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Monday, July 22, 2013

What's Your Culture of Philanthropy?

Being a donor is often the best way to learn how to be a better fundraiser. I've experienced this on many occasions, particularly when I was the Foundation Director for Flagstaff Medical Center and was responsible for giving away a half a million dollars a year.

But right now, I'm learning a lot for another reason.

My mother-in-law, Rose Marie (Ogden) Ferris, passed away on Friday, July 19, 2013 after a long battle with emphysema. She passed peacefully with her surviving sons, Steve, Bill and Dave, nearby. While no one is ever prepared for the loss of a parent, the Ferris men are handling the transition and arrangements as well as they can. 

Of course, I was wondering how to help. I figured the things I knew how to do were planning the lunch after the service and the donations in lieu of flowers. I am a fundraiser, after all.

Here's my experience so far with the selected charitable organization:
  1. It took three attempts to get in touch with someone in the development office. The volunteers and staff were uncertain who to call and asked many questions as if to "filter" me away from the development staff.
  2. The person I spoke with was very nice, but neglected to get my contact information, even after I asked if she wanted it.
  3. Even after I asked about naming opportunities in honor of my mother-in-law, they still don't have my contact information.
In "Under Developed:  A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising," conducted by CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the analysis identified a lack of a culture of philanthropy as a key weakness of the sector. Fund development and philanthropy needs to be "understood and valued across the organization."

So I write this not to "flog" the organization in question; they took very good care of Rose and we're working out the details of the donations. But how can this, or any other, culture be improved?

Here are my suggestions:
  • Make regular contact with your "directors of first contact." Who is the first person who will interact with a potential donor? Make sure they know who you are and you know who THEY are.

    The first volunteer we spoke with on site didn't really know what we were asking for. The second volunteer that we were referred to looked through the binder at the front desk and said, "I can't remember the lady's name who does this sort of thing." The third volunteer was almost protective--"Why do you want to speak to them? Can you give me more information?"

    Highlight a handful of key people in this role--people who are willing to participate and receive additional training. As they develop their persona of "brand ambassador" for the organization, their enthusiasm will eventually spread throughout the rest of the front line.
  • Assume that your team isn't as comfortable interacting with donors as you might be. More often than we care to admit, our teams are terrified of our donors. Many of the staff don't know what to say or how to act around donors, mostly because they're afraid they'll say something wrong. Help your team understand their role in thanking donors, whether they are current, past or future. Provide them with regular training on how to communicate with external audiences as well, as communication skills are critical.
  • Make sure you understand why they work for your organization. It's not just about you: what makes your colleagues tick? What are they passionate about related to your cause? If you understand that, you can help them find their own story that they can share. You can also help them relate to a donor, saying, "Our donors are excited about our organization, too."
  • Collect donor information, even if you're not sure where the relationship will go. Especially if the donor initiated the contact. They want to start a relationship with you--at least have a way to follow up.
  • Be a donor to your organization on a regular basis. Do a little "secret shopping." Call your main line. Find out what happens when someone asks to donate. Then use your experience to improve.
Culture of philanthropy is a challenging thing to build and maintain at any nonprofit organization. It requires a consistent investment of your time as a development professional, but you never know when a donor will not be as persistent as I am.

In memory of Rose Marie Ferris, mother, grandmother, wife and author, 1938-2013.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 33: People who push you out of your comfort zone

CN Tower Edge Walk, Toronto, ON
"Just try it. Three bites."

We have a rule in my house when it comes to food--the three bite rule. If my son, Matthew, doesn't want to try something, which is rare since he'll eat almost anything, he has to try at least three bites. If he doesn't like it after three bites, he doesn't have to eat it. More often than not, however, he ends up liking it. Unfortunately for me, that has resulted in him liking oysters (raw and smoked), lobster, unagi (eel), toro (fatty tuna), Brillat-Savarin cheese and all sorts of other expensive foods. And some of my favorites.

Likewise, there have been people in my life who have pushed me to try stuff that I didn't want to try. For instance, in May, Jim decided he wanted to go on the CN Tower EdgeWalk, where they hook you up to a "human dog run" on the roof of the revolving restaurant at the CN Tower. At 121 stories in the air, it's the highest outdoor recreation activity in North America, so they claim.

Video highlights from the EdgeWalk

This wasn't really on my to-do list, but I reluctantly agreed to participate. AND I HAD SO MUCH FUN!

On a professional level, when I was at Wisconsin Public Television, I did NOT want to be in front of the camera. Even though I was the on-air fundraising producer and could do the pitches in my sleep, I had no desire to be on-camera talent. The development director at the time, Malcolm Brett (now General Manager), said that being on-air was a condition of my employment.

My first on-camera break, in August 1994, was awful. Truly, incredibly awful.

Malcolm came up to me and said, "Well, you got the kinks out. Your next break will be fine."

The "after": My national PBS gig pitching Downton Abbey
(l to r) Ken Verdoia, Bob Marty, Joe Campbell, me
And he was right. My next break, the red tally light came on and I was fine. Now, being on-air for public television and radio is second nature to me, and my favorite part of my job.

If it weren't for people like Malcolm, I never would have discovered something that makes me really happy. And something I happen to be kind of good at.

So today, I give thanks to people who pushed me out of my comfort zone and introduced me to new things that I ended up enjoying. And most times, it didn't take more than "three bites."

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 32: Gratitude is Contagious

We've finished the first 30 days of our 100 Days of Gratitude! It's time for some reflections on our experiences so far.

1. People still like the personal touch.
We could have done this all a lot quicker by sending emails to people or posting something on their Facebook wall, but we have purposefully selected sending handwritten notes, making phone calls, and seeing people in person. Electronic media is great for a lot of things, but when you want to communicate a personal connection and real human interaction, you still kind of need to do something else.

2. There is never a shortage of people to thank.
When Jim and I travel (which most people know is a lot), we discuss our projects. (Sometimes I wonder what we'd talk about if we weren't business colleagues!) Lately, our conversations go like this:

Jim: Did you see I'm having dinner with Paul?
Alice: Yes. Oh, and that reminds me, we're having lunch with Elta.
Jim: Great. We haven't seen her in a long time. Oh, I have to call _____.
Alice: Oh yeah, and that reminds me, I need to add _____ to the list. Let me text myself.
Jim: Did you add _____?
Alice: Oops, no. I'll do that too.
Jim: Oh, and we're behind on the blog.

You get the idea. The list continues to grow the more people we thank. That's not a bad feeling!

3. Gratitude is contagious.
After sending thank you notes to several people, I got thank you notes back! We've also been encouraged by the number of people who have also decided to embark on their own 100 days of gratitude. A little bit of time that it takes to thank someone can start a cascade of gratitude.

(I'm reminded of the old Liberty Mutual ad campaign: "Doing the Right Thing.")

via AdWorld

Whether it's been people who impacted our personal lives, professional careers, or have donated to our causes, it has been the highlight of the month to thank them for their contributions. As we continue the 100 Days of Gratitude, we welcome your comments on your own gratitude experiences on this blog, or on our Facebook page.

Thank YOU!

Monday, July 1, 2013

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 31: Honoring Granite Mountain Hotshots

Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew
photo from City of Prescott
Like so many other friends, I heard about the loss of 19 firefighters from Prescott on Facebook. At first, I was a bit skeptical. "There's no way that 19 firefighters lost their lives fighting the Yarnell fire. Those guys are really well trained. This must be a rumor," I thought.

But then the updates started coming from media sources like NPR, and given my proclivity to believe NPR (hazard of my chosen profession), I joined in the discussion. One post that struck me was from my friend, Janet, who said, "As parents of a firefighter it hits close to home. Please send them prayers in this terrible time of grief."

Living in the mountain west in a period of drought, we have been touched by many fires. A little more than three years ago, Jim took this striking video of the Schultz Pass Fire from his driveway:

Schultz Pass Fire, Father's Day 2010

It's hard to imagine seeing a fire like this, or the Yarnell Fire, and going into it instead of running away. And hotshot crews, teams of usually 20 men who have been trained for difficult wildland fires, are considered the elite. When I've seen their trucks driving down the highway on their way to the next fire, I can't help but be a little kid again--I honk my car horn and wave.

To lose even one firefighter is tragic. To lose almost an entire team is unheard of.

For those living in this region, in the wildland urban interface, fire is an ongoing and increasing risk. We all know someone who has been affected by wildland fire, whether the immediate or after effect. We rely on firefighters who not only leap into danger to protect our communities, but who also spend countless hours providing public education, conducting fire prevention activities, and doing a lot of relatively mundane tasks to keep us safe from future fires.

Even though I did not know any of these men, I honor their commitment and ultimate sacrifice to all of us and pray for their families and friends.

Related links:
Facebook page honoring the lost:

The Granite Mountain Hotshot team was highlighted training for a situation just like this in this article posted June 25 and in the video below: For hotshot firefighting crews, training can be a matter of life and death.

Author's note: This is a little detour from the 100 Days of Gratitude, but given the situation, please forgive us. We have been progressing along with our pledge to thank someone every day for 100 days and will be posting more reflections soon.


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