On this episode of Bloomerang TV, Ligia Peña, M.Sc., CFRE, Director of Development at the MOSD Foundation, joins us with some ideas to reinvigorate your development plan at a small shop.
Steven: Hey there. Welcome to Bloomerang TV. Thanks for tuning in. It’s a Monday morning. And if you’re a small shop fundraiser, you definitely want to keep watching this episode because we’re going to have some really good advice for you. And I’m excited to introduce today’s guest. She is Ligia Pena. She is the Director of Development over at the MOSD Foundation in lovely Montreal. Hey, how’s it going? Thanks for being here this morning.
Ligia: I’m great. Thank you for having me.
Steven: So before we launch into it, tell me about the MOSD foundation and all the stuff you do there, all the great work you do.
Ligia: The MOSD stands for the Montreal Oral School for the Deaf. So we’re an oral school that basically teaches kids who have hearing loss to listen and speak so they can eventually integrate to their regular neighborhood school.
Steven: Very cool. And you’re a fundraiser. I run into you a lot at events all the time. It’s always fun to Tweet with you and email with you. Small shops are kind of your thing. Would you consider MOSD a small shop or what’s your experience there with those kinds of organizations?
Ligia: I definitely consider the MOSD a small shop because I’m alone. I head the foundation and the way I define a small shop . . . see, everybody have different definitions. I usually look at it more from a capacity perspective. So how many fundraisers are there or how much money is being raised? Usually, at least in Canada, we usually go by about if you raise last than about $1.5 million or $2 million. And that’s definitely our case here at the MOSD. But a clear definition of a small shop has yet to be defined by the sector.
Steven: Yeah, definitely true. I’m alone too. I’m a single marketer at a small shop for-profit so I know what’s that like at least a little bit. So small shop fundraising, how do you know if you’re getting a little off track? If your fundraising plan has been executed but maybe the dollars aren’t running in or you just kind of feel a little weird about how things are going. What are some of those red flags or warning signs when maybe your development plan isn’t performing or operating the way you had envisioned or intended?
Ligia: Well, there are different indicators. One would be you as the fundraiser. Often times it’ll be very personal and physical in a sense of feeling tired, feeling uninspired, uninspiring, it’ll be things like that because I guess at one point it just sucks the energy out of your life and you just don’t have the same drive and mojo that you used to have at first. So that’s one first red flag. Other ones are where people are just not as excited to fundraise with you. So your board, your staff, your colleagues, etcetera. And then the last thing would be your donors that they’re probably not responding as well to your appeals and to your asks as they once used to. And so that’s when you’ve got to say, “All right. Let’s take a step back,” perhaps leap a little bit and then look at the big picture. Take a step back and really look at the big picture.
In small shops, we often tend to get really bogged down into the weeds of doing, doing, produce, produce, produce and we don’t take enough time to take a step back and reflect and breathe and evaluate. And that’s a key thing.
Steven: That makes a lot of sense. I’m glad you brought up the sort of physical aspect of that because it’s easier to focus on, “Oh, we’re not hitting our goals. The metrics aren’t there.” Because that’s easier to see and define, but that fatigue and that anxiety, that’s a real thing. What are some ways that you can maybe tackle that issue first? Because it seems like that needs to happen or be corrected before you can actually shift and see what’s happening on the actual fundraising side. What are some ways that you can re-invigorate yourself or pump some energy into what you’re doing?
Ligia: Well, first thing would be if you haven’t taken your vacation, go take it. I say this as I’m the one that still has not taken all of her last year’s vacation and I’m absolutely exhausted. But yeah, that would be the first thing. Honestly, it seems as simple and silly as that. Really, self-care is so important and I think that could be even a topic for another whole different discussion. But fundraisers, we’re terrible in the self-care department that we’re so driven by the work and the people we’re helping, but we also tend to forget about taking care of ourselves. So what I try to do when I’m starting to feel that way but that I know I can’t take time away, I’ll go take an evening off or an afternoon off and I’ll go to the spa, treat myself to massage. Do something that makes you feel good.
This past weekend, getting together with fundraising friends from all over and having a great, fun time just to shake it off and get your mind out of the work environment. So that’s one thing. And taking the time off is fundamental. And then just come back when you feel reenergized.
Steven: All right. So you take a vacation, you’re feeling good, you get a mani/pedi and then a massage and all of these great things. Which you deserve, by the way. And I agree. My wife is a fundraiser. I see it at home as well. There’s sort of this martyr syndrome that you can’t take any time off and you can’t take time for yourself. It’s bad, but let’s say you fix that, you’re feeling good, you’re feeling reenergized, now it’s time to turn towards the nuts and bolts of the plan. It doesn’t seem to be working. What can you do? Should you totally blow it up? Maybe fix a couple of things? What can you do if those donations aren’t coming in?
Ligia: I would say the first thing you could do is look at your metrics. Let’s take your DM, for instance, and look at your metrics. What’s your attrition rate? Do you have a lot of lapsed donors? Maybe they can be ones that you go back. Perhaps look at anyone who stopped giving to your organization in the last three years. And send them a “Why have you forsaken us?” kind of letter. “This is what we’ve been doing since your last give. Give again.” So that’s a good way to re-infuse your program. And also to do acquisitions, but internal acquisition.
Look also at your first gift retention rate. Are you getting a lot of first gifts? But if they’re not giving again that’s the missed opportunity. So go back. Give them a call and say, “Hi. Thank you so much. Would you like to make a second gift or become a monthly donor?” These are very small things. When you’re in a small shop, in my experience in all those small shops I worked at, I’ve had a much closer relationship with donors than when you’re in a big club.
Steven: Yeah. Actually.
Ligia: Because you won’t have such a big pool, right?
Steven: Yep. Yeah, you anticipated my last question. I was curious. What are the differences between a small shop and a large shop? Because it seems like small shops, maybe this is a bigger problem, but they also have some advantages like what you just said, the small pool of donors, maybe have a more close personal relationship. Is it something that the big shops also go through or is this really unique to small shops, in your opinion?
Ligia: I’ve worked in some big shops and, from what I remember, this was earlier in my career. I would know some of our donors, but usually they were the big, big donors. And that’s great. You need those. But in a small shop, I could say I recognize most of the name because I don’t have 20,000 active donors. I probably have about 700 or 800. And I may not know all the names, but when I see it then I remember they gave last year or the year before etcetera, etcetera. I know a little bit about their history.
Something else that I often recommend, and this is perhaps one of the best practices, the best ideas or the best practice, is to call every donor after every single gift. It’s not always feasible and this past year it was very, very difficult for me here. So it was very difficult for me to be able to pick up the phone for every one of them, but I picked up the phone for the ones where I saw that either they had not given in a long time or they give repeatedly. So if you can’t do everybody at the end of the day we only have eight hours in the day and 40 hours in a week. Sometimes you put in even more hours than that. We just can’t get to everybody, but call. Identify the ones you can call. Like calling those first-time donors and welcoming them to the family.
Sending them a small survey, how did you find out about your organization, what kind of programs are the interested in? Then that gives you a lot of information.
My first year here, I made sure that everyone got a phone call and what that did is not only did I get to know the donors and what their motivations were, but it also enabled me to build a prospect list for legacy giving for bequests. So now I have a long list of names that I figured if they answered a call at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon and they had an older voice, they’re retired. They’re in that group, right? So that’s a good way. Another to invigorate your program is by getting to know your donors better and then you can offer them other ways to give.
So if you haven’t thought of doing bequests, a small shop can do bequests. You can do planned giving in a small shop. Just offer them the opportunity to give in their will. It’s easy and that’s it.
Steven: Yeah. And it might actually be easier for you than if you were at a bigger shop because you have those close relationships, like you said.
Ligia: Precisely, precisely.
Steven: Well, yeah. Oh, go ahead.
Ligia: Another thing is to start with your board as well. Your board can also get a bit stagnant. So are you getting 100% participation? And, if not, do an exercise to get them invigorated as well. This is an idea that a friend of mine just suggested. And this was an idea generated by Andrea Kihlstedt so I want to give her props for the idea. I’m not stealing her idea.
But the exercise she does with board members is she asks every board member to privately write on a piece of paper how much they gave to the organization. And then she asks them to imagine what would be a big gift, something very significant that they could give to your organization. And then have a discussion about what it would take for you as the fundraiser of the organization of the board that they serve on, what would you need to do in order to get that gift, and what would you do after the gift. And that helps them to get re-engaged and then even turn into a big gift.
Steven: That’s a great exercise. I may steal that for a non-profit I’m associated with actually. I love it.
Ligia: Yeah. So there’s a ton of other things.
Steven: Yeah. This is awesome advice. And I guess, Ligia, maybe one way we could finish is if you were talking to a fundraiser who is feeling a little rundown, perhaps a little out of energy, what’s one sentence or one phrase you would say to them to kind of get them back on their feet and rocking and rolling at their small shop?
Ligia: Talk to your superior, whether it’s the director general or your chair. Talk to them about how you’re feeling and ask them for help, first of all. Ask for your friends or fellow fundraising friends to support and to help you through it because you need that outlet. And go take care of yourself. Go take some time off, whatever the case may be. Whatever makes you feel good, whether it’s going to sit on the dock in reading, or knitting, or going to play a ball game, whatever makes you feel good.
Steven: I love it. Ligia, this is awesome. You need to take a vacation day too. You should burn a vacation day this week for me.
Ligia: And also, I’ll be expanding on this on November 18. I’m giving this webinar through AFP.
Steven: We will post a link to that so send me a link. We’ll post a link to that. How can people find you online as well, on Twitter and all that good stuff?
Ligia: On Twitter, my Twitter handle is @ligiafpena.
Steven: All right. We’ll link to all that good stuff. Attend this webinar because it will be really good. She’ll be sharing some good advice. She’ll expand on some of the things she said today. Well, this was great having you. Thanks so much for being here. This was a lot of fun.
Ligia: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Steven: And thanks, all of you, for watching. Be sure to tune in next week. We’ll have another great episode for you. You can watch all of our old episodes too. You don’t have to just wait for the next one. Just click on the Boomerang TV tab right here on our website and you can watch. This is our 51st episode so there are 50 more episodes that you can watch. They’re all really good. I promise. So we will catch you next time. We’ll talk to you again soon. Go take a vacation day, okay?