typewriter with "once upon a time..." typedStorytelling is all the rage right now. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t see an article or blog post on storytelling and how important it is in non-profit marketing. I recently found myself reading a blog post titled Three Keys to Igniting Retail Sales by Storytelling and Story Listening by Christorpher Kogler thinking it might have a different or fresh perspective from the for-profit sector that could be applied to the non-profit sector. The article was not what I expected, it was better than what I expected in two ways: 

1.) To me, the article was as much about internal marketing and management as it was about storytelling, and internal marketing done well and its importance a subject I feel very passionately about.
2.) It talked about storytelling not as a tool for appealing to and motivating buyers (or donors), but instead about the role of storytelling in motivating employees (which could also be applied to volunteers).

In the article, Kogler interviews a senior sales manager for a big box retail operation who shares some strategies she uses to inspire her sales team on a daily basis. All were excellent suggestions that could be easily and effectively adapted in some form to a non-profit organization’s development or advancement office and would help accomplish two things: 

1.) It would help motivate and energize employees.
2.) It would demonstrate and drive home the idea that everyone within the organization impacts fundraising success either directly or indirectly.

Inspirational Meetings
employees dancing in the officeThis manager holds a daily team “huddle:” a short meeting that is 80% inspiration and no more than 20% housekeeping. Perhaps daily is too much for a smaller organization, but what a great way to kick off a new week every week! Each meeting includes an inspirational story about how the company is making a positive difference in people’s lives. This is a great way to keep the organization’s mission front and center and to help fine-tune messaging over time. But it doesn’t always need to be a story about the non-profit organization’s mission – and shouldn’t be. There are ways the organization or people within the organization touch the lives of employees, volunteers and others every day as well and it is these stories that could and should drive home the core values of the non-profit organization.

On a regular basis, a department head from a different area of the company is invited in to lead the huddle and to discuss how both groups can support each other. These regular “cross pollination” sessions “keep the lines of communication open between the different departments and help employees have a deeper understanding of what’s going on throughout the company. Team members also gain an appreciation of how their sales efforts fit into the bigger picture and the importance of their sales efforts in growing the company.” Substitute the word “fundraising” for sales in the previous quote and it makes sense for non-profit organizations to explore the benefits of this type of exchange of ideas.

In another example given on how these inspirational meetings work, team members were asked to think of something simple they could do that would make a real difference in customers’ lives. Small groups worked on this for about five minutes then shared their answers. The example given in the article is a simple concept and it’s worth reading because it serves as a reminder that connecting with donors is about listening to them and focusing on their needs not just as a donor, but as a person you care about.

A regular half-hour meeting focused on inspiration, creative solutions and good communications seems like a great use of time to me, and a win-win situation for both employees and the organization. How do you, as a manager, inspire and support your employees? We’d love to hear from you.

Written by Lee Neel, Vice-President of Marketing, The Fundraising Resource Group. The Fundraising Resource Group helps non-profit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, non-profit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success, visit our website at www.thefundraisingresource.com or call 888-522-1492.

business man opening shirt to show superhero suit with starLast week Daniel Neel, president of The Fundraising Resource Group, wrote a blog post on 10 Chracteristics of a Good MGO. This week I’m going to talk about how you go about finding one.

Years ago when I was working for a company that was an innovative leader in its industry, we created an employment ad campaign with the headline, “We’re Looking for People Who Aren’t Looking.” Nothing so special about that except for the fact that we weren’t hiring and said so in the ad. We created business cards, postcards and ran ads in trade publications. We wanted to connect with people who were not ready to make a job move but might consider it in the future; it was a networking campaign in a pre-Internet world. We were always working on building our network so that when there were job openings, we would have a pool of potentially good people to contact. This is my first piece of advice for non-profit organizations on how to find a good major gift fundraising officer or director of development: build your network.

This was in the Stone Age when there was no such thing as social media and personal computers were just starting to come into their own. There are so many more networking opportunities today! Don’t wait until you need a key fundraising employee to start searching. Join LinkedIn professional groups related to relational or major gift fundraising, get involved in your local chapter of the AFP, keep hiring in mind when you network at conferences, tell colleagues to pass along resumes of good candidates they come across and aren’t in position to hire. Network, network, network. 

Look for skill sets and characteristics rather than matching experience.
Most people don’t begin their careers with a laser-focus on major gift fundraising. Many of the skills and characteristics it takes to be a good major gift officer can be found in people in sales-related and other positions in the for-profit world. Be open-minded as there are other less obvious job positions that could translate well. Look instead for characteristics such as organizational skills, emotional intelligence, high-energy, and good active-listening skills.

Look at large secondary schools, universities and heath care organizations with large development staffs.
They often receive training that many non-profit organizations don’t provide. Whether they are senior major gift fundraising officers or young up-and-coming MGOs, they may be ready for a new opportunity in a smaller organization where they can have more responsibilities and impact.

Make your ads stand out.
Try to get beyond the laundry list of expected qualifications. What do you have to offer a job candidate that’s different and desirable? Show a little of your brand personality. What about your core values? Put yourself in the job-seekers position and answer the question, beyond a passion for your mission, why should he or she want to work at your organization? (More on what attracts and motivates good employees.)

Have you had success in getting good fundraising talent for your organization? Share your experiences and ideas with us.

Written by Lee Neel, Vice President of Marketing, The Fundraising Resource Group. The Fundraising Resource Group helps non-profit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, non-profit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success, visit our website at www.thefundraisingresource.com or call 888-522-1492.


green apples with one red appleWhat makes finding a good major gift fundraising officer challenging is not any one skill they possess, but the combination of all the skills they possess. This is exacerbated by the fact that there is a dearth of good MGO training in the industry and most non-profit organizations do not provide the opportunities and support for what training is out there. (This second point, however, merits an entire discussion in and of itself; today I want to focus on the combination of characteristics it takes to be a good major gift officer.) Often, some of the best and most successful MGOs have no previous experience or “proven track record of success in major gift fundraising.” So what characteristics make someone successful at major gift fundraising?

1. Good MGOs are organized. Major gift officers are charged with strategically managing relationships to lead donors through increasing levels of commitment and support. They need to be equally enthusiastic about managing relationships and managing the back-end processes that go along with the job: juggling a large portfolio of donors, planning and recording regular and systematic communications, promptly processing gifts, etc.

2. Good MGOs are high energy and outgoing. They would rather be out meeting with donors than sitting behind a desk. They have high energy, enthusiasm, and are self-motivated. They understand that major gift fundraising is not a 40-hour-a-week job and are willing to do “whatever it takes” to get the job done.

3. Good MGOs can effectively communicate the organization’s mission. Major gift officers have an in-depth knowledge and understanding of organization’s activities and impact and the communications skills to interpret the mission in ways that resonate with each individual donor.

4. Good MGOs are donor-centric. Within the context of their organization, they see themselves as donor advocates. Their responsibility is to represent the best interests of the donors, even if this sometimes puts them at odds with people within their own organization on specific issues.

retro photo of woman with earphone listening in hallway5. Good MGOs are active listeners. Research suggests that we remember between 25 and 50 percent of what we hear, indicating that there is a lot of room for improvement in most people’s listening skills. Active listening requires fully focusing on what is being said rather than just passively “hearing” the message of the speaker and requires showing both verbal and non-verbal signs of listening. Good listening skills also tie into emotional intelligence; effective MGO’s have the ability to “read between the lines,” interpret body language and what is unspoken as well as what is said to gain a better understanding of the donor’s feelings and emotions.

6. Good MGOs are emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence is not the same as having good social skills. It is your level of ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them. It requires “the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

7. Good MGOs are diplomatic. Their emotional intelligence means that they are perceptive and highly aware of the feelings of others. But beyond that, they have a gift for finding the right words at the right time. They understand the facts of a situation and think before they act, keeping their body language and tone of voice neutral, even in difficult situations.

8. Good MGOs are service-oriented. It can be argued that major gift fundraising is a form of selling, but there are many different approaches to selling. The most effective sales people are not “hard-sellers,” but instead are consultants who understand that if their goal is to raise money, they will fall short. It is only by listening to and meeting the needs of their donors that they will be truly successful. Good MGOs understand that emotions and relationships often trump facts in giving decisions.

9. Good MGOs are measured, but persistent. Good major gift fundraisers don’t get discouraged or upset by setbacks. They are confident and positive and know that relationships must be nurtured and trust is built over time, based on a genuine interest in understanding and meeting the needs of the donor.

10. Good MGOs instill trust. Trust is developed over time through actions that demonstrate confidence, honesty, flexibility, and reliability. Successful major gift fundraisers understand that truth, respect, and honesty with donors provide the basis for long-term success and serve their donors accordingly.

Written by Daniel Neel, President of The Fundraising Resource Group. The Fundraising Resource Group helps non-profit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, non-profit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success, visit our website at www.thefundraisingresource.com or call 888-522-1492.

Quote: You must choose, but choose wisely from movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.I spent many years earlier in my career in the for-profit world both creating and distributing RFPs and evaluating and hiring firms and know that often in the evaluation process one firm stands out from all the others and makes the decision process easy. I also remember times when the selection process wasn’t as easy. The consulting engagement for capital campaigns can be anywhere from 18 months to years and the consultant, whether working on a project basis or as resident counsel, is essentially becoming an added member to your development staff so it is important to make sure you have all the information necessary to make an informed decision. In a previous post I did a quick run-down of how to choose wisely when hiring a fundraising consultant. Here are some considerations that can stand closer examination in helping you and your capital campaign committee make the right decision for your organization.

Evaluating Interest and Knowledge
How strong is the fundraising consultant’s understanding of your capital campaign’s challenges and requirements? Did they make a site visit prior to submitting their fundraising proposal? Were the questions they asked the committee during the interview insightful or just perfunctory? Did the proposal seem boilerplate or did it demonstrate knowledge and interest in your organization and project? Recently we were awarded a capital campaign project halfway across the United States from where we are based (we are a national firm so this is not unusual). The development director later mentioned that we were the only firm to make a special trip just for a site visit, which completely surprised us.

Evaluating Your Fundraising Consultant
Don’t just evaluate the firm as a whole – be sure to evaluate the individual assigned to your account who will be leading the project. Make it a requirement that the proposed lead consultant actively participate in the presentation meeting so you can see them in action. Ask for and check references for that individual as well as firm. Remember, this person will be interacting with your leadership and representing your organization to your most important donors during the campaign and feasibility study. How experienced are they? It is best to have only senior level fundraising consultants handling the feasibility study not just because of their experience in conducting these sensitive interviews and knowing how to ask – and “hear” both what is said and what is not said – but also because they have the insights that only experience can bring that will help ensure a thorough and insightful evaluation and study report. For more on potential pitfalls in this area, see Beware of the Great Salesman.

Similar vs. Dissimilar Experience
Scale showing apple and orange comparison.Most non-profit organizations in their capital campaign proposal ask what similar experience the consultant has. This is important but I suspect it is often given more weight than it should carry in some circumstances. The fact is, the skills, expertise and methodologies that are used to conduct successful capital campaigns are rooted in best practices, regardless of sector or size. This is not unlike marketing, which is my background. Every client believes they or their industry or both are unique. They are, but that does not necessarily mean that the fundamental methodologies and knowledge that drive success are different. I have been involved in the successful marketing of everything from toilet paper, and a major fashion magazine to national hotel and retail chains and more and one of the strengths I, and others like me (this is pretty typical for anyone who has every worked in the ad agency business) brings to these various clients is our experience on other types of clients. Marketing is marketing but variations in industries often bring a fresh set of eyes and insights which can lead to big ideas and the same is true in fundraising. It also helps avoid an auto-pilot, business-as-usual complacency. All I am suggesting is that often, too much weight is given to similar experience.

What to Ask References
Check references on all your fundraising consultants prior to their presentations to the capital campaign committee. Why? Because this step should not be perfunctory and if you ask the right questions, conversations may yield information you want to discuss or ask further questions about in the interview. Obviously, you are only doing this for the two to four fundraising consultants and/or firms who are finalists in your search. Start by asking for three references from satisfied clients and one reference from a client whose goal was not achieved. Also consider asking if they have ever had a capital campaign client terminate a contract early, and if so, why. This would be another reference to check.

Assuming no consultant or firm is going to provide you with references they don’t think will be positive, your mission in talking to references should be to gain insight. Ask what they wish the consultant had done differently and if they would hire them again. Also ask about your individual fundraising consultant’s strategic planning abilities, perceptibility, adaptability in challenging situations, and integrity. Ask whether they always met their deadlines.  Always ask if there is anything else they think you should know prior to making a final decision. Believe it or not, I have had negative feedback come out on that question that had not surfaced before. References are not likely to lie but they will not volunteer negative information – it is up to you to ask specific questions and the right kinds of questions to get at all the information you need to make a smart decision.

Red flag against blue skyLooking for Red Flags
An obvious red flag that most non-profit organizations are well aware of is that fees should never be a percentage of monies raised (see AFP Code of Ethical Standards) but another issue that is a bit murkier but still troublesome – and that actually comes up frequently – is fundraising consultants who suggest either directly or indirectly that they can bring new major donors to your project. For a more in-depth look at the relationships topic, see Whose Relationship is it Anyway?).

The third red flag is one I typically do not see discussed, which baffles me. In this day and age, background checks on prospective employees are the norm. Because of the potential liability it just makes sense. And yet rarely on an RFP do I see any questions about legal issues. I would suggest consulting with an attorney if possible or adding a question such as “Has your firm ever been the subject of a lawsuit or legal proceedings? Please provide a brief description.” Along with a question on legal issues, I would suggest including a statement underneath the question/section to the effect of, “I hereby declare that the information contained in this proposal is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief” and require the signature of the fundraising consultant or president of the firm. If this sounds extreme to you, I know of two well-established fundraising consulting firms that either are currently or were previously involved in lawsuits related to their business that puts their ethics into question. If perspective clients knew this, they would likely think twice before hiring them, or at least would do so with full knowledge. Other consultants would never inform you of things like this about another firm, especially in a competition, as it would reflect poorly on them. This is also not information you are likely to find on the Internet.

Are there issues or ideas related to the fundraising consultant selection process for capital campaigns that you feel aren’t highlighted enough? Advice that you would offer that goes beyond the usual? We’d love for you to join the conversation.

Written by Lee Neel, Vice President of Marketing, The Fundraising Resource Group. The Fundraising Resource Group helps non-profit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, non-profit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success, visit our website at www.thefundraisingresource.com or call 888-522-1492.

a cart in front of a horseBefore any advertising agency or marketing firm ever tackles a project they always begin with some form of a communications strategy statement. Without it, you’re flying blind. So when I began writing capital campaign brochures for clients, this was the first necessary step. Immediately the president of our firm, Daniel Neel, realized that not only is this an important exercise, it’s one that is beneficial to tackle before undertaking the capital campaign case for support.

Why? Because it crystallizes who you are, what makes you unique, what your messaging challenges are and the compelling reasons prospective donors should care enough to give to your campaign. A communications strategy statement provides your mini-case for support; it’s your 15-second elevator speech.

It’s one of those things that seems simple – deceptively so – but done correctly, participants in the process invariably find that’s not the case. In fact we had one client that when we sat down to begin this process said in effect, “we don’t need to do this, we have our marketing messaging nailed.” To which Daniel responded, “Humor us.” We then embarked on a stimulating and thought-provoking discussion and by the time we finished the process, their messaging strategy (which had never been articulated in writing) had changed.

What makes is look so simple is exactly what makes it so difficult – brevity. It needs to be kept to one page. This forces you to choose your answers and words very carefully. It’s a matter of prioritizing and distilling; strategy by definition is never a “kitchen sink” approach.

There are variations on the exact form, but the document we produce for capital campaigns includes:

Communications Challenge – This is the challenge that the communications effort needs to help resolve. What is the biggest hurdle standing between your organization and the needed donations?

Business Objective – The business objective is a quantifiable goal. In the case of capital campaigns it is a financial goal that will in turn provide the means to achieve a specific objective or objectives, such as facilities upgrades, a new building or establishing or increasing an endowment.

Communications Objective – With capital campaigns you are clearly communicating to generate donations but this goes back to the communications challenge and how you resolve it.

Competition – Where is the funding from your prospective donors likely to go if not to you? Are there similar causes that you are competing with? While it is difficult to generalize about donors in this way, there may be some form of messaging “noise” out there that can potentially take attention away from your need and its urgency – what are those challenges?

Target refers to campaign target audienceTarget Audience – A “target” by definition can’t be everyone. It should include demographics such as age, level of education, household income, number of children living at home (if any), geographic location (zip codes), and importantly, psychographics – the more detailed the better. Often there are primary and secondary targets. 

Value Proposition /Brand Promise – This is the most important part of the strategy.  This should be what differentiates your organization from the others in your field or whomever or whatever you decide to position yourself against. It is the primary donor-oriented benefit of investing in your project.

Support/Rationale – This supports your benefit or promise and explains why it is true.  This, combined with your Value Proposition should constitute your 15-second elevator speech.

Brand Personality – No more than four words that describe your organization as if it were a person – what are the key attributes or personality traits you are known for and want to be known for? These words should be carefully selected, keeping in mind what makes your non-profit organization distinctive. For example, the American Heart Association defines its brand personality as “true, positive, committed and heroic.”

The internal dialogue that goes into the process of creating this document prior to embarking on creating the case for support is invaluable. The importance of going through the exercise of creating a written strategy document for capital campaigns and the discipline of keeping it brief cannot be emphasized enough.

Written by Lee Neel, Vice-President of Marketing of The Fundraising Resource Group. The Fundraising Resource Group helps non-profit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, non-profit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success, visit our website at www.thefundraisingresource.com or call 888-522-1492.