Is Relationship-Building a False God?

1 10 2011

Challenging the Relationship Model of Fundraising

Received wisdom now says that relationship building is the way to raise more money from donors. It’s why we changed the name from Fundraising to Development; we expect to develop relationships with people, with the ultimate goal of getting them to make a big gift (or two, or three).

This may still be true, but a study from Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson challenges the notion that relationship building causes higher sales in the for-profit environment. What this means for the nonprofit sector is up for debate.

Dixon is Managing Director of the Corporate Executive Board’s Sales and Service Practice. Adamson is Senior Director of the Sales Executive Council, a division of the Sales and Service Practice. Their new book, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, is the result of studying 6,000 sales representatives across more than 100 companies around the world. Detailing their work habits, their motivation and their results, they classified the reps into 5 groups:

  • Relationship builder
  • Lone wolf
  • Hard worker
  • Reactive problem solver
  • Challenger

These groups are described in the HBR Blog, but suffice it to say that the Relationship builder was NOT the best performer.

Surprisingly, Challenger, who did not acquiesce to every client whim, who did not work to smooth over any tension, and in fact made a point of asking penetrating questions about client assumptions, outperformed the others in complex and challenging situations.

Now, if these economic times aren’t challenging for nonprofits, I don’t know what would be. Perhaps it’s time to (ahem) challenge our assumptions of how to deal with donors in these times.

More study is definitely needed.


DON’T BE STUPID – 7 Social Media Guidelines

6 07 2009

For a mid-50 year old, I’ve been a pretty early adopter of communications technology. I used computers in 1969; owned my own computer in 1985, had email shortly after and a website since 1995. I most definitely am not as advanced as many of the people I follow on Twitter, but they’re the cutting edge. I’m still just an early adopter.

Yet despite all the changes in media, there are a few rules of social and business conduct that hearken back to the days of print and telephone and still make sense. Or rather, in the words of Douglas MacMillan, columnist for BusinessWeek, “Don’t be Stupid”.

In his May 8, 2009 column, MacMillan told the story of an advertising agency executive whose client learned that they were wooing one of his competitors – via a Twitter post by one of the agency’s own employees.

There are the numerous Facebook pictures of young adults who don’t take down the beer pong pictures before applying for a job. In fact, I just noticed a student affairs professional who is listed as a “Fan of Beer Pong” on Facebook.

Now that summer is here, there are numerous status updates on Facebook and Twitter of employees who proudly indicate that they’re counting the minutes to quitting time or planning on being sick the next day so they can get to the beach.

Why am I writing this in a blog about nonprofits? Because the basic, overall guidelines remain the same for every individual and for every enterprise: Think Before You Communicate!

In a future post, I’ll invite a specialist to write about how to guide an employee who uses digital media on behalf of the organization. But for everyone else, here are some social media guidelines.

Rule #1 is for you – the employer, the manager, the boss. Acknowledge that your employees will be on digital media. There’s no getting around it. You wouldn’t have been able to keep them from having a radio, a television, a cell phone, or a computer; you can’t keep them from continuing to engage in the next technology.

The next 6 rules are for sharing with your staff:

1 –  Keep organization secrets secret. Just as you shouldn’t sit down at a bar and talk to a reporter about an internal mishap or the board member who is totally overbearing, you can’t broadcast anything like that in the media. Your donors and board members are everywhere, and so are potential new funders. They’ll think twice about doing business with you if they don’t think you can keep things confidential.

2 –  Don’t bash the competition. If you identify your employer ANYWHERE, or the organization is even just known by anyone, you are seen as representing that organization even on your own time. Bashing another agency invites bashing right back and is just plain rude. It also gets tiresome for the readers, and raises questions among donors about your professionalism.

3 –  Don’t grumble about your boss. Again, if you identify your employer ANYWHERE, you are seen as representing that organization even on your own time. If the employees are seen as unhappy, your potential clients, donors and goodwill ambassadors may have second thoughts about doing business with you.

4 –  Don’t be an obvious clockwatcher. I wonder about the wisdom of individuals who send tweets like ‘only 2 hours to go’. Either you don’t really doesn’t care that your employer might see this clockwatching, or you are demonstrating contempt for a boss who will never see it. Either way, it’s not a good image for your organization.

5 –  Keep it clean. Yes, I know this is a personal account. But I can’t stress this enough. If you identify your employer ANYWHERE, you are seen as representing that organization. You wouldn’t want to see your child’s elementary school teacher standing outside a bar using foul language every other word. You may be on your own time, but it sure doesn’t reflect well on you, and ultimately on the school system.

6 –  If you’re not sure, ask! Sometimes it’s good to post new insights in your field, demonstrating the expertise of your organization. But occasionally, those insights might be proprietary. If you’re not sure, find out whom to ask for guidance.

And overriding all of the above is a single thought to keep in mind: Assume your mom, your boss, your friends, your relations, your future friends and relations, and your future bosses are all reading it.

The old rules used to be, “don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to your mom,” and “don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.” In this time of instant access to the writings of almost anyone, what you write today can affect your future.

Don’t be Stupid! Thanks for the reminder, Douglas.


26 06 2009

I just read a thought provoking blog post by my friend and colleague, Jeff Metz of Bloom Consulting. He writes about the impact it had on him to really understand the philanthropic service his daughter had done went she went to Peru. 

It made me think about how we portray our nonprofit work to our friends, our relatives, our spouses, and especially, to our children. What do they hear us talk about? The difficulties working with board members? The ‘needy’ donors? The number of calls we have to make? The staff cuts we have to endure? The grants we didn’t get? 

When we’re at home, do we talk about the good that we are doing? Do we focus on the impact that we are having on the world? We’re careful to do that when we’re around donors, but what about when we let our hair down en famille?  Are we helping or hindering their passion for service when we talk about our work? 

Jeff’s post has made me consider more carefully how I portray the work I do with nonprofits. After all, something made me want to make this my life’s work. It’s important that our families – our children – also understand that no matter the challenges, it is work that is vital to the world; it is work that it is our privilege to do.

Along with talking to our own kids, we can also make a point of helping others find ways they can inspire children and youth to give back to the world. The Foundation Center has a great site for youth philanthropy,  with links to many opportunities and resources. This page is a list of great resources worldwide. 

Here’s to the next generation of philanthropists and nonprofit leaders.


18 06 2009

I spent today in a motivational seminar, and couldn’t help but feel that there was something missing. It was a simulcast of a live seminar being run about 20 miles away. At our remote location, I was easily one of about 1000 people, with 3 huge video screens and plenty of happy staff ready to help you fill out forms.  

But we could see on the screen that the live location had live music, fireworks, sparklers, and a real connection between the emcee and the audience. When the emcee called for people to stand up and cheer the next speaker, you could see and hear that the audience was doing just that. Not so at our location. At first, about 10% got up and cheered, but that number slowly diminished. When a speaker asked for volunteers from the audience to receive free gifts, we were totally out of luck. When another speaker yelled, “Hello, Philadelphia!” we were in Wilmington, unacknowledged.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m generally a very positive person and enjoy motivational talks. Some of the speakers were quite good; I learned several useful techniques and stories; I’ll probably even buy one of the books. But it was obvious that I wasn’t the only person that was not connecting. And so the most emphatic lesson I’m taking away is that there has to be evidence of a human touch in order to make a connection.

What does this mean as we expand our reach using so many new tools that were never before available to us?

In our rush to embrace digital media, are we considering that we need a human connection beyond the tweets, facebook, linkedin, or blogs? I’m not denying that it’s a great thing for our donors to follow us using social sites. But that ability to speak rapidly and digitally to our followers should only enhance our connection, not be a substitute.

What about our connections with co-workers? If we only communicate via email or IM, we cannot see body language or hear tone of voice and know that our staff is tired or energetic, stressed or joyful. This empathic connection is lost in electronic words and abbreviations. The occasional telephone call, same-room meeting or one-to-one video conference should be required for employee morale.

And, since this was prompted by this particular instance, I think about what could have been done differently to make the seminar connect with us despite the remote location. Could the organizers have placed an emcee in the remote location as well, and just channel in the speakers? Could they have acknowledged us with a mention during the presentations? Could there have been someone at our site that also picked people from the audience at strategic times of the morning?  Could there have been cheerleaders in the audience encouraging us to participate in the cheering and energy?

Perhaps the universal lesson isn’t specific ways to alleviate the problem. Perhaps the lesson is that we should use this experience to make us stop and consider the need for a human connection. Now, when all around us digital media abounds, we should make sure to consider the human connection as we communicate with a donor, a co-worker, or a group of people. Use social media as a tool to deepen connections, not as a substitute for them.

A research study from Bank of America and the Center on Philanthropy of Indiana University tells that major donors stop giving when they lose connection. It would be a shame to jeopardize the relationship in the rush to new media.

To read about the implications of losing connections with donors, check out this report,  The 2008 Bank of America Study of High Net-Worth Philanthropy. 


31 05 2009

Where do your donors come from? How did you meet them? How did you meet the person who introduced you to them? 

In a previous life, I ran a for-profit market research consulting firm, focusing on medical and healthcare information. This is a fairly specialized field, but it suited my medical device industry background. 

About 5 years into the business, I decided to figure out how I was getting new clients. Where did they come from? What prompted that call?  How did they hear about my services? 

I decided to conduct a genealogical study of my client base.

First, I ranked each client by the amount of business they gave me. Then, for the top clients, I walked backwards through our relationship. When did I get my first job from them? Why did they call me? How did I first meet them? How did they first hear about me? What was the very first contact?

Time consuming? Oh, yes. But it was one of the most worthwhile exercises affecting the future of my business. I discovered that ultimately, about 80% of my business was initially generated by my attendance at one of two particular industry association conferences. I met many clients directly at one of the conferences. A few others had first heard of me because of a session or workshop I had presented there.

What I called second generation clients were those who had been referred to me by one of those first two groups. Then there were third generation clients; those who were referred by one of those second generation clients.

In other words, even if I’d never met client Z at that conference, that conference ultimately led to my work for client Z.

Armed with this new knowledge, I was able to focus marketing dollars and energy on those two industry conferences. I made sure that I attended each and was visible at each. I made sure my existing clients and prospects knew I would be attending. I approached the organizations putting on the conferences and offered to write for their trade journal. Just as important, I allowed myself to stop spending money and time on less efficient venues and activities.

Every dollar that comes into our nonprofits is precious, and I’m not advocating giving up the annual appeal, the 5k runs, or the donor boxes at the door. But I am suggesting that you take the time to do your major donor genealogy. Take advantage of institutional memory that may reside with a long-term employee, board member or past-presidents.

Have them help you conduct a major donor genealogy. Work backwards and consider how you first met this particular donor. Who introduced you? Is there a friendraiser in common among your donors? Is there a function in common? While a major donor is a huge asset to your nonprofit, even greater is a major donor who refers others to your cause.

Then take action. Focus your board and yourself on the most efficient routes to major donors and put yourselves in their path.  It’s a powerful way to leverage your time, dollars and energy. 

Star Trek, Nonprofits and Philanthropy

22 05 2009

The new Star Trek movie has brought back a lot of memories. I grew up on Star Trek – not just the show, but the idealistic vision of a future in which a United Federation of Planets could boldly go where no one has gone before, seeking out new life forms and new civilizations. Conquest was wrong. Help was right. People got along. 

I recently had a conversation with my son about the original Star Trek, and how it differed from subsequent versions. In the original Star Trek, each show was a parable, a small morality tale, in which we were being taught about right and wrong. True, the writers were sometimes heavy handed with their messages. Nevertheless, through the interplay of the emotional Kirk, the logical Spock, and the pragmatic and sometimes cynical Bones or other characters, we saw different sides and different approaches to the same situation. Usually, the resolution came about through some combination of the first two, aided by the actions or intervention of the other characters.

 I wonder how many nonprofit executives and philanthropists received their initial grounding in the possibilities of a better world through watching Star Trek. Is the idealism that surrounds so much of our work the product not just of faith and parenting, but also those small glimpses into a better world?  Like M&Ms coated in sugar candy, the ideals were coated in action, costumes, and amusing interplay between characters whom we came to know and predict. We thought we were just watching a fun show, but we were being molded.

 In retrospect, I suspect that I was affected by Star Trek; not just by the shows themselves, but by the implicit approval given to those messages by my parents as we watched together.

 So I wonder, how many others in our field received the same messages from Star Trek, and ultimately decided that we can make the world better?

Books for Switching from Private to Nonprofit Sector

18 05 2009

One of the great things about the nonprofit sector is how collegial it is. After the last post about Finding That Nonprofit Career, I turned to colleagues on LinkedIn and asked them what books they would recommend to people contemplating the switch from the private sector. Especially helpful were colleagues in the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Chronicles of Philanthropy groups. I recommend that if this is a field you are interested in, you start watching the discussions on these two particular groups on LinkedIn.

One of the first to respond was my own business colleague, Jeff Metz of Bloom Consulting. Others were Andrew Brant, Sandra Larson, Ann Gwinn and Jeff Kern, all with experience in the nonprofit field, and almost all with prior experience in the private sector. Thanks to all for your assistance. Here’s the list developed from their contributions, and my own thoughts.

Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Principles and Practices from Peter Drucker is my own personal favorite. Several others also mentioned Drucker, who took his expertise researching and consulting to private firms into the nonprofit world. Other books originally written for the private sector are also important to the nonprofit world.  Two that others suggested are:

Managing as a Performance Art by Peter Vaill
Made to Stick by Heath & Heath

And I would add:
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell as a way of viewing the social dynamics in your organization.

Recommended books specific to nonprofits are:
Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations by John Bryson
Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision for Nonprofit Staff by Carter McNamara
Forces for Good by Crutchfield & Grant
The Executive Director’s Survival Guide by Carlson and Donohoe

Recommended publications specific to finding nonprofit careers:
The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers
The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seeker
s Both from  

In the fundraising field – and so many positions in nonprofit work require some fundraising skills:
The Zen of Fundraising by Ken Burnett
Asking – A 59 minute guide by Jerold Panas
The Ask by Laura Fredricks
Major Gifts by Julia Ingraham Walker
Securing Your Organization’s Future by Michael Seltzer
Donor Centered Fundraising by Burke

And there was one textbook in the bunch:
Nature of the Nonprofit Sector by Ott

Thanks to everyone for being so helpful! And good luck to those making the switch.