Tag Archives: Keeping Focused

Knowing How to Listen Will Improve Fundraising and Your Family Dinners

Listen to Improve FundraisingNo doubt, people have had trouble listening for thousands of years.  Sure, while modern technology makes it easy to multi-task (and thereby decrease focus on the primary task at hand), I have a feeling the cave people were as easily distracted by a future hunt as you are by your wondering what you will make for dinner tonight or what emails came in since you started reading this.  With the historical as well as current struggle in mind, here are three core elements to effective listening and how it can improve fundraising:

  • Hear what the person is saying
  • Stay Focused
  • Help the Donor

1 – Hear What The Person Is Saying.

  • Put aside your own agenda, your pre-conceived notions about the person, your assumptions about how they will respond and your own personal biases.
  • Watch for nonverbal clues about what the person is truly saying.
  • Ask questions to clarify and ensure an accurate translation.
  • Confirm what you are hearing by briefly summarizing what you heard

2 – Stay Focused. Easier said than done. It means that when you walk into a meeting you are only thinking about this particular conversation and the person in front of you. Here are a few tips:

  • Release all of your other thoughts.
  • Jot down any notes about subjects that are distracting so you won’t worry about losing your train of thought or re-gaining your thread of the conversation later.
  • Don’t let yourself daydream.  The update will come in or it won’t.
  • Remember that if you can’t focus on raising money, the donor has no incentive to stay focused on donating money.

3 – Help the Donor.  This does not mean putting words or ideas into the person’s mouth.  Instead:

  • Avoid distracting comments.
    • Do not interrupt.
    • Do not change the subject unless you intend to for a reason.
    • Do not finish a donor’s sentence.
  • Avoid distracting actions.
    • Do not fidget.
    • Do not slump.
    • Do not nod after each sentence.
  • Offer words of advice or help only when the donor is interrupted by another source or has lost their train of thought.
  • Maintain eye contact.

This list of suggestions is can be helpful in many aspects of our life (in addition to how it can improve fundraising.) Try using this as a guide before a family dinner and see if it changes the conversation.

Listening is something that we all think we know how to do but few of us truly do well.   Succeed and you will see the rewards.

** This article was originally published in September 2010 and updated and republished in March 2017.




Strong Presentation Skills Increase Donations

Last week, David offered a webinar titled, “Keys to Managing the Major Gifts Process: It’s All in the Execution.” As with many of his webinars, people appreciate his voice almost as much as the content.  And, while he does have a great radio/webinar voice there is more to his presentation skills than his voice. And, it is something many fundraising professionals need to learn.  It’s the combination of enthusiasm, a smile (people can hear a smile), an optimistic attitude, and an ability to be in the moment. In other words, strong presentation skills increase donations. Let’s break those down and understand why they could help you improve your annual appeal, capital campaign and just about every other donor meeting.

Sometimes, nerves get the best of us.   The problem is not that someone might see that you are nervous.  Rather, it is that what you are saying will get lost.  The enthusiasm that can accompany your invitation to a prospect to join you in your campaign is contagious, as is fear of failure, desperation or nervousness.

Practice on your co-workers, practice in your mirror, practice in your head.  Record your presentation and listen to it.  Do enough prep work to eliminate anything that will inhibit you from having  confidence to exude excitement when engaging an audience (written, in person or over the phone).

A Smile
Presentations – whether in person or on a webinar  – are best performed standing up with a smile on your face.  The energy will be palpable, even over an internet connection.  And, your content has a better chance of being heard when people are actually listening instead of checking email or dozing due to a droning speaker.   Something as simple as a smile and remaining vertical will remind you that you are in charge of the way you present.

Optimistic Attitude
One might question whether an optimistic attitude is the same as enthusiasm but I liken it to the difference between cheering vs. coaching a game.  Cheering requires enthusiasm and often, a hope for success that everyone in the crowd and all of the cheerleaders try to offer the players.  But, a coach must offer a pervasive sense of optimism that the team can win, that they have trained hard and have the ability to win,  that they will win. Because if the coach doesn’t believe it, neither will the players.

To bring the metaphor back to development, if you believe you can achieve your financial goals during your campaign you have a chance at success.  Don’t sit on the sidelines and hope others will achieve your goals – because without your cheering and coaching (whether you are a volunteer or staff), they won’t.

Being in the Moment
The idea of being in the moment is not a new concept, but it is more and more essential as distractions increase.  Whether you are thinking about how your presentation is being perceived (it will be worse if that is what you are thinking about) or what’s for dinner (drifting to other problems will not help you achieve your current goals), keeping focused, present and attentive will offer a positive impression.  But getting distracted will definitely leave a negative feeling and reduce your chances of success.

There are, I’m sure, many other ways to improve your mental state to increase your success rate.  For more ideas, pick up a top rated sales book.  You may not be selling widgets, but you are selling an idea of a better world. And an idea is only as good as the people who are advocating on its behalf—who are selling the dream.

Take the MJA Challenge: Presenting to One Donor or Twenty by clicking here

Biases In Development and Fundraising

Cartoon Man with Blinders OnRecently I attended a talk given by Rand Fishkin, CEO + founder of SEOmoz – @randfish.  He was a keynote speaker at a conference and the presentation had some long name that would probably bore most of you.  However, the speech was great.

He was talking about the prejudices that impede our success.  But, he started off by talking about the biases that women use when they join on-line dating sites.  He asserted that the large majority of women reduce their chances for a good match by a single bias.   I am definitely misquoting (you will still get the idea), but the bottom line is that if you are a woman looking for a man and you check off all the things you think you want in your ideal mate – male, certain age range, minimum bachelor’s degree, income greater than $100,000 (or $150,000) per year, taller than 5’9”, geographically desirable, etc. you will have very few choices.  But if you eliminate just the one that states taller than 5’ 9” you can easily get all of the rest of the list.  Our bias in America is towards tall men – but as most women are well under 5’ 9” why would they automatically check that box?  Because they didn’t know that one bias could have such a drastic effect.

He went on to list 12 biases that he has seen in inbound marketing.  But, since I live a double life as marketer and fundraiser, I thought we would do better examining a few of the biases that we have in development and fundraising that we should let go.

  1. My board has no money.  Not everyone has the same monetary capabilities but that does not mean there is no money to be raised through your board.  Whom do they know?  To what foundations are they connected?  We have learned in recent years that crowd-sourcing, group funding and donor pools can all be successful paths to additional funding.  But being afraid to approach the topic will ensure that your board is not reaching its potential.
  2. We can never get close to 100% participation in our fundraising efforts, so it is not worth trying.  Whether you’re thinking about your annual fund or a capital campaign, success will only happen when you are willing to do the work required to get full participation of your board and then – if appropriate – 100% of your members. While conventional wisdom is that approximately 10% of your donors will provide 90% of the funding in any major campaign, I recommend that after you obtain complete participation of the members of the board, you create a plan that employs a variety of strategies to focus on the 10% and leverage their response when you turn to  individually “touch” the rest of the targeted population.  Explain to the other 90% why it is important to your nonprofit that they become (further) involved – not why you want their money.
  3. My board won’t fundraise.  A few weeks ago I wrote an article about considering the different personalities on your board.  You can create ways how they would feel comfortable fundraising.  If you missed the article – click here to help your board help your organization.   Sticking with a single way in which your board can help you raise money ignores the potential of the three-quarters of the room that think in a different way.
  4. My ______(E.D./Board Chair/Director of Development/?)______ will never be able to do ___________.  We are not born knowing much but we can be taught.  If you want someone within your organization to gain the skills they are lacking, find a way for continuing education and professional development to become part of the culture of your organization.  First, have an open discussion about what abilities you’re hoping the person will gain – if they have noticed that they are missing necessary skills, they may be frustrated, too. Then help find an appropriate conference, a class, a trainer (Mersky, Jaffe & Associates can help), or book.  Ignoring the deficit and waiting for natural turnover or attrition will cost the organization more than money.  And it will set a bad precedent that your organization does not invest in success.

This list could go on, but this article is already past the normal length. If there is a bias you would like to share with me to get de-bunked definitely let me know by email or twitter @bullseye33.


What I Did Before Writing This Article

Drinking coffee imageThis morning, I made two phone calls, spent forty-five minutes on email, changed the laundry (I do work at home), and drank 1½ cups of coffee.  Why am I telling you this?  And more importantly, why do you care?

Because one of the biggest complaints Mersky, Jaffe & Associates hears from clients, is that they want or need their capital campaign to move faster.  And delays and procrastination among volunteer leadership is one of the leading factors.

We all have our vices. But in fundraising, procrastination can alter essential elements.

Consider what a year delay could change:

  • Are there new strengths, weaknesses, threats or opportunities?
  • Has the economy improved or worsened?
  • Will you need to update project costs?   Has there been additional wear and tear on the facility?  Are the architect’s estimates still accurate?  Keep in mind that these estimates rarely go down with time.
  • Are the same architects and contractors available for your new time frame?
  • Is the confidence in the organization increasing with each year or is there a growing fear that the project will never move forward (and what will happen to the money that has already been donated if that is the case)?
  • Do any of your major donors have different circumstances than when you first thought of asking them?  Deaths, illnesses, moves, shifting focus, petty arguments can all be factors in whether or not they still have the potential or inclination to give.

Simply put, if you put the project on hold because you need more time to raise the money, you will have to raise even more.

And, your giving pool is not likely to improve dramatically in that time.

So what can you do?  Set strict timetables.  Don’t set up one meeting, set up a series.  Encourage additional participation throughout the process.  Share the progress to encourage motivation.  And, of course, consider hiring a professional fundraising team like Mersky, Jaffe & Associates.  We increase success rates, improve productivity and eliminate additional costs that you will incur down the line?

You Have a New Mission and Vision – Now What?

? signThere are many reasons to ensure your mission and vision are still relevant and supported within your organization. Here are a few:

  • You are about to start a strategic planning process
  • You have had a major change in staff or board leadership
  • You are considering a capital campaign
  • You want to provide the organization with shared focus
  • You have founders’ syndrome
  • You are revamping your annual fund
  • You are about to work with a consultant for a feasibility study
  • ________________________.

We work with many organizations to help them work through the creation of new mission and vision statements.   And, like so many things in life, the new documents are only as good as what you do with them.  If you have the documents, now what?

  • Provide it to everyone involved in the organization;
  • Make sure that the staff and board can all articulate the mission statement verbatim and are able to paraphrase accurately the vision statement, with believable passion;
  • Each new initiative should be questioned as to whether or not it is in concert with your mission and gets you closer to the vision;
  • Each committee should consider what they can do to help further the new mission and vision;
  • New budgeting and the allocation of resources should be considered with the mission and vision in mind; and
  • Staff should determine their own priorities based on the mission and vision.

In other words, the mission and vision statements should be the driving forces for your organization.  Use them well, employ them wisely but most of all proudly broadcast them for all to see and hear.

Q. How do we do fundraising without too much exertion?

No effort fundraising imageA. At first look, this question is the epitome of stereotypical American culture. So much so, that I almost took it as a joke and deleted it. And then, I decided that if it was intended to be heard with a bit of sarcasm, it was too common a question and deserved an answer. Sometimes it is stated slightly differently, “do you think we can raise money without doing anything?” or “can I raise money without having to ask anyone for it?” but in the end, the answer is pretty much the same.

If your closest friends have millions of dollars in disposable income of which they are more than happy to donate to your organization – talk to them. If you do not have said friends or any similar personal funding…it is impossible.

Fundraising takes effort. And not the hard work of one executive director and a couple of staff members. Success is dependent on the collective effort of the staff, board members, volunteers and community. There must be a critical mass of people that believe there is a need that the organization fills, a clearly defined way to communicate the need and a community willing to fund the need. In other words, there are no short cuts. As far as I know, no one has ever put up a sign in the lobby asking for millions of dollars and built a new wing as a result of the piles of money that were deposited in the drop box.

The moral? If you want to do it, do it right. And do it with the knowledge that your hard work will reap rewards.

Q. What is the best way to involve board and staff in a collaborative strategic planning process?

Board Staff Collaboration imageA. It is essential to the success of any strategic planning process—in fact, any aspect of the organization’s endeavor—to have an effective partnership of lay leadership and staff. As strategic planning process is the opportunity to determine the direction of the agency for the next few years. And this is the time for the lay leadership to participate to the fullest or live with the choices of others.

An organized process will open up many opportunities for involvement. An initial meeting should start with the end in mind. The objective is to determine what the organization might aspire to become as well as the methodology by which the agency will achieve that vision.

At some point in the process, you might divide into small groups to develop goals, strategies and tactics. But at other times, you will want the energy of the entire planning team to articulate the shared vision and assess the situation of the agency and the environment in which you function.

There needs to be someone in charge of the entire process, someone to facilitate the brainstorming sessions as well as coordinate the work plan for each of the small groups. You also have to identify someone who will gather and interpret the collective information as well as write the report. Moreover, the process requires someone to schedule and recruit people to come to meetings. Here is your reminder to play to people’s strengths and interests in addition to helping retain their interest and involvement in the process.

Of course, if you need professional guidance for your strategic planning process, Mersky, Jaffe & Associates is available to help. Just give us a call to schedule a consultation.