In this webinar, Ellen Howe, CFRE & Ashley Holmes, MSW will provide strategies for non-profit leaders to ensure that critical fundraising activities continue until a new Development Director is hired.

Full Transcript:

Steven:All right, Ellen and Ashley. Is it okay if I go ahead and get things started officially here?

Ashley:Yeah, that would be great.

Ellen:It’s awesome.

Steven:All right, cool. Well, good morning everyone. If you’re on the East Coast, I should say good morning, if you’re on the West Coast . . . or good afternoon on the East Coast, good morning on the West Coast. Geez, I’ve only done this 300 times and I screwed it up. But either way, wherever you’re dialing in from, thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Bridging the Gap – Staying Productive InBetween Development Directors.” And my name is Steven Shattuck, and I am the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items before we begin officially, just want you all to know that we are recording this presentation, and I’ll be sending out that recording as well as the slides just in case you didn’t already get those later this afternoon. So have no fear. I’ll get all that good stuff in your hands later today. So if you have to leave early, don’t panic, certainly we love to have you the whole time, but you’ll be able to rewatch the recording later on today. Can even share with friend if you want to.

And as you’re listening today, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A, but we may even answer some questions along the way. So don’t shy at all. Send us your questions and comments on the chat box. You can also use Twitter to do the same thing. I’ll be keeping eye on the Twitter feed as well so don’t be shy at all.

And if you are listening today via your computer speakers, if you have any trouble with the audio, we find that the quality by phone is usually a little bit better. Not sure why. Probably all those internet connection type things that it’s usually pretty solved through the phone. So if you can dial in my phone and don’t mind doing that, please try it before you give up entirely because we want you to hear all the great content over an hour or so.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra-special welcome to you. We do these webinars just about every Thursday. We bring on great guests for a great educational presentation. One of my favorite things we do here at Bloomerang, but what we were most known for is our Donor Management software. So if you are perhaps curious about learning more about Bloomerang, or maybe you’re shopping for a new provider, check out our website. Wait ’till the end. Don’t do it now. Wait until 2:00 Eastern. You can even watch a quick video demo of Bloomerang and see it in action. Don’t even have to talk to a sales person if you don’t want to. So check that out later on if you are interested.

But for now, I am really excited to introduce . . . We’ve got two guest speakers today. I’m very excited to have Ellen Howe and Ashley Holmes here joining us. Hey, how’s it going ladies?

Ashley:We’re great. Thanks. How are you?

Ellen:Happy to be talking with you.

Steven:Good. Yeah, I’m excited for this one, Ellen. I was actually talking to Ashley earlier about how we got connected. And I think we met at AFP St. Louis a couple years ago and we have been talking about doing this webinar. This is a fun one. I’m really excited for this topic. It’s definitely an important one. I’m going to brag on you two really quickly. I don’t want to take up too much time away from you.

Just want to let you all who are listening know a little bit more about Ellen and Ashley. They both work over at The Rome Group, great agency, great consultancy. Check them out especially if you are in the St. Louis area. Ellen is the Managing Director over there, and she has spent most of her career in the nonprofit sector. In her job at The Rome Group, she is working on feasibility studies, capital campaigns, development audits, all that good stuff. And she has even served as Interim Development Director and Interim Development Assistant. So she knows exactly the what she’s going to be talking about here today, have been in your shoes, if those of you listening are in that situation right now. She’s been at Rome Group for 10 years. Before that, she was the SVP over at the YMCA of Greater St. Louis. So definitely has been in practitioner shoes.

Ashley is also over there at The Rome Group. She’s a senior consultant. She’s got over 10 years of experience working in fund development, managing annual campaigns, capital campaigns, all that good stuff, and has actually raised over $20 million in her term over at The Rome Group already. She has also served as Interim Development Director. So they are both high qualified to be talking about this subject. So I have already taken up way too much time away from them. So, Ellen, Ashley, tell us all about how to bridge the gap.

Ashley:Great. Well, we will jump in. Thank you for the introduction, Steven. We’re delighted to be here. Ellen is going to start us off.

Ellen:Great. So we’re happy to be here speaking with all of you. And Steven already introduced us very appropriately. So thank you. You know, we’re happy to be doing this webinar because at the Rome Group, we really believe that by working with nonprofits, we’re partnering with you to help improve the communities in which we serve and live. So the work that all of you do is very important for us, and that really is what drives us in our work.

So, today, surviving transition, and Ashley, as Ashley says when clients are people who haven’t worked with us before and like, “Help, my development director left. What are we going to do?” It’s going to be okay. And we really believe that. We hope by the end of the day, we’ll give you some tools that you’ll, in fact, be able to make that a reality. So today what we want to cover is, one, what is the reality of our development staff in terms of how long they stay, why do we have this revolving door, and, quite frankly, what’s the impact on organizations? Where we want to really spend our time, though, is helping you identify strategies, acquire tools so that you can be successful during this transition period. And so we’ll tell you about our approach and also share some of our strategies.

So I don’t know how many of you in the listening audience . . . You know, this is like the third or fourth opening that you’ve had. That’s not surprising. The average tenure of a fundraiser is just 16 months. And so that means, oftentimes, we’re without a development person. And, you know, there’s a lot of reasons why we’re seeing this. One is that they don’t . . . Some development directors don’t really feel like that’s the career that they want to stay in, some don’t feel like they’re in an organization that offers upward mobility. And quite frankly, there is such . . . you know, it’s a great job market for development directors. I mean, they can really pick and choose. So for the organizations that they leave, that’s difficult.

So what we’ve found is that these vacancies really usually last longer than anticipated, medium six months, with almost half of the organizations in the study that Bentz, Whaley and Flessner conducted saying that it actually is longer than six months. And with smaller organizations, this length of vacancy actually is usually longer than a year. The problem, as you can imagine, is that this has a dramatic negative impact on your fundraising. So, in one study, what they showed to the cost of a vacancy at a university was actually a loss of $3 million in revenue. So, I mean, we know it’s really important that we find a strategy to address this.

And so what we’ve done is the Rome Group is, we’ve seen this over and over and that’s why we started offering interim development director assistance to help our organizations do this. So in terms of the length time it takes to get someone, there’s a challenge there, too, that there’s a lack of qualified candidates. We also know that some of them are not that high performers. They might have some skills that you want, others that they are missing. And quite frankly, probably the one largest issue at least that we see in St. Louis is the competition for talent is fierce. So, again, this just increases the challenge that organizations face. And what do they do when there’s a vacancy?

And, again, I think I stated that the impact on our organizations is significant. There’s a loss of productivity. Then you have the whole additional cost of recruitment training. And then, more importantly, you lose that connection with some of your key donors. And so there’s a loss of opportunity to raise funds. So, although this can be a really hard transition, we really believe that there are things you can do to weather it and actually have some success. So I’m going to turn it over to Ashley.

Ashley:So, as Ellen said, we’re all probably pretty acutely familiar with the pain or the pinch of an anticipated departure. I’m just curious among our participants, if you wouldn’t mind, in your [inaudible 00:10:15], letting us know, are you anticipating a gap, have you experienced a gap, or are you just trying to be prepared? I think that will help us sort of inform a little bit of our recommendations for you. But as Ellen mentioned, what we saw was organizations in crisis. They would have a chief development officer, a development director, or even down to a development assistant leave. And without being able to find qualified candidates, they had these protracted vacancies. So that’s why we decided to step in and offer interim development management services.

What we found is we can help organizations bridge the gap. And as consultants, we help step in and manage the work without actually doing it ourselves. And through this process of stepping into support, we have come up with kind of a step-wise process for how we approach the work. First, we jump in and we listen. So I think if you’re thinking about how you translate this to your own practice, ask a lot of questions as soon as you know a vacancy is coming. But what we start by doing is jumping in and finding out from clients what’s working well and what isn’t. [inaudible 00:11:27] our development team come with strengths and weaknesses. We want to understand what’s really been high functioning, high impact, and then where are those moments where we’re a little sticky. Are our events lacking? Have we had low returns on our grant solicitations? We really want to understand the current logistics, so we do a lot of listening.

And then we do some assessment. So we start to make our assessment about what’s working in an organization by digging into data. We want to understand what are your trend lines, and what can we leverage in the short term to ensure ongoing fundraising success. We always, always, always develop a plan. It’s one of the first things we do when we jump in to serve as interim support. We think about what are your attainable goals. So what are the upcoming appeals, grant requests, events, major gift solicitations that need to be accomplished? Who’s going to do them and how are we going to get them done?

Finally, we implement. So we work with organizations to make sure they’re having the right conversations with the right donors. Usually during interim, it’s not a great time to start doing a lot of new donor acquisition. We want to make sure that we’re digging in and stewarding the donors we’ve got. We support board, staff and volunteers to be able to do the solicitation work themselves. So rather than have us step in to do a lot of the major gift fundraising, we want to make sure that the relationships stay and live with the organization, so we staff from behind. And then we serve really as a transition. We coach new development team members to get them up to speed and make sure there’s great data and tracking so they’re ready to hit the ground running.

From what I can see on our chat here, it looks like lots of you have experienced gaps. Some of you up to a year, some of you are expecting gaps, some of you currently have a vacancy, and you have it now eliminated from the budget, so you have to figure out how to endure a longer term gap in your fundraising staff. So you’re familiar with the pain, it sounds like.

So let’s jump into a little bit about our work and a quick case study. So not that long ago, we were contacted by a local cultural institution who had a CDO vacancy. And I don’t know how similar this sounds for all of you, but they had a couple of key concerns. They were anticipating a deficit, and then they had no CDO to help make it up. They had some previously existing challenges, managing development. They lacked the culture of philanthropy. So, unfortunately, a lot of the fundraising hinged upon who in that CDO position. And they felt like the last time they hired, they just didn’t hire the right person. As a small cultural institution, they needed a CDO who could do it all. They could write grants. They could advocate to their major donors. And they hired someone who they felt like coming out of the university system, needed a little more system, a little more support, and they felt like they really didn’t hire as smart as they should have.

So what did we do? We jumped in immediately. And the first step we took was we created a development plan. So we figured out what were the primary actions upcoming, what needed to be accomplished to reach those goals and who was going to do it. The other thing we did was we staffed organizational leadership. So what we found was in the absence of a development staff person, usually the onus and burden falls to the executive director to continue to rally the support. So we may ensure that that executive director knew who she was talking to and why, what she needed to say, and how she was going to get gifts. It really turned out to be a collaborative partnership. But we spent a lot of time, frankly, sitting in her office telling her one at a time to make these phone calls. “You’re going to call X owner, you’re going to say this, here’s her phone number, go for it.” And then being able to take immediate and transitional notes for her.

We mentored junior staff. So when you’re got a CDO who’s missing, it’s a real opportunity to provide your junior staff a chance to shine. We want to figure out who has some expertise that we haven’t tapped yet, who can be coached to do stewardship of low-level donors, and what we found was we actually had a pretty great pool of junior staff that we could pull from to do some of the CDO work.

And then, finally, we helped them identify the right candidate. What we found was it was important to talk to the board and major donors to figure out what were they looking for for a replacement. Oftentimes I think when we do these leadership searches, we sort of live in isolation. Maybe we consult one board member and the executive director makes a lot of the decisions. What we found by querying our team was that this cultural institution didn’t need someone who was major gifts expert or systems development expert. They needed someone with content expertise. They needed someone who understood what the cultural institution was doing, someone who had a high level of emotional intelligence, who could be empathic with a lot of their planned giving donors. And someone who was hungry and ready to learn. And those three qualifications really helped us narrow our search.

Ellen:And the one thing that I just want to add, because Ashley is going to tell you about the success that she had. For some of you executive directors, or your position at the organization, if you cannot bring in consultants like Ashley and myself, what we think is really important when Ashley talks about staff organizational leadership is that absolutely, when we do this, we actually spend time on site at the organization weekly. Because we know that it’s those regular oversight, kind of, here’s your task, where are we, and support to accomplish those tasks that keeps the development activities moving. And the reason I just want to stress this is we’ve seen organizations where they’ve lost their person and the CEO or executive director says, “Okay, I’m going to have to kind of head this up.” And what happens is that they don’t set aside definite time, like, maybe it’s Tuesday morning for three hours that this is like, no one else bother me, I’m going to be meeting with the development staff, and this is going to be our focus. That they want to do that, but without really setting definite time, we’ve seen where that kind of falls to the wayside.

Ashley:Absolutely. So this cultural institution was experiencing quite a bit of stress with the deficit, with the change in the CDO. So we stepped in and did exactly what Ellen just said. We did on-site mentorship and support. After being with the organization for about a year and a half, because we know that the average tenure or absence for a small organization is about a year, we stepped in and we saw some great returns. And what’s interesting about this work is it doesn’t have to happen on-site. It can happen remotely. We can do a lot of this coaching over the phone, via electronic communications. So if you’ve got the opportunity to engage a consultant, we recommend that. It doesn’t have to break your budget, because if you’re down a salary, you’ve got some flex money to invest in having some extra support. But we are going to talk about, if you don’t have the budget, what do you do now.

So what we saw in terms of our return was we were with the organization about a year and a half, and in sort of really digging into what needed to be done, what we could accomplish, what we found was that we didn’t just sustain revenue, we were able to grow revenue. I know that this sounds unbelievable, but I promise it happened. So what we saw was we actually were able to grow revenue by 26%.

In part, it was because it freed the executive director up to really feel confident and comfortable in their fundraising role. We were able to engage the board members in ways we had never been able to because we had an acute need and we could give them specific strategies for making actionable fundraising efforts. We grew major gift revenue and managed to upgrade donors, in part because we didn’t have a real formal development approach to our conversations. The staff, the board, and the executive director were able to call and say, you know, “I just wanted to check in. I haven’t had the chance to really touch base. Let’s get together. Let’s do some talking about the future of the organization.” And we gave donors the opportunity to weigh in on what kind of person should be leading the philanthropy efforts into the future.

We were able to deepen relationships with grant funders. What we found was we were doing a lot of applications to new grant funders but doing a very poor job of stewarding our current grant funders. So what we started to do was really think about what do we need to optimize rather than take on. So it was a strategic approach to thinking about grant funders.

We increased corporate engagement. Again, what we found when we jumped in was we were struggling to get sponsorships for an annual gala. I’m sure many of you can relate. And what we found was, when we started to have real conversations with our corporate partners, they weren’t interested so much in event sponsorships anymore but in program investment. So what we redid was we quickly, and I promise, with just a couple pages worth of narrative, we redrafted our sponsorship packet. And rather than taking an event-centered approach, we took a program and impact-centered approach. So we asked folks to make a $25,000 commitment to underwrite programs, and they would just have this corollary benefit of acknowledgment and celebration at the annual gala.

We improved appeal response rates in part because we weren’t segmenting our donor list. And frankly, we saved the organization money by saying, “Rather than mass mail because we’re panicked about just getting it out, let’s spend a little bit of time digging down into our mailing list and optimizing who we’re sending to.” It turned out because this organization was facing a deficit, and it was a pretty anticipated deficit, it was clear that it was ongoing year over year over year, there was a real opportunity to think about how do we get donors excited and invested in the sustainability of the organization. And what we found was, by growing the endowment, we could make a compelling case organizations that the cultural institution had a sustainable future.

And it turned out that through our conversations that the executive director was having, we got real interest in investing in the endowment. An unusual turn of events, but the good news is now we’ve been out of that organization almost three years and they’ve grown their endowment by $10 million.

The final and most exciting thing was we helped them hire a kick-butt CDO. Part of how we did that work was we leveraged the information we got from key stakeholders about their desired qualifications, and we really put together a job description that prioritized specific skills. So we weren’t necessarily looking anymore for someone who had manned a big fundraising and development operation. Because, frankly, the organization couldn’t compete. They couldn’t offer the salary or the benefits, and it wasn’t a big enough fish for a lot of the large, highly professional CDOs in the area. So what we did was we refined what we were looking for. We wanted someone with polish, with content savvy, with high levels of emotional intelligence, and, frankly, someone who was willing to be coached. So we hired someone who didn’t have a ton of organizational management experience, but who was able to step into the role and really build meaningful relationships with donors. It was great.

So how do we do it? How does it actually happen? So the first thing is don’t panic. You have to do something in the absence of a CDO. So we’re going to give you a couple tools to be able to accomplish some work. The first of which is, the first thing we recommend is assess and get organized. In the moments of panic, it can be difficult to do that. So what we want you to do is sit down with your staff, sit down with your development team, and chart your coming months. We want you to think about what appeals are coming up, what events do you have, what grants are happening. And literally put pen to paper. Get those big giant Post-it notes. Put them all over the wall. Put January on one, all the way to December, and chart out what’s coming. Inevitably, you’ll have enough institutional knowledge that you should be able to map out what exactly is ahead.

Then you have to overlay your data. So the second thing we recommend is know your data. Once you’ve charted the coming months with those big bold activities, we want you to dig into your data. Pull your budget versus actual from last year. Were you close to your target? Were there areas where you didn’t meet your goal at all? And we need to start to figure out what happens there, because we can build a strategy around how to compensate for any deficiencies in the previous year. And current year, for sure. We want to make sure that you understand where you are to date on your current year because that’s going to help you understand what your goal is for the remainder of the year.

We want you to pull your [inaudible 00:25:37] reports. Who gave last year but hasn’t yet given this year? Those are easy and tangible targets for your board, your staff, and your executive director to start having conversations with. You should print that list, you should put it on everyone’s desk, and you should start to assign who’s going to make some outreach. We’ll talk a little bit about that in a moment.

Your major donor list, so oftentimes I think we forget that we can look back at the last year and figure out when did our donors give last year. If Susie wrote a check in February for $5,000, we need to be preparing to ask her for that gift again in December, in January. Once you pull your major gift list, write those names on the calendar. So once you’ve got your big paper calendar charted, make sure you go through and you have a little major gift section on each month, and you write down the name and the amount of the person who gave at that month last year.

Think about your previous year donors by gift date. So are there other smaller level donors. If you’re a startup or a new organization, if you only have 300 donors, 100 donors, 50 donors, you can frankly chart them all on your calendar. And then make sure you mark your, not just your grant deadlines, but your grant reports. Once everything’s up on the board, you’re going to feel totally overwhelmed, but I promise it’s going to be okay. Get it all up on the board, even if you’re a staff of only two. There’s ways you can then make this work actionably.

So you need to prioritize. You’re going to have this huge list. It’s going to feel totally overwhelming, and you’re down a staff person. Here’s what you want to do. You want to start having a frank conversation about priorities. Do you have an event that you host every year? And events, frankly, are the largest culprit of this. It is time intensive. It requires tons of work, volunteer management. You’re soliciting auction items. You’re begging people for sponsorships. And, collectively, you feel like you spend six months of the year making this event happen but you’re only raising a small percentage of your annual budget. This is the time to start to think about what can you put a pause on and what can you really invest in. Do you have greater opportunity if you spend time with your major donors rather than implementing this high-cost event?

Ellen:So the one thing, there’s a few questions up here that we want to address. So as Ashley says, “Don’t panic,” and when you look at this list, it looks pretty overwhelming, and especially when you only have a staff of two, or you do not have your executive director involved. What we would say, then, once you’ve run this list, that the most important thing you need to do is prioritize. So, obviously, we know that it’s so much more time consuming to get a new gift than it is to renew a gift. And so one of the things, if all that you can handle is making sure that you renew the gifts that came in last year, then that should be your first priority. And, again, even if it’s not a development staff, you don’t have a development staff, that responsibility can be divided up among your staff of two. Like, okay, you call them, I’ll call them. But so, at the very least, you want to renew the support that you have from the year before.

The other thing someone asks, “What if you don’t have a development officer and you have a marketing and communications manager, how can you develop a major gifts program?” What we would suggest there is, again, it’s all about prioritizing. Sometimes when we talk about major gift programs, we’re like, “Well, we have to have a portfolio of 250 donors.” And what we would say to you is, if you can identify your top 25 prospective donors, are those donors that are in your $500 range that you think have the capacity and interest to increase their gifts, that’s where you start. And starting looks like you put this list, the names, you put what your goal is to do . . . I mean, get them to increase their gift to $1,000, ask them for $2,500, and then you have columns on your sheet where you say, “Then what’s your next action?” To get a lunch, to call them.

And then you put another column there that shows what’s your follow-up action. So we do believe it’s possible, and we actually think it’s better to start small, but to start with quality. And so not only do you identify the right people, you take the time to really prepare for that interaction with that donor or prospect. So if you do a quick Google, if you don’t have any type of wealth screening or donor screening, there’s a lot you can find see what they’re interested in. You prepare talking points. So, again, we do think it’s possible. And if that didn’t answer your question, please let us know. But start small there.

Ashley:So, in addition to starting small, you also have to recognize that you’re going to be asking people who’ve never fundraised or have fundraised very little to lead some of your fundraising efforts. So I know there’s been a couple of questions about engaging your executive director and potentially even engaging your board in this work. And what Ellen alluded to is preparation makes all the difference. So those of you who are on this call are clearly concerned about this. Our suggestion is, make your lists. Think about who are your major donors that we’re going to try and renew this year. Then really dig into, have they had a relationship or an encounter with someone at the agency already that you can leverage, right? So maybe they call, and every time they ask to speak to your marketing director. That person should go on your marketing director’s list.

If there are major donors who frankly send you these gifts unsolicited and have never been talked to, and major can be $100 for a startup organization, your executive director can really just call and say, “Thank you.” If you happen to have someone in a leadership role who’s afraid to make those overtures, it really helps if you write a script. It can be a simple as five bullet points. Thank you so much for supporting our work. We’re so grateful to have you involved. How did you first get connected to what we do? We’re opening doors. And frankly, we see the loss of a development person as an opportunity to have real and honest conversations with your donors. You know, we lost Mary, and we were really disappointed to see her go, but I’m kind of excited because it gives me the opportunity to talk to you and get to know you a little bit better. Tell me about your story with us.

So once you’ve charted your list of activities for the year, you’ve prioritized, you’ve thought about things you can let go, things that have to get done, we want you to create a calendar with tactics. And we’ll talk a little bit about that.

So once you’ve plotted everything out, you want to start with the must do dates, right? So we’ve got a grant deadline in March 15th. We know that application has to be in the hands of our grantor. We start to work backwards. So let’s think about that. We need a final draft, let’s ambitiously say five days ahead of the deadline, knowing that most organizations have their final draft on the day of, which is okay. We just want to make sure it gets in. So ambitiously, let’s say our final draft needs to be done five days before the due date. When does our draft for program edit need to happen? So before we have a final draft, we need to make sure our program staff is on board with that draft. Let’s say that needs to happen two weeks before the final draft, that gives us time to edit, to make sure all of our Ts are crossed and our Is are dotted. We need time to draft it. So put two more wees.

Prior to that, we need an outline put into place. So when you start to work backwards, you’re able to put timelines and deadlines on the actual activities and actions for each thing. If we’re going to be approaching sponsors, we need a prospect list probably four to six months in advance. We need plenty of time to be able to talk to folks, assign a board contact. So start from the beginning and work backwards, or start from the end and work backwards.

Make sure that you use that plan to keep your board and leadership up-to-date. So the best news about having a plan is it’s easy to share with folks. It’s also easy to present in front of your board and highlight areas where we need them to step in.

Let me show you what a potential calendar looks like. Keep it simple. Here’s January. So we’ve got several things we need to get accomplished. We need ongoing administration. We need the board engaged in some fundraising work. We need to follow up on our direct mail from the end of the year. And we need to start thinking about trivia night. So maybe trivia night is in October, let’s start thinking about it in January since we’re nowhere understaffed. Grants. Let’s think about what grant deadlines need to be on this calendar. Let’s think about pulling our proposals for next month. And then, finally, major gifts and annual fund.

So why we set this up this way is it’s easy to see. The other thing about doing it month by month by month is, frankly, it limits the stress and anxiety. You can pull out January and February and those are the two calendars you look at right now.

And the other great thing about this tool is, when you assign a person to be responsible for an action, it doesn’t mean that they are exclusively responsible for accomplishing it but they make sure it gets done. So if you sit down with your staff, perhaps you have a development team or you’re just working with your program staff and executive director, you can use this as a management tool. So at every weekly staff meeting you sit down and you say, “Okay, I’m going gift acknowledgment letters. Kelly, you were responsible for that. Did those get out on Friday? You know, Sarah I know that you’re responsible for updating our board fundraising expectations, is that going to be done in advance of our January 28th meeting?”

It becomes both a management tool and a tracking tool. We have more versions of this. So if you have questions or you need to think about how to implement it, feel free to email us after the session and we’ll share some of those with you.

The next step we want to do is implement and support. So the first thing we need to think about is where can we standardize? Do we do things kind of willy-nilly? So oftentimes when a donor makes a gift, we’re happy if they get a letter, but some will get phone calls, some will get a handwritten thank you note, some we’ll see at lunch someday, some we’ll invite to our events. If you can standardize procedures, you’re going to make your life a lot easier. So think about your stewardship process. Everyone should get an acknowledgment letter. Depending upon the size of your organization, ideally we’d like it within 24 hours. Knowing that small organizations and startups can only do batch reports once a week, start to think about making sure that those letters get out every Friday.

Then start to think about your donor level thresholds, right? So if the majority of your donors give $50 or below, your significant gifts are going to be $100. Should your $100 donors get a quick phone call by your ED? Again, someone asked about how do you involve your ED. Giving them a list of donors to call and thank is a great stewardship strategy, but it also gets them some easy wins. It feels good to say thank you.

And then start to think about who are those reach gifts. Are there folks who are making $500 gifts to your organization? Bring a list of those donors and pre-addressed envelopes to your board meeting. Write up on a big piece of paper a draft thank you note, and ask your board members before the close of each board meeting to write three thank you notes to those really reach donors. What it will do, again, is keep them in your pocket, keep them excited and engaged in the work in the absence of a CDO or development person, and it’s an easy next connection to the organization.

Leverage those volunteers and staff. So what we want to do is engage those board members. Give them specific tasks. If you’re planning trivia night in October and you need trivia chairs, start thinking about it in January. Figure out what are the job descriptions, what are the actions, the tactics that you want board members to take. Is it, we want them to sign three thank you notes at every board meeting, we want them to buy a table at trivia night, and we want them to do one social media share a month. If you are specific and discrete, you can get board members involved. I always recommend you give them three things to do. Any more than that and we have a tendency to lose track of what we’re obligated to do.

Check in often and benchmark progress. So make sure that you’re continuing to keep that budget versus actual up-to-date, month over month over month. So keep track of, are we slipping further behind our goals. And then have a team group meeting to be able to discuss what are your strategies for making up any deficits. We think a weekly check-in is the best way to measure progress. It keeps you accountable and it enables staff to stay engaged and connected.

Finally, keep good records. Eventually, hopefully, you’re going to grow large enough to hire that first development person. You’re going to fill that gap with someone great. You need to keep solid records so that when they step into that position, we’re not scrambling to figure out who called X donor and said what, who was asked for $15,000 to support the trivia night versus who hasn’t yet been asked. Keep really solid records. And we’re going to show you a little bit about how you do that.

So track your success. What we want you to do is keep on track so you know month to month to month what your return is. But also keep track of your activities, right? So meeting with major gift donors. Set a goal. We want our executive director to meet with six people. How many do they actually meet with, and who do they meet with? Because if you’re going to be able to transition a development director in, you need a list of who got met with when.

Ellen:And the other thing about this benchmarking, you can see there’s two things. So under donor communications, the goal was newsletter and spring appeal. We absolutely recognize that in the absence of a development director, you might just get the spring appeal out. On the top where we have contributions, you can tell that both Ashley and I are huge believers in data. It absolutely really drives what we do. One of the things that we think is so important is to track your contributions monthly against budget, and also against the same date the year before.

What we’ve seen in some organizations is that they’re like, “Well, that deficit is just because that grant is late. It hasn’t come in yet.” Which, okay, is fine. But what we see many times is that there’s a $10,000 deficit that you’re showing in February. And if it’s not timing, so many organizations don’t say, “Wow, at that point, how are we going to make that $10,000 up? What’s our strategy to address this deficit?” So we really believe in tracking your success, your activities, and holding people accountable to that. So we have found this tool to be instrumental.

The other thing that we will tell you about tracking your success this way, it’s a wonderful thing to share with the board. If the board sees that the staff are doing everything possible to meet these goals, they are often times more likely to jump in and offer their support. Or if they see, wow, we have appointments with John Smith, Mary Jones, Bob Evans, Joe Moe. I know Joe. I’m happy to go on that call. So it’s a nice way to keep your board informed and also to use it as a way to engage them.

Ashley:Absolutely. And really, if there’s any takeaway you get from this, it’s that oftentimes, just understanding what’s ahead is going to give you the time and space to prepare for how you want to address it. And when grant awards come and go, a major gift doesn’t come in, if you know it didn’t happen, as Ellen said, you can set a plan or chart a course for how you’re going to make that money up.

So you’re cooking, right? You’ve got your calendar, you’re meeting weekly with your staff, you’re tracking your data, you’re engaging your board, and I promise this is doable even understaffed, you still need to try and find somebody, right? We’re still trying to hire all along as we go. So here are our recommendations for how you hire right.

The first thing is take your time. Part of what we see happen is organizations are panicked about losing a development person. They get a handful of resumes, some of them perhaps seem maybe closely related. They interview and they hire, but they’re not super excited about their hire. Oftentimes what we see is if you’ve got some fear on the front side, usually it’s justified. There’s a reason that perhaps the person isn’t a great fit for your organization. And you can do more damage by hiring poorly and having that person burn through relationships. Utilize your CDO resources by taking a salary and having a low return. So take your time and hire smart, hire correctly.

Start by building a database of contacts and employee prospects. So when you’re out at AFP meetings, when you’re out in the community, make sure that you’re keeping track of people’s cards, keeping track of agencies you admire, and staff people that you see really succeeding and thriving. It’s important that you always have sort of a Rolodex of folks you can call and ask for recommendations.

So if you happen to live in St. Louis, you can call people like us and say, you know, “Who should we be talking to for this position?” Because it’s a highly competitive environment, we find offering atypical benefits to really be a meaningful way to get talent. So what we want to think about is can you put in your offer to someone the opportunity for professional development? Is there an opportunity for them to work from home once a week? Can you think about ways, rather than having to pay someone more, can you provide them more flexibility, more time off, more professional development? Asking folks what their long-term goal is in an interview is really going to help you understand if you’re hiring a CDO who one day hopes to be a CEO, you can offer them something that enables them to move forward their career track.

We want extensive orientation and social interaction. So one of the best tools we found for hiring smart is it shouldn’t just be your executive director and development team or your HR person who hires or interviews folks. We want a board member to interview your potential development person. We want, potentially, a major donor to interview your development person. In part, you garner greater investment in their success, but you’re also going to get a good snapshot of who’s going to fit in and be able to adjust to your culture and your donors’ needs.

Finally, consider mentorship. So we noticed in some of the comments that some of you are really struggling to afford a development person. You’re struggling to think about how can you find someone as experienced that you have the budget for. This is one of the things that we think is your best investment. Because there is so much competition for qualified development directors, folks are paying pretty high salaries. Think about growing your own. Can you interview someone who has a high level of emotional intelligence? They are thoughtful, they are responsive, they ask good questions, they feel interested and engaged, but maybe doesn’t have as much development experience or any at all. We find that with mentorship, it’s another one of the lines of work that we do, engage a more experienced fundraiser or consultant to come in and spend a few hours a week mentoring that staff person, helping them manage and grow into the position.

What we find is when you grow your own, you have greater organizational loyalty, it’s more affordable, and, frankly, you can avoid some of the bad habits that we see in some older, well, not older but more experienced development staff. So think about growing your own. It doesn’t have to be as scary as it might seem. I think it’s important that we think about ensuring that staff members feel engaged, connected, and welcome, and growing them from there.

Do you have any other thoughts here?

So we kept it kind of concise today, in part because we know some of the best way to address gaps is by answering questions. We have lots of tools and tips and tricks we’re happy to provide, so, again, feel free to email us. Certainly consider some of the recommendations in how to build a cultural philanthropy. But if you’re comfortable, we’d like to jump in to some questions.

Steven:Yeah, let’s do it. That was great, Ellen and Ashley. That was awesome, chock-full of great advice. I really like your idea of having a major donor interview potential replacement candidates. That’s a great idea. This is great. Yeah, we’ve got probably about maybe eight or nine minutes for questions. If you haven’t typed in a question yet, please do. We’ll try to get to as many as we can before 2:00 Eastern. I know we’ve answered a couple along the way.

I’m going to ask a question of my own, if you all don’t mind, while the rest of you type. Ashley, you mentioned in the beginning of the presentation, towards the beginning, that I think I heard you right. You recommend ceasing all donor acquisition activity in favor of stewardship and retention. Did I get that right? And would you mind kind of unpacking that concept? I 100% agree. That’s not why I’m asking. But I just kind of wanted to hammer that point home if you don’t mind.

Ashley:Yeah, absolutely. I think when we get into a crunch, our first gut reaction is to find something new. So I don’t know about you but when I was a development director, I would have a board member say, “Well, we need more corporate support. Go out and find us a new corporation [inaudible 00:49:39] to give,” right?


Ashley:Or, “We need a new grant. Go find us a new grant.” And what we found over and over and over again is usually your greatest opportunity exists with your current donors. So, as Ellen said, it’s far less costly and time-consuming to renew or upgrade a donor than it is to acquire a donor. So when we are strapped with limited resources, I think the first place you want to look is your cadre of supporters and champions already. That’s not to say that if a great grant opportunity or potential corporate prospect doesn’t come across your desk, you don’t leap at it, but this probably isn’t the time to buy huge mailing lists. It’s maybe not the time to exhaust all of your time and energy out cold calling. This is the time to really connect with those closest to you.

Steven:I love it.

Ellen:And we have a couple of questions. One question is, “Can you give an example of what a volunteer a board member would say during a call to a donor that they have no personal connection to?” One of the things that we first suggest that board members or volunteers do is call donors and just say thank you. “Hi, this is Ellen. I’m a board member with De La Salle, and I am just calling to thank you for your gift. I don’t know if you’ve met some of our students here. I would invite you to come for a tour at the school so that you could, but I just want to say thank you.” So that’s first and foremost the easiest thing that a board member or volunteer can do.

The other thing that they can do is just call and give a testimonial for the organization. “Hi, I’m Ellen with AFP. I don’t know . . . I hope that this organization, that you’ve been respected as a donor. And that really comes back to what we learn in Association of Fundraising Professionals. I’ve joined this because I think philanthropy is really important to make in our community great.” That’s not a really great example, but that’s kind of how we would do that.

The other question we got was, “Can you offer incentives if you don’t have the opportunity, financial incentives, if you’re a smaller organization without a sizable budget?” You know, according with the fundraising code of ethics, we really . . . It absolutely is not recommended that people, you know, if they raise so much money, that they get compensated a percent of that. If you are to give incentives to your staff, they’re more based on activity or length of stay that they are with the organization. So like, completed fundraising, a capital campaign, 10% above goal. They would get, you know what I mean, some type of bonus for that. But it’s not 10% above goal. I mean, it’s just based more on performance and not on dollars raised.

The other thing that we would suggest, if you’re a smaller organization and don’t have sufficient funds to go head-to-head with some of the bigger organizations, to what Ashley said, is offer atypical benefits. You know, one of the markets that we sometimes encourage organizations to pursue for a development person is a development person who has experience, but is spending more time with their families and only wants to work three days a week, that that might be an option. Or another option is, as Ashley said, to go after maybe one of your program people, maybe a new grad who has the emotional intelligence, [inaudible 00:53:02] personality, and a passion for your mission. We have found that probably those qualities, if you have those and if you will invest in mentorship, will serve you well in the development.

Steven:I love it. There’s another question here from Tyler. Tyler is wondering, if you decide to grow your own chief development officer, how would you recommend getting started? Would it be difficult to lay out a plan if you first need to train the person who will be carrying out the plan? It’s kind of a chicken and the egg scenario, I guess. What advice would you have for Tyler there?

Ashley:Yeah, absolutely. So what we found is it helps really to be clear about what your goals are before you decide to grow your own. So I think it’s really important that you understand, are we hoping to grow our annual fund, are we preparing for a campaign, are we trying to close the deficit. Be very clear and specific about what your goals are for a potential [inaudible 00:55:11]. Start to chart out what you’d like to see accomplished. And then what we’ve had some success in is, to Ellen’s point, hire someone who’s passionate about your [inaudible 00:55:22] emotional intelligence, who is detail-oriented. Bring them in and then start to build a development plan collaboratively. If you have a development [inaudible 00:55:36] to build that plan, but what we find [inaudible 00:55:40] build a plan while coaching your development person, it’s going to empower them to be able to build that plan next year.

Ellen:And what we [inaudible 00:55:50] is that training goes hand-in-hand. I actually [inaudible 00:55:58] program person with the YMCA, the development CEO came in and said, “I think you can do this.” And I said, “If you give me the training, I’ll do it.” What he did in addition to give training that I think is so crucial if you are going to grow your own, you also need to give them time. So, like, the first six months, checked in with me more often and he also, the expectation wasn’t as high in terms of what I was going to be able to produce. I will tell you after the first year, the bar was back up where it should be. But sometimes when we try to grow our own, we don’t give them the time nor the training, and so I think those are probably the two crucial things that you need to offer.

Steven:I love it. Boy, this is all good stuff. We’re coming up against the hour, and I want to be respectful of everyone’s time. I know there’s a few questions we didn’t get to, but, Ellen and Ashley, would you be willing to answer additional questions by email if people get in touch with you?



Ashley:Yeah. Shoot us an email. And we’re happy to reply. I have a few minutes before our next meeting so I’m also happy to stay on and type a couple of answers to questions before we head off.

Steven:Cool. That’s awesome. Other than email, is there a good way to get in touch with you all, check out your website? What’s going on over there over at the Rome Group these days?

Ashley:Yes. You can look at our website. It’s Spell out Free to give us a call. You can connect with either Ellen or I. And by all means, send us an email. We do this work. And because we are passionate about making sure organizations thrive, we do a lot of work with startups and small organizations, in part because we believe that there’s work to be done. So even if you don’t think you can afford the investment in a consultant, feel free to call us and we’re happy to give you a couple minutes of our time and a little bit of advice.

Steven:Cool. Well, definitely reach out. They obviously know their stuff. Great people. Got a thumbs up from me for whatever that’s worth but . . . Ellen, Ashley, that was really awesome. Thanks for hanging out with us for an hour today.

Ashley:Thank you so much for having us.

Steven:Well, we got some cool webinars coming up down the pipeline. We’re sticking to our every Thursday schedule. Be sure to join us one week from today. Brian Sabre is going to join us to talk about how to how to kind of engage that board, not only to give money to your cause, which they should be doing, hopefully they’re doing, but also maybe do some fundraising for you. Always a good topic. One week from today, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, same time, same place. Check that out if you’re interested in that topic.

There’s also some other webinars we’ve got scheduled throughout the whole rest of 2018. We’ve got a lot on the menu already. So check us out. Hopefully we’ll see you again on some other Thursday. So we’ll call it a day there. I think Ashley is going to hang out in the chat room if you want to stick around and talk to her. I would love to have that happen. So stick around if you can. If not, we will hopefully see you again on Thursday. So have a safe weekend. Try to stay warm out there, especially with all the winter weather, and we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Nonprofit Sustainability

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.