Fall events, Giving Tuesday, and year-end fundraising loom large on our fall calendars. The clock is ticking! As we look to the appeal letters, email blasts, and invitations, the question always is: how do we make our message stand out?
Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy in helping our audience connect with our organization. We get concerned with being unique or innovative and we miss the fundamentals.
As you prepare your communications, here is a checklist to promote connection:
Be donor-centered. People connect with people who are interested in them and share a common cause. If you only talk about your organization, it’s a sure turn-off.
Clarify your target audience. Sure, you want anyone and everyone to donate, but if all are invited then no one is welcomed. Identify the group(s) that value you most, understand their challenges and goals, and target the appeal to them. Have two or three versions if necessary to target different groups.
Evoke emotion. At the heart of connection is emotion. The images, stories, and language you use should evoke the emotion that’s right for the situation. Remember, people won’t remember what you said, they’ll remember how you made them feel.
Take a stand. How does your organization’s compelling mission make a difference right now? Put your position out there and demonstrate that you’re not just another good thing to have around but a leading player in positive change.
Engage your audience. How are you connecting directly with your target audience(s) beyond the emails and appeals? Finding ways to listen to and speak with your audience – especially key influencers – geometrically increase the effectiveness of the ask.
Finally, be patient. I know that you need money now. You’ll also need money three years from now and five years from now. Building a loyal donor base takes time, so do yourself a favor and keep an eye on the long-term development of your donor base while caring for short-term needs.
Do you remember the last great talk you heard? What was the key message? What are you doing differently because of it? When was the last time the inspiring speaker was you?
After all the listening, discussing, researching, mulling, testing, debating, and refining, we eventually set forth an innovative insight, a compelling vision, or a strategic direction that must be shared. That’s why leaders speak.
To champion a cause or idea, to cast a vision, or to inspire action, leaders speak. They speak in staff meetings and board meetings, in small conversations and informal settings, to volunteer auxiliaries and service clubs. Leaders are often called upon to speak. But, here’s the rub:
If you’re not inspired by your message, you will not inspire others.
How do you know if you’re inspired? First, you’re absorbed in your topic. “When you’re passionate about your topic – obsessively so – the energy and enthusiasm you display will rub off on your listeners,” (Talk Like TED).
You also know your topic – inside and out. You’ve worked through the complexities and arrived at the simplicity beyond the complexity. You can state your core message clearly and succinctly (e.g., it fits in a Tweet) while understanding its depth and nuance. You know your stuff, so you easily tailor your message to a variety of audiences using stories and examples relevant to their specific situations.
Finally, you’re continually learning and refining – never tiring of the message. If you’re inspired by your message, then every time you speak on the topic or engage a discussion, you’re stoked by what you’ve learned and you strengthen your resolve.
Leaders speak. Great leaders speak well, and they motivate themselves and others into action.
Of course, as in most areas of leadership, it takes work – continual improvement. As Darwin Smith, former CEO of Kimberly-Clark said, “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job.”
“In the end, we realize that leadership develop is ultimately self-development.”
This quote from the Leadership Challenge (now in its 5th edition) names what’s at the core of our leader development efforts. Each of us brings all of who we are to every situation. While some aspects may be on the front burner and others more near the back, every pot is on the stove. If a back burner pot boils over, it impacts the entire stove top.
While skill development and content knowledge play a critical role in leadership, self-development occupies at least 50% of the pie chart. Skills and knowledge must be continually developed. Yet, self-development provides the fortitude, resilience and chutzpah to put the skills and knowledge into use.
By identifying our strengths, acknowledging our deficits, engaging our passions, and facing our fears, we find the courage to take a position, admit our mistakes, and initiate the tough conversation. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable because we’ve developed the interior stability and wisdom to take it.
At ONEplace we’ve been providing skill development and knowledge building workshops and series. This fall, we’re taking the next big step and implementing programs that directly address self-development.
Peer Learning Groups
Groups meet monthly for 90 minutes over an eight-month period (Sept – April). At each session, you focus, without distraction, on what matters to you: your values and vision, your challenges and fears. You’ll gain greater access to your own wisdom. You’ll connect with others who listen to and encourage each other, and honor each other’s differences. (more)
This self-guided program recognizes that we bring all of who we are to every situation. LIFEwork draws together easy-to-understand concepts and intuitive practices so you can focus your energy on the single challenge of developing new, healthier habits. Support is offered (not required) through social media connections and quarterly day-long retreats. (more)
Like the famed tortoise, progress is achieved in small, slow steps over a long period of time. It requires commitment because it’s more a lifestyle than a program. ONEplace is here to encourage and equip you on this path.
Leader development sits at the core of all our efforts. At ONEplace, we define a leader as someone who takes full responsibility and ownership for his/her role, developing the skills, knowledge, connections and awareness needed to fulfill that role, listens and learns from others, and teaches and shares with others. Or, to put it in a phrase:
Leaders keep learning.
An article in the recent McKinsey Quarterly reminded me of a fascinating, yet disturbing aspect of learning: neuroplasticity. It fascinates me because, thanks to fMRI’s and other imaging techniques, we’re being flooded with new insights and knowledge. It disturbs me because, like many of you, I continue to draw upon concepts of the hardwired brain, left-brain/right-brain preferences, and the fine art of multitasking – all which have been debunked.
Neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change its physical structure and functional organization – changed the game.
We now know that the brain rewires itself (makes new neural connections) when we learn new things. This happens at any age. We also know that everyone utilizes both sides of their brains without strict preferences and, in fact, the brain is more active than we previously thought. Further, calming practices (such as mindfulness or meditation) actually generate more brain matter in the executive functioning areas of the brain giving us a greater capacity for complex thinking. Again, this happens at any age.
Recent brain research offers us more and more insights into brain functioning, learning capacity, and so much more. Furthermore, it’s giving us direction in what we can do to keep our minds sharp and nimble (e.g., See Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains).
All this reminds me of a humbling and challenging notion: knowledge is dynamic.
Facts change. Theories come and go. Best practices become past practices. And radical notions end up being mainstream. The world, with all its varied and wonderful parts, keeps changing. And the good news is: your brain can handle it.
P.S. Keep up on brain research and effective brain building practices at SharpBrains.com
Famed UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, is remembered for leading the Bruins to 10 National Championships in 12 seasons (1964-75) including four undefeated seasons. Do you know how many years he coached the team prior to winning his first championship? Fifteen. With this vignette, Jim Collins makes a key point in Good to Great.
Becoming great is a long-term venture.
He gave other, business-related examples: Gillette, Nucor, Pitney Bowes, and others. While the press and public hailed them as upstarts and newcomers that burst on to the scene, each company’s “overnight success” had taken years to build: focused, slow, and methodical.
In contrast, the comparison companies (that faced the same circumstances but failed to transition to a great company) looked to the next big thing to save the day: the next merger, the next new product, or the next major initiative. As a result, most bounced from one thing to the next, never committing long enough to sink deep roots into their market.
There simply is no short cut to great:
Focused, slow, and methodical – sinking deep roots that will hold the organization in place through high winds and fierce storms; Deep roots that will allow the organization to branch out and sustain new initiatives that are anchored to the core purpose; Deep roots that spread into the underpinnings of the community, contributing to a diverse ecosystem of success.
So, where is your organization headed? You may or may not have a clear, guiding mission or vision. You may or may not have a useful strategic plan. Regardless of what tools you use, you need to know where you’re headed so that each small step builds on the last and prepares for the next.
The tortoise wins the race every time.
Earlier this month, John Greenhoe (WMU Major Gift Officer) presented Opening the Door to Major Gifts (also the title of his best-selling book). During the session we examined the process of making Discovery Calls as well as solutions to common mistakes.
A Discovery Call (also known as an Identification Call or Qualification Call) is a face-to-face visit with a prospect that you believe may have the capacity for making a major gift. While rarely done, tracking Discovery Calls keeps you apprised of how many people you’re putting into this pipeline and the percentage of those who eventually make a major gift.
Often, nonprofits don’t support making Discovery Calls because they don’t involve making an ask. Yet, John recommends developing an organizational culture that supports making Discovery Calls. These visits open the door to deeper relationships, greater trust, and larger gifts.
John also reminded us that fundraising is still a young industry and much of it is “largely a business of figuring it out on your own." So to get started, he suggests: (1) Plan time each day for making phone calls to schedule the initial visit; (2) When you get the visit, be yourself – tell your story and show your enthusiasm; and (3) Celebrate small victories because it is difficult, and you’ll hear “no” more than you hear “yes.”
During the program, John also recommended Gail Perry as a resource especially for smaller nonprofits. Find out more on major gifts on Gail’s website.
I’m puzzled. As a fan of management and leadership, I like to think that plans and strategies matter. After studying trends and doing analysis, it seems we should have a good read on things and be able to set a course of action that will lead to success. This however is what Daniel Kahneman calls, “the illusion of understanding.”
In his recent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he returns time and again to remind us that having a grasp of things is more a security blanket than a reality. Illusions of understanding are comforting and reduce the anxiety surrounding uncertainty. They also feed our need for order and fairness. But they’re not reality.
Kahneman says, “We all have a need for the reassuring message that actions have appropriate consequences, and that success will reward wisdom and courage. Many business books are tailor-made to satisfy this need.”
He goes on to say that for all our efforts, the data shows that we only do a little better (or sometimes a little worse) than chance.
So, at times, just when I think, “I got it,” I also realize that I don’t “got it.”
Perhaps it’s best to keep one eye on the long-term goal – that point on the horizon – while managing the current situation as it presents itself…without trying to figure it out, or “get it.” I don’t know. I’m still working on this.
You’re reading this right now. I’m glad. Part of my work is to study, reflect upon our work, find connections and insights, and then share them with you. It’s fun for me. But I’ll let you in on a little secret:
I’m writing at home.
That’s right. What you’re reading now was written over a couple of early mornings in my family room at home. That’s when I write. Why? I find the early morning a time of clarity and creativity. Plus it’s completely uninterrupted time.
Where do you find uninterrupted time?
In 2010, Jason Fried did a TED talk on Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work. For ten years, he posed a question to business people (both nonprofit and for-profit): Where do you go when you really need to get something done? Answers included “the porch, the deck, the kitchen…the basement, the coffee shop, the library,” or “Well, it doesn’t really matter where I am, as long as it’s really early in the morning or really late at night or on the weekends.”
You almost never hear, “the office.”
(Of course, there are jobs where the work can only be done in the office. Those notwithstanding, it plays on the perception of where we can “get something done.”)
In an attempt to reclaim quality work time at the office, Jason suggests No Talk Thursdays, emailing rather than stopping by another’s office, and eliminating unneeded meetings.
For me, it’s a matter of knowing how I best work and scheduling my week accordingly. Writing in the early morning is fun for me – I like to do it. I also need uninterrupted blocks of time at work, so we schedule those into our workweek. If your calendar is not fully in your control, ask for the time you need or at least understand and explain the time cost of an assigned project or task.
What else would you suggest? How do you manage your time?
Last week, Kevin Brozovich, Founder and Chief People Officer at HRM Innovations, led a Management Track workshop on HR Essentials. During the session, we spent a chunk of time on the hiring process – especially the interview.
A surprising number of interviewers take an unstructured approach to the interview. These commonly begin with light conversation and eventually get into some more formal questions. Kevin noted that, when using this unstructured approach, the interviewer often decides on a candidate within the first few minutes of the interview – the more personal connections with the candidate, the more favorable the impression.
The unstructured approach raises significant concerns. The selection may be based more upon personal affinity rather than qualifications for the job. Plus, it may undermine efforts to build a diverse workforce as we gravitate toward people like us. Even greater concern arises if only one person conducts the interview.
A structured interview (same questions in the same order) offers a more uniform approach to the process, and studies show a much higher validity with a structured interview (0.51 vs. 0.14 with unstructured). Also, conducting an interview with a panel of interviewers improves the quality of the process even more.
For more on HR, read Kevin’s blog.
This week our county’s public schools enjoy spring break. While the phrase “spring break” conjures up a variety of thoughts and images, it also reminds me of the inherent, indisputable, scientifically-proven need for us to take breaks – to refresh, renew, and revive. So the question (or challenge) for you today is this:
How do you take breaks during your workday?
Whenever I ask that question, I usually get something akin to “I don’t have time to take a break” or “I can’t afford to take a break.” The truth is: you can’t afford NOT to take a break.
An article in The New York Times, a tome in Scientific American and even a post from Fast Company argue for the effectiveness of taking breaks. Support for taking breaks to boost productivity and quality of work is legion. But before you start searching for work-break-best-practices, let me offer this:
Find what works best for you.
Personally, I’m not one to take the 15-minute mid-morning coffee break or even the hour lunch break. What works best for me is a breaks-as-needed approach. I’ll take a minute to shut my eyes and take a few deep breaths. I look out the window and watch the clouds or marvel at the cloudless sky. I take a walk: if inside the library, I’ll take in the wonderful sights within our atrium; if outside, I’ll feel the warmth of the sun or the crispness of the air, and I’ll examine the status of the trees in Bronson Park (no buds yet).
My guiding principle on breaks is to take intentional moments of diverting attention to something other than my To Do list. They take my mind, body, and spirit to another space and I return refreshed.
So, employ healthy practices for yourself and model them for your colleagues. Spring for a break! You can afford it.