How do you say “thank you”?

In philanthropy, it’s easy to get caught in the asking mindset. You begin to look at the year as a series of campaigns and strategically craft just the right message to just the right audience. And while I’ll be the first one to applaud a well-thought out annual development plan, I want caution that failing to balance asking with thanking and thoughtful recognition creates donor fatigue, and worse, donor turnover. As we head into Giving Tuesday, here are 3 things to ask yourself if you’ve spent most of 2016 with an asking mindset:

  1. Who is the most important donor segment to your organization? Nothing replaces deeply knowing and understanding your donor file. The more you familiarize yourself with your donor segments, understand their giving patterns, and talk to actual donors about their interests in your mission, the more effective you will be at finding new supporters and keeping current ones deeply engaged. Because retained donors are becoming keenly more aware of how your organization is asking for their support and equally more savvy in their evaluation of how their dollars are being put to work, soliciting their perspective can make your future efforts more informed and impactful.
  1. What does the cadence of your stewardship campaigns look like? While many organizations have refined their annual development processes, they may not be taking a comprehensive look at how their stewardship efforts parallel-path or overlap their timed development tactics. This is an important next step in providing a holistic donor engagement experience. Consider this exercise based on your current End of Year campaign. First, look at how many emails you have planned. What is the “thank you” process if someone gives after the first email? Does this differ or stay the same for donors who give after subsequent emails? What if someone gives multiple times? Do they receive the same “thank you” twice? Is there any donation level which would trigger a special thank you gift the first week in January? Is there any donation level where your major gift team might call and extend the offer to visit that donor in the new year? Take the extra step to walk through use-cases like this with your Development Team and you will start out on an even better foot in going into 2017.
  1. How have you reinvented your donor acknowledgement in the last 1, 3, or 5 years? I’m all for process and automation. And I’m a firm believer in standardization. That said, creating a stewardship matrix with associated templates doesn’t mean you and your development colleagues “set it and forget it”. Each year, designate a time to revisit, evolve, and improve these tactics. Discuss whether long-standing donors are still being given a genuine and unique appreciation process. Consider whether the organization has had or will have any milestones which could be worked into your acknowledgement process. If you are feeling extra innovative, ask your newest or youngest employee to propose a totally new stewardship matrix/process. Getting a new perspective may be a simple way to delight and wow your donors!

Happy (almost) Giving Tuesday! And thank you, thank you, thank you for passionate, thoughtful campaigns this holiday season.

Happy New Year! 2017 That Is…

It’s the first Monday in June.
Have you started thinking about your 2017 Event Development Plan yet?

For many, strategic planning conjures up feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. It can seem daunting to plan for the following year when you are still actively executing against your goals and projects in the current one. That said, starting now will also provide a runway for a process that is likely less rushed and thereby less stressful than years passed. Remember, you don’t need to complete 2017 strategic planning today (or even this week) but building a plan now does give you the opportunity to be more organized, more considerate of milestones, and more patient and inclusive in the process.

Here’s your to-do: Block 90 minutes this week to draft your ideal 2017 planning timeline.

The trick here, since you only have 90 minutes set aside, is to get started quickly and keep your approach organized but shallow. There’s no sense in worrying about all the details or how it will be delegated right now. The foundation of any project or process is usually an outline, which can create buy-in and manage expectations. With that in mind, carve out your 90 minute window and consider these 3 recommendations on how to begin your 2017 planning.

  1.  Start an Excel Spreadsheet to organize your thoughts. Excel has some quick templates that will help you organize the different stages involved with 2017 planning. To find an Excel timeline template from Microsoft, open Microsoft Excel and type “Timeline” in the search box and click Enter.
    • If you aren’t as familiar in Excel, you might consider following someone else’s instructions on how to build an effective timeline
    • Remember that how the timeline looks matters less than whether it is functional for you (and your team) and that it captures the phases and key deadlines. I urge you to start simple. Sometimes the best tools lack the distractions of colors, icons, and buttons and instead present the information in a concise, no-frills format. Outline what needs to be done and roughly how long (in days or weeks) this phase will take and start to drop it into the timeline. 
    • If time allows, you can arrange the phases around the key milestones and conflicts – coming next.
  2. Identify key milestones or conflicts. Once you’ve landed on your ideal format and have a set of activity phases inserted into your template, continue by populating your planning tool with key milestones and conflicts.
    • Key milestones can be event application/partnership deadlines, upcoming board meetings, notable development campaigns (for the second half of the year), and/or proposed launch dates.
    • You should also determine what conflicts exist. Conflicts, in this case, are roadblocks which would prevent or delay the planning process. These could include staff vacations, office holidays, staff travel (for events or professional development), or offsite meetings.

By populating these into your planning tool, you gain better perspective on the landscape of the coming months and can address how to organize your planning process around them. It simultaneously acknowledges to your staff that you are aware of the ongoing work and external factors influencing the process and opens the door to feedback from them about upcoming items you may have looked over.

 3. Outline a Check-list of Informational Needs. Do yourself a favor. Don’t conduct your 2017 planning in a vacuum. While you are drafting the 2017 planning timeline, you will realize you need more information as your approach certain phases or decision milestones. Keep a running list of what information you (and your team) should collect in advance of kicking off this project. In my previous experience, I liked to delegate information collection across my team so that each member felt like they were bringing a critical piece to the planning process. Key information deliverables could include event assessments, participant (donor) analytics, 2016 event financial statements, post event surveys, and of course 2017 budgets (if they are available). 

So are your 90 minutes up?  If so, you should have a rough sketch of your 2017 planning timeline, complete with key milestones, potential conflicts, and broad activity phases. In addition to this, you should have started an informational asset list which you and your team can go about collecting over the coming weeks.

90 minutes. 1 small win toward 2017 planning.

Learn more at or email me to chat about your goals.