Friday, August 5, 2016

Fundraising explained through "knock, knock" jokes...

Volunteer:  Knock, Knock
Fundraiser: Who’s there?
Volunteer:  Howie
Fundraiser Howie who?
Volunteer:  How we going to reach our fundraising goal?

Fundraiser: “Watch this…”

Fundraiser: Knock, Knock
Donor: Who’s there?
Fundraiser: Juwan
Donor: Juwan who?
Fundraiser: Juwan a give me some money?

Donor: Knock, Knock
Fundraiser: Who’s there?
Donor: Ida
Fundraiser: Ida who?
Donor: I’d a love to give you some money.

Volunteer: Knock, Knock
Fundraiser: Who’s there?
Volunteer: Shirley
Fundraiser: Shirley who?
Volunteer: Surely, it’s not that easy

Fundraiser: Knock, Knock
Volunteer:  Who’s there?
Fundraiser: Jason
Volunteer: Jason Who?
Fundraiser:  Jason case you thought we were serious… we’re not.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Nashville... Here I Come!

I’m an only child, but in some ways – I have more brothers and sisters than you can count.  They’re my APRA brothers and sisters and they’ve been a big part of my life for many years.  I haven’t seen some of them in a few years, but hope to catch up with as many of them as possible come late July.

Yes!  After not attending an APRA conference since 2012 – I’m excited to say, I’ll be there in Nashville for the APRA International Conference on Prospect Development.  It’s been far too long; the longest stretch I’ve ever had between conferences and I need this in a big way.

In 2012, my term was ending as a member of the APRA Board of Directors and I was about to start a new job at the University of California, Irvine. It will be nearly four years and a lot has happened during that time and now here I am. 

For three years, I was knee deep in “stuff.”  Some of it was great and some of it was definitely challenging.  I was busy working, and managing a growing team of seven analysts.  Even though I was surrounded by prospect development professionals, I often felt isolated because I wasn’t connecting with my long-time APRA brothers and sisters during that time.  It was even rare for me to make it to a CARA event during that time. 

Something happens to us when we become disconnected from our friends and colleagues in the field.  I believe we start to become run down and sometimes we even struggle.  Not having the opportunity to connect with people going through the same things is not the way to travel through your work life. 

I don’t know about you, but I need to connect with my APRA family as often as I can.  There’s something special about seeing smiling faces who are glad to see you and can’t wait to catch up.  It’s fun when you are learning together in an environment that’s all about collaboration and sharing.  It’s energizing to see what’s new, what’s working and what’s coming.

I’ve enjoyed every APRA conference I’ve ever attended and I always come away a little more knowledgeable, inspired, and energized.  There’s value in all of that and APRA definitely provides that. 

I don’t know who’s going just yet and I’m not even sure which sessions I will be attending, but I can go with great expectations and I know I won’t be disappointed.

APRA is essential to our professional and personal growth.  It’s where the learning curve was reduced for me. It’s where I realized that I can do this work.  It’s where I decided I wanted to do this work. 

It’s where we meet leaders in our field who are accessible and willing to share.  It’s where relationships are built and networks are developed. 

Sound too good to be true?  Trust me on this.  Even major gift officers who attend find it to be among the best conference they’ve ever been to.  You want to learn about best practices?  You want to know about what’s on the cutting edge?  How about some case studies?  It’s all there. 

I cannot overemphasize the value of attending the APRA conference.  It’s so valuable that some colleagues have paid their own way there because missing it was not an option. 

You need this.  I need this.  We all need this.  Now… let’s go!

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Thank You Letter to Fundraisers

Dear Fundraiser,

I wanted to take this time to thank you.  Now, before you interrupt me, please let me just say what I have to say.  I know you like to do most of the talking; but this time around, I’m asking that you humor me.

I really want to thank you. 

I hope you know I’m your biggest fan.  I want you to succeed more than you know; I really do.  I want nothing more than to see you closing big gifts and being celebrated for doing great work.  I’m in your corner and I’ve got your back.  That’s the truth.

I want to thank you for being so great at what you do and for allowing me to be a part of that success.  You know when I show up at my next conference, I’ll be bragging about how great you are and how amazing you are to work with.  My colleagues will be jealous.

It’s not every day that people in my profession have the privilege of having this kind of relationship. You and I are a team and that’s just not always the norm.  I could tell you stories…

Thank you for letting me find the best possible prospects for your portfolio. I appreciate that you trust me, and you believe I’m going to find people through wealth screening and other methods who have capacity and as best as I can tell - some affinity. 

Now we both know affinity can mean lots of different things and comes in lots of different shades of grey.  Thankfully, I have you to paint a picture that’s more black and white.  When you go out and qualify these people through face to face contacts I can’t help but smile.  It makes my day to see you doing this tireless work.

I really appreciate that you don’t ask me to do a lot of research prior to you getting an appointment.  Thank you for being considerate of my time and the resources I use.  I mean, if you knew how many times I researched people for fundraisers who never got an appointment – it would make your head spin.  Again, thank you for not doing that.

You know I am giving you prospects who have capacity and you accept the responsibility to qualify them.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Thank you.

Besides, we both know you’re a natural at this. I think you do your best work when you learn things about your prospects organically. Every time you go in with too much information, you’re less fluid and too calculated.  That’s not you.  Am I right?

Thank you for recognizing that I’m giving you enough information for you to feel comfortable to get an appointment and to get yourself out the door.  I mean, you and I know how much you hate being in the office, right?

I also want to thank you for being fearless and being willing to cold call prospects.  I know that this is the least favorite part of your job and you do it anyway.  That’s one of the things I love about working with you – it’s never about you.  You do whatever it takes. 

You’re good at this stuff.  You know how to engage people and you are one heck of a story teller.  You have a gift and I admire the way you put that gift to good use.  You know a lot about what we are doing here and I love the way you convey that information with passion to the people you meet. 

Another thing – thank you so much for putting in contact reports.  I can’t thank you enough for this one.  And thank you for letting me remind you to do this on those rare occasions when you forget.  It’s my duty and you’re always great about this.

I know, you know how important institutional history is.  Remember when you first started and how frustrated you were at the lack of notes left by the previous fundraiser?  Of course you do. I’m so glad we don’t have to worry about that with you.  Thank you for setting an example for the others.

You know what else I really appreciate?  I love it when you debrief me on your meetings.  I love hearing how things went and for having an opportunity to brain storm next steps with you.  It makes me feel engaged.  It’s great being on the same team. Thank you again for the opportunity to collaborate.

I hope you continue to bounce some ideas off me.  I’ll be honest with you and let you know my thoughts.  This is the way it’s supposed to work. My colleagues at other non-profits would give anything to have this with their fundraisers.

I also appreciate it when you help me.  It’s so valuable when you verify things I find in research, but can’t confirm. You understand that I’m only able to provide pieces of the puzzle and you help find the other parts. 

You know, I think we’re going to do great things together.  I can’t wait to watch you blow past your goals. You know I’ll be right there with you.  I’ll be sure to keep your pipeline primed and ready to go for when you’re ready for more.

I think we have a great foundation for success. I’m glad we’re working together.  I really am thankful.

One last thing; thank you for your friendship. I mean that.  I don’t take this for granted. I feel l like I really know you and you know me.  I appreciate that we have more to talk about than just work.  I appreciate being able to just be me and that you’re comfortable in being yourself as well.

Thank you again.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

I could have missed it all

Sometimes the best things are the things that never happen.  I could have missed all of this.  I could have let it all go away and that would have been tragic.

Prior to arriving at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, I had made up my mind that I needed a change.  After years of doing work in prospect development I wanted to transition into front-line fundraising.  This decision came after a lot of thought and contemplation. 

Although, I had never been in that role before, I was confident I could do it. 

I’ve spent years evaluating and understanding fundraisers.  It’s hard to find really good fundraisers who excel at cultivating and soliciting major gifts and I wanted a shot.  All I needed was an opportunity.

I pulled out all the stops.  I resigned from my position at my last organization.  I focused all of my time and all of my energy into making this transition.  I was determined.  I was relentless.  I networked like crazy.  I had friends and colleagues making introductions and advocating for me.  I asked for and got informational interviews with key individuals who I did not know.

I was creative.  I found ways to by-pass recruiters when necessary and made my way to decision makers.  I wrote convincing cover letters.  I reached out via LinkedIn.  Again, I did everything I could imagine.  It was my full-time job. There was no other way to do this.

I put in the work the way a major gift officer puts in the work to build a base of donors. Eventually, I began to interview.  Hiring managers were intrigued.  They were curious.  I began to have meaningful conversations and I was seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.  I believed that sooner or later someone would see the value in thinking outside of the box and someone would be willing to take a chance on me.

My eyes were wide open.  It was hard work, but I managed to stay positive and focused.  I knew it was only a matter of time because I was doing the work and all I needed to do was to trust the process.

And then I had that conversation – the one I mentioned in my first post about an invitation to investigate the place where I work now.

Thankfully, I kept an open mind.  Although I was determined to make a transition into frontline fundraising, I didn’t shut the door on prospect development.  I was committed to making a change, but I decided to stay open to the right opportunity.  It had to be special.  It had to be extraordinary.

From the moment I decided to make a change until the moment I accepted the position I have now, I only interviewed for fundraising positions (my current job was the one exception).

The day I accepted the opportunity to work here, I felt at peace.  In my heart I knew it was the right thing.  It was the right fit and the right organization.  It was an easy decision to ditch my plan and move forward.

I didn’t have any regrets about the effort I had put in prior to this.  I knew I was richer for the experience and I made some new connections along the way.  I learned a lot about myself and I was proud of the effort and the process I went through.

Now, it was time to get to work. 

As I began to settle in and transition into my new position I realized some things about myself.  I didn’t know how much I missed doing actual research because for years I had teams that did the majority of that work instead.  I found that I still had good instincts and that I could still put the pieces of a puzzle together.  I still had that desire to get it right and I wanted to be able to tell the story of the people I was researching.

Every day has been like a treasure hunt.  I couldn’t wait to see what and who I could find.  I couldn’t wait to connect the dots and then have the opportunity to share the information with fundraisers either as a group or individually. 

I found the enthusiasm and passion for what I do return. I felt engaged.  I felt a burning desire to help my organization succeed and I could see the potential impact.

I’m not saying I haven’t felt this before, but it had definitely muted over time.  There were times when work felt like work.  It wasn’t necessarily fun or interesting or inspiring for lots of reasons. It happens.

That’s behind me now.

Getting back to basics has awakened something inside of me.  I have a new perspective and I have promised myself to not take what I have now for granted. 

I believe I will have an opportunity to grow this department (time will tell), but I will always keep my hands in doing actual research.  I will never move away from the opportunity to work directly with fundraisers on a daily basis.  I will do what I ask others to do.  I will always be in the trenches because I don’t ever want to forget what it’s like to do this good work.

Something happens to you when you don't use the skills you have for any long period of time.  First of all, you lose confidence.  For the last several years, I believed my team had the best possible skills and that they had surpassed me in my abilities to do research.  What I didn’t know was that I just needed to get back in the game.

As a result, I’ve found my groove again and my confidence has returned.  I know how much or how little time it really takes to do an effective profile.  I know what’s important and what’s not.  I know when to stop and when to go beyond.  I’m more strategic in my approach now and I know how to convey what’s important to fundraisers.  Basic stuff for sure, but important on so many levels.

I know I’m not the best of the best (not even close) – but, I’m better than I’ve ever been.  I think I have more value now than I ever have.  I can do the nitty-gritty and still have a clear understanding of the big picture.  I know when to say “no” when necessary and when to say “not yet."  

I may even be able to live up to the idea that I will have a bigger impact here than any place I’ve ever worked.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for some of you reading this today.  I don’t know, but you do.

Some days are long, but I’m taking the time to engage with the people that surround me.  My days are full, but they are rich.  And to think I could have missed it all.

Proverbs 16:9 states: “We make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”  Isn’t that the truth!

I’m not here by accident.  This is where I’m meant to be.  And to think… to actually think, I could have missed it all is beyond me.  I could have missed seeing the joy of doing the work I’ve known for years return to me.  I could have drifted away from colleagues in my field who I’ve known for years.  I could have missed the opportunity to work with the terrific people here. 

I’m back, but I guess I never really left.  Thank God for that.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Evolve by getting Involved

The saying is true; it’s not always what you know, it’s who you know.  Let me expand on that a bit.  It’s important to have people in your network who know what you’re capable of doing.

I owe much of my success to the people I know personally and have worked with. My first job in development came because the director of development called the vice president of advancement at a former institution I worked at (not in development) and she advocated on my behalf.  I didn’t even know the two knew each other.

When all is said and done, the highlights of my professional career will; in all likelihood, come down to the place I work now and the years I spent at The City of Hope.   Both opportunities came about because of who I know.

In the case of City of Hope, when friend and long-time colleague - Suzanne Szalay, left that organization to take on a new position; the leadership asked her to recommend someone to replace her.  That ended up being me. 

As I mentioned in my first post on this blog – my current position came about because of the relationship I established with our current vice president of development who I worked with at The City of Hope. 

The benefit of having a network and circle of friends goes both ways.  Since arriving at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, I’ve been able to help recruit 3 people I know and have worked with to this organization.

It’s all about relationships, but even more – it’s about developing those relationships to maximize opportunities.  This doesn’t necessarily happen by accident.  It takes effort, collaboration and time.

When I first started working in development doing prospect research I needed help. Boy, did I need help!  I reached out to individuals who had established themselves in the field to see if they would meet with me so that I could learn about prospect research.

I met with Napoleon Hendrix, who was at U.C. Irvine at the time, Marsha Krauss at U.C.L.A. (I actually went to meet another individual there, but it was Marsha who took me under her wing) and Cathy Terrones who was at Cal Poly Pomona at the time.

All three were great and helped me learn a lot not just then, but throughout the years. 

In the case of Cathy – she's a great friend (and a mentor).  I tell her from time to time that in addition to being a great friend, she's always going to be a mentor too!  Cathy has been a constant source of encouragement and an inspiration.  She has even encouraged me to write; telling me I have a “gift” and need to do this.  It’s amazing what a little encouragement can do and I have had many provide me that over the years.

I really began to expand my circle of friends and my network when I got involved in the California Advancement Researchers Association(CARA).  That wasn’t something I jumped into head first.  I wasn’t looking to get involved, but one day I got a call from Michael Seymour who flat out told me, “I think it’s time for you to get involved.”  Michael is great that way!

Michael asked me to serve on the nomination committee for their board elections.  The rest is sort of… well, history. 

CARA has meant the world to me.  If you are new to prospect development or even if you’re not – you need to get involved with your local APRA chapter.  If you are willing to put in the effort, you will establish personal and professional relationships that will last your whole career and beyond.  There are so many amazing people in our field who are absolute gems.

We often tell people “No one says, I want to a prospect researcher when I grow up.”  Most of us come into the field by accident.  We don’t necessarily seek out this arena. We kind of, sort of just end up here.  Maybe we had some writing skills that got us in the door.  Maybe we knew how to do a little bit of research.  Every path is unique.

Once we get here we might be asked to do things we never had to do before.  That’s where CARA and APRA come in.  It’s the training ground for us.  It’s where we learn best practice and even beyond that, what’s “next.”  More importantly it’s where we meet people who have the same challenges and opportunities.

I’m biased, but I think some of the very best people working in the non-profit world are in prospect development.

Our field has a culture of sharing through teaching.  A lot of nurturing and encouraging takes place through organizations like CARA and APRA.  Again, since most of us come to the field by accident – many of us have a common story and a sense of what it’s like to be asked to do something new and not always familiar to us.

I know I speak for many when I say CARA and APRA has been a career/life enhancing experience.  It is our life line in many respects.  These organizations have introduced me to so many wonderful people; not only people who helped me, but people who I could help as well.

Through the years, I’ve encouraged colleagues to speak at our conferences and seminars.  A few took those opportunities to heart and have blossomed in the field since.  I’ve nominated people for the board and even served as references for some of them along the way.

While at the City of Hope we often had visitors who were either new to the field or interested in learning how we did things.  I’d like to think I’ve given as much as I have received, but I’m not sure that’s possible. 

If you are new to prospect development or even if you’ve been tooling around in the field and haven’t made up your mind if this is what you want to do, I encourage you to get involved in a local APRA chapter.  If possible, you also need to attend the annual APRA International Conference.

I remember my first APRA conference well.  I hate to admit it, but I went reluctantly.  It changed everything for me. 

That conference really cut the learning curve for me and introduce me to great people like Cecilia Hogan, David Lawson, and Joe Boeke all of whom I saw speak for the first time.  I came away from that experience thinking; yes, I can do this.

APRA has allowed me to expand my community.  Through the conferences, serving on the board and volunteering I now know people around the country and even outside of our own borders. 

Together, we are an army working for the common good.  We do many things to make our organizations successful.  We identify potential donors.  We help qualify prospects to see if they have the capacity and inclination to give.  We help ensure our donors are followed up on and that no donor is forgotten.

We are the engines that drive our major gift programs.  We all have different missions, but we share a common goal; to make the world a better, healthier and safer place.

It’s hard to imagine my career without this army because they don’t just help the organizations they work for, they help one another.  Together, we teach.  We advocate.  We encourage.  We network; boy do we network.

While serving on the CARA board, I was even able to convince many of my friends across America to come out to speak to our chapter in California.  One of the first chapters (if not the first), Lawrence Henze of Target Analytics ever spoke at was CARA.  He’s just one of many.

Fundraisers who come to our conferences are often amazed at how well we network.  It’s funny when you think about it.  I might even venture to guess some of us have better networks than our fundraisers. 

So again, if you are new to prospect development or even if you’re sitting there trying to decide if this is what you really want to do, please consider going to a conference; better yet, get involved as a volunteer, speaker or board member.  It just might change your life and how often can you say that?

Friday, February 26, 2016

What if?

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to build better relationships with the people I work with and the people I know in the field of prospect development.  I don’t always do a good job of this, but I try.

I have told my co-workers… Wait.  I don’t really like that term, I’m going to say, my “friends” instead. 

I tell my friends that my day is always richer when I get to engage with them on a personal level.  It can be as simple as a “good morning” and a short discussion about what someone did over the weekend or it can be about something they’re genuinely excited about that is happening in their lives.  Even a five minute conversation really makes my day better.

The point is to connect on a level that make us all feel more human.  We spend a lot of time at work, I’d like to know more about my friends than just what they’re responsible for doing at work.  I like to know why they do the work they do, how they got to this point in their lives and what gets them excited every day.  I even like knowing their dog or cat’s name, their favorite movie of all time or anything that allows me to know them better.

I like having a reason to connect with my friends about things other than work.  Maybe we share a passion for baseball. Maybe we like the same television show or who knows what.  The added benefit of all this that it also allows me to connect them with others.

I’m a huge fan of the song “What if” by John Ondrasik, also known as “Five for Fighting.”  The song has had a profound impact on me.  I want to try to see the world through other people’s eyes.  I try to put myself in their shoes whenever possible or appropriate.

That’s not always easy.  It takes time and effort, but it's so worth it.

The song “What if” starts out with “Threw a line out to pull you to me. If you don’t get it then you don’t get it.  You made up your mind before you knew me.  If you don’t get it then you don’t get it.”

I don’t always succeed – but I try to reach out to people to see if I can engage them.  I don't just do this at work, but even at the places where I eat or do business.  If they take the line, great.  If they don’t, they just don’t.

I learned this from my dad.  He always made it a point to know people.  Be it the person who delivered his mail or the guy filling his prescriptions at the drug store.  I think his life was richer because of the effort he put into it.

What kind of relationships do you have at work? I say "work" for the purposes of this blog because that's what this space is all about.

Let me ask you a direct question.

Are you the kind of prospect development professional who has adapted the “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to fundraisers?  I know you’re out there.  I’ve talked to you, I’ve heard your jokes, your rants, and your frustrations.

Whenever I’m at a conference or with other prospect development professionals and someone refers to fundraisers as being on the “dark side,” I cringe.   I hate that.  I hate any comment that is not complimentary about those on the front-line raising money.  I just do.

I love fundraisers.  All of them; major gift officers, annual giving officers, those working to establish corporate and community partnerships and even the students who are calling alumni to solicit them for donations.

I know not all of them are perfect.  Who is?  I know that some of them won’t call the prospects you’ve identified for them and how frustrating that can be.  I get it.  I do my best to help those who won’t help themselves, but those that do truly get it – I embrace.

I want to do everything I can to help them be successful. I’m driven to help them be successful. 

Look, I work at an organization where 100% of the revenue comes from fundraising.  Imagine what that pie chart looks like.  It’s sobering.  Even if I didn’t work where that was the case, I know that fundraising is critical to any non-profit’s life. 

You better believe I want to do everything and anything I can to help them be successful.

I know there are things they like to do and things they don’t.  Same goes for us.   That’s right – it applies to those of us in prospect development as well.

Like what?

Let me ask you – when you get a request for a phone number from one of your fundraisers, how do you react?

Hey! Did you just roll your eyes?

I know that sometimes they can look it up themselves. That’s not the point.  How do you react? Do you tell yourself, that’s beneath me or I have better more important things to do?  I know full well that some of you do and say this all the time.  Hey, I might have been guilty of this at one time or another too.

Not anymore.

I want my fundraiser calling prospects.  I love it when they make the effort to reach out to new people.  Cold calling or any kind of calling is hard.  If they want to call someone and they need a phone number, I’m going to give it to them as soon as I can and I’m going to be happy to do it. 

Why?  It’s not about me.

Remember that song I mentioned above?

“What if I had your heart? What if you wore my scars?  How would we break down? What if you were me? What if I were you?”

Remember, it’s all about relationships.  Fundraisers shouldn’t be the only one that spend time building relationships.  We should be doing it too. 

Take time to get out from behind your monitor and go talk to someone.  Make a friend.  Be a friend.  Do the things that friends should do for one another (even looking up phone numbers).

I know you’re busy.  I know you have deadlines. You might even by shy.  Do it anyway.  Don’t make it about you. Make it about doing what’s best for the organization you serve.

You can start small.  Don’t pass someone’s office or cubicle or walk past them in the hall without saying “Hello.”  Instead of emailing someone, take the time to go talk to them in person once in a while.  You can build from there.  I know you can do this.

“To the ones who make it better.  Vying to get out, got to touch the other side. What if all that it took to save our lives together was to rise up?”

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Trust me, I'm a professional

Sometimes, all you want to do is to actually do the work you were hired to do.  Am I right?  Of course, I am.  I know this and you know this.

Well, why don’t we? 

Sometimes, the people in charge want to tell you how to do the work that you were hired to do.  Crazy, I know.  Then there are committees, meetings, more meetings and then you have to present a plan (perfectly formatted, of course) and then discuss those plans and that requires; well, more meetings.  You plan, you get approvals, you stress, you stress some more.

Days go by.  Weeks go by.   Seasons change (well, maybe not in California).  Baseball has played a whole season including the post season and you still haven’t launched your project.

I hate that.

You have no idea how much I hate that.  Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating some (not about how much I hate that, just about how long things take).  Then again…

I’m not saying all meetings are bad, but there comes a point when it’s time to let talent shine and let people get after the work that needs to be done.

One of the great things about where I work today is that the people who hired me, actually trust me.  Imagine that.  They hired me because I have a certain set of skills and experience that will allow me to be successful.  They believe I know what I’m doing.  It’s a cool concept, right?

Now before I continue, I want to say that this post isn’t necessarily a reflection on my past employers.  So, before anyone assumes anything, please keep that in mind.  If the shoe doesn’t fit… it doesn’t fit.  

Here’s the thing.  When you are in the midst of a project and you’re going through all that stuff (meetings, more meetings, stress, etc.), you begin to think it’s the norm.  You figure this is the way business is done.  You get to a point where you are afraid to move forward because you fear if things go wrong, you’re going to pay for it.  Guess what?  You probably will.

I once heard a story about what happened when Coca-Cola launched NEW COKE.  NEW COKE failed miserably and the guy who came up with the idea was fired.  If you think the story ends there, you’re wrong.  The smart people at Coca-Cola decided to bring the guy back.  Why?  Because they realized people shouldn’t be punished for trying new things.

I probably over simplified that story, but you get the idea.  Imagine not being able to present your ideas because of the fear of failure. 

That kind of fear can paralyze us; especially, if that fear resides with the people in charge.  It always starts at the top.  Always.  And it filters down. What’s that song by The Kinks?  Paranoia, need destroyer. Paranoia, they destroy ya'!

That’s not an issue here.

We recently took delivery of some predictive modeling and wealth screening results from Blackbaud Target Analytics.  The data came back to us at the end of December.  Our consultant delivered the “deck” in the first full week of January. Our IT team had the data loaded into our Raiser's Edge data base the same week.  By the middle of January, I had identified and assigned major gift prospects for our major gift officer.  By the second week of February, I had identified and assigned principal gift prospects for our vice president.  Not only that, we vetted these lists with development colleagues, the founder and the chief executive officer. 

When the first list was finished, I could have cried tears of joy.  I knew what just happened was significant.  It was monumental. I knew this would serve as the launching point for our major gifts program.

Needless to say, I was fired up.  No; really, you have no idea just how fired up I was.  Think “Rocky” dancing on the top of the steps leading to the capital in Philadelphia.  Imagine
Tiger Woods pumping his fist after sinking a winning put. 

That was me. 

Okay, maybe not exactly.  I didn’t actually walk around doing any of those things, but I was feeling that way on the inside.

How did this happen so fast?

I have great colleagues and tremendous leadership around me.  They let me, be me. They let me do the work I was hired to do in the manner in which I saw fit.

You see, some of us need autonomy.

Some of us need the freedom to just do our work. We absolutely despise being micromanaged or slowed by red tape, bureaucracy, fear, or control-freaks because that prevents us from thriving. Nothing stifles creativity and/or production like a lack of autonomy.

Give the right people autonomy and watch what happens. 

I know I work harder and faster when I’m doing what I think is best and not what someone else wants me to do or even worse - demands me to do.  If I have questions, I’ll ask.  If I need help, I’ll seek it.

That’s what happened here.

I grabbed the data.  Who am I kidding?   I embraced the data!   I segmented the data.  I analyzed it.  I made it my own.  I dug and I dug some more. 

Then, I developed a list of prospects to share.  I presented that list on the spreadsheet.  I didn’t do a power point presentation.  There weren’t any mini bios with color pictures that would have taken weeks to complete.  No show.  No bells and whistles.  Just good clean data delivered with enthusiasm.

I didn’t do any of this alone.

When I needed to append any of the data – our IT team provided me with what I needed and they did it within hours, sometimes even minutes.  I didn’t have to fill out a request form (an email was sufficient).  I didn’t have to wait two weeks (or longer).  I simply asked and I got what I needed.  My request didn’t go into a black hole without any idea of when I would get my results.

When it came time to vet the names, a list was sent out.  People responded.  They responded quickly and gave great input and insight where appropriate.  Nobody told me they didn’t have time.  Nobody complained.  They just did it.  Nike would have been proud. 

This is what happens when you have great leadership and everyone feels like their jobs have meaning. 

When we are engaged in a cause that is important to us in some way, we feel energized and we give it our very best effort.   All I have to do is look around me and I can’t help but be engaged.  I'm surrounded by great people who are all energized and committed to the cause.

When we do work that has meaning, we feel a sense of significance.  We strive to accomplish great things.  We all want to do great work.  All we need is the opportunity.

At this organization, we take our cues from our volunteer base who resemble passionate soccer fans.  They’re driven and so are we.

Maybe you’re sitting back and reading this and thinking… “Yeah, right.”  I see you with your arms folded staring at the screen.  Keep reading anyway.

Maybe you’ve experienced this kind of environment yourself and are happy to see it exists elsewhere.  I don’t know. 

Okay, maybe I do know because I’ve had these conversations with many of you.

Well, I’m telling you the truth.  Great organizations have great leaders and great people.  I admire the people I work with and work is so much better when that’s the case.  We trust each other.  We pull for each other.  We get things done together.  I don’t know how any organization can be successful without that kind of culture.

It’s amazing what happens when you are surrounded by positive people.  My colleagues bring out the best in me and I love them for that.  I hope I’m doing the same for them.

When I look back at some of my past failures (yeah, I’ve had some) – I realize that in some cases, I was destined to fail.  I’ve been places where the culture was so bad, the environment was toxic.  Instead of looking out for one another, people looked out for their own interests instead.  That doesn’t work in team sports and that certainly doesn’t work in business. 

There’s an old saying “culture eats strategy.”  It’s true.  If you find yourself in a toxic environment; run.  Run as fast as you can because the cost will be too great if you don’t.  You might think you can overcome it all and maybe; just maybe, you can.  I’m not that person.  I didn’t always know that, but I know it now.

Sometimes the lure of what you get from a job (nice title, more money, etc.) blurs your judgement when evaluating opportunities.  You look at a situation and think, yeah – it might be bad, but the money will be good.  You tell yourself, “I can overcome.”

Again, I’m not that guy.

That doesn’t mean I’m afraid of a challenge.  Quite the contrary.  I’m afraid of not being able to be myself in the face of challenges.  I also need to know that I can count on my colleagues.  After all, it’s all about the people you surround yourself with.  It really is, but more about that in my next post.

So, we’ve taken the first of many steps in building a major gift program here.  I can’t wait to see the results. 

I wish that every project I’ve ever taken on went like this one has so far. 

I’m lucky to be where I am.  You could even say I’m blessed.  I am so thankful that I found this place and that it found me.  I know I will have the opportunity to do great work.  I know that opportunity will come with great collaboration and with people who trust and genuinely care about each other. 

I’m told by friends and colleagues that when I talk about the place where I work, they see a huge difference in me.  They feel my excitement and are genuinely happy for me.  I guess you could say, I’m back to just being me.

Thank God for that.

Onward we go.  I'll keep posting, if you keep coming back.  Please feel free to tell me how I'm doing by commenting below.

And thank you to all of you who have made your way here.  I appreciate your taking the time to read.  I'm overwhelmed by the response so far.  Many of you have either commented here or sent me notes and I sincerely appreciate it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Perfect Storm

Imagine getting a call from a former colleague who tells you about a non-profit organization that’s about 16 years old with a database of nearly a million constituents.  Imagine that colleague is about to become the new vice president of development and chief philanthropy officer and he’s going there to build a major gift program. 

What if he told you they were looking for someone to do prospect development there?  Think of what you would say if he asked you to come check it out.  Before you answer – there’s more.

What if you had a great working relationship with said colleague and you could hear an excitement in his voice that you hadn’t heard in years. 

But… there’s always a “but,” right?  What if the opportunity was for less money than you made at your previous two positions?  What if in your last two positions you had 5 and 7 direct reports respectively and at this organization you would be a one person shop (although there was the possibility of building something from the ground up)?

What if you knew that you would have to roll up your sleeves and do some things you might typically have assigned to your team in the past?  

Would you blink?  

There was a lot to consider.  Could I be a one person shop after not serving in that role for quite some time?  How rusty were my actual research skills?

What if...

I thought long and hard about this.  I started to think back...

Are you the kind of person who is all about what you get (title, salary, office, etc.) or are you about what you get to do? There is no right or wrong answer and this is a personal choice for each individual for sure.

I once had the pleasure of attending an Advancement Resources Workshop where they handed out buttons that read "It's not about me."  In the book, "The Purpose Driven Life" - the first words you read are "It's not about you."

I decided to check things out.  I had to.  I was too intrigued. 

The moment I walked through the doors, I knew there was something different about the organization.  I felt like I was at the Google of non-profits. The space was cool. The conference rooms had unique names like "Take Action  Room," and "Discovery Room." There were pictures of volunteers, survivors, and advocates on the walls.  

The cause was everywhere.  It was in your face, but in an inspiring way.  I found that even the physical space was really unlike any place I had been to before.

I interviewed with the senior director of advancement operations and the chief operation’s officer who is also the chief financial officer.  They asked questions and I did my best to answer.  

We discussed data.  We talked about the opportunity. We talked about my colleague who hadn't started at the organization yet.  They told me about the culture; yes, the culture.  I learned about a volunteer base that has often been described as being like "rabid soccer fans."  We discussed a lot of things.

During the course of my interview, it was clear I was probably over-qualified and the senior director even said as much.

What now?  Imagine my thought process.

I couldn't let this opportunity slip away.  I needed to write a thank-you letter.

In my letter, I let the senior director know that yes, perhaps I was over qualified; however, perhaps a better way to look at the situation was to say I was the right person, at the right time for the right organization.  I truly believed this in my heart.

I knew there was something special at this organization and I had to see it through.

Next, I met the founder of the organization and found her to be truly inspiring.  I remember thinking, “How often does anyone get to meet the founder of an organization during an interview process?”  I also met the director of strategic partnerships and it was becoming clear to me that this was definitely not a typical non-profit.

I got the sense that there was a collaborative effort at this organization and I my interest continued to pique.

I began to ask myself – "What is this place?"  I began to do my own research (of course).  I read the bio of the chief executive officer and combed through the web site to begin to understand what this place was all about.  

I began to see myself at this organization.  I could imagine myself as part of something bigger than myself.  I saw an opportunity.  I felt a calling.  I wanted to jump right in and join the cause.

Thankfully, I was offered the position the next day.  

At some point during the process, the founder said to me “You’re going to have the biggest impact of any place you’ve ever worked, right here.”


Part of me was scared to death.  Part of me was excited beyond belief.  I guess that’s what happens when you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.

Now, the fun begins....

Welcome to Adventures in Prospect Development!  

I hope you’ll join me in this journey through the world of research, prospect management and major gift fundraising.  You will have an opportunity to read about the good, the bad and the crazy things I have experienced and hopefully have some fun along the way.

I’ve been in the business of prospect development for a while now.  Let’s just say that I’ve been around long enough to think I’ve learned a thing or two during that time.  I will admit there are some things I learned the hard way; but all in all, it’s been a good ride. 

Don't get me wrong - it's hardly over.  In fact, I'd say it's just begun.

I’ve now worked at five non-profits – which includes two universities, a medical center, a comprehensive cancer center and I am now at a cause related/disease specific organization called the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

I’ve been involved in two, one billion dollar campaigns, a $500 million campaign and worked with development teams both large and small.  That doesn't make me a big deal by any means (quite the contrary).  It simply means I have had the honor of working on worthy causes at great institutions.

My career path has allowed me to gain a lot of perspective and although I’m not saying I have all the answers (absolutely not), I do believe I have some unique opinions and ideas.  At the very least, I have some interesting stories to share.

So, back to present day...

I’ve been here for nearly six months and coming to this organization may be the best career decision I’ve ever made. Remember the part above about being "over qualified?'  I really don't think it has turned out that way.  I really believe I am the right person, at the right time for this organization.


You're about to find out in the posts to come.  Please note the thoughts and opinions to be expressed will be strictly my own.

This won’t just be about the work (that would be too boring).  It will be about the experience of doing something I never saw coming and about finding my groove in the work place and recapturing some magic that quite frankly, I thought was lost.

In some ways, I guess you could say my journey to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has been the perfect storm.