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)

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.

Silos Are For Cows, Not for Deans and Development Officers

 

 

cow Having resided for much of my life among dairy farms in either upstate New York or northeast  Wisconsin, I’ve had a lot of exposure to silos—the physical structures in which farmers store grain  for their livestock. But the experiences I’ve had with college and university silos—the  metaphorical but nonetheless very real structures in which schools, departments and disciplines  isolate themselves from the rest of their institution—have been far more profound and always  more troublesome.

The presence of academic and administrative silos within an institution inevitably influences the  behavior of fundraisers who serve those subunits. Such silo-induced thinking leads fundraisers to  act in counterproductive ways that minimize fundraising yields at both the institutional and  subunit levels, mostly because they are focusing on their own program’s bottom-line needs and  not giving primary attention to the interests, motivations and aspirations of their donors.

Top donors usually have multiple points of contact with a college or university they are  supporting; nonetheless, those donors tend to view their multi-faceted colleges and universities as  a single entity. Even if interacting with multiple units and personnel, they are interested in the  overall success and reputation of the entire institution. They also believe—often wrongly—that the  various people and parts of the institution are communicating with one another.

When academic fundraisers operate in silos and do not actively collaborate with their counterparts from other silos, several bad things can happen:

  • Confusion:  Donors may mix up the multiple appeals, confuse which personnel represent which program, forget what gifts they’ve made, or overlook pledge payments.
  • Frustration:  Donors’ confusion can quickly lead to irritation, which may result in reduced giving to one or more subunits—or no giving at all.
  • Inefficiency:  Even when donors give generously to multiple programs, if that giving is not coordinated there is still wasteful duplication of dollars and efforts expended on soliciting and stewarding those gifts.
  • Uncertainty: At some point, a donor who observes a multiplicity of uncoordinated fundraising efforts from a single college or university is going to have doubts about the management and leadership of that institution, which will likely affect that donor’s future giving decisions.

On the other hand, when fundraisers climb out of their silos and collaborate, several positive things can happen:

  • Efficiency:  Eliminating duplication of expenditures and effort means that more resources can be devoted to other donors and other projects.
  • Synergy: When formerly siloed fundraisers collaborate, they create the potential for synergy from sharing of ideas, information and perspectives about a donor that may help both of them be more effective in their solicitations.
  • Teamwork: If two or more fundraisers and their programs coordinate their strategy and tactics, their combined solicitation team can be more persuasive than if they operated separately…and they will also eliminate the possibility of a donor playing one program against the other.
  • Camaraderie:  When fundraisers collaborate,  greater respect, trust and support tend to emerge; from this camaraderie can develop an environment in which colleagues look out for one another and make a point of sharing information and new possibilities.
  • Karma: From a culture of camaraderie and trust may emerge a belief that if a fundraiser in one program shares a promising prospect with a colleague in another program, that act of collaboration will eventually be reciprocated by the original beneficiary and/or by other colleagues.
  • Donor-centricity:  If we de-emphasize what’s best for our unit and our own best interests, the focus will shift to what’s best for our donors. When that happens, donors will become more fully engaged with our institutions, become more informed and excited by all that we’re doing, and ultimately increase their overall giving—often to the benefit of the fundraiser and unit that took the initiative to expand the donor’s engagement.

Some readers will no doubt react to this mini-rant against siloed fundraising as self-evident and a description of behavior in which they and their institution would never engage. If that’s indeed the case, you have my congratulations and admiration. But fundraising in silos remains a far more common phenomenon that I’d like to think, and my visits to several large, multi-faceted universities over the past year have confirmed for me that it’s still alive and impeding progress at numerous institutions.

I am a firm believer in doing the right thing and seizing opportunities to expand a donor’s engagement with our institution, even it means “sharing” our best prospects with other. I believe this because I think it’s philosophically the right thing to do. But I’ve also witnessed how it’s good for business and ultimately pays off.

The most illustrative example from my career involved a top donor to the school I served at a complex research university. While the donor had been generous to our school by most any measure, we knew he had the potential to do much more, but numerous attempts had failed to unlock it. Then, after discovering our friend had a passion for architecture and historic preservation, I persuaded my dean that if he were to introduce the donor to the leaders of our historic restoration program the donor and the university leadership would all appreciate his sharing. Skipping over a lot of detail to get to the end of the tale, I can report that the donor did indeed become very involved in the historic restoration effort, was appointed to the university’s governing board, and made an eight-figure pledge to the university’s next campaign. And my dean—the one who shared this generous donor with others at the university—received from the donor a naming gift for a new facility that far exceeded any of his previous gifts to the school, as well as a coveted award for community-spirited contributions to the university.

For more about the dangers of silos and the benefits of cross-division collaboration, I recommend Patrick Lencioni’s enjoyable 2006 book, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors (http://www.tablegroup.com/books/silos). According to Lencioni, silos—and the turf wars they enable—devastate organizations by wasting resources, killing productivity and jeopardizing results.  His book provides useful advice on how to “eliminate the invisible barriers that separate work teams, departments and divisions, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another.”

 

 

Something Worth Reading: Talent Retention and CASE’s “Hire Learning”

I know that talent management is a critical component of development success. This article  from CASE Currents highlights just why. Written by Peter Hayashida (VC for Advancement at UC Riverside) this essay describes the great challenge of turnover in the development field.  Hayashida makes many good points, including:

That leads me to an important point about retention, pay, and performance. In their book,First, Break All the Rules, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman argue that people don’t leave jobs; they leave managers. Specifically, they leave managers who don’t properly manage employee performance. Poor performers drag entire organizations down and make high achievers vulnerable to the lure of greener pastures. In development, we tend to promote people with strong technical abilities as fundraisers into managerial jobs but give them little training on the skills required to be successful leaders.

We’ve talked about  the gap between technical and managerial skills, and the challenges of finding good managers, and the difficulty of recruitment before. Peter Hayashida hits one key issue on the head here: effective management is one of the best tools we have to attract and keep valuable talent. In a market where fundraisers are being called about job opportunities multiple times a month, having managers who engage their employees, inspire good performance, and build rapport is going to make the difference in whether your fundraisers stay or go.

 

In about a month Bentz Whaley Flessner will be releasing the report of its findings from a national survey of frontline fundraisers and what drives their behavior and job engagement. Early glances at this data have consistently pointed to two things: weak management is the top reason listed by those with low job satisfaction, and leadership training is the top topic area where fundraisers want more professional development. We should be able to address both these areas by focusing on building up what it means to effectively manage fundraisers and development teams.

 

The article also features perspectives of three other experts on diversity, job hopping, and talent management investment. It is definitely worth a read.

Something Worth Reading: The appeal of non-profit leadership in “Work-life demands intense for CEOs at nonprofits”

Those of us who have worked in the non-profit industry for a while can become used to the “when’s your serious career going to start?” sort of questions. But there’s more to this doubt than the lower salaries that come with working at a non-profit organization. Increasingly institutions demand more and more commitment, time, and energy from their staff and leadership. This article post touches on the effect of that pressure on CEOs in particular, but there are several salient points, in particular:

When you lead a nonprofit, where the end game is about making the community a better place to live, the workload can be immense and the emotions intense. It’s a big responsibility – and one that people in their 20s and 30s aren’t rushing to undertake. As the demand for leaders in nonprofits increases, young workers say they don’t want to make the work-life sacrifices required of nonprofit executives…

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about fundraisers and development officers, but fundraising talent in the form of leadership is also often in short supply. Even those who have great potential may be reluctant to take on new leadership responsibilities because the increased pressure and stress that accompanies a promotion are not sufficiently balanced out by job benefits and satisfaction.

Part of the struggle can come from the nature of non-profit leadership. Most non-profit institutions are smaller organizations and with every promotion comes a large jump in responsibility. Individuals therefore tend to shoulder a broader spectrum of responsibility for an organization’s success, and, if something does go wrong, staff don’t face a loss in “profit” – they are in a position to see and feel responsible for a gap in services provided or institutional impact.

We do have a silver lining, one that applies to most non-profit staff members in general – the great privilege of working to do good and using you passion, education, and time to change the world. The article acknowledges this as well. The question becomes then, how do we utilize team members’ passion and enthusiasm for an organization and it’s mission without burning stars out too early?

Five Types of Ethical Non-profit Incentive Pay Structures for Fundraisers

An excerpt from a lively LinkedIn discussion on incentive pay

An excerpt from a lively LinkedIn discussion on incentive pay

We’ve talked about what we do know about incentive pay in the non-profit fundraising sector. I knew this was a hot topic in our field (hence the desire to discuss). The response online (I regularly post this blog in a few linkedin groups), however, demonstrated just how passionate (and articulate) both sides of the argument are. Many of those who opposed incentive pay showed great concern for bonuses negatively influencing fundraiser motivations and behavior.  An ethical incentive pay structure would need to be aware of and account for that concern.

We have seen non-profits who have successfully used incentive pay as a component of their talent management strategy. In general these organizations have structured bonuses in one or a combination of the following five scenarios:

Development Office-wide Bonuses (1)

Most non-profits try to increase overall giving each year, with many boards setting macro goals that are quite ambitious. In the for-profit world this model is often referred to as “profit-sharing”, where the entire team gets an even (or clearly striated) cut of profit over goal each year. In non-profits this type of bonus is uniform across the full development staff (for example: a $2,000, award which is either paid to all eligible participants or to none). The decision as to whether to pay the bonus at the end of the year is based upon predetermined office-wide criteria and goals. In many cases of this model staff participate in the selection of the relevant goals – one of which is always the comprehensive dollar target for the year. The bonus is paid at the end of the year to all staff without regard to individual performance. Either the entire staff receives the bonus or none receive it.

Individual Bonuses based on metrics and goals (2)

Since so many development shops already devote a lot of time towards fundraising metrics  and goal-setting it follows that those who pay individuals bonuses can use those same metrics to determine incentive pay. In this scenario the most common set-up looks at performance versus original goals in 4-5 categories (major gifts secured, proposals presented solicitations, visits, team work, etc). This system is formula-based, with those fundraisers who reach 100% of or exceed all goals to receive the maximum bonus (most frequently 4-5% of base income) and those who fall below goal receiving a calculated, lower payout.  In some cases manager input and qualitative goals do apply here, but they become very difficult and controversial to measure related to actual income.

Team-based incentive payouts (3)

Many institutions, especially those decentralized amongst units and programs, prefer to structure incentive pay around overall team performance in meeting goals, securing income, and building constituent relationships. In about half of these cases incentive pay is determined  by the unit or program’s leadership, while the remainder still have central control over incentive pay. Bonuses are also often divided in these cases into two categories of staff: fundraisers and support staff.

Superstar individual financial recognition (4)

This model is almost entirely used in conjunction with the other incentive pay systems described above.  Usually modeled extensively towards top talent retention and recruitment this type of bonus pay is used to reward those few individuals whose achievements far exceed those of their peers (reaching 110%+ in all goal categories for example). Qualification for this level of recognition is set and known to all staff members and typically less than 4 individuals at an institution qualify each year. The actual payout of the bonus can vary widely, but usually amounts to an additional 25-30% of the bonus level set up by the base incentive pay system.

Hybrid Incentives with Multi-level Goals (5)

This is perhaps one of the most interesting types of programs one can find in incentive pay.  In order to encourage more teamwork and organizational cohesion while stimulating individual performance several institutions set up a set amount for bonuses that is tiered and divided by several categories of performance. An example of how this would look would be:

  • First, if the development officer fails to meet  its goal all bonuses across the board would be decreased by one third.
  • Second, if the team failed to meet its goal, bonuses for all members of the team would be reduced by one third.
  • Third, if the individual failed to meet personal goals, there would be no bonus for that individual.

 

 

You’ll notice that none of these scenarios tie bonuses directly to a percentage of gift income, much less individual gifts. In many cases any income or pay is coupled with “softer” incentives such as flex-time, vacation, etc.  AFP’s argument against such practices remains widely accepted by the non-profit community, even those who implement incentive pay.

Four Ways Managers Can Better Motivate Fundraisers and Support Development Officer Growth

We spend a lot of time in this field talking about the struggles of hiring new development officers and fundraisers and devote even more time dissecting and understanding what motivates donors and volunteers, but little time has been spent discussing what actually motivates and inspires fundraising staff members. 

High fives, unfortunately, are not on the list.

High fives, unfortunately, are not on the list.

 

Earlier this week we talked about incentive pay and we will see several follow-up posts on the debate of the role of fundraiser “bonuses” in the non-profit sector. For now, however, I’d like to spend some time thinking about how organizations can motivate and drive performance of their fundraisers outside of an incentive pay structure.  Below are four ways that managers and organization directors can motivate and inspire better performance from their fundraisers:

1. Provide leadership and be a fundraiser’s ally in the office.

Running a development shop can be  a handful and it is easy to forget that fundraisers, even those with a decade plus of experience, need leadership and support. Managers can prioritize being available and visible for fundraisers, listening to their feedback and being an ally in reforming systems and structures to better facilitate development work. In a recent survey of a client’s staff nearly half of those surveyed reported low job satisfaction. When asked to detail the reasoning behind their answers the most frequently cited concern was a lack of leadership attention and support. As one fundraiser stated:

I would …like to have a resource on the senior team, someone to hear my opinions and guide me in a career path, rather than someone who I do not even have a regular weekly meeting with.

Senior teams can get so preoccupied with running an office that they lose sight of the challenge and complexity of the day-to-day work of their staff members. Fundraisers who have regular contact with senior managers feel more comfortable discussing difficult prospects, job concerns, and bringing in others for donor relations and solicitations. This, in turn, improves overall results.

2. Connect team members to programs and the impact of your organization’s mission and work.

I have yet to meet someone who decided to work at a non-profit to make money. One close contact of mine left a career in venture capital to serve as executive director for an organization supporting homeless families. He is closely connected to his work and can talk for hours about the lives impacted by his non-profit. It’s genuine passion that drives what he does. Donors and board members recognize that passion and respond accordingly.

Fundraisers can get stuck in the day to day cycle of scheduling meetings, reviewing reports, and delivering rehearsed messaging. Those who more regularly participate in and facilitate the communication of a non-profit’s impact find the work more rewarding and are motivated to do more. Managers should ask themselves if their fundraising teams get the chance to see the mission realized of the organization. In a meeting with a new hire or job candidate the topic of a specific mission and non-profit’s good work will almost always be featured as a driver for why they sought a position with you in the first place.  If you asked your seasoned fundraising team to tell you why they work at your institution now, would the mission or impact feature in the top 3-4 reasons listed?

3. Recognize and celebrate outstanding work.

We spend a lot of time talking about metrics (and with good reason). Most fundraisers are very familiar with the statistics and numbers behind their goals and performance reviews (assuming that their managers are communicating those metrics clearly as they should be). They realize what benchmarks define “success” for the year. However, the most effective managers are those who treat metrics as a baseline expectation for performance, not the highlight.

Some people feel wary acknowledging fundraiser performance because it can feel callous to celebrate and congratulate an individual for the generosity of another, but recognizing performance doesn’t have to happen in such a rote manner. If a fundraiser comes up with a creative way of stewarding a planned gift that dramatically improved the relationship with a donor that should be celebrated. When board members specifically call out someone on your team as helpful or wonderful to talk to that is an achievement. You team should know that you notice and valuable the intangible qualities they bring to their job in addition to meeting expectations for gift income. Furthermore, when ambitious goals are met and surpassed that doesn’t just mean that the fundraiser did an outstanding job but that new relationships were forged in the interest of a larger mission for good. That’s something to be celebrated. When staff members feel that their efforts are being noticed and appreciated they, in return, commit more energy towards their work.

4. Support creativity and team brainstorming.

In that same survey mentioned above we found that, even though many staff members felt low job satisfaction, nearly everyone provided concrete ideas for new projects and systems improvements. The nature of fundraising itself requires adaptability and creativity; why not translate those skills towards team building and collaboration? Creative people find work most rewarding when there is room for innovation and they can think critically in a positive way. Development offices that provide an outlet for that energy and allow staff members to work together and lead change within a program (within reason of course) foster a more rewarding environment for employees. The nice side effect of this practice is you often see improvements in structures and efficiency as well as build rapport between teams.

What do you think? What do you think drive development officer performance?