10 Characteristics of Great Fundraising Operations Team Members

The competition for talent in advancement services and development operations is steep. There is no standard educational path to these positions. No one goes to college to run data and gift management for a university. The skills needed also go well beyond the soft skills that typically sell in interviews.

So , what are the characteristics you should look for in a fundraising operations staff member? Here are the ten that I have found most useful over the last 20 years:

Ten Characteristics of a Great Fundraising Operations Team Member

  1. Communication, interpretation and translation skills. This is the most basic skill. Clearly discussing needs and resources important to team members is an essential skill. The ability to listen, understand and translate discussions with end users is critical.
  2. Technical aptitude. Someone who understands relational databases or programming code in general can likely learn your organization’s details. Without such aptitude, the team member will struggle. This does not mean you should look for programmers but instead someone who could likely become one.
  3. Numeric aptitude. The ability to understand numbers is very important. For example, while few of your team members will ever write a $1 million check, they need to know that such a commitment is worth a thousand $1,000 checks. Or they need to understand that a $.20 cost to raise a dollar means a net return of 400 percent. They need to realize that a team that processes 250 gifts a day will not be able to handle your Giving Tuesday volume for weeks. They need to comprehend this order of magnitude to help realize the potential of fundraising.
  4.  Appreciation for Fundraising. You need staff members who care about the mission, no matter their role in the organization. If you hear an operations team member talk about fundraising as “begging,” for example, that person needs training or a new job.
  5. Multitasking priorities. You need staff who can handle more than one project at a time. Operations should use business processes and protocols to handle priorities with accuracy and speed. And, there will be plenty of times where multiple priorities must be handled by COB. You want a colleague who remains cool and collected while closing out tasks.
  6. Discipline. The detail-oriented nature of many operations activities requires consistent application of rules and protocols. Team members need to be focused and dedicated to completing each task accurately.
  7. Creativity. Creativity in operations is often undervalued. Business processes should answer many questions and diminish the daily need for creative solutions, but the ability to solve exceptional cases will require creative thinking.
  8. Action-oriented. Another way to describe this trait is “ends-oriented.” You need team members who complete their work as a means to an end, which is greater activity and outcomes for fundraising. This is the combination of initiative and efficacy.
  9. Collegiality. Operations and frontline departments too frequently create an “us versus them” environment. You need staff members in operations and throughout the organization to believe fundraising is a team effort and who value all of their colleagues, no matter the role.
  10. Service-oriented. My survey data on department titles shows that “services” is an essential part of how teams are defined. From every employee, you should expect that they exude this characteristic.

Tips on Hiring Promising Candidates

One final, cumulative trait for candidates is that they can serve as an interpreter and liaison between all of the adjacent departments at your organization. Operations folks will talk with gift officers, accountants, IT developments, and others each day..Some of the work is functional and some is technical. A close colleague of mine, Roby Key, called these people “funci-techs”. You need folks who can hold (or at least sit in) a meeting with finance, IT, prospect management, and maybe the campaign committee in the same day. To understand if you have the right fit, ask questions like:

  • “Describe a scenario where you had to communicate a complex idea to different audiences.”
  • “Tell me about your training preferences and how you convince your trainees to apply what they’ve learned”
  • “How do you think fundraising compares to other operations positions, such as banking, manufacturing, or sales management?”

Ideally, with the right characteristics and the right hiring steps, your team will soon have just the right team member—part function, part technical—to help your team align its tech and processes with its programs and people.

What have you found to be the most effective traits of, and ways to hire, operations talent? Post your thoughts in the comments. And, good luck with hiring!

Analogous Advancement Systems

 

Advancement Systems are like Neighborhoods

Our Industry’s options for core advancement systems (i.e., CRM/database and other core data processing

 

and storage functions) have ebbed and flowed in the last 20 years. A look at the market now yields over a hundred possibilities, but the concentration of use of selected vendors and products continues. This is particularly true within higher education and healthcare (where most of principal and major giving is happening these days).

So what does this mean for the industry and for you? It depends on where your organization is on the advancement systems transition timeline. Did you just convert? Are you looking? Is transitioning years away? Each of these scenarios come with their own set of needs and realities for organizations that may preclude switching systems. If you’re in the market, this analogy is for you.

I think about this stuff every waking hour and have created my fair share of analogies to describe situations. For instance, I sometimes say that many shops are making the move from Friday night stock car races to Sunday NASCAR, yet their budgets and “pit crews” aren’t growing apace. One analogy that has been particularly useful to clients and colleagues is my”neighborhood” comparison.

I’ve hesitated to share this analogy because, to be honest, feelings are about to be hurt. Vendors and users will vehemently disagree with me. Nuances and flaws in the analogy will be identified. Of course, this is why system selection counsel and rigor during that process is vitally important. In my 20 years in the business, I have used, helped clients select and implement, and recommended, whatever system is best in each circumstance.

So, without further ado, let’s compare buying a new advancement system to buying a new house. To simplify house hunting, let’s say you have three choices: a McMansion, a Renovation, and a Design-and-Build.

  1. The McMansion seems lovely. It’s in a great neighborhood with a Whole Foods down the road and the schools are solid. However, you can’t have a fence or paint your house certain colors – there are limitations, you see. The place is a little generic, but it has most of what you’d ever need. It will require some compromises, but it will be ready on time and at budget.
  2. The Renovation puts you in a neighborhood that is gentrifying with a home that has “good bones” and great promise. You would prefer if more folks lived nearby and that the house next door wasn’t just vacated by a long-time resident, but the craftsmanship works. The risks here may be asbestos on the inside but are equally likely to be problems on the outside.
  3. The Design-and-Build sounds awesome. Pick your own spot on a lake, with deer prancing in the field below! Engage an architect, and a contractor, and an Italian glaze specialist! You have all of the choices and none of the structure, which means this will be a neat opportunity with a number of risks along the way.

Some of you realized your limited choices and decided not to move from your current location but opted to purchase a “vacation home” instead. I’d compare this to implementing significant advancement technology to fill a gap. This might be something like EverTrue, Reeher, Quadwrangle, or (the dreaded, but common) shadow database(s). The utility here is to take a very complex decision about sometimes very expensive choices and apply some tricks and tips to make sense of it all.

All of us need to realize that the market we shop in for solutions is limited. To get the best deal for your institution, you should share as much as you can about your research and needs. You should hold these “builders” to task over the outstanding punch list. And, the vendors in our space need to be consistent, keep clients’ needs in mind, and worry less about market share than alignment of systems with advancement programs. In short, we need to manage expectations about what we buy as vendors do a better job in building and developing what they sell.

So, which vendor/product do you think fits which purchase? Put your ideas for 1/2/3 in the comments and I will share my thoughts on which product is which in a bit. And if you have other analogies, please share them!

CRM Adoption: It’s not a Marathon, It’s a Triathlon

Picture this: you have a count-down clock, ticking down with single digits left. Conversion of data has been tested. Training engaged the whole team. You’re ready for go-live….except you’re not. You’re not because Go-Live is, best case, just the middle of the process. And, this is a problem because:

  • Leadership thinks the “go-live” means “project complete”.
  • Finance thinks the fiscal spigot can be turned off.
  • Field officers think they know just how to use the system.
  • A raft of reports, business process re-engineering, and other steps remain.
  • Oh, and you need to see whether the year-end procedures that work in principle will work in reality…in 9-12 months.

Expectation management that starts in #CRMSelection and carries through to #CRMImplementation must be an ongoing part of #CRMAdoption. For starters, system transitions (I often use “transition” or “replacement” to indicate that these changes are more than a conversion, etc.) have very long tails. Even though the volume of work happens in the first 1-2 years, another few years are often necessary to really refine, leverage, and optimize the new system. This means that, as one of my most contented and expert CRM clients experienced in their journey, a 5-year plan and budget is a smart way to go.

After good planning and a reasonable budget, the starting point for solid adoption is basic: great data. Trusted data, converted correctly from the old system. While this seems like a “didn’t go-live cover this” item, many of my clients find either issues for months or change their minds about data codes, locations, applications, etc. such that back-end global changes are necessary.

Reporting is often the epitome of post Go-Live pain point. It is hard for your colleagues to adopt the new database if they cannot get data outputs. My rule of thumb for any system transition is simply that “great reports mean great transitions”. Such reporting requires shared definitions, thoughtful calculations, mastery of new tools, and other benefits to long-term adoption.

Integrations with other systems present another likely post Go-Live adoption. Typically, things like the feed to Finance are ready to roll before conversion is complete.  However, often patient feeds, student feeds, parent feeds, athletics feeds, online engagement tool feeds, etc. may not be in place at Go-Live. One client recently made the mistake of going live without a functioning feed to a high-volume gift generation foundation, only to be crippled by the extra dozen+ batches of gifts to manually handle each day.

Training is another core consideration for effective adoption. For starters, Training is not a spectator sport and should extend permanently after Go-Live. Training options should be varied (in-person, desk-side, computer-based) and be paired with accurate, update documentation. New staff on-boarding should be factored in.

#CRMAdoption is more than a Marathon

Go-Live as the Middle of the Race

I’ve always been a fan of the explanatory power of metaphors and similes, especially sports metaphors. “Crossing the finish line,” “Being a good team member,” “Handing off the ball” all make complicated things clearer (for me at least). So here is a way to sum it up:

Go-Live is more like finishing the cycling leg of a triathlon. You haven’t crossed the finish line yet. The good news is you didn’t drown during #CRMSelection and now #CRMImplementation is mostly complete….but you still have a pesky marathon to run.  Adoption requires all of those items above–data, reporting, integration, training–to be successful. And, too often, organizations go live well before they were ready for it.

Many say that a conversion is a marathon and not a sprint, but to fully transition to a new system, it’s more like a triathlon.

Do you have any good CRM-related metaphors? I’d love to hear ’em. ~Chris

5 Considerations for Successful CRM Implementation

I (well, the whole Zuri team, really) have the good fortune of helping dozens of clients figure out their successful CRM Implementation. Should they stay or should they go? Go where? When? How much will it take? And, what should they do about that athletics/marketing automation/grateful patient/data analytics/[insert here] tool? A well-organized selection process (see some ideas on that here) should have you well-positioned. And, ideally these 5 considerations for successful CRM implementation should be dialed in…but, too often, they remain unresolved after selection and can derail implementation.

Once you sign, there will seem like a million issues to consider as CRM implementation begins. Of course, things like an effective kick-off week are important. Logistics, understanding current state practices, etc., etc. all matter. But, as the saying goes “some animals are more equal than others”. As your team is wrestling with getting office space and picking an issues management tool (you know, the easy stuff), here are five things that you MUST handle:

  1. Culture. The thought leader Peter Drucker stated that “culture eats your strategy for lunch.” All of the planning in the world can fail if you ignore culture. This means analyzing who has hard and soft power in the process, aligning project components with the right players, and maintaining open communications. This also means including the least engaged (and sometimes most hostile) people.
  2. Gaps. Whatever you buy, no matter how expensive your new CRM, it will have some gaps. Identifying and understanding these is essential to the project’s success. “Gap” may mean some customization that your vendor will build (but has never been done before, may not work, and may push your go-live by 6 months!). “Gap” may mean that Alumni keeps their online engagement tool, despite the potential for moving all functions into one stack. Being thorough and honest here is critical.
  3. Risks. Culture+Gaps=Risks (well, sort of, you get the point). Of course, not all issues, gaps, or obstacles are really risks. You should track those issues that are identifying, under control, and will require time and attention. But, some things are monsters! Will that Dean go rogue? Did the board approve a budget with enough resources? Will your vendor deliver on time and on budget, despite a track record of overages and shortcomings?
  4. Timing. Too fast will kill you and too slow will bore you. For big shop, under a year is a pipe dream (and someone will get fired). Much over two years doesn’t tend to match how organizations function, how long leadership stays in place, campaign targets, and other realities. Dialing in culture, spec’ing the gaps, and protecting against risks will help you determine the right length of time. There is also the small matter of when to get started as key institutional dates and calendar and fiscal year-end realities must be accommodated.
  5. Expectations. When you blend the other four considerations, you will be stuck with countervailing forces…don’t go too fast or too slow…work this into the organization’s calendar that never seems to have a down moment…sell folks on the 360 degree view of CRM knowing it has gaps…persuade folks that technology is key when offline principal and major gifts may drive the bus…which all boils down to managing expectations. A project charter is a great start. Weekly updates, transparency, one-offs with key players, a Champions Committee, and other steps will help. Being disciplined and focused is important. Expectation management cannot be underestimated in successful CRM implementations.

And, one last thought: inherent in all of these considerations is that perhaps most important to success is to be honest. Honest about culture, gaps, risks, timing, and expectations. Because, as we all know, this will be a marathon and not a sprint, it will take a village, and, whenever possible, avoid mirroring the Dilbert cartoons (see below).

Kidding (yourselves) will be counterproductive

5 Thoughts about the (not-so) Fine Print in CRM Selection

Does your organization need to consider a new Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system? Is CRM Selection on the table? Have you explored the market? Secured responses to an RFP? Conducted demonstrations? Starter or even completed conversion to the shiny new CRM?…. only to find you didn’t get what you needed? Or, you got to the 20 yard-line? Or, you now need to buy another application or two to get whole? Welcome to the club.

Too often in these processes, organizations drink the “sales kool-aid” from vendors, get “wowed” during demonstrations, and are left with an 80% solution, locked in due to fine print during a CRM selection process. Two of my clients are dealing with this issue right now, as in, today...a dozen or so face it each year. My company Zuri winds up parachuting in to way too many problem implementations due in part to these fine print situations.

What’s the solution? How do you protect your organization during the selection process while helping to ensure success long-term? Here are five key considerations:

  1. Bluntness and Discipline. Don’t mince words with your vendors. Record and remind them of what they promised. Stick to your guns, the script, and the schedule. This also means you need to watch out for scope creep so you aren’t the cause of delays, bottlenecks, or wishful thinking.
  2. Zealous Advocacy. Remember that you are your organization’s best line of defense to avoid being sold on sub-par solutions. Ask for the moon. Expect great results. Don’t accept that first or second “no” from a vendor. But, follow the plan that is in place and persuade your colleagues to get on-board.
  3. Red-Lining. Never sign a contract before a careful review. If there are terms that are unclear,  get your red pen out and mark up the document. Watch for broad or simplistic language like “will be completed in a standard fashion”.  Nope! Instead, mark those up to read “…in a fashion accepted by [insert your organization’s name]”.
  4. Skip/Script the Sales Pitch. Bright, shiny sales pitches often get us into this mess. Don’t allow the vendor to show you the sizzle and ignore the steak. Instead, script the vendor’s demonstrations to prove that gift processing, prospecting, direct response, stewardship, and analytics work actually work in the proposed solution.
  5. Heed the Advice of Others. Finally, make sure you listen to what references (or lack thereof) are telling you. A vendor that states “we only share references during the contracting phase” probably have a lot to hide and hope you’re too far down the path with them to pull out. So, make those calls and then circle back to vendors to resolve the gaps in the pitch versus the performance.

That last thought is a little self-serving. This sort of CRM Selection counsel is what we do everyday. I’d submit we’re pretty good at it. So, if Zuri can help, drop me a line (and hold me to these same points!). Good luck.

Fiscal Year End in a Brave New World

This year seems a bit different for many in the advancement operations business around the U.S. Volume seems lower, as supported by this helpful if a bit depressing NonProfitTimes piece.  In addition, certain giving areas–athletics in higher education for instance–are operating in a gray-ish area due to tax reform changes, new motivations for potential donors, and other large-scale factors.

By now,  your team’s game plan should be clear and underway. The following tips are hopefully just reinforcement for the smart practices you already have in place.

So, if you’re approaching your fiscal year end, here are a few tips:

  1. Scour LYBUNTS: If you don’t a marked-up LYBUNT list now, start one…figure out for whom you need better data and from whom you simply haven’t received a gift. There is still time–THIS WEEK!–to make a difference with a few donors.
  2. Make an extra push: Email is inexpensive. Use some new messages (see point #5 below) and try to win over a few more hearts and minds.
  3. Step up Stewardship: Tell folks who have already given that they’ve made a difference. Tell a new story about the impact of philanthropy on your organization. Consider prominent placement of the organization’s website for the rest of the week. Again, there is still time.
  4. Communicate Internally: No check left behind! Make sure that your colleagues know, understand, and will follow industry-standard practices to send all checks into the gift administration team asap. Remind folks that this is also a great chance to follow up on any open proposals one last time.
  5. Be Open Externally: If you’re down, let your constituents know.  Some of your donors surely like data and many will appreciate being informed. The cause(s) may remain for examination, but wouldn’t it be healthy to reach out to folks and ask why they decided not to give this year? That could then inform next year’s approaches.

There are dozens of other steps to take (most of which should have been initiated months ago). These last few steps this week will help make the most of a potentially slower season.

Do you have other ideas, comments, or experiences with your team’s 2018 year-end activities and volume? Share them in the comments. We can all learn some new tips and tricks this way.

6 Considerations for the #ConsultantContinuum

Every week, I have a chance to talk with someone in the industry about “becoming a consultant”. I love helping anyone understand what their professional vocation should be. These calls trend toward a handful of common themes–thought leadership, travel, doing vs. winning the work, etc. As a result of these discussions, I’ve distilled the six primary considerations when you’re wondering whether consulting is for you.

All of these considerations operate along a #consultantcontinuum. Think, “travel all the time” to “no travel”or “pre-set salary” versus “paid only when you bill”.  So, when looking below, consider where you feel comfortable compared to what the consulting gig may offer. Be honest! You can lie to yourself about “traveling being fine if it’s only 50% of the time” only to realize that this means 125 nights in a hotel each year. In my case, that’s great for my Hilton Honors account and hard on my family.

Where are you along the Continuum?

Consulting Consideration Continuum
Considerations for the #ConsultantContinuum

So, Consideration 1: are you a thought leader or a great “do-er”? This is really the difference between consulting and contracting, where “leading” is better but harder. If you don’t like to write and present, leading is hard to achieve.

Consideration 2 involves “Travel.” If you won’t/don’t travel, there’s a good chance you can be successful locally but limited regionally, which diminishes your impact.

Consideration 3 involves how you’ll earn compensation. If you need to bill a client for work in order to be paid, there is more risk (and likely more reward via bonuses).

Consideration 4 concerns whether you need to get your own work or will be given work by others. By far, the more work you “get”, the more challenging your consulting may be (due to constraints on time, competition, etc.).

Consideration 5 (Team v. Solo) relates to whether you will be a solo practitioner (which can be lonely and risky) to a team-based consultant, which comes with its own pros and cons. If you love QuickBooks, then solo is more viable.

Finally, consideration 6 reflects the type of consultant you want to be. Are you a “coach” or a “contrarian”. My experience is that coach-based consultants tend to balance these considerations better while contrarians gain their credibility by focusing on often-minor findings, and frequently burnout their clients and themselves.

Where do you land? In my opinion, the closer you are to the left side of the #consultantcontinuum, the more likely you will enjoy consulting and its rewards. Not a thought leader, no biggie but the authors and speakers in your niche will eat your lunch. Not one for travel? Local consulting can work but most pools are shallow. Looking for a salary guarantee regardless of billings? You may be in the wrong place. And, finally, if you want to be “right” more than be “helpful”, you may be a great consultant but your clients may beg to differ.

So, what did I miss? Where do you put yourself here? Would you like to talk about consulting? If so, drop me a line. And, best of luck figuring this out.

 

 

Mindset Impact: Beloit’s Mindset List and Your Team

Have you seen the Mindset List? Beloit College creates a list of realities for incoming freshman that help inform their faculty. It’s turned in a thing, really. It’s fun, it’s insightful, and it’s useful. For example, you may not know “1. Eminem and LL Cool J could show up at parents’ weekend.” for those in the class of 2021.

What Does this Mean for Us?

For those of us in higher education advancement, this list is a good barometer of our incoming classes. Beyond this, I wanted to see what it would tell us about advancement users–what can we learn from the Mindset List….from 2007.Beloit 2007 Mindset List

Think about it: many of our 20-something colleagues are experiencing one of their first jobs when they join our advancement teams. Their experiences are shaped by their mindset, some of which will mirror what they were like when they entered college.

So, what was the mindset of the class entering 2007? Here are a few items that may reflect on advancement operations:

  • “19. They have never been able to find the “return” key
  • 20. Computers have always fit in their backpacks.”

What does this tell us? For starters, some of our new colleagues expect today’s lingo and increasingly convenient hardware. For too many, we deal with the iPhone problem (which, not coincidentally, launched in 2007). Our consumer lives team with awesome tech and we head to the office to be told to “click the return key” in our decade old documentation while working on often outdated tech. At a minimum, we need to recognize the differences in mindsets across our colleagues.

The rest of the lists are useful, too. The 2008 list provides #44 “They have done most of their search for the right college online” tells us just how likely every new teem member is to demand web-accessible tools. The message in all of these mindset lists is clear: know your audience….and these lists will give you a look into their perceptions and realities.

Curious what the future holds for us? Check out investor guidance from our market’s leader

Are you wondering what the year has in store for the nonprofit industry? One great place to look for such guidance are the public filings of Blackbaud, one of the industry’s leaders in advancement tech.

Have a look at their most recent filing to get a sense of where they see the market ($7 billion in “total available market” seems a little aggressive) and where they’re investing (payments, finance, and a few other areas have the least penetration and the most potential).

Click here for this interesting view into the advancement industry.

 

 

Advancement technology satisfaction survey

Zuri Group and EverTrue recently conducted a thorough survey of advancement users’ satisfaction with their systems. The central finding was that users are unimpressed with their resources. Dissatisfaction with databases, reporting tools, analytics resources, and other important fundraising tools was often 40% or more. And, the typical response for nearly all of the questions was “it’s ok”, which means that “Meh” is the average sentiment among our users. You can check out the report here: The Advancement Technology Landscape 2017 – EverTrue and Zuri Group

Here’s a sample of the report that highlights the challenges faced by our advancement technology environments:

Advancement technology satisfaction
Reporting, a central solution for advancement programs, is failing to meet demands.

The trend for the survey suggests that “common” issues (like gift processing) received better satisfaction scores whereas more innovative and new areas, such as social data management (which only a few companies, like EverTrue, really address) and analytics, received lower satisfaction scores. Some of this may simply be the typically slow technology adoption our industry experiences. However, it is important to move beyond the “we don’t have the money/time” argument and start to examine the roots of these issues and how your institution can begin to improve satisfaction.  Our users clearly want more and better solutions.

 

There are some solutions and some ongoing obstacles to improving the advancement technology landscape. To solve the issue, non-technical tactics like building trust and negotiating expectations are more important than you might think. Delivering on the fundamentals–accurate, complete and timely data–and adopting a PR-style, metrics-driven strategic information management approach will gain some favorable survey points. However, the lack of funding for, and innovative technical solutions to, fundraising applications remain pretty substantial problems. Thus, expectation management will be a critical component of your effectiveness.

What is your team experiencing? How have you improved user satisfaction at your institution? Share your best tips and tricks to help tackle this ongoing challenge.