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.