  • “I’m sorry but…” – think of the word ‘but’ as a magic eraser that eliminates everything you said right before it. This apology doesn’t take on any accountability, and that is what the other person is usually looking for.
  • “I’m sorry that you were offended…” – saying it this way also doesn’t take accountability for your actions. You are disowning your role in the situation.

A real apology would start more like this – “I’m sorry for what I did and for offending you.” An earlier post I wrote talks about how to really apologize.

Compliments

Sure, we all like to be told something nice. Maybe for a few moments, it makes us feel good about ourselves. Usually, a compliment is superficial and doesn’t require much understanding of who you are as a person. It doesn’t hit deep into our souls, so it likely doesn’t have a lasting effect. Check out what compliments sound like:

  • I like your shirt
  • Good job
  • You are awesome

Nothing is wrong with compliments – they can be nice and uplifting. However, if you really want someone you care about to know that they are important to you and really elevate their spirits, consider using acknowledgements which are very specific and speak to the essence of who the person is. Here is what an acknowledgement sounds like:

“The way that you handled that situation really speaks to your courage and resolve. You always have such a strong way of reading people and what is important to them, and I’m sure that is why you are able to manage difficult situations that come up.”

So what can you do to start using better language? The main thing you can do is to really listen to yourself and others – by being conscious of the language you are using, you can make better choices and increase the success of your communications. That is, if you care about that sort of thing.

Constant Questions: What language do we use that has effects we may not even realize? How can we become more aware of the impact of the language we use, and change it for the better? I guess we can’t do it, because it’s impossible. I’m sorry if you are offended, and I don’t want to keep beating a dead horse, but your idea is bad. Well, at least you’re wearing a nice shirt.

This post was inspired by conversations with my great colleagues at Future Possibilities for Kids, where we talk about random issues like this all the time in the interest of self-development and building our own leadership and coaching skills.

BONUS: Another thing that has an effect on others around us is grammar. Like it or not, when you use bad grammar, it may take away from your message. Weird Al preaches on this below.