Principles of Training New Major Gift Officers – Part II

Last week we discussed two of the essential principles for training new major gift officers: understanding the donor perspective and clear definition of the donor cycle. This week we have three more. Beyond orienting fundraisers to the nature of major gift philanthropy, organizations must seek to broaden the aptitude of these professionals to work with their colleagues and adequately represent their institutions. Leadership can do this through offering:

A Deeper Understanding of the Functionality and Capacity of Central and Operations Teams

Hand in hand with providing fundraisers clearer expectations of what working with donors looks like, an organization must partner with these individuals to set expectations for working within a development team. New fundraisers must know, for example, when and what type of additional research will be most useful to them (early career development officers often will get caught in a desire to know everything possible about a prospect before meeting with them). The ability to partner with and utilize the skills of central development teams and operations professionals will give new fundraisers a leg up in their early years as well as lessen the burden of other team members in orienting these individuals to their own programs the hard way (when something goes wrong or a fire needs to be put out).

Opportunities to Practice New Skills and Observe and Learn from Senior Fundraisers

Learning means little without the ability for professionals to put what they have learned into practice. Any formal training session should, therefore, be paired with low-risk avenues for new major gift officers to gain experience in the realities of working with donors. Across the country there are now several institutions tackling this need in creative ways—whether it’s a virtual learning experience utilizing actors or avatars, structured “mock” meetings with close volunteer donors, or role playing in a workshop setting. This “practice space” gives new fundraisers two great things: the chance to get a feel for major giving conversations and valuable feedback from those working with them on what they did well and what could be improved.

Another great resource that many institutions already have lies within the existing senior fundraising team. Exposure to best practices by observing high performers in action can be a very meaningful point in developing new fundraising talent. This type of shadowing helps show novice development officers not only how to respond when a meeting diverts from the theoretical agenda, but also the depth and nature of relationships between an experienced fundraiser and high level donor.

Knowledge of Institutional Strengths, Histories, and Controversies

Your donors and constituents have typically been familiar with your institution longer and in more depth than your junior fundraisers. This gap has to be addressed directly. Donors and prospective donors will expect any development officer they meet with to not only know about their history as donors, but also have a decent grasp of the people, programs, and history of your organization. Whether this be previous controversies that the institution has survived or national championship teams and coaches, training a new frontline officer must include consistent and reinforced building of institutional knowledge.

We’ve seen data time and time again that says that newly hired fundraisers take 3.5–4 years to begin to produce real gift dollar results. For those who are new to the frontline, that ramp-up can take even longer. It’s in our best interest to accelerate this process with new major gift officers through strategic training and education, clear opportunities and exposure to donors and the team, and reinforcement and feedback.

BWF’s TalentED practice offers one-on-one coaching, intensive training workshops, and talent management counsel to help our clients recruit, retain, and grow a high performing fundraising team. For more information contact us at training@bwf.com.

Copyright © 2015 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.

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!

Something Worth Reading: “Don’t Fear Fund Raising: Matching Donor Passion to Your Department’s Needs”

Fear 1Successful educational fundraisers know that faculty and academic leaders can be invaluable allies in building productive relationships with donors and securing funding for institutional priorities. Deans, department heads, professors and researchers possess a deep understanding of the programs they direct, as well as a credible and persuasive passion for those initiatives that few professional fundraisers can match.

Unfortunately these potential partners are often reluctant to engage in the cultivation and solicitation of prospective benefactors. Their hesitation can be rooted in a lack of understanding about how major gift fundraising is conducted, anxieties about asking for money, fear of rejection, or even concerns that a donor may attempt to exert control over their work. On the other hand, their perceived reluctance might also be a simple case of not being invited to participate.

In his recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay, “Don’t Fear Fund Raising: Matching Donor Passion to Your Department’s Needs,” Texas Tech professor and dean David D. Perlmutter does an excellent job of demystifying the fundraising process for his fellow academicians. Perlmutter’s piece provides insights into the process of setting fundraising priorities, clarifying and articulating those needs, and underscoring the uncomfortable notion that what most excites faculty members may not be what resonates with donors.

Perlmutter’s most important lesson, however, is, that effective educational fundraising is usually an iterative process and that our greatest successes often follow the rejection of an initial approach. Accordingly, faculty and administrators must be prepared to listen actively, “be willing to shift gears,” seek to “recast and redirect” their appeal, and “leave the door open” for future discussions, even when the first appeal proves unsuccessful.

So if you are a department chair, director of a center, or dean of a college, what should you do if you find that what the donor wants is not what you need? …. Be willing to shift gears. Don’t be hypnotized by your agenda. Keeping your priority list handy does not mean you should ignore out-of-the-box opportunities.

Dean Perlmutter’s terrific insights, however, are not enough to prepare academic leaders for fundraising success. Institutions committed to actively and effectively engaging faculty and academic leaders in the fundraising process must also be committed to providing education and training for these key allies.

In addition to demystifying the fundraising process, a training program for faculty, department heads and deans will also supply them with the perspectives, tools and techniques they need to hone and articulate their priorities and to successfully engage and build relationships with donors. After helping lead workshops this summer for academic leaders at several TalentED clients, I found it  both remarkable and satisfying to observe the resulting relief, excitement and resolve among our participants once they were been equipped with the tools for success.

So make the most of this readily accessible talent pool at your institution by ensuring your faculty and academic leaders receive the perspective, preparation, encouragement and support they need to maximize their chances for fundraising triumphs. Don’t leave it to chance.

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.

The Three Fundamental Questions in Talent Management

We’ve spent time talking about talent, what makes good fundraisers, what to look for in incentive structures, and the role of titling. Talent management, especially in a sector as competitive as development, is a complex process, but almost every element related to this array of challenges can be boiled down to one of three fundamental questions.

The questions (and what they mean) are below:

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1. Do we have the right people?

This question really can be broken down to one big idea: talent composition. When thinking about whether or not you have the right quantity or quality of talent, one should focus on institutional objectives. What is your non-profit trying to accomplish in its fundraising program? Can you tie those objectives to expanded or existing responsibilities for specific team members or positions? If not, that means that there is likely a gap in your staffing that needs to be filled. If so, your next question should assess whether there is confidence in the skill level and breadth of these individuals to meet the goals set out before them. For example, a new objective could be to triple gift income designated towards an existing program, but if the giving team program is inexperienced or already maxed out in workload you do not have the right people to reach that goals even if you can trace responsibility initially.

Similarly, the level of skill required to meet goals can be higher than what is found among existing staff members.  If a development shop wants to go after 7 figure gifts in New York City it will need a seamless operations team to handle the $1M+ gifts and fearless, versatile frontline fundraisers who can converse fluently about high level wealth and have a proven ability to get new gifts. In all likelihood the organization entering this goal area will not have the right level of talent immediately available.

2. Are our people in the right place?

Take the scenario described above, where a team is unable to meet the existing or new demands placed upon it. This type of occurrence doesn’t necessarily mean that you are required to bring someone new on board. Rather, the next question to think about is where your top talent is. Non-profit talent management is all about minimizing cost and maximizing outcomes – one key way to do so is to match staff members with positions that best fit their skills. For example, if your development shop has three top priorities, it follows that you should ensure that the institution’s strongest talent are positioned to work towards or lead the efforts related to those priorities.

In a different example you may have a strong leader on your team. He is a stellar frontline fundraiser and has strong relationships with board members who can easily open new doors. Since his performance has been so strong he has been put in front of a new team to manage. This new position effectively reduces the time he can spend fundraising by half. Unless this individual strongly desires the management responsibilities or there are sufficient other fundraisers who can maintain similar high level donors relationships this new position may leave a gap in current performance and fail to utilize his greatest strengths towards institutional goals.

3. Are team members reaching their full potential?

This question related to two levels of potential: current efficiency and work quality and long-term potential and growth. If you look at questions #1 and #2 and feel confident that the size, skill, and organization of team members are all effective, but are still dissatisfied with performance this question should be the launching point for identifying the problem. Are team members under-performing because they don’t have sufficient staff support or there is a negative office culture? Perhaps the structures supporting the team are insufficient and don’t give teams the tools they could use to be more effective. In the area of long-term potential you may have individuals with strong performance, but very high capacity that aren’t getting the training and coaching that would help them be even better.

Using these questions in problem-solving.

To look at this process from another angle – these three questions are useful to diagnose existing frustrations or challenges you currently face. Take any struggle, high turnover in a critical program for example. Do you have the right people in the program? High turnover often happens when position responsibilities are too voluminous or technical, thus overwhelming or overextending employees. Are your people in the right place? A weak or disorganized leader may discourage retention or perhaps there’s highly technical element that requires a stronger partnership across the organization. Are team members reaching their full potential?  A common reason for leaving offered in exit interviews is that there is no room for advancement so staff members feel undervalued and underused.  These questions help you identify the root of problems that any office encounters and lead to stronger solutions moving forward.

 

The talent management process and strategy-building comes into play once you answer these questions. Talent management is designed to be the “what’s next?” when institutions realize that they don’t have the right people, or their talent isn’t organized effectively, or performance is below where it should be. We will talk a little bit later about what your most effective options are when you look at your staffing related to these questions and come up short.

On an unrelated note – I will be at the AFP International conference this weekend in San Antonio. Stop by the Bentz Whaley Flessner booth 539 and say hello, ask me any questions you may have about talent management, or share some feedback on your own talent management struggles.

The Real Cost of Fundraiser Time – A Breakout of Two Possible Scenarios

In follow up to this post I’ve created this infographic breaking out a few ways to think of development officer time and how important it is to focus your fundraisers on fundraising. Every time a fundraiser’s time is diverted from major giving there is a loss of potential gift income. These two hypothetical situations demonstrate how and why this is so.

infographic