“Great (people) are not born great, they grow great.” And they find great mentors, don’t they?

Mentors.

I realize that I have been absolutely blessed to have so many wonderful mentors in my professional life — various people who were slightly wiser and more experienced (and sometimes VERY much wiser and more experienced), not always older than me in years but certainly older than me in knowledge and skill. In every field I’ve worked — hospitality, academia, and non-profits — I was lucky to find great teachers in my friends, and great friends in my teachers. These relationships happened naturally. Effortlessly. Wondrously.

“Godfather. Will you look at my LinkedIn page for me?”

So it is interesting that I find myself in the fourth month of this new career journey and I am still relatively mentor-free. My boss is a wonderful teacher and I would never trade him for the world, but it seems I would have networked the heck out of this new field by now and found other additional great coaches. To actively and consciously seek out a new mentor or two … where do I even start?

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The True Role of the Executive Director

I believe strongly in collaboration, and I love to do whatever I can to help foster healthy communities — professionally, personally, and socially. This guest post from my friend Tim Heimerle at Hiring Karma marks the first of what I hope will be a long and fruitful series of posts from other relationship builders in the Seattle community and beyond. Enjoy! – Jen

By Tim Heimerle

As I’ve been moving through my most recent job search, I’ve been thinking a great deal about roles and responsibilities.  My search has been slightly schizophrenic, as I’ve been interviewing for both pure development and executive director positions.  And while these two elements of my search have been very different, there is perhaps one commonality between the two.

Put in the simplest terms, the job of a Development Director is to raise money. As many who have held this position will tell you, it is both an art and a science.  You deal with data, reporting, correspondence, personalities, psychology, ego and a myriad of other items. But at the end of the day, the most important task, in my opinion, of a Development Director is to build and maintain relationships.

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Relationships are vital for the relationship managers, too

I had the great pleasure of having coffee/lunch with a friend today, someone who I have not seen since last fall when the campaign we worked on together came to a triumphant close. Since that was my first major campaign (a very intense 10-month $1.25m with no pre-existing donor base to speak of), spider web I considered B one of my teachers/mentors. It was wonderful catching up with her, hearing about her professional experiences in the last 12 months, sharing my incredible experiences in the last 12 months, discussing the latest trends in our field, and who has moved to where and when (you know, the usual stuff development people talk about when they get together).

We also talked about the importance of networks, mentoring relationships, and community. It dawned on me that I’ve written quite a bit about the importance of building and maintaining relationships between organizations and constituents, but I haven’t written much about the importance of building and maintaining relationships within the professional community.

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Companis: Inspiring Model of Generosity, Compassion, and Community

I must admit that I’ve been feeling down in the dumps lately… but spending the afternoon with the wonderful community of Companis workers cured me quickly!

You haven’t heard of Companis in Seattle? You need to!

Companis is an organization that matches professionals in the Puget Sound community with struggling nonprofits who need social workers, accountants, program managers, directors, development professionals… but cannot afford the staffing costs. Companis workers commit to year-long terms of service to their matched organizations. Yes, a year. Think of it as the Peace Corps for Seattle. And Companis doesn’t just make the volunteer match and move on. Workers gather together every few weeks for support and workshops, have annual retreats, and other community building opportunities. This model means that the experience is as enriching and transformative for the workers as it is for the organizations with which they volunteer.

I feel so lucky — blessed, really — to have learned of Companis last summer. Even though I myself have not had the opportunity to become a year-long Companis worker (hopefully in the future when the circumstances are right), I realized today at the Companis picnic how important and inspiring this organization has been to me — personally and professionally.

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Yes, Virginia, there is real interagency collaboration! It exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist…

… and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no collaboration.

Interagency collaboration. Organizations with different boards, budgets, and slightly different mission statements — working together on a common problem and collaborating on a fundraising project. Everyone wins. The organizations achieve their fundraising, outreach, and constituent engagement goals. No one gets hurt.

Is this a fantasy… or a state worth working towards?

Poster for Seattle AIDS walk 2012If you believe in the isolationist model of development (“Are you an isolationist or relationship builder?”), then you would answer that this type of interagency collaboration is just not possible, nor a good idea.

But have you heard about the Seattle AIDS Walk and 5K run, scheduled for Saturday, September 22? Even though the walk is sponsored and organized by Lifelong AIDS Alliance, they have partnered with a number of other local organizations whose missions also focus on serving those in the community affected by HIV and AIDS, including Gay City Health Project, Bailey-Boushay House, and my good friends Rosehedge/Multifaith Works. According to Rosehedge Development Director Elizabeth, there have been arrangements of this sort in the past, too.

Everyone shares the ultimate goals of stopping HIV infection, helping those who are infected/ill, and finding a cure. It really is that simple, and it makes sense for them to work together. Doesn’t it?

It’s inspiring to me — though this type of arrangement may make the isolationist development person experience an anxiety attack.

And speaking of Rosehedge/Multifaith Works, they put together this little recruitment video for their team. This is proof that one does not need the expensive video production company to create a one-minute viral piece. This video reveals that they are trying to be careful with how they spend money and are trying to put together communication tools using the resources they have available. It’s engaging. And it’s fun! And cute! And CJ gets to push his boss-lady Elizabeth to the ground and beat her to the finish line!

Collaboration lives! And it lives forever!

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Relationships give, not relationships take

“Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship in order to get something. They’re trying to find someone who’s going to make them feel good. In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.” — Tony Robbins

A high school friend posted this quote on Facebook yesterday — and it stuck with me all day. It stuck with me all weekend, really. Robbins was referring to intimate/romantic relationships, I assume, but this can be true of all types of relationships: teacher/student, customer/vendor, parent/child, and even donor/organization.

There are some development people out there who believe that donors are to give; that’s their “job” as defined by the very word that marks them (the etymology is the Latin word donare, which means to give as a gift). But surely there must be more to it. When someone makes a gift of time, talent, and resources to an organization, it is because they have formed a bond — a relationship — with the organization’s mission, services, role in the community, staff, and board. The organization is giving to the donor through this relationship in some profound way (and there are many different ways, depending on the circumstances). The donors trust that the organization will work to fulfill its mission with the support. The donors feel satisfaction that the gifts will make some difference in the community. The donors feel connected on a personal level with a cause or issue important to them.

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Being good stewards of the gifts entrusted to us

We all know how vitally important stewardship is in development programs, and we know the golden rules of properly acknowledging gifts and support:

Cheerful letter/message

  1. Send a thank you letter signed by a meaningful person from the organization within 48 hours.
  2. Address the letter to the donor by name.
  3. Include a handwritten personalized note, if possible.
  4. And so on…

Here are some great posts by others on the topic of stewardship:

The bottom line is that stewardship should not be seen as just writing good thank you letters. Stewardship is the act of honoring and respecting the gifts of the donor, and helping the donor engage with the organization at a higher lever. What steps do you take to engage your donors and respect their desires and intentions?

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Outreach and trusting in good touches

Traffic for my post last weekend about the pineapple upside-down cupcakes went through the roof. And I mean through the roof! I was so excited, I shared the news with my husband Sunday night:

Me: “Traffic for my cupcake parable post is through the roof!”

Al: “That’s because everyone is searching for pineapple upside-down cupcake recipes and landing on your site.”

And he’s right. Even my own friends — people who know that this blog specifically focuses on NPOs — sent me feedback about the cupcakes themselves:English: A tin with large divets in it, for ma...

  • “Photos look yummy!”
  • “Sorry your first batch didn’t turn out.”
  • “You’re so brave to make a new recipe the night before a party.” (or dumb, in my opinion)

But I also heard back from friends and colleagues who said the story made them think and reflect on their own processes, perseverance, and reactions to roadblocks and perceived short-comings. Some of these comments came from development professionals with whom I then had great conversations about annual giving and letter campaign procedures (which is what I had in mind when writing it). Some are not in development… and the post started great conversations with them about their own work, their parenting struggles, and so on.

But that’s the great thing about this cupcake story: the lessons are transferable and fairly universal.

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About building those new doors for opportunity…

My original intention  was to follow up yesterday’s post about (re)engaging your community, key stakeholders, prospective donors, and constituents with a list of suggestions to help as you Uncle Miltie, standing in front of what may be a door.brainstorm what (re)engagement means for your organization. I realize now the folly of trying to create such a list, honestly, in direct violation of advice I myself gave — every organization is different and there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. So why would I then come up with a list of suggestions that may have absolutely no value to your particular org, culture, or situation? So let me take a step back and discuss some of the overall concepts of engagement, and then it would be great to hear your ideas and what has worked for you. For the most part, these are common axioms in the development community, but they are worth repeating (and to cut down on the wordiness and need for inclusiveness, I will use “constituents” to mean your target audience, donors or otherwise):

  • Have a plan. I cannot stress this enough. Make. A. Plan. It can fit on a single sheet. It can be scribbled on a cocktail napkin and held together with tape. But write down your strategy and refer to it often. What happens if things change and you must deviate from your plan? Don’t throw it away! Remember that this is how life works: reassess the situation and revise the plan accordingly. In some ways, the plan will not only help you see where you are going, but it will help you track where you have been. What happens if you don’t have any written plan? (Re)engagement strategies as an ad hoc venture sounds about as efficient as running a development program with no strategic development plan. Here are some basic parts to your (re)engagement plan (and these could be categorized by activity/effort):

Who are your major players and what are their duties?
Who is your target audience?
How are you keeping track of contact reports?
What are your goals and objectives? Continue reading