Engaging Volunteer Fundraisers: Focus First on Internal Training

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Teddy

A senior development officer recently shared with me her acute frustration with her organization’s fundraising volunteers. She explained that her team had supplied the volunteers with an array of new information, materials and training exercises, yet the volunteers did not seem to absorb the content nor follow the guidance; worse, they continued to fall back into the same bad habits my friend’s team was trying to modify. My colleague was on the verge of acquiescing or even closing down the program.

As advancement professionals, we know there are correct ways to do things and incorrect ways to do them.  And if we want our volunteers to follow those best practices, be effective, and achieve our objectives, then we need to start by providing leadership in both word and deed.

Unfortunately, we don’t always adhere to our own prescribed processes, but instead give in, make exceptions, or act in ways that contradict our own advice. When we do that, we also give our volunteers an excuse or even encouragement to diverge from the desired practices.

There are several other errors that our trainers and staff liaisons tend to make when working with fundraising volunteers:

  • We don’t stand firm: We often let volunteers persuade us to cut short certain elements of our training program. (Almost no one wants to participate in role-playing exercises, right?) As a result, important information is not conveyed and critical skills are not developed, leaving volunteers inadequately prepared to fulfill their roles.
  • We’re inconsistent: We may say one thing in a training setting, but then act contrary to it in practice, causing confusion among those trained and prompting them to follow their own instincts instead of best practices.
  • We don’t understand our volunteers: We don’t listen to our volunteers and thus discover their needs, questions and anxieties—nor do we acknowledge that volunteers may harbor hesitations and questions that they are reluctant to vocalize in a training session with others.
  • We don’t follow through on promises: We don’t provide the support, answers, timely responses and other things we committed to during the training session.
  • We conduct “one and done” training: Single-session training can be helpful, but to truly modify behaviors, improve performance, and generate desired outcomes, a series of in-person and/or online follow-up sessions is highly recommended. Good training involves repetition, learning by doing, and reviewing the outcomes of actual performance.
  • We don’t provide timely rewards and feedback:  When working with volunteers, if you don’t provide timely feedback on their work, these unpaid supporters may feel unappreciated, as well as be uncertain whether or not they were effective. And if they were not effective, or were engaged in unproductive or inappropriate behaviors, you also must be prepared to gently direct their efforts into other endeavors.

Wondering why I chose a puppy photo to accompany this post? It struck me over the holidays that the training of fundraising volunteers shares several similarities with canine obedience schools—a conclusion I reached while visiting with my twin eight-year-old nieces and their new dog, Teddy (pictured above). And the most important lesson to be drawn from that comparison is that training success is determined more by the quality and effectiveness of the trainer than by actions of the training subject. Trainers who send mixed messages to their trainees can unintentionally encourage, reward and reinforce behaviors that are opposite the ones desired.

Accordingly, a decision to initiate or expand a volunteer-driven fundraising program in hopes of advancing a campaign or other major gift initiative is not one to be made lightly. Success requires an ongoing investment in training, communication and volunteer support. It also requires clearly defined, mutual expectations. And perhaps above all else, it demands knowledgeable, persistent trainers.

In short, before enlisting others to join our fundraising efforts, we must first be sure that we understand our own roles, know best practices, and be able and willing to follow through on all that we promise to our volunteer partners. And a critical first step is to be sure your trainers are well prepared and effective.

Do you agree that the efforts of fundraisers directly affect the performance and effectiveness of our volunteer fundraisers? Do you have success stories to share or suggestions for more effectively engaging and deploying volunteers to assist in securing major gifts?

My TalentED colleagues and I would also be happy to share examples of how we have helped organizations with their volunteer efforts. Just call!

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

Something Worth Reading: Those We Lead Tend to Live Up (or Down) to Our Expectations

MFL1Although Steve Browne’s recent blog post for TheHiringSite, How We See Others: The Role of the Talent Advisor, is directed at human resources professionals, I suggest that his provocative observations and recommendations have equal relevance for those of us in the advancement field who have responsibility for the success of fundraisers and other professionals.

Browne’s post is concise and simple, but its take-away is powerful: Stop focusing on why your employees and teams might be problematic and instead focus on their strengths and possibilities:

You need to understand the Pygmalion Effect*… [It] states that people will behave how you see them. If you think someone is a problem, they will be one. If you think they are talented, they will perform.

Perhaps Browne’s post resonates with me because during my career I have both delivered and received messages that conveyed low expectations or a lack of confidence. And I know from those personal experiences that when a supervisor encourages an individual, they frequently go on to overachieve; however, when an employee receives more criticism than praise or otherwise senses a lack of support from their supervisor, they will not be motivated to expend additional effort to excel–and indeed often respond in quite the opposite manner.

MFL2I suggest that all of us who supervise fundraisers and other advancement professionals follow Browne’s advice and start thinking of those we lead not as staff or FTEs but as “talent” with untapped potential; likewise, we should also begin to view ourselves not as managers but as “talent advisors”–coaches and mentors whose objective is to empower our own team members to grow, stretch and make the most of their abilities.

And if we do that, then perhaps–just as Professor Henry Higgins’ attitude changed toward Eliza Doolittle–we will soon “become accustomed to” the unique attributes and contributions of our own employees and thus find ourselves equally downcast about the possibility of losing these valuable partners.


 * For those unfamiliar with Pygmalion, it is the 1912 George Bernard Shaw play upon which My Fair Lady–both the 1956 Broadway play and 1964 movie (source of the scene with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn posted above)–are based. Shaw, in turn, took his play’s name from a character in Greek mythology.

Maximizing the Return on Your Investment in Staff Development

The Manager Gap – Why Fundraising Managers Are Important and Five Factors of Ineffective Frontline Leadership

When you dive into the topic of talent management in fundraising and development one key topic arises again and again: the challenge and shortage of effective management, especially of frontline fundraisers. This is an issue that has rebounding implications, as ineffective (or nonexistent) management can cripple an entire program. Prioritizing management of fundraisers is thus important because:

  • Management and leadership drive fundraiser engagement and have a strong determining role in overall retention. Most surveyed frontline fundraisers who reported low satisfaction attributed it to leadership or management elements not compensation, cause, or geographic location.
  • Managing and building strategy for the frontline impacts performance dramatically,both in short and long term. Managers have the ability to not only inspire collaboration and strategic thinking, but they are the key players in meaningful goal setting and professional growth for the fundraising team, but factors largely influence fundraising performance.
  • Managers serve as a critical leadership linkage between institutional initiatives and human capital. Fundraisers focus on donors, rightfully so. Institutions focus on vision and programs. Those who manage fundraisers fill the gap between those two activities, building outcomes from institutional direction and providing focus in individual agendas.

Branson Quote

Managers in development are thus hugely important to building momentum, providing staffing stability, and driving performance. Why does fundraising management fall short so frequently then?

Any combination of the following five factors are typically at play when management of fundraisers is ineffective:

  • (1) Leadership buy into the misconception that, as seasoned professionals, fundraisers require minimal management. Yes, we’ve talked about how high performing fundraisers need to have independence, but the opposite of micro-management is not absence of leadership. Frontline fundraisers frequently report frustrations with their lack of access to and direction from their managers and team leaders. Moreover, donor relations and gift outcomes are optimize by multiple points of contact and clear strategy. Managers who are disengaged from their team negate that opportunity.
  • (2) There is a small talent pool of frontline fundraisers with meaningful management experience. Development and major gift officers are looking to be managed by “one of their own”, meaning that they trust and respond more readily to individuals who themselves have experience as a fundraiser. We’ve talked about the general shortage of frontline fundraising talent across the country, and the shortage is even more pronounced when searching for individuals who both know major gift relationship-building strategy and are comfortable building a budget and negotiating office politics. This leads us to…
  • (3) Fundraising shops are growing rapidly and promoting individuals without professional skill investment.  More and more unit-based and separate fundraising programs require larger teams. As these teams grow the most senior fundraiser is often promoted and management responsibilities are subsequently treated as a “add-on” to existing fundraising responsibilities without meaningful training. Of surveyed fundraisers with 10+ years of experience the most frequently requested training and professional development topic area was in leadership and managing a team. We have a full class of individuals with great fundraising skills and new management expectations, but little support in building their capacity to meet those new expectations.
  • (4) There are rising demands and responsibilities for existing leadership. Plainly, many managers and leaders in development don’t have the time (or don’t believe they have the time) to spend building and engaging their team members. There are too many fires to put out, too many volunteers to respond to, and too many items on the event calendar to plan for, not to mention that these leaders often have high-level portfolios of their own. Non-profit development leaders are often overworked and talent management falls to the bottom of the totem pole too frequently. This can often be a symptom of a larger problem, which is that…
  • (5) The development office and team members aren’t fully valued at an institution. Some organizations operate with the assumption that fundraising exists outside of institutional programming and general engagement. Fundraisers are expected to “do their thing” and bring in money, separate from institutional staff (whether they be program managers, faculty, physicians, or CEOs/Presidents). What this dynamic effectively communicates across an organization is that, not only is development somehow less related to the institutional mission and impact, but also that the happiness and engagement of those who do development work is a lower priority.

Major Gift Officers… or Magicians?

Magician 5

A recent survey of 335 chief advancement officers in higher education reported that colleges and universities will be seeking median increases of 16% in their gift revenue for the 2015 fiscal year, while one in four of those institutions are planning for income growth of 25% or more. (“Colleges Plan on Big Jump in Fundraising Next Year.”) By most any standard, those are very large increases for established fundraising operations.

The recent survey, which included nearly 100 respondents whose organizations failed to meet their fundraising goals this year, shows that leaders in higher education are placing more pressure on their top fundraisers… to bring in more money.

If you are serving at one of the institutions that’s projecting that kind of ambitious growth this year, what gives you confidence in your ability to achieve such a bold target? Or if you don’t have full confidence, what is giving you pause? Do you think the national giving picture has improved this much since the Great Recession? Or are such aggressive projections being driven by pressure from administrators and governing boards and not by a realistic assessment of historical trends and current realities?

During my three decades in institutional advancement I have witnessed far too many examples–both in my own organizations and those of colleagues–in which fundraising goals were established without any meaningful analysis. All too often the patterns evident from recent outcomes were disregarded, significant revenue growth was expected without applying any new resources, current pipeline activity was not considered, and donor readiness was ignored. Instead, ambitious growth was demanded simply because someone wanted or needed the new dollars to fulfill their own narrow objectives.

As sportscaster Al Michaels declared in 1980 at the conclusion of history's most famous hockey game: "Do you believe in miracles?"

As sportscaster Al Michaels declared in 1980 at the conclusion of history’s most famous hockey game: “Do you believe in miracles?”

In many instances where revenue growth is unilaterally imposed, these aggressive expectations may not only be unsupported by serious analysis, but whatever evidence does exist actually points to the likelihood of a contrary outcome. (See adjacent illustration.) And of course once such spurious targets are formally adopted, they become the responsibility and burden of the fundraising team, which is then expected to beat the odds, if not perform a true feat of magic.

If unable to reach an aggressive and unreasonable new target, fundraising teams will be scrutinized, criticized and held accountable. And if the fundraisers are somehow able to “pull a rabbit out of their hats,” their likely “reward” for doing so will be the assignment of even more ambitious goal for the following year.

Are you and your fundraising team ready for these pressures? Will you be able to deliver such miracles this year? If aren’t ready, what are you doing to become prepared? Better yet, what can you do to push back on arbitrary and unrealistic targets? My BWF and TalentED colleagues would love to hear your thoughts, stories and suggestions, as well as work with you to overcome these challenges.

Something Worth Reading: Deloitte University Press Global Human Capital Trends 2014

deloitte report coverDeloitte has released a new and very interesting report, Global Human Capital Trends. This report, which looks at trends across the for-profit and non-profit sector has some great data on the challenges faced by industries reliant on skilled, high-level human capital. In particular the report draws attention to the following:

This year’s 12 critical human capital trends are organized into three broad areas:

  • Lead and develop: The need to broaden, deepen, and accelerate leadership development at all levels; build global workforce capabilities; re-energize corporate learning by putting employees in charge; and fix performance management
  • Attract and engage: The need to develop innovative ways to attract, source, recruit, and access talent; drive passion and engagement in the workforce; use diversity and inclusion as a business strategy; and find ways to help the overwhelmed employee deal with the flood of information and distractions in the workplace
  • Transform and reinvent: The need to create a global HR platform that is robust and flexible enough to adapt to local needs; reskill HR teams; take advantage of cloud-based HR technology; and implement HR data analytics to achieve business goals

These three themes are especially applicable to strategic talent management in fundraising. We’ve discussed the importance and difficulty of leadership in development as well as the role of engagement in retention.  The third element in the quote above reflects a rising consciousness in the development field. How we think about human resources globally needs to shift towards better strategy and comprehensive approaches.

Many development shops have only recently invested in owning their own team for hiring, overseeing, and training staff. Those that have succeeded have seen better results not only in the quality of their new hires, but in overall retention, engagement and satisfaction. Talent management needs to be more than conference attendance and a one-day orientation of new hires; it needs to be constantly adapting, assessing, and utilizing the engagement and skills of the team members of an organization. In fundraising we have many tools (metrics, analytics, professional seminars and conferences, database and portfolio management, etc). As development managers it is our responsibility to weild these tools meaningfully, while we apply some of the key traditional HR concepts described in this report.