Sitting down with a donor is an important relationship-building experience. What happens when fund development staff attend a meeting with less than reliable or complete information about the donor? A situation arises where the donor becomes aware that someone in the room is struggling to maintain a professional demeanor! How often have you been exposed? Information that should have been readily available had simply not been retained in a useful form! Let’s hear about situations which exposed the charity placing it in a RISKY position. Would you give your money to a non-profit which is disorganized and lacks the ability to manage effectively? The high-net-worth donor we interviewed said “NO!”.
Batsch Group (BG) sat down today with a High Value Donor (HVD), who has played many different roles in our community and in Canada. Some of those roles included CEO of a Melcor Developments, Chancellor of the University of Alberta from 2012 – 2016, a Board member, a fundraiser and as a donor. These are just a few of his community activities, which makes him the perfect person to ask about his perspectives on giving.
Please meet Ralph Young (RY)and hear what
he has to say.
do you choose the charities you wish to support?
RY: First, it is the cause.
Next, it is believing that our contribution will bring value.
Finally, I like to see it’s working, so feedback is important.
a developer, what are your thoughts about the foundation that supports a
without a strong foundation, the building doesn’t stand.
are your thoughts about charities and their organizational foundation?
we have worked on many not-for-profit projects and found that their foundations
are often dysfunctional. Staff members change, and often little is known on
what has been committed or what will happen with donor’s wishes, leaving it in
question. There has to be accountability by the organization to donors.
is important. You have mentioned several times today.
is nice, too. Don’t forget us once the gift has been received.
you suggesting that once the gift is received, charities forget about you?
nice to hear from charity staff. They could take a moment to just drop a line,
maybe a quick card signed by someone who has worked with you. This keeps our interest and shows the charity
understands we are more than the gift.
Note to readers: What is being
expressed here is relationship building and how a charity can maintain a
donor’s interest in how projects are proceeding.
once heard a fundraiser say they wanted to make friends with donors. Our
position is donors are not your friends they are collaborators supporting a
We also heard a comment from a young fundraiser who had worked for one of the cancer charities. They bragged that they had acquired so many gifts in kind for an event that they didn’t even bother thanking the donors. If you were the donor what would you think?
RY: The problem is staff change so often. It is hard to build a relationship. I am working with a Foundation and I thought the development staff worked well, but they have all left.
level of disorganization can affect staff morale. It’s hard to be successful
when you spend most of your time looking for information or trying to build a
donor profile so you can be credible when you meet with a donor.
area is reporting. I have often received very glossy reports but something
simpler with more content would be useful.
you consider donating to a charity where they run a chaotic organization?
would depend, but chaos and a lack of discipline would be a consideration.
do you think of a form of certification for a charity which supports how it
works to successfully deliver its programs, and which cannot be undone by every
new staff member.
think it’s a good idea.
thank you so much for taking time to share your thoughts, your suggestions and
some of your frustrations!
The charitable sector manages billions of dollars annually. In Canada, CRA has some oversight, but what about oversight related to how the charity runs internally. A chaotic environment, run by often untrained staff, who are responsible for donor management practices puts the charity and its funding dollars at risk. What if a charity could say to prospective donors:
We have an annual training budget and all staff engaged with fund development are required to be fully trained.
We have an organizational strategy for all electronic tools, so access to our resources is seconds, not minutes or hours.
Senior managers all participate in adding to our organizational history.
Fund development managers can use the donor management software and collaborate with data entry to ensure all campaigns and appeals are properly defined.
The charity has specific policies and practices for all forms of data management, which we adhere to allowing for corrective actions where needed.
We invest in continuous improvement but all within the context of our current methods of information management.
Our investment in these methods has continued to improve our productivity and our charitable dollars.
Staff change will no longer put the charity at risk as our methods and policies have enabled us to continue work regardless of change.
We have developed a High Performance work environment to achieve our goals and maintain high performance staff.
We have more time to invest in building relationships with our valued donors, so we are a true donor-centric organization.
Batsch Group Inc
Authors of From Chaos to Control Build a High Performance Team Using Knowledge Management
RISK to a charity resides at the top. It is found in the attitudes expressed by Boards and senior management.
and knowledge are the drivers behind successful businesses today. This includes
the charitable sector.
information and skills are given short shrift by those who should ensure a well-run
organization, you have RISK. Board members and staff change. In the case of
staff, they receive salaries, RISK does not directly affect them. When staff
leave, the knowledge they have recorded of their interactions and research with
donors, funders, and advocates is their legacy.
But what happens when little of that information is recorded? Can the
charity be confident they have the most current data? Unfortunately, this is
not an unusual situation, where large gaps occur in the knowledge base which
the charity uses to engage its donors.
do you reverse the knowledge loss which affects most charities? We think the
answer might be found with their donors. Would donors be more comfortable
giving to a charity who offers an ISO (International
Organization for Standardization) or TQM (Total Quality Management) form
of accreditation? This accreditation would address standards where members of an organization participate in improving
processes and the culture in which they work.
are organizations currently, which look at charity outcomes to recognize the
charity’s value. But, what about behind closed doors? What would the outcomes
be in a more organized, knowledge-driven environment where data is captured,
not lost? Would RISK be mitigated? Would staff change be drastic? Could the
black hole often greeting new staff be removed?
recently sat down with a high-value donor whose gifts fall into the seven-digit
range. Our conversation is next:
What a High Value Donor (HVD) Thinks
Batsch Group (BG) sat down today with a
HVD, who has played an important role as a donor in our community, to gain th
eir perspective on how they choose a
charity to support.
We discussed some issues from our
perspective regarding how the charity is organized to ensure staff have the
tools they need to be successful as they tell the charity’s story, build a
funding base and a sustainable future for the charity.
is important to you when you select a charity to support?
HVD: For me, it is the Why – How –
charity needs to raise money?
How will it
help a situation?
What are the
fail when success stories are second to the ‘shadow of failure’. When I give, I look for positive results.
What are your thoughts on whether the organizational structure of a
charity impacts their ability to raise funds?
organization of the tools used.
a Knowledge-base to better understand donors.
so staff can use the tools they need to do their job.
Descriptions which make staff accountable.
don’t like to put people in a box; it curbs their creativity.
prefer the words Job Outline to job description.
consider physical organization a platform to support staff creativity. Time is
important, and if 2 hours are taken to do a 20 minute activity, 1 hr and 40
minutes are lost. When tools are provided like recording key conversations but
the staff member chooses to use something different, it undermines the charity.
agree with you; creativity is key to success.
need to think like a business. The team,
a new staff member, joins, is important in retaining them, as good staff will
stay in a less productive environment with a good team, versus good staff hired
to work with a bad team.
salary differential for charities is huge between different organizations.
are usually determined by charitable dollars raised. Where an environment does
not support a platform from which fundraising staff can succeed, the result
will be fewer dollars. Another impact is
training. Charities often feel training is an expense.
am all in on the importance of training. The cost of a poorly trained employee
far exceeds the cost of a trained one.
you donate to a charity, which is highly disorganized. A charity where there is no training and time
is squandered due to a disorganized working environment?
majority of charities struggle with common issues. Managing their donor data is
a big problem. Because we work at the grassroots level, we see the impact of a
donor database where only gifts are entered and little else. We call this the BLACK
HOLE, as it undermines the charity and hobbles the ability of staff to speak
confidently with its donors.
you for taking the time to discuss an important issue. The charitable sector
plays an import role in all communities.
Information is what a charity needs to collect to build a viable future not impacted by change but in spite of change.
Ya Ya Ya ,,, Change?!! No Way! Barbary Ape Gibraltar
A common theme for charities is staff turnover, lack of productivity and the struggle to maintain donation levels.
We attribute many of these issues to the charity’s ability to create and maintain a high performance work environment.
Like any business, access to tools and information is critical to its function and to those it employs.
Surprisingly few of you reading this will be interested in the how and why, to achieve better results.
The old adage ‘it has always been this way’ is clearly the mantra of common leadership.
This conversation is directed at Executive Directors who want more and are willing to make deceptively easy changes to free up staff time, bring in more dollars and have job satisfaction. You have said ‘We don’t have time to change’.
For some of you this is true. But for a few, this will be a challenge and one where you will rise from surviving to thriving.
Donor-centric fundraising is all the rage. It makes a great deal of sense. Know who your donors are and why they are motivated to support a charity; ensure their gifts are allocated as requested; do the appropriate stewardship to show the charity understands their giving goals with supporting information. The final piece is the donor’s interest in how the charity runs. Is it efficient? Does it use its time and resources effectively? Is it able to meet its funding goals and are donor dollars well used?
We think this sounds wonderful until we look into how the charity is functioning at a more in depth level. Experience has shown us that many charities use their donor management system for receipting and usually this is tasked to a single individual. Fund development staff is often several steps away from any meaningful interaction with the data other than report requests.
This begs the question, how does a charity employ a donor centric approach to working with its donors under these conditions? A further observation has to do with staff turnover and the effect on information retention, pertaining to interactions with donors which would be used for future fundraising and stewardship support.
Running a charity begins at the top. It is incumbent on senior management to employ a methodology that ensures the best possible care of all types of information a charity needs to support a donor-centric approach to its valued donors. People can and do give their money anywhere they choose to, so what is the best way to influence donors and ensure their interest remains strongly attached to a specific charity? What would you like donors to know about how the charity functions in support of both its goals and those who support them?
Let’s begin with the Knowledge Driven Charity. First and foremost it will address the capture of important data. Standards exist which include everything from how to search to ensure a donor record is new to prevent duplication, to how the information is recorded to give maximum benefit to the donor and a fundraising team. Next is the gift and where it is positioned to show donor support. Values like ‘designated’ in the fund field provide little information, so how can the data recorded by appeal or campaign, be entered for maximum effect? This pertains not only to the charity but for the donor as well.
How charity staff work is equally important to a Knowledge Driven Charity. Taking too long to perform a task, being unable to access reports, not knowing how to pull a reasonable export, these are a result of training or the lack thereof. The idea training is expensive is a misconception. What is expensive is guessing how things work and making poor decisions on how to achieve work with charity data.
The Knowledge Driven Charity documents a non-profits’ best practices, describing for staff how to perform jobs recorded in easy to follow and maintain, point form. There is skilled labour in this marketplace so why let these skills leave without an appropriate capture. The time saved by staff and the recognition gained those by those who share their knowledge is of great value to an organization whether for profit or not.
Here’s an example. An engineer firm sent out field managers to check certain aspects of their jobs. One such manager had a check list. He used this list before every trip to ensure he had all the right tools to do whatever was necessary. The other field operatives did not and subsequently wasted company time with trips back and forth to the office to pick up what they forgot. The solution was simple, the check list was now a company resource and the expectation was that all field managers used it to ensure no more unneeded trips, wasted time and more importantly unneeded cost. In the world of a charity, this might be a word processing skill or who to create a report or how to properly build an in memory campaign. Time is expensive and when it is wasted there is a consequence which impacts productive actions sidelined by waste.
Naysayers will tell you a knowledge approach would be difficult to implement, hard to maintain, too costly for a charity to consider. Our position is that it is not difficult because staff members become the champions of an improved workplace as stress is reduced and productivity soars. A culture of Plan First is the rally cry. Time is freed up and accountability sets in as ones actions will affect another. ‘Too costly’ is what the charity is currently experiencing through costs associated with busy time.
Write these new methods into the documents that define the charity. Include in all job descriptions specific requirements with consequences to address any laxness that undermines the team.
Implement the Knowledge Driven Charity. Identify the charity’s commitment and share it with donors and funders. Be prepared for the Reaction and for the Results!
First and foremost a special event needs to be enjoyable. To that end it needs the right venue, the right food, the right environment, the right audience and the right price. Consider your goals when approaching each of these and a good rule of thumb is based on whether you would enjoy what is being offered and better yet, if you would go back to experience it again!
What is the objective?
It’s important to understand what the event wants to achieve. There are many activities competing for attendees and dollars these days. Consider carefully how to ensure that event guests understand the charity’s needs and enable them to contribute financially.
I recently attended two similar fundraising events with slightly different outcomes. Let’s take a closer look at what made one of them far more successful than the other.
The first event was to fund activities in central Africa. I arrived to a room teaming with guests. The event featured silent auction tables and a bountiful buffet. The key to this event and its outcome was the auctioneer, a city media celebrity with a great knack for entertaining people who made sure the auction was a success.
Connect your guests to the mission
Rather than building complacence after a heavy meal, the auctioneer stepped up to the microphone and announced the live auction. Attendees could “purchase” beds for a hospital, goats and chickens, there was a rather large donation needed for a health related area on the table. The Beds were about $100.00 each so he started with a request for 40 beds … as one hand went up after another, he counted … 40 Beds done. Next, came the request for a goat, kid and chicken, 50 sets for families. The price $65.00 … so let’s see those hands once more. As the hands went up volunteers passed each contributor a form to complete which would be used to make a payment over the course of the evening.
This approach was very successful. Rather than wasting dollars on frippery at the silent auction table, people could see that what they were purchasing was directly assisting the charity’s goal to provide this community with what it needed.
The second event was for a charity working in North Africa. This event was less successful but had just as much potential. The charity was looking for money to help support children to attend one full school year. Desks, books, a uniform and medical help were required. At no time, were these items offered through a live auction. The event, although nice to attend, forgot the time old truth – you need to ask!
Investing in a personality who will make ‘the ask’, works. Depending on the age of the audience you may find people who no longer want to collect unessential things through auction purchases but rather have discretionary income to purchase an item of value to the charity in question. Forty dollars for a desk is an easy ask, or a full package for one child for a mere $275.00.
When hosting your next event be sure to consider your goals. Look at what you hope to achieve and how you can frame your ‘ask’ to encourage guests can give. Purchasing something of value gives donors the feeling they have made a difference.
In Conclusion Be sure you record what guests have spent and follow up with them. It’s always nice to be informed about those who have been generous by recording the amounts gifted in your donor management software. Having the full giving history is definitely an advantage when engaging with your charity’s supporters.
Side Note: When you go to a restaurant your server will often ask how you liked your meal. We would like to suggest a better question being ‘Would you come back?’. I think this is equally relevant for a special event hosted by a charity.
It’s not what an organization does to succeed but rather what it doesn’t do that places it at risk. No charity intentionally follows a formula for failure or works towards mediocrity when it comes to developing funds. How then does failure or mediocrity happen?
There have been many articles alluding to problems facing the non-profit sector. In particular, the issue of staff turnover in the fundraising role has been identified as a major problem for charities.
To keep the right staff, regardless of the type of business, an organization needs to create an environment where staff can succeed and use their time effectively. Greater success means more dollars for programs and salaries. In most cases, this success manifests itself in greater staff retention.
The non-profit sector often neglects to provide this type of environment. Instead, they bring new hires into a plethora of ‘this and that’ with no concrete definition of how things get done. Information is everywhere—and in disarray. New hires often have a mandate to make changes and decisions which they are unprepared to make, negatively affecting operations.
Examples of poor results are endless as charities search for funding and the right formula for success, and not just survival.
Some problems might already be well entrenched, with new ones to be introduced. Do any of the following situations sound familiar?
A new staff member is hired to work special events. With no guidance they makedecisions about how the event will be presented to the public. The use of a web-based system to accept ticket sales, a spreadsheet of auction items and a list of sponsors provide their tools. The outcome for the following year is chaos as none of the current year’s information was captured in a useful form.
The grant writer left and what they left behind was a spreadsheet and some notes. The new hire requested a list of all grants received, declined and in process over the last 5 years. The task was onerous and the results were incomplete.
The charity sent out a new holiday information piece at Christmas to the usual donors. The new fundraiser decided to record all gifts as unsolicited. The charity lost its ability to do any form of comparative analysis or determine the effectiveness of the appeal.
Staff acquired the contact list used by the previous fundraiser but there was little hope in understanding who these people were, if they were still active contacts or what role they played in helping the charity.
The charity has monthly donors. Some monthly gifts had continually been declined. Did the fund development department connect with the donor to get more information? The donor may have wanted to continue with a monthly gift, or was there a change of heart or maybe it was something else? No policy had been established to address the situation so ‘just let it go’ became the policy of the day.
The last fundraiser didn’t connect with staff entering donations data. Gifts were entered without any fund allocations and appeals were set up incorrectly. Now they have data but it’s not an effective stewardship tool.
The most damning situation of all is where new staff arrive only to find a black hole rather than a wealth of information and knowledge. How easily can they resume the job of fund development when they will need to spend considerable time trying to reconstruct the past in order to move forward?
Implementing information-management practices
These problems are not those of the fundraiser but rather of the charity which has chosen not to establish concrete information-management practices. Implementing change may not be welcomed when practices have been established on an ad hoc basis, however, this is where the good of the charity takes precedence over inconsistent methods. People come and go, when they leave a legacy of their contributions it helps sustain a charity, when they don’t it puts the charity at risk.
It is senior management, with the blessing of the board that needs to establish the rules of engagement. These expectations, when hard-coded for all players from executive director to receptionist, provide the basis for achievable goals and objective performance reviews. They make all staff accountable for their compliance to best practices designed to benefit the charity. In particular, it is those involved in fund development that need to explicitly understand these roles. Fund development and ultimately fundraising are key functions and when these areas suffer so does the charity.
It’s our position that each and every staff position should be well defined with specific tasks that ensure a department functions within the context of the business as a whole. Where we have noted a failure to perform is where there are no well-documented expectations and instead there are general guidelines which a staff member may choose to follow in any manner they consider reasonable. This is where fund development gets into trouble as each person’s understanding of what is expected varies.
No one intentionally neglects important contributions to a charity and its knowledge-base, but some have been better prepared to meet their organization’s expectations than others. This may be due to a better understanding of the importance of information and how it affects activities today and opportunities tomorrow.
And how important is fundraising? Can a charity do without it? Just examine the percentage of charitable dollars a charity needs to raise annually to understand the gravity of this question.
Can a charity do ‘it’ better?
The answer to this question is ‘it depends’. It depends on senior management and their resolve to endorse and support change. It depends on whether the board and management understand the need for a business approach to information management and particularly as it relates to fund development activities. It depends on whether the charity wants to thrive or just get by. It depends on whether the charity has been able recognize practices that cause it to under-perform.
To engage a high performance, fund-development team a charity must first look at the environment they offer to ensure continuity and sustainability.