About my thinking…..

You might be surprised, but I often have ideas, comments and points of view of my very own! You’ll find them here on a wide range of topics. Feel free to comment!

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If You Want to Get in the Game, then Get in the Game!

A better title for this post would be “The Benefits of Membership in the WNY Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.”  But that’s not very compelling, is it?

Yesterday the local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) had its now annual new member orientation.  There were nine or ten new members in attendance representing non-profits large and small in education, healthcare, human services, and more — each eager to learn more about the professional group.  But what was more telling to me, though, is that they were outnumbered by the AFP board members and committee volunteers who also attended.  That fact reminded me about one of the best parts of AFP – that your colleagues in the field, who can be your competitors for the donor dollar, can also be your biggest fans and supporters.

They are like-minded souls who fight the same battles as you, come home beat-up by a hard day or rejuvenated from a great day like you, face the same kinds of clueless staff and board members as you but are also bolstered by the same kinds of committed teammates and engaged board members as you are.  They stand tall under the daily pressures of working in the non-profit industry and do their best day in and day out to bring funds and resources to their missions, just like you.

And they support their own.  They lend an ear if you want to vent, a hand if you need some help, directions if you’re lost, or a pat on the back if you feel unappreciated.  They are also there to celebrate with you when you get that big win.  They are peers, coaches, and mentors but, just as important, they are also learning along the way.  Just like you.  In the more than 25 years I’ve been a member I’ve always had someone to talk to if I needed help.

I wasn’t asked to write this piece, I just felt moved after being a part of the experience.  (I might have also had too much coffee.)  Yet after all this time I still remember my first AFP meetings and the handshakes and welcomes I received from my fundraising colleagues each time I walked through the door.  I felt that they had my back.  They did then and they still do now.

Sure, being a member of AFP gets you access to great resources, local professional development opportunities, national conferences, and more best practices than you can shake a stick at.  But it’s the intangible that brings you the best value.  It’s the people.

If you’re a member of the AFP already, congratulations!  Use it and you will thrive.  If you’re not a member and fundraising is part of your responsibilities, think seriously about joining and getting involved.  The investment is more than worth it for the return you will realize.  You can find the Western New York Chapter at http://afpwny.afpnet.org/




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A last minute major gift on New Year’s Eve? Hey, you never know!

New year clock on abstract background

Hey fundraisers and non-profit managers – did I ever tell you the one about the $100,000 gift my organization received at 11:00 pm on New Year’s Eve?

I didn’t?  Probably because it never happened.  But it could.  And that’s what I always try to be prepared for. You should too — because hey, you never know!

The odds of a major gift falling in our lap on New Year’s Eve, as the donor rushes to avoid some kind of tax consequence or other calendar-related deadline, are pretty slim. It’s much more likely that someone would like to make a $25, $100 or even a $1,000 contribution — just because they wanted to.  What’s important is that we make it easy for the donor, no matter what the size of the gift or their intention, to give whenever they want to give.

There are two rules I try to follow every New Year.

(1) Keep the office open up to and including December 31, even if for only a half day. There may not be a lot going on, so use the time to catch up on filing or paperwork. But a presence may mean something.

(2) And when the office is closed in the days up to New Year’s Eve, make sure to leave a cell phone number on the voicemail greeting along with a message that includes something like this,

“Thank you for calling XYZ Charity!  We’re not available to take your call right now, but your support is important to us!  If you’d like to make a year-end gift you may do so right now by visiting our secure Donation page on the Web at XYZCharity dot org.  If you’d like to mail a check and get credit for a 2016 contribution, your postmark of December 31 or earlier is all that’s needed.  If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact us by cell anytime at 716-555-1212.”

People give for many reasons, and when people give is more up to the multitude of variables in their lives than when they are asked.

Will a major gift fall into your lap while you’re getting ready to toast 2017?  Probably not. But what would it hurt to make sure all the pieces are in place so it could?

And think about how good your champagne would taste if it did!

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Thoughts on Feedback

I’ve been thinking a lot about “feedback” these days.

feed·back  (ˈfÄ“dËŒbak)  noun,  1. information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.  synonyms: response, reaction, comments, criticism;

Without feedback, what do we have? Ironically, we wouldn’t know, would we?

Feedback is critically important in all phases of life – family, work, social – we need feedback so we can see where we are, where we were and how we’re doing. Feedback allows us to plot where we’re going and how we plan to get there.  Feedback helps frame our dialogue by how it engages with the environment around the conversation. Loud or quiet, clear or garbled, nice or angry, its reflection in the acoustics actually contributes to the discourse.

Facebook is what it is for how it facilitates feedback in every corner of its business model. Snopes puts a check on inaccurate viral feedback by making sure the actions are relevant to the facts.

Can we live without feedback? Sure, for a little bit. But without it we’d all be sitting on little islands, happy for just being. Even folks who like to work and play outside of the box – that march to their own drummer and shrug off what other people think – need feedback to learn where their box stops and where their experience begins.

A lack of feedback can be troublesome. At work it’s required to help us monitor and boost our performance. At home our kids need feedback for healthy development and our spouse for a healthy relationship. Feedback from our friends helps keep us honest and on our toes. Customers give us feedback by what they buy or don’t buy, how much they spend or don’t spend, and how often they walk through our doors.

Feedback is a compass that we use every day to keep us focused and pointed in the right direction.

In fundraising, feedback can shape our organization. Donors & funders provide feedback by responding, or not responding, to our appeals. Their response not only provides direction and reinforcement, it sometimes makes the difference on whether our cause lives or dies. Our constituents provide feedback in their response to the programs and services we provide. Are we helping them? Usually we can tell. And if we’re not, we know to try something different.

Some purposeful organizations actively seek out feedback. They conduct donor surveys, they crunch data, they meet with their supporters, and they proactively build engagement tools into their programs. Not only will these groups be positioned to take advantage of early opportunities, they position themselves as the kind of cause people enjoy supporting and these folks like to share news of their support with their networks.

Too often people withhold feedback because sharing it might make them feel uncomfortable – or they don’t want their feedback for others make those folks feel bad. Whether praise or criticism, they’d much rather keep it to themselves then risk an overly positive or negative reaction. But by not sharing they are actually hurting themselves and the people they need to offer it to.

Feedback impacts behavior. It’s the rungs on a ladder for improved performance. No feedback, no climbing. If we stray from the path, feedback sets us straight again. On those days where we don’t get feedback – and they happen to me – we wonder if we’re making a difference or if we’re doing what folks think we should be doing.

To me, when non-profits find themselves with their backs to the wall, they tend to circle the wagons, close the loop, and short circuit feedback. Communication becomes tightly controlled, almost sterile. When they need their donors the most, they cut themselves off from everything except for their donations. This is probably the time when they should do just the opposite. Open up, share, talk about their challenges and what may be need to solve them. Offer supporters a chance to get more involved. Sure, they may say things the organizations doesn’t want to hear, but they may learn something too. And all will be stronger for it.

The New York State Funders Alliance, which includes members of the former WNY Grantmakers Association, brought author and thought leader David Grant to town last November to talk about how success is defined and articulated in the social sector. A good part of the discussion was wrapped around feedback, notably between grantmakers and grantees. He made a good case for incorporating more qualitative measures in program assessments but he also spoke about using feedback as a means to shape future activity, not just to rate past performance. I think he’s right.

Feedback, when used wrong, can be dangerous. Today’s feedback can go to extremes (think about our political climate) where a response to one small action or thought can go viral and completely repaint the picture, fair or unfair, leading or misleading. On the other hand, our desire to be politically correct can color our lens so that the feedback’s intent or content is missed or misunderstood.

We all need feedback – honest, straightforward and unfiltered. You can share your feedback to this piece by commenting, liking or sharing. Or you can walk away and leave me wondering if anyone read it, understood it, or agreed (or disagreed) with what was said. Feedback is not a craving, but an important part of a nutritious daily diet.

So as you go about your day, think about how your share feedback and who you share it with.  Make sure it’s provided graciously, respectfully and in a way that adds value to our relationships. You’ll know when you’ve done it right and you’ll be better for it.

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Oops! You Need to Know Better When You Know More!

Oops! Accidentally including sensitive information in a letter could have been a big mistake. Fortunately, for this school the recipient had a good nature and seemed to understand the context in which the letter was sent.

by Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz

by Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz

Today’s charitable donors – especially at the higher levels – are more informed and more sophisticated. Long gone are the days of giving to a nonprofit just because they seem to be a good cause. Organizations are earning their supporters through accountability, inclusion and transparency. And they are keeping them by driving effective programs, efficiently delivering important services, and by staying mindful of the bottom line. They are also paying attention and tracking their closest friends and most meaningful relationships, current and prospective.

So it’s not surprising that this school had a file on the donor — it’s in their long-term best interests. I’d bet that this donor has a file on the school as well. It’s unfortunate, though, that whoever folded the letter and stuffed the envelope failed to remove supporting information meant to help the President personalize the letter better. Their relationship

For organizations and development offices, when you know more sometimes you need to know better. Be diligent and purposeful with your donor communication, not just the content but the way it’s delivered. (This includes sending E-mail messages and forgetting the attachment!)

For donors & supporters, if a measure of impact you are making on our community includes folks keeping tabs on you, then you’re probably doing a good job. It’ll also help you – and them – find ways to help you make your impact even bigger, broader, or better defined. Keep up the good work!

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This is me. I am a fundraiser.

This is who I am.
I am one who can help make dreams come true.
I am a designer and builder.  I am a craftsman.
My stories will make you laugh or cry, think or act.
I have seen mountains move.
I can help people heal, soothe, comfort and feed.
I can help people teach, study, entertain and inspire.
I can take a hit and keep going, fall down and bounce back up.
I can take your No for an answer.  But I can do a heck of a lot with your Yes.
I am a map-maker and navigator.
I can talk like a duck and walk like a duck, but I am not a duck.
I work to find answers for the questions and solutions for the problems.
I can think deep thoughts one minute and play like a child the next.
I find motivation in the smallest of moments and energy in the simplest of ideas.
I am a matchmaker, helping people find organizations they’d like and organizations find people who believe in them.
This is who I am needed to be.
I wear rose-colored glasses yet I still see clearly.
I am always learning.
I am not afraid to fail.
I am an enabler.
I can roar and I can whimper.
I wear many hats.  My strengths lie in their diversity.
I am not perfect and I do make mistakes.
I can lead and I can follow – so I probably won’t get out of the way.
I roll up my sleeves, get my hands dirty and sweat.
I have seen people at their lowest and at their best.
It’s not about me, it’s about you.  It’s not about us, it’s about them.
I’d rather be warm & fuzzy than cold & hard, but I can be whatever I need to be.
I am everyman.
I’d rather not stand in the spotlight, but help shine it on those who matter.
My favorite color is plaid, favorite ice cream is neapolitan, and favorite beer is cold.
I am a messenger but I am not the message.
I am proud of who I am, prouder of who you are, and proudest of who we can be together.
My job is not just a job, but a calling.  It’s a vocation that I practice all day every day all year round.
I am a powerful SUV that, with the right drivers, can do anything and go anywhere.
I am your friend and neighbor, brother and colleague.
I am not any more special than you.  I am not faster, stronger or smarter.
That’s me cheering in the next section, sitting next to you at the traffic light, and behind you in the check-out line.
It can seem like I am everywhere all the time.
I am one of the hundreds of people like me who call WNY home and of the thousands who help shape our world.
I am a fundraiser.
This is me.
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The value of purpose and the purpose of value.

A little something that helps explain why fundraising professionals are good at what they do.  And why they do it.

“People who seek purpose in their lives feel they make a difference. They experience greater energy and enthusiasm. They are more likely to give their best efforts and persevere through the inevitable challenges and difficult seasons in life that everyone experiences.”

Michael Stallard of E Pluribus Partners writes nicely in the SmartBlog on Leadership about the positive returns people who seek purpose realize in their lives.  Follow the link below and take a few moments to read his post.

Three ways to improve your health through purposeful work


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The Clock is Ticking for Year-end Giving!

Only a couple business days left in 2012! If taxes play a role in how you support charities, then you need to act now since gifts to charities today are a great way to reduce tax liabilities tomorrow. And if capital gains tax rates increase in 2013 as people suggest they might, then people may be better off to donate appreciated securities before next Monday!

It’s easy to make a gift! Most charities have a website that take securely accept credit cards. Using a check? The IRS considers the date of the gift to be the date the check was mailed – not the date it was received or cashed – so you have until Monday. And please work with a financial advisory to donate appreciated securities or stocks to ensure that the certificate(s) are properly endorsed and transferred by close of business on Monday.

Happy New Year!

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A case for giving that goes beyond the gifts!

The following piece was printed in the “Another Voice” column in the Sunday, December 11, 2011 edition of The Buffalo News.


The holidays are always a magical time. Our desire to share and to help is perhaps stronger than at any other time of the year. And there are ample opportunities for us to satisfy that need.

Every year we see major drives for donations to food banks, shelters and soup kitchens. And every year, our community steps up with gifts of time, food and clothing, resources and, of course, dollars.

While the call during the holiday season is louder and our urge to answer it is stronger, I can never seem to forget that the need is as big year-round, not just at the holidays.

For the most part, there are probably no more hungry families this month than there were last month or last summer. There are probably as many kids who needed coats and mittens yesterday as there will be tomorrow.

The lines at soup kitchens will be just as long next month as they were today. The need for a safe, warm place to pass the night will be just as important in March as it is tonight.

Organizations smartly use the holidays to stock their shelves and balance their budgets. They depend on the holidays for that extra lift into our hearts and checkbooks.

With our help, the holidays will be that much better for those in need. And, with our help, there will be more aid for them in the months ahead.

But we need to remember two things. The need comes not just at the holidays — it’s there 365 days a year. And the fact that folks are cold and hungry is not the problem; it’s actually a symptom of a much larger issue: what brought them to this point in the first place. Solve that and we solve everything.

Of course it’s not that simple. There are as many reasons for people not being able to effectively feed or clothe themselves as there are people who need feeding and clothing.

Education, job training, counseling and other supports will help get them over the hurdle. Love, friendship and community will keep them there. An ounce of prevention is much more critical than our pound of cure.

So please join your friends and neighbors this holiday season in supporting the many good community organizations that work selflessly to help the less fortunate. But let’s see what we can do to make the momentum last all year.

Let’s see what we can do in January and February to keep people from being hungry in the first place. And let’s see what we can do in March and April to give them the tools to take care of themselves better.

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.” It couldn’t be more true.

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What makes a special event so, well, special?

It’s the way the little things feed off the big things to make everything even bigger!

It’s the event chair, who’s one of the first volunteers to arrive and last to leave, getting his hands dirty and lovin’ it.

It’s the executive director rolling four-foot tables down the hall, looking chipper in his sport coat, long after the last guest has gone home.

It’s the staff working well beyond their job description to make things happen, from securing beer to coordinating signs to wrapping & delivering baskets to accounting for all the pennies and dimes.

It’s the staff’s event director absolutely owning the event, which is reflected in how well everything is pulled off.

It’s the board of directors marshaling all their resources to find sponsors, secure volunteers and sell tickets.

It’s the mobile kitchen manager rolling up his sleeves to not only ensure every dish is hot and ready-to-go, but helping pick up all the pieces at the end of the night when he didn’t have to.

It’s the event steering committee, helping navigate every turn on the event’s path from start to finish.

It’s the way all try to integrate the agency’s mission into the event to give it a heightened purpose.

It’s the sponsors acting not like sponsors, but like partners in a great endeavor.

It’s the dozen or so students from multiple colleges hustling to make sure the guests realize the most positive of experiences.

It’s the way insurmountable challenges are achieved and last-minute emergencies solved.

It’s the outstanding support of the venue – allowing a great place to do business by day become an even greater place to wine and dine by night.

It’s the selfless support and fine cookin’ by the event’s chefs complimented by the best samplings of our favorite local restaurants.

It’s the designers, printers, mail houses, rental companies, florists, and entertainers all rowing in the same direction.

It’s the cool beverages we used to wash it all down followed by the richly rewarding cup of joe we drank to energize our drive home.

And it’s the guests and supporters who, believing in the agency, open up their purses & wallets to make sure the program has what it needs when the next troubled soul picks up the phone for help.

It’s all of this, and so much more.

It’s MEN Who COOK 2011 closing the doors on a great night.  Congratulations!  Bravo!

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There’s more than one way to skin a cat….

There’s more than one way to skin a cat.  All that matters is that the cat gets skinned and they liked it.  Oh, and that the skinner liked it too.

There are as many different ways to raise money today as there are ways to do it.  The biggest measure of their success is how much money was raised.  And, in the end, that can be the most important measure.  The cat got skinned.

But that’s not all.  Not only should the cat get skinned, but they should like it.  So not only should supporters make donations, they should appreciate and enjoy the experience too.  Fundraisers need to execute these activities and events with an eye toward a quality.  High touch and high feel.  This positive reflection helps establish a foundation toward a long term relationship between organizations and their supporters.

And the skinner should like it too.  The staff and volunteers who stage the activity or event need to go home at the end of the day feeling good, feeling like they realized a wonderful accomplishment.  Their endorphins should be pumping.  This, too, helps establish a long term relationship between the staff & volunteers, the organization, and their supporters.

So let’s skin some cats together.  Let’s make sure the cats like it, that we like it, and that we do it well!

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