Category Archives: advancement services

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.

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.

 

The New Fundraising Calendar: NOW!

Consumer experiences shape much of our constituents’ fundraising lens. For example, I’ve written extensively about the #iPhoneProblem. This “problem” doesn’t mean iPhones are bad; to the contrary, they are so good our nonprofit tools simply can’t keep pace with users’ expectations (see our recent technology satisfaction survey for details: https://goo.gl/M1PIy5). This spreads to issues like use and reliance on mobile functions, which are creeping up the charts for donor giving preferences, for example. All of this consumer experience impact increasingly affects how we plan, schedule, and execute our fundraising strategies.

One need look no further than “Giving Tuesday” (i.e., philanthropy’s response to “Black Friday” and “Small Business Saturday” gimmicks) to see how our strategies and calendaring are being shaped. Giving Day efforts by universities (which I appreciate, for the record) feel a little like GroupOn specials. The provenance of GoFundMe pages is becoming harder to discern….am I giving to my alma mater or some guy at my alma mater? Overall, urgency and immediacy are prime objectives in this new approach. “Act now, before it’s too late!”

An interesting article in the Atlantic (https://goo.gl/jRfajb) assesses the impact of constant marketing to prospective students. For fundraising, the trend is similar. The days of a year-long direct response calendar are numbered. 24/7/365 strategies like peer-to-peer efforts are starting to look as if they can outstrip time-honored phonathon efforts. For example, one university’s recent Giving Day resulted in 1,800 new donors among the 12,000+ donors to that effort, totals that far surpassed the more tedious phonathon efforts to date.

So, what does this mean for nonprofits? For starters, rather than that year-end pitch to all of your constituents, more and more immediate solicitations (ideally conducted by peers, such as alumni reunion classmates) are to be expected.

As this GivingUSA chart suggests, giving is remarkably stable and generally finite and therefore nonprofits must try their best to get as much of the pie as possible. Now! That year-end big mailing? Do it sooner. That email communication plan? Start it today. That reunion fundraising effort? Get it moving. Don’t have a good peer-to-peer tool? Get one, fast!

Some of this is hyperbolic, of course, yet the message should be clear. If your fundraising schedule calls for raising most of your money with calendar and fiscal year-end pushes, by the time you reach many of your prospective donors, they will have already given….just not to your organization.

Subtle Clues to Leverage for Gift Administration

How to Leverage what we Learn
How to Leverage what we Learn

The Wall Street Journal’s article on JP Morgan’s new $10,000,000 cap for accounts in their private banking area. On the surface, this seems like an issue only for the 1%, but philanthropy, of course, is affected substantially by this group. So, their banking issues are our philanthropy issues. And, this particular issue can be leveraged to improve operations and gift administration.

“How so?” you might ask. One specific consideration is how gift administration can learn from and leverage details about donors’ bank accounts. Here’s how:

  1. Banks Matter. If a donor is nice enough to write a $50 check to your organization on a JP Morgan Private Banking account (look at the middle left of the check, typically, to find the account type), that donor might have easily added a few zeroes to the gift. After all, those account holders are deca-millionaires!
  2. Numbers Matter. Have your team check the check number. That nice donor writing check number 35780 likely has substantial cash flow; the average donor will likely write just a few thousand checks in their lifetime (and Millennials may write nearly none at all).
  3. Name that Donor. Check accounts held in trust, with “TTEE” listed, and other such naming conventions likely mean that the donor has enough assets to have placed them into a trust. This is a typical move for those who will be affected by probate court upon their death…and, right now, that means having more than $5 million in assets via your estate.
  4. Pictures are worth a thousand words. Have the gift team look at what else the check tells us. If there check has puppies and mentions the Humane Society, for example, you know where the donor’s heart is.

These tips and tricks should be applied to improve your day-to-day operations. Establish a process whereby gift analysts can forward such findings to the research team or gift officers so you get some added movement on these donors.

What other tricks would you suggest to improve gift administration? Your comments on this would be welcomed. Happy fundraising!

Facebook is making some game-changing tools available

If you haven’t checked out https://nonprofits.fb.com/, do it. Now. This is Facebook’s effFacebook's Nonprofit Support Pageort to streamline a bunch of useful resources. Some of this is new but much is tried-and-true. How to reach your constituents. How to make it easy to give a gift. How to activate supporters.

Well, what are you still reading this for. Check out the site. And, let me know what you think. It may not change how some of us fundraise, but it will change fundraising for the better.

007+Q=Awesome Advancement Services

Have you seen Spectre, the newest 007 edition? It’s great fun. As with recent Bond films, Advancement Services and 007technology and data play an increasingly important role in achieving success. Sound familiar? I had an “ah-ha” moment during the film that the great and vital coupling of 007 and Q  (Bond’s resident tech-leveraging geek) is like the best advancement services shops. It might help your team to think the same. Here’s why:

  1. Partnership. The movies show a team that works together for a common cause. Each team member has a role and, if they perform it well, the other is clearly buoyed.
  2. Anticipation. Q is working hard in advance of requests from 007. In our profession, we should be, too. Instead, I see too many of us waiting for specs from folks who frankly may not know (how to ask for) what they want until they see “it”. So, with Q, he has “it” produced so 007 can assess and use what makes his job easier.
  3. Acceptance. Bond will be Bond. He steals a car, oh well. He escapes a government-mandated lock-down…well, what did you expect, he has to go save the world. Does Q stop supporting his colleague? Nope. He realizes that 007’s skill set is such that following the rules may not fly at times. The same goes for our best fundraising colleagues. Instead of chastising, Q enables in order to get the most out of a top performing employee. We should do the same with better service (such as via admin support), better self-service, and more understanding of the rigors of international spy…er, fundraising work.
  4. Quality. At the end of the day, Q produces amazing products that serve 007’s needs, which keeps 007 coming back for more. That sort of quality-based symbiotic is what we all need in our shops. Brand, look-and-feel, ease of access, accuracy–all of these play a role in our colleagues’ perception of the quality we produce.

Am I missing a few key details? Yes. At one point in the film, Q mentions a prototype cost the Queen 3 billion pounds. Most of us don’t have that budget lying around, do we? Our work is sometimes more mundane than saving the planet from evil, so the urgency and intensity of our roles will be different. And, we all know that not everyone in the British intelligence agency gets as much attention as Bond, which is similar to what happens in our own teams. But, as with any good film, we shouldn’t let reality get in the way of a good plot.

Those potential obstacles (and probably dozens of other objections) notwithstanding, think for a minute about your advancement services shop as Q partnering with 007, anticipating needs and accepting “shortcomings” while delivering the level of quality that keeps the user coming back for more. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Get to it, Q.

4 Indicators that Caging is Right/Wrong for You

Gift processing is the core of fundraising operations. The steps to carefully and quickly

From Cannon's An Executive Guide to Fundraising Operations
From Cannon’s An Executive Guide to Fundraising Operations

handle our donors’ contributions are at the heart of our business processes, databases, reports, and technology. Some of us in the industry have been seeing an interesting shift in this core business process: the rise of caging. It is an important alternative for you to consider.

As an alternative to in-house gift processing, caging outsources gift intake, batching, entry, and receipting. The approach is not new, particularly among high-volume, low-average gift processing outfits supporting cause and cure organizations. The new shift has been among those universities and healthcare organizations that see an opportunity to streamline operations while improving outcomes. Additionally, the technology available for scanning, remote entry, and data import has improved so rapidly, off-site entry is surprisingly simple to implement.

But, is it right for you? Perhaps. Consider these four indicators:

  1. High-volume, low-average gifts. Caging companies create economies of scale, so some volume is needed to make this approach profitable. Once you’re in the 5-figure transaction range, it may be worth a look. As you approach and fall into the 6-figure transaction range, you owe it to your organization to evaluate these options.
  2. Donor and donation make-up. The business processes designed by caging companies are efficient. However, a majority of your donors need to frequently use reply envelopes and standard devices to make the process scaleable. It’s even more important that you consider what your donors might think if they mail off a gift to a PO Box in another state (imagine a Sooner sending a gift to processed in the Longhorn state!).
  3. Complexity of the front-of-the-line. This issue is counter-intuitive. The more complex your important gifts and pledges are at the front of the line, the more sense it makes to establish a caging approach. Such a practice will remove the tendency to “plow through the pile” of work that can drain a processing team and distract them from the truly important items in the pile. Instead, a caging company can siphon off the small donations and allow the team to focus on what matters most.
  4. Desire to strengthen strategic analysis. Finally, if you want your gift processing team to move form “entry” to “analysis”, you should consider a move to caging. When the mundane, day-to-day entry grind is assuaged by a caging partner, your professionals can start to analysis gifts more thoroughly. The resulting increases in prospecting, analytics, and stewardship will be significant.

Caging isn’t for every institution. However, it is an increasingly viable alternative to the typical, in-house approach. Having helped organizations evaluate and then implement the approach, I can attest to the value of this model and the likelihood its application will increase in the years to come.

Prospecting, Analytics and Data for Gift Planning

The St. Louis Planned Giving Council was a terrific setting to discuss changes (and continuations) in prospect development. The group discussed what’s the same, what’s new, what’s working and what’s on the horizon.

You can find my presentation on the topic here: SLPGC – Prospecting Discussion, November 2014.

Best of luck with your fundraising initiatives as year end approaches.