Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It's About the... What?!?

What is a fundraisers job?

Well clearly, it's all about being really nice to people, right?  To talk about the important causes we're raising support for, and just let the money flow in?  Or maybe it's to throw elaborate parties, organizing great wine lists and memorable centre pieces.

No, sorry.  As fun as all that sounds, it's not enough.

A fundraiser has 2 roles, I believe.  Ultimately, the goal is to raise money in support of life-changing causes that matter.  Yes, this may sound a little crass, but consider the need - the suffering, damage, trauma, pain and so much else that requires many resources (money being a vital one) to alleviate and correct.

The second role, in conjunction with the first, is to share the story of these needs and issues, and empower and connect individual people to contribute to solutions.  Fundraisers must connect people with ways they can change the world.

It's so easy to get distracted by the many projects and steps along the way.  And while there are many steps required along the way, don't get distracted or mislead in to thinking they are the goal.  Don't lose focus on the money and the people.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Year-end giving all year round

Every fall, the fundraising world is flooded with advice and reminders about end of year giving.

Communicate with donors; remind people how much they are making a difference; provide many options for giving; connect the gift and donor to a specific; tangible result; and, most often, ask ask ASK!  Good, valuable and important advice, and especially important in the waning days of the year - a time when (depending on who you ask) up to 40% of donations are given.

What if this remarkable, passionate and donor-focused fundraising took place all year?  These ideas of talking with donors, of showing them their gifts in action - these don't have to be restricted to December, do they?

Of course, we can't replicate many of the other year-end giving conditions - the spirit of generosity and sharing that many feel around Christmas may be tougher to instill in May - but from the non-profit's perspective, our responsibility doesn't change.

So what year-end fundraising techniques can you implement today?  This month?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Too Focused?

Sometimes it's easy to get tunnel vision - so caught up in our own passions, roles or responsibilities that we forget about the bigger picture.

On the front-lines of most non-profits, this happens every day.  it's so easy to forget that there is any greater need or priority, or indeed any part of the world, outside of the scared child, troubled family or hurting individual that we are trying to help.  And this is important - that one person, or group of people, need others to care about them - and this is where others, within or outside of an organization, can step up and offer support.  Single-minded focus can also be challenging, because of course there are other matters of importance - other people and families who need support, the overall structure and funders for the organization, etc.

When tunnel vision swings the other way, though, is when it can become really dangerous.  When a non-profit focused on helping people, for instance, begins to think that accounting or marketing is the main and most important piece of work it does, it is seriously and almost disastrously miss the point.  Or, when an arts organization begin to see it's first priority being to employ people - thus, slowly prioritizing the needs of employees over the needs of patrons, the community or artists.

Perhaps the most dangerous of all is a creeping belief for any organizations that donors or funders are the most important people or groups.  After all, it's easy to make a small adjustment here or there, if it will gain more money and support to serve your cause.  Over time, though, these changes might begin to pile up and before you know it, the organization is nearly unrecognizable (in other words, serious mission-drift occurs).

The reality is that there remains a balance for those organizations willing to make tough decisions, to say "yes" sometimes and "no" at others.  A balance between focus on the primary mission of the organization, and also being mindful of the fact that people are employed and the fundraising and donors are essential.

In this balanced place, there are funders who are investing in the mission, and who know and value the difference they make.  There are employees and support teams committed to the cause, and with a clear focus on why they do what they do.  And, there are people focused on being hands-on and at the front-lines of the organization, but who are also aware of the importance of other decisions being made, even ones they don't necessarily understand or see the need for.

Perfection is, of course, an impossible standard.  But if we choose to move in that direction every day, so much the better.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Declare It

Simon Sinek always makes me think.  His posts on focusing one's life always make me think.  This post did the same, but from a different angle.

Sinek's analysis (albeit from a few weeks ago) offers some interesting insight and perspective on happenings in so many Middle Eastern countries.  But what I found even more valuable was his description of declarations, and their importance.  Even more than countries, I believe a lot of organizations would benefit from writing a declaration - in this case, non-profit organizations.

A declaration is a statement of beliefs, of intention.  And, just as important, it indicates exclusion - what will not be pursued or focused on.

A declaration is more powerful than a simple mission or vision statement, at least in the way many organizations use these statements.  A declaration shouts its intention, unforgettably and irrefutably.  Once something has been declared, there's no backing down.  It's out there, declared - everyone knows.

But more than this end statement, an organization's declaration can begin to describe how this result will be achieved.  What steps will be taken?  What principles matter?  What standards can't be lost?  How will the goal be achieved?

What other things would you cover in your organization's declaration?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The good fear

I'll say it: fundraising terrifies me.

The thought of talking to people about money is scary.  The act of doing so, even more.

It's also scary that I won't be up to the challenge, and that my failure will ruin or take away from a program that is important, even essential, for the health of kids and families.

And so I was interested to see this post on this topic from a great fundraising blogger, Steve Thomas.

Steve makes some great points - procrastination, timidity, risk avoidance and softening our message are very real risks, and things that I see myself engaging in some times.

Of course, fear is not fun - it makes my stomach hurt, my hands shaky and my words come out wrong.  It makes me uncertain and causes second-guessing.

At the same time it seems to me that fear is a healthy and normal reaction.  At my best moments, I recognize fear as a sign that something is important - that the thing I'm fearful about is something that matters.  What makes a difference, and where I see myself get in to trouble, is the way in which fear affects actions.

Perhaps if we can channel that fear - use it to ask for support, find resources, double-check our work and follow our best instincts (in other words, lean in to the fear) - we would all be better at what we do every day.  I know I would.

If we stop using fear as an excuse, but instead use it as a motivator, we might all be better at our work - whatever it is we do.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Who are you talking to?

Today, I had the pleasure of attending a breakfast, hosted by Cenovus, to launch their new Community Investment strategy.  Cenovus is an oil company, headquartered here in Calgary, that came in to existence almost 14 months ago as a result of Encana splitting their oil and gas divisions in to 2 different companies.  Today, Cenovus has about 3,000 employees.

At this event, Cenovus announced that the first year of their employee thanks & giving campaign raised $1.7 million, including the matching gifts from the company - a huge contribution that all employees should be proud of!  Cenovus also outlined their new community investment policy, which will focus on learning, safety & well-being and sustainable communities.

Following this presentation from Cenovus, there were 2 speakers, both of whom have conducted extensive research around charitable giving and nonprofits.

The first, Jocelyn Daw, is all about non-profit branding and shared the message from her new book Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding.  Jocelyn encourages organizations to build brands that go beyond logos and colours, and get to a focus on trust, commitment and value.  Instead of focusing on ones own organization, focus on the brand and the promise - whether that's feeding the hungry, saving animals or curing disease.  Put that promise at the centre of conversations and decisions, and the message becomes much more powerful and effective.  Further, Jocelyn encourages organizations to look at partnerships (with corporations, foundations, etc.) as opportunities to meet the needs of both parties.  There were some great ideas from Jocelyn, and luckily, Cenovus provided a copy of her new book to each organization there, so I look forward to reading and learning more!

Secondly, Jason Saul presented on ideas from his book (due out in March) - The End of Fundraising.  Of course, from the title, you can likely tell that Jason's ideas are controversial for many organizations, but one that struck me as being quite innovative.  He suggests that organizations determine who they are creating value for, and which of those groups has the ability to pay for that value.  If implemented properly, this strategy shouldn't abandon or negate traditional donors - those who's primary goal is to make the world better or to create a "good feeling".  It does encourage organizations to look at the potential natural partners (Jason calls them impact buyers), and to put data and information before those partners that will prove the value for both parties.

Jason finished with a seven point summary, one of which was to focus on building partnerships based on their value, not the cost.  Focus on what it's worth, both monetarily and otherwise, to both sides - not just on the cost of the program.  The business language throughout Jason's presentation might be tough for some organizations, but the message - focusing on outcomes and building effective partnerships - couldn't be more important.  I look forward to digging more into Jason's book when it's released.

So often, non-profits get lost in themselves, spending so much time focused inward & on their own programs that they forget what that means and why it's important to potential partners.  How much stronger we could be, and could build our communities and do our work, if we looked for ways to make it relevant and understandable for potential partners!

Who is your non-profit talking to?

Huge thanks to Cenovus for hosting this event, and for all that you are doing to contribute to the strength and health of our community!


Can I just say that TED is awesome?

This week, I saw this fantastic TED talk by Brene Brown.  Brene talks about vulnerability, and about what can and can not be quantified and counted.

Brene's discussion of the idea that, in order to feel deeply in good ways we must also be vulnerable enough to feel deeply in bad ways, was brilliant - and a great reminder of why all those bad feelings can be so worth it.

Perhaps the same can be said for organizations?  That in order for an organization to enjoy the incredible highs they must also experience deep vulnerability and deep lows?