Donor Relations

7 Lessons Learned (Because I Failed)

Posted by on Jun 8, 2014 | 0 comments

Recently I’ve been on a speaking binge. I’m not sure why the flurry of activity, but within the past few months I’ve received invitations to speak at several national, state and local conferences and to a variety of nonprofit organizations.  I’ve enjoyed each opportunity to share my thoughts and meet new friends. I’ve been especially grateful for the excellent references and reviews I’ve consistently received from the groups I’ve been speaking to. It’s been a confidence-inspiring whirlwind of activity.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday I failed.  It was a comedy of errors from beginning to end, but it wasn’t really funny.

My presentation fell flat. It was disjointed and probably confusing to the audience. It’s a wonder they didn’t ask me what I was talking about.  Following the presentation, I couldn’t remember anything I said.

This experience has taught me seven important lessons to remember if you find yourself speaking to a group:

  1. Arrive 30 minutes early.
  2. Preparation cannot be underestimated.
  3. Know your venue.
  4. Never assume.
  5. Anticipate what might go wrong.
  6. Punting is OK.
  7. Say “No” When Your Gut Tells You To
  8. Sleep the night before, no matter what.
I learned these seven important lessons the hard way. I failed on every one of them. Considering my speaking experience, there was and is no excuse for the comedy of errors, and more importantly, that I didn’t rebound well once they happened.
I learned these seven important lessons because I made these seven critical mistakes (and I knew better!):
  1. I arrived early, but not as early as I should have. A few extra minutes would have given me time to gather my thoughts, reorganize my notes and give a logical presentation.
  2. My preparation time was cut short. I managed a lot of non-essential tasks during the week prior to yesterday’s event: I should have spent that “free time” fine tuning my presentation and visiting the venue.
  3. I had not visited the venue prior to speaking: knowing the room set up helps prepare you to stand in front of your audience.
  4. I assumed there would be a podium – there was not. This was a first, but it’s now a question I will always ask: “Is there a podium?”
  5. And although I had asked for a projector and screen, I had not anticipated a lack of connection chords, the inability to connect to my MacBookPro, and I most certainly did not anticipate the sudden SNAP of the screen as it tore from the frame and flopped to the floor just before my presentation. I mean, who would EVER anticipate that? (The organizers actually tried to flop the screen over the top of the screen’s frame and for a few minutes my PowerPoint was beamed onto the flopping, buckled screen until my OCD took over and I asked them to turn it off).
  6. My presentation was tightly linked to the PowerPoint slides, and I attempted to give the same presentation without the slides…not smart. What I should have done was reorganized in my mind and hit the high points unscripted and without the crutch of slides. I probably could have done that if I had been better prepared.
  7. This was a very short notice request by someone I know and respect. I said “yes” when my gut was telling me to say “no”. I knew my time was tight and preparation would be tough.
  8. I only had 3 hours sleep the night before the presentation. I was exhausted, which undoubtedly added to my inability to rebound as I normally can.
Failure isn’t fun under any circumstances, but if we can learn from our mistakes, failure can become a springboard to greater success in the future. Remember the saying: When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I resembled that remark yesterday.
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Thomas Jefferson had it right.

Posted by on Feb 19, 2014 | 0 comments

One of my favorite excursions when visiting the East coast is a trip to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. The house and gardens reflect the personality of this great American leader.

On the official Monticello website, there is a page dedicated to Thomas Jefferson’s canons of personal behavior. Today is a good day to revisit these canons and remind ourselves that how we conduct ourselves and how we treat others is a reflection, not only on ourselves, but on the organization we work with, the cause we believe in, and those who have tied their name to it.

Quoted directly from monticello.org:

Thomas Jefferson often took the opportunity to advise his children, grandchildren and others on matters of personal conduct. Over the years he developed a list of axioms for personal behavior. Some were his own invention; others derived from classical or English sources.

Jefferson’s most extensive list is the one he sent to Cornelia Jefferson Randolph, a young granddaughter, while she was visiting her older sister and new brother-in-law. It appears that, later in life, Jefferson pared his list down to ten canons. Here, in response to a request from the new father of a baby boy named Thomas Jefferson Smith, Jefferson listed a “decalogue of canons for observation in practical life.”

  1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do to-day.
  2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
  3. Never spend your money before you have it.
  4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
  5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
  6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
  7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
  9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
  10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.[2]
What are your Top Ten Canons of Personal Behavior? If you don’t have a list, start with this one.  I’ve learned that having a list of standards against which I measure my actions and decisions helps me to stay focused, ethical and productive. Over time, (and it wasn’t always easy, for a long time I loved seeing gray instead of black and white) it has become habit,  it’s just the way I do things. Life is easier when you have a foundation of principles to work from. Go forth and be amazing!
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Donors are not ATM’s

Posted by on Jan 27, 2014 | 1 comment

A recent training I attended gave me pause. In a particular session, which I attended with a group of nonprofit executive directors, the focus was on financials.

On this day of the financial training, as we were reviewing balance sheets and applying the “acid test” to determine a nonprofit’s financial standing, one organization was upside down with a ratio of .0494:1.05 (.05 in assets to every $1.05 in liabilities – not a good situation.)

The facilitator asked the group to comment on what should be done based on the negative ratio; one participant responded: “You better get out and get more donations!”

Now, I am pretty sure she was kidding, but there was that fleeting moments when the only thought in my mind (after much self-editing) was: REALLY?! And it prompted me to make this short blog post to remind all of us that our donors are not a go-to source for money when we’ve mismanaged or planned poorly.

Our donors are not ATM’s.

EVER.

Executive directors have the responsibility to manage a financially solvent non-profit organization with AT LEAST a 1:1 ratio of assets to liabilities. And that really isn’t enough, because there is no room for error.

If the ratio begins to slip into the negatives, and the liabilities are greater than the assets, the Executive Director’s responsibility is to make changes within the organization to offset that dip. And where do you do that? Typically in your largest expense items: personnel, programs, etc. , or you can borrow money – not a recommended practice, but sometimes it’s necessary.

Donors are volunteers. They are partners. They are supporters. But they are not ATM’s.

I absolutely believe if management is doing their job, a donor will never be called upon to “save” the organization.

And that’s that.

REALLY.

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Feel With Your Heart

Posted by on Jul 4, 2013 | 0 comments

Just wanting to share one of my all-time favorite quotes from Helen Keller:

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”

Building a culture of philanthropy in your business or organization is a team-building effort that not only fosters a feel-good work environment but improves your bottom line.

Never doubt the power of philanthropy, which defined is the love of mankind.

Helen had it right.

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W.I.I.F.M?

Posted by on Jun 26, 2013 | 0 comments

Well? What’s your response to that?

OK, let’s do this. Pretend I am your donor. You’ve just nailed your personal appeal to me relating concisely and completely your organization’s efforts, your achievements, your goals, and your needs.

You’ve WOW’d me with data showing the expected long range effect of your work. It’s obvious that you are changing lives for the better. And now you look to me; I know you are about to ask me something in an attempt to engage me in your efforts. But all that’s going through my mind is W.I.I.F.M?

What’s in it for me? W.I.I.F.M? What’s in it for me? You’ve talked about you, and about your organization, but what about lil ol’ me? You know, the one with the checkbook….me, your donor?

Talking face-to-face with potential donors can be challenging, but if we remember the simple rule of conversation, which is to ask questions of the other person and NOT talk solely about ourselves, it’s really fairly simple. Imagine attending a party and as you meet new people you start talking about yourself, nothing else (yes, we all know someone who does this – obnoxious, isn’t it?).

It’s not all that much different when you’re talking to your donors, making an appeal, or introducing a campaign…sure, you have to give them the information they will need to make a decision on their involvement, but why not frame your presentation from their viewpoint? Tell them what their involvement will do, who it will affect, how it will make a difference and change lives…remember, this is really about them, it’s not about you.

Tell a compelling story correctly, let them know what’s in it for them, and ask concisely.

You can do this…without being obnoxious!

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