Evaluating Your Fundraising Talent? Here are a couple of quick tools to use

A large component of talent management revolves around it’s most basic question: who do we have? Answering this can be more difficult than we think. A full review of who you have on the team requires leadership attention and a commitment to follow up. In development, where we have many levels of leadership, roles and responsibilities, it can be especially easy to focus on one level of the team, while ignoring rising stars and performers elsewhere. Luckily we can borrow some tools from the business world in performance management. The first of which is the well-known 9-box, which is a tool for mapping out team members based on performance and potential.

9 box

An alternative method for categorizing performers can be completed through focusing strategically on current performance and answering key questions relation to the attrition risk and next steps of each team member in a category. A sample visualization of this process can be found below:

rating performers

The visual above can further be applied specifically to development, refining the definitions of the behaviors that merit a ranking of 5 versus 4 versus 3, etc. In my work I have spent quite a deal of time building out a full 1-5 competency matrix for frontline fundraisers, breaking out key competency areas and levels of performance against which managers can evaluate development officers. It has been incredibly interesting and challenging, but the increased clarity pays off as medium and rising performers now more clearly can see what they have to do differently. An excerpt of the model (which has five major competency areas, with 4-5 sub categories each) is below:

compentency excerpt

Two Sides of the Same Coin – Fundraising Talent Management Challenges

This blog has covered both challenges in talent management of fundraisers and of development operations team members. These audiences, while distinct in their challenges, can be thought of as two sides of the same coin.

As our the non-profit fundraising sector has evolved so has our demand for talent. We now are highly in need of two things in short supply: highly sophisticated frontline officers who can deliver big gifts and high tenure operations team members who can think and partner strategically.

Below is a table overview of the two categories.

talent management nutshell

What do you think? Have you seen other trends in the talent management of fundraisers or operations teams?

Something Worth Reading: Eleven Characteristics of Successful Fundraisers

IMG_4821On this blog we’ve touched on some international trends and what we’re seeing on the frontline, but today I stumbled upon a great find from our friends in the UK. This article, which is a recap of a presentation at the Institute of Fundraising convention, shows us some new emerging research on fundraising talent (consistent with what we’ve found before). Beth Breeze has been conducting a three-year research project at the University of Kent on fundraisers and success factors.

The full list of attributes is at the end of this blog post. However, what’s most interesting to me is the following statement by Breeze:

A lot of fundraisers said something similar; words like passionate, saying ‘it’s the best job in the world’ have come up a lot. It seems the only difference between major donors and major donor fundraisers is how much they have in their bank accounts.

We spend a lot of time looking at behavior and metrics that differentiate top performers from their peers, but sometimes we neglect this fundamental characteristic to even be an effective fundraiser in the first place: passion for the cause. The smoothest solicitation script will always pale in comparison to a less polished but 100% heartfelt appeal. Donors can sense who is being genuine with them and who is not. As salaries continue to rise dramatically and we pull in talent from the for-profit world it will do us well to remember to look first for that connection to the cause and then for strategic skills.

The 11 defining characteristics of Breeze’s study are also indicative of a love of people, community, and charity:

  • A high emotional intelligence, including being self-aware and aware of how others are feeling.
  • Formative experiences which mean they are comfortable asking – Breeze said fundraisers tended to come from backgrounds where it was completely natural to ask for help or to borrow a cup of sugar.
  • A tendency to engage with people and communities outside the day job – the study has found that 11 per cent of fundraisers sing in choirs and a fifth attend evening classes
  • A love of reading – the study found fundraisers were particularly likely to enjoy popular psychology books
  • An ability to read people and situations, and to understand body language
  • An enjoyment of giving – 87 per cent of fundraisers said they love to give gifts, and 32 per cent donate blood, compared to 5 per cent in the general population
  • A great memory for faces, names and personal details
  • An ability to be “Janus-faced” – fundraisers are charming, laid back and fun in front of donors, but ruthlessly well organised behind the scenes
  • A focus on organisational rather than personal success – fundraisers saw themselves as enablers and scene setters rather than visible leaders seeking recognition
  • A lack of egotism – Breeze said fundraisers understood that “the plaques are for donors, not askers”
  • A tendency not to describe themselves as fundraisers – Breeze said fundraisers rarely described themselves as fundraisers. She used the term “appreciation experts” to better describe what they do.

The article is worth a read and, for those of you in the UK, Beth is definitely a person to keep watching for new insight, trends, and strategies.

Side note: I will be with my colleague Josh Birkholz this week in Chicago, delivering the keynote session at the CASE Strategic Talent Management conference. If you will be there let me know! (cmegli@bwf.com or @ChelseyMegli on twitter)

Fundraiser Procrastination: Name It. Know It. Deal With It.

Procrastination 9

Being an occasional procrastinator, I found myself drawn to a recent Chronicle of Higher Education blog post titled “Procrastination, Our Old Frenemy.” The item, by Jason B. Jones of Connecticut’s Trinity College, is thought-provoking and challenges those of us who tend to dawdle and delay (as most of us do from time to time) to consider the damage such dilatory behavior can cause.

The Prevalence of Fundraiser Procrastination

During my fundraising days I most often procrastinated when I had to reach out to new prospects or challenging donors. While I’m not proud of that, I do take some solace in knowing that numerous colleagues also engage in similar hesitation and delay. Indeed, when I confessed my fundraising procrastination during a recent TalentED workshop, every head in the room nodded in agreement.IMG_3248

Jones’s article conveniently served as a bibliography of other Chronicle articles on the topic. (I’ve provided links to several of those entries at the end of my post.) The article I found to be most relevant is the aptly titled “Procrastination” from the blog of Shawn Blanc. Blanc explores the causes of general procrastination, which include: lack of motivation, fear, other things we’d rather be doing, the ease with which we’re distracted, feelings of being overwhelmed, stubbornness, and our own pre-existing habits.

Reasons for Fundraiser Procrastination

Blanc’s list is a useful starting point for thinking about the causes of fundraiser procrastination, which I decided include the following:

  • Anxiety and insecurity: Being stressed about talking with strangers, unsure about how they will react, or feeling unworthy of their time and attention.
  •  Fear of rejection: Worrying about be turned down for an appointment or a gift—or about not being welcomed.
  • Absence of confidence: Uncertain about one’s own skills or abilities, lacking in training, or being unsure about the purpose or point of the expected donor contact.
  • Procrastination 10Distractions and lack of focus: Not prioritizing one’s responsibility for building relationships and driving donors toward significant gift commitments, as well as getting derailed by other demands, activities or dramas.
  • Inadequate incentives or accountability: It doesn’t matter greatly to others whether or not donor contacts are completed within a particular timeframe, and the absence of serious consequences doesn’t impart much motivation.
  • Lack of discipline: The fundraiser has never developed the appropriate habits and practices of effective gift officers.

The first step in fixing any problem is acknowledging that we have one. I encourage my fellow fundraisers to pause and consider how often, either overtly or subconsciously, they evade their responsibilities for making  timely contact with their assigned donors and prospects—particularly those individuals who are challenging, difficult, unpleasant or simply unknown.

Leadership Strategies for Minimizing Procrastination

It would be ideal if individuals would acknowledge their procrastination tendencies and take their own steps to overcome this impediment. But knowing that “contact postponement” is widespread among gift officers at all levels of experience, I urge managers to proactively help gift officers confront and address this impediment. Drawing upon my own experience, as well as insights from the various Chronicle articles, I recommend that fundraising leaders employ the following strategies to minimize fundraiser procrastination:

  • Heal Thyself: Lead by Example. If you expect those you lead to not procrastinate, then don’t’ engage in those bad habits yourself.
  • Deadlines and Targets. Set times by which critical fundraising calls must be finished, along with weekly goals for completed contacts—including calls to secure meetings, advance relationships, and thank donors for gifts.
  • Procrastination 7Make Appointments. Set aside time each day and/or week during which your fundraisers are expected drop everything else to be in their workspaces making calls. If an extenuating circumstance arises, the missed calling time must be made up immediately.
  • The Buddy System. Encourage fundraisers to have one or more colleagues to whom they are accountable for making their expected contacts. Support staff who work with gift officers can fill this role, as well as help ensure the set-aside time are protected from other intrusions.
  • Self-Rewards. As an incentive, ask fundraisers to schedule their most enjoyable, stress-free tasks for immediately after the expected donor contacts are to be completed.
  • No “Padding” of Portfolios. Every fundraiser develops relationships with certain donors and prospects who they look forward to meeting. Make sure that gift officers don’t fill their time having multiple visits with these low-risk, low anxiety calls.
  • Training and Practice. The most effective antidote to fundraiser procrastination is providing staff with solid training and lots of practice with the activities that often prompt procrastination: getting appointments, cold calls, overcoming objections, and dealing with difficult people.
  • Remember that Fundraising is Fun. Once they get rolling, most fundraisers discover their pre-contact anxieties dissipate. But staff can’t achieve this epiphany until they get out and “just do it.”

Procrastination 1The Blanc article also explores the possibility that “unchecked procrastination bleeds over” into other facets of our work and personal endeavors. Blanc suggests that “having structure and focus in one aspect of our life gives us clarity and momentum that brings structure to the other areas.” His theory is both plausible and encouraging, and it’s one I’m planning to further explore myself.

Do you agree that procrastination is a significant concern among fundraisers and directly impedes our progress? Have I named the correct reasons for it? Have you found other strategies for dealing with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!

In the meantime, let’s all commit to helping our staff and ourselves follow through on making the calls, building the relationships, and soliciting the contributions that are central to the success of our fundraising programs and the institutions we represent.

Perhaps you can begin by forwarding this post to another procrastinator. And then log off and start making some calls!

Additional articles and posts about procrastination:

Practice and Repetition Are Not Enough: Why Training and Coaching Are Essential Elements for Developing Effective Fundraisers

Shooting Free Throws (Narrow)In previous posts our TalentED team has emphasized the importance of practice and repetition in ensuring that fundraisers develop the skills and professional judgment necessary to achieve success as a major gift officer. I’m confident it’s now accepted wisdom that repetitive simulations and actual hands-on, in-the-moment interactions with donors are essential experiences in helping new gift officers master the art of fundraising—a process that includes discovery, cultivation, solicitation, negotiation and stewardship.

As vitally important to performance as regular practice is, a recent article from Inc. Magazine reminded me that repetition alone cannot guarantee long-term fundraising success.

In “4 Short Lessons on How to Learn a New Skill,” author Sims Wythe posits that individuals who pursue mastery of a skill must also possess or receive four other factors if their repetition to yield meaningful improvement: (1) motivation, (2) knowledge, (3) application of knowledge, and (4) unequivocal feedback:

  1. Motivation

To get better at a skill, we must first want to improve. As Wythe states, “the first thing you have to do is simply begin…. And now that you know you want to begin, you have to be willing to fail, to be frustrated, to be bored, and to be angry that what looks so easy for some is so hard for you.” Without these internal or external incentives for improvement, we are unlikely to apply the necessary discipline, exert enough effort, or tolerate the impediments.

What motivates fundraisers to improve? At the very least, our supervisors expect and require us to become more polished and increasingly productive. Hopefully, we also bring to the task our own personal pride and desire for success.  Nonetheless, even the very best fundraisers encounter obstacles, including objections and rejection by donors. It’s not an easy job—and these challenges certainly contribute to the rapid turnover among first-time major gift officers.

  1. Knowledge??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

For practice and repetition to make a difference, you have to be practicing the right things. As Wythe observes, if you practice your golf swing at the driving range every day of the summer but you have a lousy swing, it’s unlikely your swing will be any better on Labor Day. Wythe thus cites Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who advises that “…acquisition of skills requires a regular environment, an adequate opportunity to practice, and rapid and unequivocal feedback about the correctness of thoughts and actions.”

What does that mean for major gift officers? Your own ability to enhance your performance is limited. To get better, you need to observe effective fundraising in action, have access to resources that will inform you, and obtain feedback from other, more experienced fundraisers.

  1. Application of Knowledge

Practicing alone has limited value. You must also practice in front of others and in situations similar to those in which your actual performance will occur. For example, Wythe cites the process of becoming Practicing Piano 3a better public speaker: “the only proven way to become a better speaker is to rehearse under performance-like pressure…. It is hard to replicate real-life circumstances, but practicing your speech aloud to people who are familiar with your topic is—again—the only scientifically proven way of improving your speaking skills.”

For fundraisers, that means practicing the types of conversations that you must have with donors: getting the appointment, eliciting information, exploring interests, soliciting gifts, overcoming objections and making the close. As uncomfortable as it may be, live practice—and yes, even role playing—of donor conversations in front of other, more seasoned gift officers is critical to recognizing opportunities for improvement and identifying areas for further practice.

  1. Unequivocal Feedback

Once you begin performing the skills you’ve been developing and policing, it’s vital to evaluate your performance and to identify areas that require further practice and improvement.  Indeed, Wythe suggests that we all need a coach; however we cannot be our own coaches: “You can read all the how-to books you want, but then you have to implement those suggestions—which takes a huge amount of discipline that most of us don’tPracticing Violin 1 have—and then you have to be able to see around your own blind spots which, believe me, will take a lifetime.”

Of course, few fundraisers have the resources to engage a personal coach. Instead, that role should be filled by your supervisor and your peers, and ideally, your organization will offer on-site training programs or opportunities to attend off-site workshops.  But if your supervisor and peers don’t see themselves as coaches, or if you don’t have access to training programs, it is up to you to proactively seek out feedback and coaching: Ask your colleagues to provide the ‘rapid and unequivocal feedback’ Wythe says you need, or seek others to help fill that role. Just be sure that you enlist knowledgeable people who you trust to critique you without holding back.

It should thus be good news for both new and seasoned fundraisers that the imperative for pursuing a comprehensive approach to building advancement teams is beginning to be acknowledged and to be addressed. By applying tenets of “strategic talent management” to the advancement profession, fundraising organizations are increasingly looking holistically at the entire process of finding, training, developing, rewarding and keeping the best possible gift officers. And training, coaching and mentoring are core elements of this fresh, holistic approach to growing talent. In addition, consulting and support organizations (such as Bentz Whaley Flessner and TalentED) are also ramping up their offerings to help clients develop talent management strategies, provide training and coaching, and better understand the dynamics of creating and maintaining effective fundraising teams.

It’s good news, for sure. But don’t stop practicing!

A New Year’s Resolution List for Leaders to Consider Right Now

Thinking Critically About Hiring: Deciphering the Frontline Fundraiser Resume

Originally published October 8, 2014

Fundraising organizations are constantly hiring new talent, both to grow the size of their shops and to replace those fundraisers who have moved on. However, due to the talent shortage the industry faces and the variations among fundraising organizational structures, finding a pool of qualified candidates and identifying which individuals bring the skills, performance potential, and approach needed most by your team can be difficult.

As you look towards your next hire consider the following:

Proactively focus on the people you want. The organizations that do best in fundraiser recruitment are proactive in hiring, not reactive. They look to a pool of previously identified candidates and desirable hires before a position is even open. Development shops should focus on who they would like to join the team in the next two years, not just what specific positions they would like to fill. Then, each open position becomes an opportunity to create the right appeal for the candidate you want.

Similarly by focusing on the hires you want to make, and not only the specifics of a position, you can consider qualified individuals with positions that don’t look like an immediate match but may become the perfect fit. For example, an experienced, high-performing individual who has the title of director of development for a college of engineering might have a passion for art and be the best candidate for partnership with your art school.

Remember that the culture of your particular organization and personalities of your development team may determine which individuals will be most successful. Someone may have the perfect background for a specific program or initiative, but not the right personality for the team involved.

Don’t be blinded by institutional prestige or titles. BWF often observes the 80:20 rule for fundraisers: 20% of your staff are high performers who bring in 80% of gifts and gift income. Choosing a candidate based solely on his or her institution or title runs the risk of choosing a low performer from a high-capacity organization.

Title seniority and responsibility vary widely across the development sector. Individuals might have a senior title yet have no real difference in responsibility from their junior colleagues. Likewise an individual may have a strong history of high performance, but his or her employment history is at an institution that does not use “senior-sounding” titles for promotion.

Be wary and know the signs of “position hoppers.” A recent BWF survey of fundraisers found that generally less than 7 percent are actively seeking new opportunities, while 25 percent are passively open to opportunities that are sent their way. Within this industry there is a subset of “position hoppers” who have resumes filled with 2- and 3-year stints at institutions with increasing title and prestige. Be very cautious with these candidates. Chances are your organization will not be the exception to their rule of taking the next bigger and brighter thing. Considering that true fundraiser performance doesn’t occur until around the 4th year, these sorts of hires are extremely risky for your organization, because in 24–36 months you will face yet another vacancy and a portfolio of partially developed prospects.

Look for a history of strategy over activity. Many position descriptions for fundraisers request some history of soliciting gifts at a certain level. While a history of actual gifts secured can demonstrate competence and qualification, the candidate’s ability to use and create strategy to secure those gifts and to build the donor relationship is a more valuable predictor of success. There are fundraisers who technically have secured 7- and 8-figure gifts merely by having the luck of a particular prospect being assigned to their portfolio.

Look for individuals who can both articulate the relationship building and challenges of securing a gift and demonstrate results, not necessarily those who just have the right numbers. For candidates from a smaller organization, the strategy, outreach, and engagement required of a $50,000 gift might far exceed that of another candidate with a higher capacity prospect pool and established program.

Ultimately, a fundraiser must do four things: contribute to the institutional culture, add value to the team, increase capacity in reaching and engaging donors, and secure major gift commitments. Filling a position haphazardly or waiting for the perfect candidate to appear will result in bad hires, decrease donor outcomes, and can negatively impact team morale. Look for the candidates who demonstrate their qualities and results to you, not just allude to it with a resume, and you will be a step ahead.