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.

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: “3 Ways to Engage Employees Without Spending a Dime”

Piggy Bank 6For many advancement programs, the most meagerly funded budget lines—and usually the first spending category to be cut when budgets get tight—are professional development and employee engagement activities for members of its team. Regular readers of this blog will probably agree that such miserly investment in staff development is short-sighted and misguided, and it is likely to have negative consequences for fundraising results that will be far more costly in the long run than whatever benefits the short-term savings might yield.

While we have made multiple arguments in favor of increased and sustained investments in professional development—including the importance of practice and repetition, for enhancing performance, and as a retention strategy—for many organizations, skimpy budget allocations will remain a fact of life for the foreseeable future. So what can an enlightened fundraising leader do in the meantime to improve performance, enhance morale, and increase employee tenure without a budget to do it?

Jennifer McClure of the TalentAdvisor at CareerBuilder’s HiringSite blog just published an article that presents three valuable reminders for managers of fundraisers or any other team of employees. You can read the full article at “3 Ways to Engage Employees Without Spending a Dime,” but here are McClure’s three recommendations in a nutshell:

1.  Connect Employees’ Work to a Higher Purpose. “To capture the hearts and minds of your employees, you must hope them understand how their specific job affects your end product or service – and how their work matters.”

2.  Enable Progress by Removing Obstacles. “The most common event triggering a “best day” at work response? Any progress made by the individual or by their team. Even a small step forward counted. The most common event triggering a ‘worst day’ response? A setback.”

3.  Celebrate Successes—Big and Small. “A simple ‘thank you,’ high-five or personal note can go a long way to increasing employees’ emotional commitment. In fact, according to Towers Watson, recognition from supervisors and managers can ‘turbocharge’ employee engagement for better workplace productivity and performance.”

The experiences of our team at Bentz Whaley Flessner, as well as research among front-line fundraisers conducted on behalf of our TalentED practice, confirm the wisdom of McClure’s advice.

Each of McClure’s suggestions is solid and cost-neutral. But that does not mean they are simple and easy to implement; on the contrary, here suggestions each require commitment, focus, thoughtfulness and persistence.  But not only are these three strategies powerful and effective, they make sense for all fundraising programs—whether those programs have an ample professional development budget or not.

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!

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: “Senior Executives are Often Unaware of Development Opportunities”

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently highlighted a very interesting report on the executive leadership of non-profits. The report’s findings? That the most senior executives aren’t always on the same page as their leadership team.

Related to development and training, the following quote from the article is particularly troublesome:

Nearly all senior-most nonprofit executives believe their organizations are providing formal professional development opportunities, according to a new study, even as half of those serving immediately below them report that no such opportunities are in place…

Ninety percent of the senior-most executives said their organization offered formal development opportunities, while just 52 percent of leadership team members said such opportunities existed.

This speaks to the disconnect we’ve discussed before on this blog, but rather than managers and their direct reports in fundraising the data demonstrates that the top executives at non-profits have a parallel disconnect to their development leaders. When this relates to professional development opportunities the entire organization suffers. In fundraising a lack of executive understanding of the training needs and actual programs for development paired with ignorance of existing opportunities by leadership means that the institution is likely to (a) fall behind in appealing to and retaining top frontline talent, (b) perpetuate or exacerbate frustrations between performers and their managers, and/or (c) miss opportunities to improve both performance and engagement.

In many non-profits executives have ideas but do not engage or bring in others for implementation. A similar lack of implementation planning is evident in this report’s findings on succession planning where CEO beliefs (they overwhelmingly are in favor of it) conflict with reality (less than a third actually have succession plans).

The whole report is worth reading and looking over. For those in talent management it’s useful to know trends in leadership that affect how staff interact with and view their managers and executives. Among its findings:

Over 9/10 of CEOs believe that developing leaders in an organization is key to succession planning yet 1/2 would recommend hiring an external candidate to fill the CEO position.

Leaders 45 and under mainly prefer a salary increase whereas those over 45 mainly prefer acknowledgement as an incentive to remain with their current organization.

27% of Leadership Team members are ready to become CEO now and 38% do not aspire to become  EO at all.

So – what do you think? Is this consistent with your organizations? Have you personally seen damaged relationships or unrealized potential due to a non-profit CEO’s overlooking of a critical issue?