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On this episode of Bloomerang TV, Maeve Strathy, Development Officer in charge of annual giving at Wilfrid Laurie University and blogger at What Gives Philanthropy, joins us to talk about the life of an annual giving officer.

Full Transcript:

Steven: Hey there welcome to this weeks episode of Bloomerang TV. Thanks for tuning in and it’s been a while since I had a Canadian on the show and I was starting to have withdrawals a little bit. So I’ve got Maeve Strathy here. She is the development officer in charge of annual giving over at Wilfrid Laurie University in Canada. What’s up Maeve? How’s it going?

Maeve: I am so excited to be here.

Steven: Been buddies for a little while, couple of people recommended you be on the show, and I just had to have you on. So what do you do over at the University? What’s your life like as an annual giving officer?

Maeve: Yeah, I am a Laurie Grad, which is awesome, because it is really nice that I don’t have to build that passion from nothing. I was a Laurie student, loved my experience, and so it’s really the best job for a fundraiser to be back at your Alma Mater and fundraising for a University that you know and love already.

So in terms of the regular day, annual givings boredom followed by, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. And, my position is in leadership giving, so it’s also called mid level giving at some schools, or some organizations. Basically that kind of looks at the area between annual giving and major giving, creating that pipeline from one to another, and dealing with gifts that aren’t quite annual and aren’t quite major.

So that attention comes in the form of mail, phone calls, I definitely incorporate some of my efforts into our regular direct response activities. On top of that I do lots of face-to-face visits as well. Which is a really fun part of my job to meet with people in person. So kind of in short, everyday is different. But I love it for that reason,

Steven: Yeah, funny, I should say that one of the reasons I wanted to have you on is that I knew you were in charge of just annual giving. And a lot of the people that follow Bloomerang and watch this podcast, they’re small shops right? So one fundraiser does everything, they just do fundraising and maybe they aren’t familiar with a lot of these terms like annual giving, and leadership giving, and maybe even major gifts at some level. Can you talk about what you consider to be annual giving? Can you just define that term once and for all so that we kind of know what we are talking about?

Maeve: Totally. If you’ve ever been to a really old school fundraising conference, there’s some cliché terms that are thrown around when it comes to annual giving. Including annual giving is the life blood of any fundraising organization. Annual giving is the base of the pyramid. If the sentiment is right, it is for me really kind of consistent constant fundraising, 24/7, 365 days a year we’re always kind of chugging along. So I think the consistent constantness of annual giving is really the big part. So exciting new building, but annual giving keeps the lights on. To use somewhat of a metaphor but in a lot of cases it’s true.

The relationships you’re building aren’t one on one, they’re not deep in the same way that major gift fundraisers get to have where you sit across the table from somebody and say “What are you passions? And how can we align those with our fundraising priorities?” Instead, it’s trying to create messaging for the masses and connect with people and that will impact people. Those are all kind of bigger ways. At the end of the day, it’s reaching out to people for what are usually smaller donations but all throughout the year. That’s why it’s the base of the pyramid, it creates that base that any organization can operate off of. I think that’s really what annual giving really boils to.

Steven: What’s your plan look like? Is it one you create at the beginning of the year and execute throughout the year? Do you change it a lot? Is it fluid? What does it look like with year long activities?

Maeve: Great questions. I would say that kind of the foundation of annual giving is built on direct response. So we have a call center full of students who are calling Alumni and fundraising for the school. So again, those kind of reaching out to people, in some ways less personal ways, but reaching a lot of people.

We definitely, we start any fiscal year with a specific plan. The bones of it looks similar, so there’s always going to be direct mailings, there’s always going to be the call center operating and there’s going to be some e-solicitations happening. That’s the tough part of annual giving is sometimes you get into a rut in terms of the messaging you’re sending out.

Steven: Yeah.

Maeve: I’ve spoken with Don Lepp before who I know has been one Bloomerang TV and he is the master of direct response. And he talks about how a lot of annual fundraising appeals look the same from year to year, from organization to organization, so you kind of have the same formula that is being replicated. It can be hard to figure out how to make it different and that’s a big challenge of annual giving team. So you’ve got these three direct mailings that are going to happen. What are they going to look like? Are you going to take last year’s and just kind of modify the language and throw in new projects? Or are you going to start with something brand new and try to connect with people in a totally different way?

And that’s always the tough part of the day. We hear it a lot as fundraiser’s regardless of what area of fundraising you’re working in. You’ve got to tell great stories. So if every year you come up with a new story to tell and a new way to build you case for your organization and excite people about what your doing, and more importantly excite them about what they have the opportunity to impact. That’s what you really need to do, you do need to mix it up. I would say we start with a plan but there is definitely flexibility as we move along.

So planning is so important, but you also need to be nimble and you need to be ready as you see kind of the success through the year. How you might need to modify.

Steven: How do you know when you’re in a rut? Like how do you know when this event or this breakfast or gala or whatever we’ve been doing every year, isn’t working anymore? And if you do decide to change course, how do you convince the board or your boss that, that’s the right course of action?

Maeve: It’s a good question, and it can be tricky. I guess one of the things I’m not… I think all fundraisers have a bit of a love for numbers in them. Numbers don’t lie and one of the things about annual giving is because it’s consistent, if you have a goal based on exceeding last years goal, or retaining a certain number of donors, acquiring a certain amount of donors and you’ve got that number you are aiming for, because you have the periods of more gifts coming in. Like at the end of the calendar year because people are motivated by taxes or the end of the fiscal year because you have a lot of activities happening to support your annual campaign.

There are definitely those heavy periods but there is also a consistent receipt of gifts throughout the year. So you figure out if you are not on pace on a pretty regular basis. And you can’t really count on some massive gift because it is annual giving to push you over the edge. So you do have a pretty good sense of when things are not working. If you’re keeping your eyes on the numbers regularly, which any annual giving team should be, you can kind of modify and if you’re nimble enough, make those tweaks to kind of drive yourself ahead when things aren’t looking like they should.

So whether that’s a fundraising event, or you’re coming to the end of your campaign you’re really increasing the number of fundraising activities you’re doing, there are those chances to do that. I think it’s not too difficult to convince people you need to change it up when the numbers aren’t looking good. Your board will tell you, they’ll expect you to increase your efforts. As for what that looks like, that can be the hard part. Since annual giving get in this, stuck in these direct mailings that look the same, to do something really innovative. Depending on the kind of shop you work at, to do something and it needs to be different, typically you can sell that in some what of an easy way. I’m sure everybody has different experiences with that.

Steven: Before I let you go I want to let you wax poetic. If you were to run into a small shop fundraiser on the street or event. And there a person who does everything, they do events, sponsorship, major gifts, and marketing and all that. What advice would you give to that person that is maybe struggling on the annual side with their direct mail or consistent things that have to be done throughout the year. What advice would you give that person?

Maeve: I would say you have got to see who are your donors? who are the people giving year after year? when you acquire new donors, who are they? Can you figure out why they were acquired? What you did to bring them on? I think we always, I watched Rory Green’s Bloomerang TV episode, which is so key. We do the same in fundraising all the time, so what are you offering your donors and what value do you need to to get them on? If your donors are primarily giving through direct mail, then why are you wasting so much in your e-solicitation program? I think direct mail is still going strong.

We try to invest our effort in other things. But I think we need to just see who is responding, who cares about our organization. What is getting them, and that’s all part of the annual giving conversation. If you kind of get a sense of the numbers, whether you have a razors edge that kind of collects that information, you can find some answers in there. And that’s really what should be driving you.

Steven: You have an awesome blog too, What Gives Philanthropy, where can people find that?

Maeve: Simple as that. It’s been around for three and half years or something like that, maybe even four. So yeah. It’s been around a little bit and it’s a broad look at philanthropy and fundraising. I try to make it as practical, and as exciting and inspiring. We’re always looking for guest bloggers. So if there’s anybody out here watching who wants to contribute, please get in touch. My email and I love having fellow fundraiser’s write because that’s who we really want to hear from.

Steven: On twitter too, so do that. Maeve, this was awesome, thanks for hanging out for a little while. Catch you next week and we will see you then. Bye now.

Major gift fundraising

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.