Friday, May 20, 2011

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

"Whenever I see a "best practice" example it is usually a larger nonprofit organization. What are small nonprofits doing right? Do you have some examples?"

That's the question my friend Pamela Grow asked the other day on her Simple Development Systems Facebook page.

(Pamela is someone with development savvy I admire - and have used often. I also consider Pamela a friend since - many years ago - we both overlapped at the same nonprofit organization.)

As I was thinking about examples of small nonprofits doing "big best practice things right," I saw a status update from a former board member of mine. He was excited about a gala tomorrow night, and was asking his contacts if they were attending.

And with that, I had my answer to Pamela's question.

You see, when I was the development director for the nonprofit hosting that very gala, that event was our largest fundraiser of the year. (It still is.) As with many of these sorts of things, the Gala is the prime opportunity to see donors and potential supporters.

And one of the most important to-do's for such an event is the simplest: know your guests' names.

Here are two ways we helped make this happen with our staff:

1. Give Them Pizza and Photos. A day or so before our Gala, I ordered pizza for lunch and invited our stressed-out group of hard working staff members into the conference room. (This event was all-hands-on-deck for this organization ... which is another blog post altogether.) Then, I presented a PowerPoint slideshow of the Who's Who of the Gala, complete with photos and all.  One year we even added a Donor Trivia Contest with small prizes.  It was a great stress reliever during a hectic time.

2. Glue Yourself to the Registration Table. When your guests are walking in the door with Mr. and Mrs. Prospective Donor (and they absolutely should be), that's not the time for you as the development director to be elsewhere futzing with silent auction snafus or bitching with a coworker about what a volunteer did or did not do. Your job - and I'd venture to say it's the most important one you'll do all night - is to plant yourself right there at registration/check in/whatever you call it and greet every single one of your donors by name.

Yep. Every single one. (Or as many as you can.) Bonus points if you know their guests' names too.

You know why? Because this simple practice helps to burnish your organization's image in your donor's mind as an organization that cares about them. That knows them.

To me, this simple and best practice is an essential function. I absolutely believe that the person you put in this capacity for your event is vitally important. Registration is not the spot for the summer intern who joined your staff two weeks ago, unless he or she has a photographic memory from your PowerPoint pizza slide show. (Yes, include them in that lunch too. You never know who is going to strike up a conversation with your major gift prospect en route to the restroom. Trust me, it happens.)

This is so easy to do, but is a special event detail that is neglected. I can't think of the last time my husband and I walked into an event and were immediately greeted with, "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Firman! So glad to see you tonight!"

Can you?

When you do this, the look on your donors' faces will be priceless. I've had donors come up and express surprise and gratitude that I remembered their guests' names.  Normally, I would joke that I'd looked at the Excel spreadsheet of attendees so often that I was reciting it in my sleep (which wasn't far from the truth).  But the message was conveyed that ours was an organization where everybody knows their name.

And I'm betting that this made them pretty glad they came to our event.

copyright 2011, Melissa M. Firman, The Firman Group. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

You'll Find Out Who Your Friends Are

Think back to the last time you made a charitable donation. 

Now, think about how you were asked - and who asked you to write that check or whip out that credit card to sponsor their participation in that 5K for cancer or autism. 

I'm betting the request you answered came from someone you know, right? 

That's the subject of David Simpson's article today ("Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Deserves Top Level Focus and Resources") in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  In it, Simpson cites the eNonprofits Benchmark Study 2011 that "found that the email fundraising response rate in 2010 was less than .08 percent," a decrease of 20% over the past year. 

This doesn't come as much of a surprise to those of us familiar with the open-rates and responses to e-communications, does it? With every nonprofit having some version of an e-newsletter these days (and if yours doesn't have some semblance of one, you really should), these communications are competing for attention in our mailboxes with free newsletters from brands and companies - as well as our social media time LOLing with long-lost friends on Facebook. 

Simpson is right when he says that these peer-to-peer fundraising initiatives (the request from the friend's husband to sponsor him to shave his head for childhood cancer, the former intern's participation in a bike-a-thon to help find a cure for MS - all of which I personally received recently and made an online donation to) are ones worth looking more closely at.  Development professionals need to become more aware and savvy of who among their circle of supporters are activating their personal networks and begin to steward, cultivate, and recognize them for doing such. 

(They also may be an untapped source of your next fundraising chair or your special events coordinator.  After nonstop promotion of her participation in a special event for a local beach house for children fighting cancer, a friend was recently brought on board as the foundation's Events Coordinator.  You couldn't go more than an hour recently without a mention of this organization in her Facebook stream ... and you know what? It worked, because otherwise I would have never heard of this organization.) 

It also solidifies a belief that I have that peer-to-peer fundraising is going to become an even stronger force in how nonprofits will raise a significant chunk of their individual giving revenue. And for those organizations that are entrenched in the a-thon culture of various 5K races, walks, bike and toddler trike rides, etc., this might already be part of your revenue stream.  

With what we development professionals like often call "a-Thon Season" now in full swing, now's the time to do just that - and to plan to do such for the fall fundraising season, too, and beyond.

Have you noticed more requests to support friends' fundraising efforts in your Facebook stream or your email? Have you made a gift to help them out in their quest? If so, what made you do so - the cause, your relationship with the person asking, or perhaps something else? 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink (Book Review)

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
by Daniel H. Pink

Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group
242 pages

You need to read Drive if you fit into any of these categories:

1. You supervise or manage people. (If you're a parent, that includes your kids. If you're a teacher, that includes your students.)

2. You want to supervise or manage people.

3. You've ever been supervised or managed.

Did I miss anyone?  Good, because Drive is a book that almost everyone can benefit from reading.  And Daniel Pink just so happens to have written an enjoyable nonfiction read. 

After reading Drive, there's no need for traditional management books.  The theories we learned in Management 101 on how to motivate people are obsolete, outdated, and oh-so-nineteenth and twentieth century. As the book jacket says, "most of us believe that the best way to motivate ourselves and others is with external rewards like money - the carrot-and-stick approach."   I have a job that needs to be done.  You need money.  I pay you.  If you don't do the job the way I expect and to my exact specifications, there are repercussions.  Hence, you become a cog in the wheel. You do as you're told without any creativity or innovation.  Your attitude becomes one of resentment.  Your motivation and morale is shot to hell. 

This is old-school thinking, a mindset that was fine and worked well back in the manufacturing and industrialized economies of the day.  But our jobs (the ones that are left, anyway) are ones that have evolved into ones that demand more higher-level skills and thinking, more interaction with people and more on-the-spot judgment calls. 

Managers fail to see that the traditional management theories aren't working because they don't know any better.  Managers believe (and many still do) that this is the way to keep people in line, to get them to work harder, to earn their loyalty.  As an example, how many of you have a boss who practices "management by walking around"?  That sounds all fine and well and good, all progressive and in touch with one's employees and their issues, but what does this really accomplish?  Nothing - except making you feel like you're on a leash, that you can't possibly leave work at 4:45 p.m. instead of 5:00 in order to catch your kid's school play because the boss might choose that exact moment to stop by.

Tell me how that motivates people to do their best work again? 

Pink says there's a better way.  "The secret to high performance and satisfaction - at work, at school, and at home - is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world." (from the book jacket).  We need autonomy (over our task, our time, our technique, and our team), mastery, and purpose.

I happen to believe this is true - and truthfully? That this isn't really all that surprising of a concept. 

In Drive, Daniel Pink gives real-life examples of companies and CEOs who have figured this stuff out.  He shows us corporations that not only allow their employees to telecommute or work truly flexible schedules, but who embrace concepts like FedEx Days and 20% Time. These are initiatives, endorsed by top leadership, where employees are given the freedom to spend 20% of their time on a project of their choice.  He argues - and proves - that some of the most innovative products (and ones that often have a very positive effect on the corporate bottom line) are ones that were developed not because a boss said "I want you to produce this widget, in this certain size, in this color, etc. etc.) but instead because someone had the time and the freedom to create, to tinker, to explore possibilities. 

Pink drills down even further. He gives very practical examples of how these practices can be implemented in any organization - specific to the business world, the classroom, and the household.  He provides reading lists and websites.  He even provides a Twitter-ready summary of the book ("Carrots and sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery, and  purpose.")

This will go onto my list as among my best nonfiction books I've read this year. 

Have you read Drive? If so, what were your thoughts?