Not transactional

Of course no one says that they have a transactional approach to fundraising. How could you admit to such a thing?

But to get beyond transactions means that donors are not numbers to you. It means that after people give you feel more enthusiastic, not less, to talk with them, to plan with them, to dig in with them. It means full emotional investment in the relationship, not looking over your shoulder at the clock. It means taking the notion of “partnership” seriously.

No one will ever say that they believe relationships should be transactional, but it takes guts to fully invest. You can’t fake it.

Systems and caring

Do you have a system in place that helps you let your customers (donors) let you know that you care?

What I see more often is that people either:

  1. Care about customers (donors) but don’t have a system
  2. Have a system but don’t really care (or don’t succeed in sending messages that communicate care)

That is, you want your customers to experience how much you care, and need to do this in a way that prioritizes the most important customers and doesn’t suck the life out of your communication or your relationship.

Usually what happens is either that people care tremendously but feel that a systematic approach will somehow undermine the purity of that relationship, or they figure that efficiency is really important so do things like send the exact same message to 20 people, which all 20 people see through immediately.

The tough part thing is that really caring doesn’t actually scale all that well, so your list has to remain shorter than you might like so that the roots can grow deeper.

Fundraising problem

Here’s the conundrum: transactions happen today, relationships build over months, even years.   Real relationship-building doesn’t conform to rules of thumb or your annual targets.  Also, if you’re building from scratch, it could take years to get from here to there.

Meanwhile, you feel like you have a fundraising problem today.  Your real problem is that you’re the only person who has that problem.  Your potential funder does not have a fundraising problem.  Or a giving problem.  She has, we hope, a “getting something done in the world” problem.

The paradox is that doing this right is a long term build and you have to be clear about what success looks like.  The seemingly contradictory mistakes you must avoid are: 1. Walking around and just seeing your short term needs; and 2. Never being ready with a real, crisp, compelling ask at the right time and the right way.

When is that right time?  It’s kind of a Goldilocks question, but if you’re not sure what your answer is my bet is that it’s sooner than you think (better to ask too soon and fail a few times than to wait too long).  Through it all, you need to experience and communicate a sense of urgency about your mission, clarity about what you’re doing, and readiness to articulate what you are trying to accomplish and how a funder can be a part of it.

But people, like dogs, can smell fear and desperation a mile away.

Speaking of email

What do you do when you’re running around and don’t have time to reply to an important message?

How about: “Thanks for this, just wanted to let you know I received it…I’ll reply in full in the next 48 hours.”

This allows you to:

  1. Figure out if you can just as easily reply in full in the time it’s taken you to ask for more time
  2. (For things that will actually take real time to reply) Let the person on the other end know their message was received and that you’re working on it.

Like it or not, radio silence doesn’t build relationships.

Small talk

Americans are famous for wanting to just “get down to business” in meetings.  Maybe a few minutes of chit-chat about the Yankees game or the weather, but otherwise, let’s get to the important stuff.

The misconception is that the meeting is just that – a meeting.  What if the person you’re meeting might be an incredible individual who maybe, just maybe, is going to become an important part of your life (starting today!).

Reflecting on yesterday’s post about generosity, we know that generous action increases when we expect to have repeated interactions.  The expectation of repeated contact makes it more likely that our kindness will be reciprocated, and makes it more likely that it will be witnessed by others, so the rational / optimal thing to do is to help others.*

So the question becomes: if the person you’re meeting just might be amazing, how do you act?  You’d want to make it more likely that you’ll see that person again in the future, of course.  And, going in, you don’t know who is and isn’t amazing, but I’d bet that there’s a lot more amazingness out there than you think.

To get us yankees to make a shift, instead of shouting (ineffectually) about how we should all “spend a little more time getting to know people,” let me instead propose that we reframe each meeting as one moment, the first moment, in a much longer-term relationship.  And that relationship is just latent potential until you activate it with real human connection at the outset.

Oh, and how IS the weather?



*(let’s park the question of the motivation behind generosity for a minute…that’s a post for another day)


Keith Ferrazzi on trust, vulnerability, and deliberate relationship-building

Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone and Who’s Got Your Back, gave a fascinating talk yesterday at The New York Forum (event livestream is here – the Forum is from June 20-21st, my panel is this afternoon).  It was a broad brush conversation about how human beings build connections with one another, and Keith gave a passionate argument in favor of being more intentional about how we build relationships.  (bonus: if you want to dig into this stuff, check out Keith’s Relationship Master’s Academy.)

Keith’s headline is that we should all have a “people plan” – a listing of the top 25 relationships that are most important to our long term success, and a commitment to investing substantially and intentionally in these relationships.  And here’s the part that I loved: Keith argued that the only way to be successful in investing in these relationships is to lead with generosity, to enter every conversation thinking about “how can I help?”  This is the polar opposite of figuring out what we can get, the opposite of thinking about how to close the sale, and (of course) the opposite of figuring out what we can GET.

The other big idea I was left with was that, as life becomes increasingly virtual and as job tenure decreases, the natural building of relationships that used to happen in business is disappearing.  For example, Keith shared a story of IBM getting rid of all of its sales offices – the expectation was that this would both decrease costs and allowing salespeople to have much more time at home and better work/life balance.  What they didn’t foresee was how much was lost – the intangible connective tissue of shared stories, the decompressing and complaining about customers or about management, the informal mentorship that used to happen at the local Bennigan’s on Thursday nights.  The result: the company scuttlebutt is that IBM, which used to stand for “I’ve Been Moved” (to the next regional office) now stands for “I’m By Myself.”

Keith’s suggestion is that, especially for the generation (mine) that didn’t grow up in a social media, online world, we have to make much more deliberate attempts to create connection, to be vulnerable, to create an environment of trust as a precursor to the “business at hand.”  Keith shared that at Cisco, a major user of Telepresence virtual conferencing, they have implemented personal/professional “check ins” in the first 5 minutes of all Telepresence meetings, because the natural swapping of personal stories that happens at the start of in-person conversations actually doesn’t happen when we have virtual conversations.

Just one example, and I’m not sure I’d follow this one to the letter.  But I love the broader idea: that if we want to innovate, if we want to have tough and real conversations about big strategic decisions, if we want to dig in to areas of uncertainty, we will be much more successful if we make deliberate investments in creating bonds of trust, no matter how far away our colleagues or our customers sit.

Every day it gets easier to skip this step: to fire off emails to people we barely know, focused on the tasks they need to complete; to hold global conference calls in which most people say almost nothing; to never, ever, pick up the phone to a key colleague sitting far away, not with an agenda, but just to talk and see how things are going.

By skipping these step, we skip investing in trust, and we relegate ourselves to exacerbating global/local tensions, where trust and rapport exists for workers in the same office and global bonds – far from being stronger, thanks to all of this technology – keep on getting weaker.

Why sweat the small stuff?

Yesterday I wrote a post about making sure to get the font right in emails you send out.  The day before I reflected on responses to the simple question, “How are you doing?”

Why sweat such small stuff in a blog about generosity, philanthropy and social change?

It’s because from what I’ve seen, change happens – especially in the nonprofit sector – when the right people, ideas and resources come together to attack a particular issue.  The driving force and the glue are relationships, the ability to bring together seemingly disparate people and organizations that form strong, lasting partnerships.

Successful relationship management is first and foremost about attitude.  You have to care (or, potentially, you have to decide to care) about building strong and genuine relationships.  You have to have honest-to-goodness respect for the people with whom you’re building these relationships.  This goes in all directions (donor to nonprofit; nonprofit to donor; nonprofit to program beneficiary, program beneficiary to nonprofit; etc. etc. ), and it’s non-negotiable.  Without this attitude in place, you’ll fall short.

Once you’ve got this right, though, relationship-building and relationship management is a skill that can be learned.  Like any skill there are big pieces and small pieces; there are people who are born naturals and people who learn along the way.  There are a million ways to get this right and probably even more ways to muck it up.

So posts about how to write emails, or posts about the first impression you make when someone asks “how are you?” are part of the mountain of little tweaks that I’ve found help me get better at this every day – things I’ve seen, things I’ve messed up, things I’ve learned from others.  One by one they pile up, until one day, to your (or my) surprise, you’re in a totally different place.

If the only time I hear from you

If the only time I hear from you is…

…when you want me to look at something you wrote

…or to help you get something published

…or when you’re looking for an introduction to someone

…or want to promote your competition/website/product/cause

…or when you’re looking for your next gig

…or when you’re asking me for money…

…well it might work once or twice but it won’t work out in the end.  Eventually this is going to be a dead end relationships.  And there aren’t a lot of markers on that road saying “WARNING: DEAD END AHEAD.”

No, you’ll just smack into the wall and crash.

I owe you

A good friend was recently working on a freelance job on a very short deadline. She did a bang-up job, made her client look great, and sent in her bill for the hours she worked. The client responded: “I don’t think you billed us enough for this job.”


Most business relationships have an adversarial undertone: we’re going to be collaborators and co-creators, but let’s duke it out over the contract first, and then let’s make sure it’s under budget because that will make me look good. I win when the project makes me look like a star, and you’ll get what we agreed upon in the first place. That was our deal.

It’s so easy to go back to the contract, to explain to yourself that your hands are tied and that you’re being fair. But there are times when you know you owe someone, when you know you got a great deal.

Go ahead, step up and say, “We made a mistake. You didn’t charge me enough for what you delivered. I owe you.”

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What a great time to raise money

I just returned from a week in Europe – talking to people about their philanthropy in the midst of the worst market free-fall in 70 years.  What’s going on is unprecedented, and being in London the day that the other shoe dropped –  RBS lost 39% and one of Iceland’s bank’s had to be nationalized – was surreal.

So how could the trip have been a success?  The thing is, philanthropy really is about relationships and about making long-term change in the world.  These problems have existed for decades, and the solutions will be decades in the making.  This is not about transactions, not about a single gift or a single project or investment.

So yes, people will take longer to decide to give, and most won’t be giving this year.  But now is the time to invest more, not less, in relationships for the long-term.

(Also, here’s a thought: what’s going to happen to the tens of thousands of people who were in finance and have lost their jobs or their bonuses?  Will we see an influx of highly-skilled people into the nonprofit sector?  And if so, what can we do to make the most of this opportunity?)