Get Better in 2014 – Advancement Webinars and Workshops from the Institute

Start the year off right with high-quality, mind-stretching, solution-rich professional development opportunities.

The Gonser Gerber Institute is offering the following webinars and workshops to help you and your team do the best possible advancement work in 2014.  Below are three programs being offered early in the year:

5 Essential Tips:  Innovative (And Inexpensive) Ways to Strengthen Your Donor Relations Program – I’ll be leading this webinar next Monday, January 27, from 11:00 – Noon Central.  If you are looking to enhance your donor relations and stewardship efforts in 2014, this program is for you.  I look forward to seeing you online next Monday!

Measuring Performance to Improve Results in Alumni Relations and the Annual Fund – This webinar will dig into various strategies to best measure the effectiveness of your alumni relations program and the Annual Fund.  Led by Cristian Murdock and me, this webinar is scheduled for Wednesday, February 5, from 11:00 – 12:30pm Central.  Join us for a session that is sure to help you measure your effectiveness better.

Major Gifts A – Z:  A Training Session For New Major Gifts Officers – One of our highest evaluated workshops of all-time, this workshop is a must for new gift officers in your shop.  Led by Gonser Gerber consultants Ron Gunden and Chad Jolly, this workshop will be presented in Dallas, TX, from Thursday, April 10 – Friday, April 11.  If you or someone in your shop is new to the fundraising field or has been a gift officer for less than 2 years, this workshop will provide great value!

I hope you and members of your team will take advantage of these high-quality professional development opportunities.  I look forward to seeing you at one of the Institute’s programs in 2014.

If you have questions about any of these programs or other Institute programs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.


When the Gift Is a Message

Sometimes a gift isn’t a just a gift.  Sometimes a gift – especially the gift amount – is a message.  Consider the $1000 to $50 continuum.

Let’s say that a new donor gives your institution $50 one year and then $1,000 the next.  In most instances, something has changed in a positive way with their affinity toward your institution, their financial circumstance, or both.  In any case, their $1,000 gift is more than a gift.  It’s a conspicuous red flag clamoring, “pay attention to me.”

Or, what about the donor that has given your institution $1,000 for a few years in a row and this year reduces her gift to $50.  This message, of course, is most likely not as positive.  But we should seek to better understand the message.  Have financial circumstances changed for the worse?  Has someone or something upset this donor?  Is she feeling less connected?

The concept of the “gift as message,” should remind us all that our work isn’t about the money.  The money is a byproduct, a side effect.  It’s not an outcome, its an outgrowth.  Like the image in a mirror, gifts are a reflection of engagement not the engagement itself.

Donors at all levels are whole people who are multifaceted, nuanced, and wonderfully complicated.  Our work is to better understand them.  And that starts by listening intently and responding appropriately to them.  Even when the messages they send come through their giving.



Why You Shouldn’t “Close” Your Next Gift

I listened over the last few days as speakers at a conference talked about “closing gifts.”  I’ve never been fond of that phrase – “closing the gift” – but I’ve never went out of my way to find particular fault with it either.  And then one speaker made the following statement in reference to the almost insatiable need for most institutions to garner major gifts:

“You close one major gift and you move on to the next.”

In that instant, the reason for my repressed dissatisfaction became clear.  It was like the speaker was talking about making widgets at the factory.

We should never talk about “closing” anything in philanthropy.  Instead, we should always be working toward “openings.”  Opening relationships with new donors and friends.  Opening new gift opportunities with donors.  Opening new ways for our most ardent and consistent donors to get re-energized about our mission.  Or opening opportunities for our institutions to show our donors just how authentically grateful we are for their generosity.

“Closing” the gift is the wrong way to think and talk.  Closing suggests transactional, not relational development work.  It says something is done, finished, completed.  Development work is never done.  Our relationships with donors should never be finished (hence the “legacy endowment gift”).  And gifts should never be completed in any real sense – they should only lead to greater levels of donor engagement and future gifts.

So, don’t go “close” your next gift.  Instead, go open it.


Finding the Car, Then the Dealership

It wasn’t that long ago (pre-internet, actually) that people interested in buying a car would show up at the local dealership and begin the process of being “sold” a car.  Those days are all but gone.  Today, when people are interested in getting a new vehicle, they first scour the internet for their choice and learn all about its pricing, options, and promotions.  They arrive at a dealership (if they do not buy the vehicle online) with purpose, knowledge, and a “not to exceed” number.  The process of buying a car has been turned on its head.  People are no longer “sold” a vehicle off the lot, they “buy” the vehicle of their choice.

This selling sea change has meant that the job of car salesperson is radically different today.  She is no longer there to sell an off-the-lot product.  She’s there to match the buyer’s particular interests (and knowledge) with the vehicle that best fits what she is looking for.  Her job has changed from”selling” to “matching.”

This is very much like our world in development.  Gone are the days when donors make significant gifts simply because it is the right thing to do.  Yes, altruism (however you might define that word) remains an essential driver of generous behavior.  However, more and more donors give significant thought to the impact they want their philanthropy to have.  They come to your institution with well-formed ideas about what they want to do (and what they don’t want to do).  They are not interested in being “sold.”

And just like the role of the car salesperson’s job – our job in development has changed.  There is no longer a need for the development officer as “salesperson.”  So, forget learning everything you can about your institution, your program, your initiative so that you can “sell” the next prospect.  Instead, become a better donor-opportunity match-maker by asking keen questions, listening, and leading.


What do we REALLY get when we give to a good cause?

Recently, Seth Godin blogged on the subject of giving.  His entry entitled, “What do we get when we give to a good cause?” was a bit off base from my perch.  His answer to this important question was simply, “A story.”  He said,

“In fact, every time someone donates to a good cause, they’re buying a story, a story that’s worth more than the amount they donated.”

Well, kinda.

Unfortunately, Seth’s “story” answer encourages advancement officers to focus on “story-telling.”  Even seasoned advancement officers can get confused about the fundamental nature of our work and lament the fact that they don’t have enough data about that program, or enough information about this initiative, or enough collateral materials to tell “the story” effectively.  All because they have bought into the notion that their primary responsibility is to tell “the story.”

But our first job isn’t about telling a story.  It’s about listening for a story.  The donor’s story.   Our first job is about asking thoughtful questions and listening to the people who care about our work.  It’s about better understanding them, their values, their passions, and their interests.  And, then, secondarily, our job is to educate them on how our mission and work aligns, supports, and affirms those values, passions, and interests.  Of course, we may educate them using stories, but not always.  Sometimes we educate by providing them with an experience – engaging them personally in the work itself as a volunteer, for instance.  In fact, I would argue that providing an experience for our donors and prospects is a much more effective pathway to activate their generosity than is simply telling them a story, no matter how compelling.

Additionally, it is clear today that donors get much in return for their giving besides a story.  Research has shown that giving is linked to better physical, psychological, and emotional health, a more positive attitude, and even living a longer, more satisfying life.  Giving, it is becoming clear, is a hard-wired attribute of healthy human living and we dismiss it at our own peril.

Hank Rosso, founder of The Fundraising School now a part of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, is quoted as saying, “Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”

Advancement professionals are teachers.  We are teachers of one of the most important lessons in life – that it really is better to give than to receive.  And, like any good teachers, we must begin not by telling stories, but by understanding our students.  Only then can we teach effectively.


Being Grateful As An Effectiveness Strategy

“Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not
on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”  —Charles Dickens (M. Dickens, 1897)

If you live in the States, the 4th Thursday of November is the day set aside to be thankful.  We are encouraged to focus on our blessings and good fortune.  It is a day to be grateful for all that fills our lives with joy.  Thanksgiving – the day of expressing gratitude.

But why do we do this?  Why set aside a full day as a holiday to lift up the importance of gratitude and reflect on the favor we’ve enjoyed? Part of the answer, I would argue, is born out of the collective wisdom of human experience.  Like a wise whisperer from generations past, something down deep inside tells us that it is good to pause and balance our selfish drives and greed with deferential and authentic expressions of gratitude.  That we are better people when we give thanks more and serve ourselves less.  That living fully into thanksgiving brings a quiet peace to our lives.  We just “know” these things.

But, today, with various streams of research focusing on the topic of gratitude and its impact on the human condition, we are finding evidence for the wisdom and philosophies of our progenitors.  Regular expressions of gratitude, it seems, bring with them a whole set of positive and powerful life-affirming benefits.  Robert Emmons, professor of psychology, at UC Davis, is a leading researcher in the area of gratitude and his findings suggest that those who regularly choose an attitude of gratitude experience significant improvements in several areas of life including relationships, overall emotional well-being, academics, energy level, and even dealing with tragedy and crisis.

Specifically, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.  Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions. Young adults who focused on gratitude reported higher levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to those who focused on hassles or on a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others).

And, if you provide leadership in your organization, here are some key findings.  Groups that express gratitude regularly report similar positive affects as mentioned above and report that the sense of entitlement and jealousy among group members is diminished.  Sharing our reflections of gratitude, it seems, is not just good for us individually.  This ages-old practice also appears to make us much more effective together.

So next Monday morning, when your team gathers for the normal staff meeting after this Thanksgiving, commit to focusing on gratitude regularly.  Begin the meeting by having each team member share something for which they are grateful.  Not only will people feel better, the team will be strengthened.

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you!

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A Year End Reminder for the IRA Charitable Rollover

As December 31, 2013, approaches it is worth reminding donors that the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (H.R. 8), passed this past January, extended the IRA Charitable Rollover provision which permits individuals to make a “qualified charitable distribution” to an eligible charitable organization without recognizing the amount of the distribution as income.   Here are the specifics:

  • Donor must be at least 70 ½ years of age when the gift is made,
  • Transfer must be made directly from the IRA administrator to the charity,
  • The gifts from the IRA cannot exceed $100,000 per person ($200,000 for a couple) in a given year,
  • They can only be outright gifts (can’t fund a CGA or charitable trust),
  • No goods and services can be given in exchange, and
  • Cannot be made to a donor advised fund or a supporting organization.

This can be very advantageous to many donors.  Specifically, the Rollover provision helps donors who:

  • Do not itemize deductions,
  • Pay state income tax but cannot take charitable deductions on their state return,
  • Itemize deductions, but would not be able to deduct all of their charitable contributions because of deduction limitations, or
  • Itemize deductions and have an increase in taxable income that may negatively impact their ability to use other deductions.

As you talk with your donors or communicate with them via direct response, remind them of this option by giving specific examples of projects/priorities your institution has and how their giving can support one of these priorities and also benefit them.  For instance:

“Jim and Julie Silver, each 71 years old, are long-time supporters of the College of Education at your institution.  Recently, they have enjoyed learning more about the College’s aim to implement a new teacher-training program which holds the promise to increase substantially the high school graduation rate by the year 2020.  They view this issue as one of the most pressing facing our country.  They would like to make a gift to support the construction of the new College of Education facility and the training/research labs needed for this new program.  They have decided to support this key project by having their financial planner transfer $80,000 for each of the IRAs.  This gift of $160,000 will not be subject to the usual tax associated with regular withdrawals from their IRAs.”

Good luck in encouraging your donors to give their very best gifts during this Season of Giving!


Helping Donors Give On Purpose

We are quickly approaching the Giving Season.  Soon, men and women in holiday costumes will stand outside of crowded store entrances ringing bells and seeking the coins loosely jiggling in pockets.  Your snail mailbox will be stuffed with colorful envelopes filled with compelling pleas of support.  Mostly all fine causes, to be sure.  And donors will be reminded to give or prodded into giving for a first time.

The vast majority of these gifts will be given by happenstance.  Happy luck.  Five minutes prior to walking into the store or opening the mailbox, the donor may not have been thinking about giving to that particular organization.  Instead, her life path crossed with the institution’s fundraising efforts and she was moved to make the gift – albeit modest in most instances.  The vast majority of gifts are made this way.  No real forethought.  No real planning.  Just a donor moved in a moment to give.

By contrast, our work as development professionals is to help donors plan their giving.   To help them become more contemplative and generative about their giving.  To encourage donors to give not by accident, but to give on purpose.   To educate them that a thoughtful approach to giving will make a bigger impact.  To teach them that a reflective approach to giving is important.   When we mentor, coach, and teach in these ways, we help donors see the wisdom of engaging more fully in our work.  And, most importantly, we help them take full advantage of an opportunity to experience the authentic joy and peace that comes with meaningful giving.

Socrates is purported to have said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  In development, we might adopt a similar theme for our work with donors:  “the unexamined gift is not worth giving.”


Frictionless, Convenient, and Emotional – Branding Your Donor Experience

A few days back, Tom Groenfeldt, a contributor to Forbes, wrote about the intersection of technology and shopping patterns at Kroger’s grocery stores.  If you missed it, it is a worthwhile read on how Kroger (and other major retailers) are getting to know your shopping habits better than you know them yourself.

The article introduced a few interesting ideas for us in the charitable giving sector.  Groenfeldt says that Kroger aims to understand how customers “travel across the store and see how to make the experience frictionless, convenient, and emotional.”   Kroger doesn’t want to better understand their customer demographics, they want to better understand their customers.  To that end, they are developing unique customer DNA buying models based on each customer’s behavior and then targeting coupons specifically for them.

If you think about what Kroger is aiming to do in strengthening their customer relationships, there are clear applications for us in advancement.  It would seem that having a goal in which more and more of our donors enjoy a giving experience that is “frictionless, convenient, and emotional” would be wise.  Of course Kroger had almost $81 billion in sales last year.  They are resourced far differently than all non-profits when it comes to building their capacity to better understand the behaviors of each of their customers.  But that shouldn’t stop us from working toward a better understanding and enhancement of each of our donor’s experiences.

Think about each of those words and how they might apply in your shop:

  1. Frictionless – today, act like a donor and make a gift through your online giving portal.  Go through the whole process.  How easy and intuitive is it?  Or, what about the endowment reports you send to endowment donors.  How inviting and straightforward is the data presented?  Or, what about your donor recognition events.  Are the agendas streamlined and does the event leave people wanting more (instead wishing they could head for the door before it is over)?
  2. Convenient – when you visit with board members to talk about their giving, do you make a special trip to visit them on their turf and at their convenience?  Or, do you wait until they are coming to your campus or site and ask to speak with them for a few minutes after a meeting?  Do you have the technological capacity to accept recurring monthly or quarterly credit card or debit card gifts online?
  3. Emotional – read through your recent direct mail and electronic solicitations.  Are you telling a consistent, compelling story of how a donor’s gift will make a difference in another person’s life?   Or, are you filling the content with numbers, graphs, and trend data showing some measure of your efficiency or macro-effectiveness.  Remember – numbers numb and stories get stored.

We talk a lot about “branding” our institutions.  And we tend to think about branding at the institutional level.  It’s something that happens magically in the macro.  But the truth is that your institution’s brand boils down to how individuals perceive you and what they say about you when you aren’t around.  Building a strong and positive brand is an individual by individual challenge.

While your institution may not have the resources to ensure that every donor has a personalized frictionless, convenient, and emotional giving experience, that shouldn’t stop you from moving toward that goal.  At the very least, we should start with our major donors and develop strategies to ensure that we better understand their interactions with us and how we can make those interactions frictionless, convenient, and emotional.  To be sure, over time the institutions that provide this type of giving experience will thrive.


Counting, Reporting, Valuing, and Crediting Planned Gifts

In the most effective development programs, maturing planned gifts can account for 20 – 25% of total gift income in any given year.    Whether in a campaign or during your institution’s annual giving efforts, you should have a clear understanding of and plan for how you will report, count, value, and credit planned gifts.

The Partnership for Philanthropic Planning (PPP, formally NCPG) has a number of good guidelines around counting, reporting, valuing, and crediting planned gifts.  However, it is important for all involved in our work to have definitional specificity around these important concepts.  Here are some quick definitions that, hopefully, create some understanding of these terms and the important distinctions between them:

  • Counting – the process of quantitatively summarizing all activity, progress, and results as compared with a set of fundraising goals.  PPP (and CASE and AFP) agree that your institution should have a Current Gift Goal, a Revocable Planned Gift Goal, and an Irrevocable Planned Gift Goal.  In addition, you should only count a planned gift when it is booked and not again when it matures.
  • Reporting – the efforts to communicate progress toward your planned giving goals.  This should be done as transparently (and accurately) as possible.  Reporting can occur internally or externally and to various audiences.  PPP (and CASE and AFP) recommend that all planned gifts should be reported at face value.  In other words, if you have a $5,000,000 revocable planned giving goal, you should report the new $1,000,000 bequest intention from that 60 year old as a $1,000,000 revocable planned gift commitment.
  • Valuing – the process of assessing the worth of a gift to an institution.  Gift value is determined by a number of methodologies depending on the gift type, donor demographics, and other factors.  Gift value usually represents net present value or future purchasing value.  While we should report all planned gifts at face value, we may value each very differently.
  • Crediting – the way in which an institution recognizes planned gift donors.  While counting, reporting, and valuing need not be the sole methodology to determine donor credit, many institutions will use these calculations as a basis for establishing donor credit.  Crediting is highly institution-specific.  For example, one institution might recognize donors in their planned giving recognition society based on a simple verbal commitment while others will require written confirmation of the gift intention.

Gaining greater clarity around these important terms is a first step toward strengthening your planned giving program.  When we better understand and implement best practices around counting, reporting, valuing, and crediting we put important focus on the programs that encourage giving the largest possible gifts for many of our donors.