All the gifts my first boss gave me…

1994-09 Harborview Goodbye Party

Some pals at my goodbye party leaving Harborview; Cliff is on the left, that’s me on the right.

At times, you only understand how good a thing is when you look back on it.

Such is the case with the boss in my very first job – Cliff Sanderlin.

My first fundraising job was at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. What a great mission, what great healing, what changed lives! A Level I trauma center for Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, with heroic stories of healing, Harborview was a part of the University of Washington. They were some of the most dedicated staff – medical staff and non-medical staff – I’ve met. It was a privilege to raise needed funds while there.

And three of us – Cliff, Rebecca Fong and me – were building the fundraising office from the ground up. I was so excited. And I had no idea how it would change my life as I started on a fantastic career journey I’m still on.

I know now that the most important things I got out of my time there were the many gifts that Cliff gave me.

Gift #1 – the opportunity. We often come across this gift in life – a door opened. When we get a gift like this, we always need to make the most of it – take that first step to walk through the door (or even knock on the door to get it opened!). I was intrigued by what fundraisers were doing when I was working at the University of Washington College of Engineering in a secretarial role.  Cliff was the Associate Director of Development there – and when he left to take a job at Harborview, I asked if I could become a fundraiser too – I wanted a job there. We talked. He saw something in me that would succeed. I applied and joined the team.

Gift #2 – he built a great team. Cliff looked for someone he had worked with before (Rebecca), and someone new (me!). Cliff considered his strengths, and tapped another colleague to join him. And then he added me to the team. And then, he worked with us to set expectations and help us grow. He made sure there were times of fun along with the hard work. It may have been the ease and challenge of a small shop, but we felt we could do almost anything! Continue reading

The House of Yes

HouseOfYesImageIf you don’t know me well yet, then I want to tell you a bit about my philosophies that keep me going as a fundraiser.

Humble fundraisers need grit, grace & gratitude – perseverance and the ability to act with confidence and appreciation.

Appreciative fundraisers hug donors with all the arms they can. They welcome and encourage everyone to get into the act: colleagues, board members, volunteers and, if appropriate, those we serve. (Not receiving a thank you is one of the top 5 reasons donors leave.)

Thoughtful fundraisers are life-long learners. They learn from mistakes, they get more education (the paid and the free), they find mentors and seek advice and test.

Now let’s be honest: sometimes this wonderful, fulfilling, world-changing career isn’t a ride on a unicorn over a rainbow. (Spoiler alert: there are challenges in our sector.) Many nonprofits experience limited resources. Others operate on a ton of goodwill but not much strategic direction to deliver results. A few, sadly, operate in a fearful crouch of scarcity. Sometimes, it all can wear a person down.

That is why I believe that great fundraisers should live in the House of Yes. For me, fundraising is my calling. And I want to do better – all the time. I want our sector to be better. The work we do is uplifting and life-changing and affirming.

Continue reading

Recap of Love Your Job, Love Your Life

Fundraising heroes, nonprofit friends and craziness! L to R, Simone Joyaux, Tom Ahern, me and Shanon Doolittle

Fundraising heroes, nonprofit friends and craziness! L to R, Simone Joyaux, Tom Ahern, me and Shanon Doolittle


I just returned from Baltimore, Maryland. The 2015 Association of Fundraising Professionals conference was a cracker this year!

I had such a delightful time joining my pal, Shanon Doolittle, in a presentation on how to thrive in work and life as a fundraiser.

As fundraisers, we can be very passionate about our work – but sometimes it can lead to burn out. Or, it can steal from the time you want to spend with friends, family, or pursuing a hobby or education.

Because I care about our profession SO MUCH and Shanon is keen to ensure we continue to be high-fiving do-gooders, she and I curated a book!

You can download the e-book here: 9 to Thrive: Strategies to Build a Heart Happy Life and Career.

Continue reading

Are You a Treat?

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How do you greet the donor?

Halloween is my kind of season. The changing leaves, the crispness returning to the air, pumpkins in various stages of fright and delight greet you at every turn.

More than that, I’m a Halloween baby! And a fundraiser.

Let me share my six insights to how fundraisers can be more treat than trick for donors.

What do donors see when they meet you?

When you arrive for an appointment with a donor, does he see a smiling face, radiating warmth? Or does your donor avoid you like a black bad-luck cat? Or does the couple get the distinct impression of grasping, bony hands, outstretched toward their wallets?

I hope you have a friendly, relaxed demeanor, glowing from the inside with pride for your work as a fundraiser and for the work of your nonprofit. Even when meeting a donor for the first time, practice smiling before you meet and chase away any negative thoughts crowding your mind – the flat tire, the spat at the office, the morning tantrum at home. Be present and be focused on this discussion at this moment. This prospect or donor may be ready to entrust your charity with their valuable investment and dreams to create a better world – offer him or her the same thoughtful attention.

Your donor is #1!

Your donor is #1!

Ensure your donor feels like he is number one!

Not everyone keeps a whole bunch index finger candles around to remind them of this point, but here it is… as a fundraiser, you need to treat your donors as if they are ALL very special. Whether you are a major gifts officer with a portfolio of 100+, a manager overseeing a multi-channel direct response program, or the head honcho in a small shop, you need to tell those precious supporters how important they are to solving the problems that your nonprofit addresses.

So how to make all those donors feel special? Don’t just focus on the size of the gift the donor makes – although those donors need love too. The truth is that most charities have systems in place to treat big donors like a big deal. But you also have supporters making monthly commitments – are you remembering what trust they have given, reaching into their accounts or credit card every month? What are you doing to  thank them for their demonstrated loyalty? How about your long-time supporters who have been faithfully giving for 10, or 15 or even more than 25 years? They are true believers. Or the one who gave her first gift today? Pick five today. And five everyday. Pick up a pen and write a note or pick up the phone and make a call. Give an extra “thank you” from the heart.

Don’t hide behind a mask, be yourself.

Be authentic. You don’t need a costume to meet with a donor. Yes, donors may be wealthier (or stronger, smarter, wiser and older) than you are, but as Penelope Burk noted in her book, donors enjoy talking and working with interesting fundraisers (please cultivate outside interests!). Your donors want to change the world. They are looking for a partner.

Your donors enjoy meeting the real you. Yes, you may have to adjust your style a bit to ensure your donors are comfortable. But be authentic. Be a genuine representative of your organization, and the partnership will come more easily.

Designated gifts...

Designated gifts…

Designated gifts…. accept that the project makes the donor’s heart sing.

Being born on Halloween means that my grandma and aunts just LOVE buying me all sorts of serving wear in the shape of pumpkins. Or black cats in pumpkins. The picture on the right shows just some of the items – a soup tureen, salt and pepper shakers, a pitcher, teapots… and these are not even the real decorations (and I have boxes). These are not unlike the designated gifts you get… used for a specific purpose.

Donors are attracted to designated gifts for a few reasons… they are often projects where impact is easily measured. Or it simply aligns more strongly with their values. And sometimes we fundraisers, have a hard time talking about the total investment we need (aka Overhead). [Peter Drury shows how to discuss with your donors.] So thank those donors for completing that needed project. Then determine how you can better explain the overall funding you need… and earn their trust for unrestricted gifts further along in your relationship.

Share your candy.

After trick-or-treating, the first thing I wanted to do is to see what I got. Then divide it up into those candies I preferred and those I didn’t. Usually around that time, my mom came into my room and said something like, “You may have two tonight and then we will save some for the lunchbox and share the rest.” Panic would set in. It was MY candy! I would get gripped by a feeling of scarcity. I had worked so hard for it. No. In our house, the three children could keep some candy, save some to put in our lunches for school the next few weeks, and the rest was gathered for a snacks the family would share.

Now as a fundraiser, sometimes I see that same “I don’t want to share!” attitude on fundraising teams. Some people hog all the credit. Others choose to withhold information (which is very damaging to the team). In fact, as a fundraiser, even in a one-person shop, you are working on a team. Share. Share information, share your successes, share the credit for wins. We may track revenue up by source, but if we are only working for our own selves and not for the donors, we won’t be much of a success as an organization.

Finally, savor the moment, prepare for the next season.

Have a little party...

Yep, many of us will take any excuse for a party. And it’s easy to celebrate the successes. ONe place I worked we rang a bell when a gift of $10,000 or more came in. We had a quick huddle and learned about how it went. Then went back to our work.

But what about the failures? Celebrate them too. You learned something from that.

And then, get ready for what’s next. Because when you are a fundraiser, you have a lot on the go. One campaign is finishing, another is starting. Where are you in your cultivation, solicitation and stewardship cycle? Blow out the candle, have a slice and a laugh with your colleagues and then go!

Be a great fundraiser and have a Happy Halloween!

Ups and Downs

I was chatting with my pal Ephraim the other day.

When I say “chat” I mean messaging because he lives in Bet Shemesh, Israel and I live in Vancouver, Canada. (I suppose one day we might find a half-way point, and meet on Ilha das Flores in the Atlantic Ocean,  although more likely in New York when he is state-side).

I asked how he was doing. Family. Work. Loss. Upcoming Bar Mitzvah. All.The.Jewish.Holidays. “As you know, life has its ups and downs. That’s how I am.” he wrote.

I countered, “Roller coaster or elevator?”

“Good question – never thought of it like that! Right now elevator.”

Instagram photo credit to @oscarliii

photo credit to @oscarliii on Instagram

Life does have ups and downs. Sometimes it’s painful. But imagine a life that was completely even.

No disappointments, no heartbreak, no fender bender, no missed goals, no missteps, no words you wish to take back.

And… no celebrations, no wins, no challenges overcome, no reunions, no happy news to share, no fluttering heart.

So, consider your highs and lows as elevator or roller coaster.

On an elevator, movements tend to be more controlled. At most you may move 40 floors or so in one swift rise. Or maybe you inch up, floor by floor by floor (perhaps some wise guy hit every button simply to vex you). Maybe a voice announces each stop, or you may even enjoy the services of an elevator operator opening the doors and chatting with you on your short journey (like at the Smith Tower). When you enter an elevator, you usually get to choose your destination.

A roller coaster – well, that’s another kettle of fish. You don’t always know what twist or plunge (or corkscrew) is coming up next. Fast drops give your internal organs a momentary feeling of weightlessness. Adrenaline shoots through your body. Maybe you feel queasy. Maybe you squeal with delight. Maybe you close your eyes the entire ride and hold on for dear life. On a roller coaster, you often pay  for the ride (one way or another).

But at the end of the ride – roller coaster or elevator – you usually step onto solid ground.

However your life or career is going right now (and as a fundraiser it can certainly be either)…. even if you are thinking I-don’t-want-to-be-on-this-ride-at-all

it will eventually stop. You will make it.

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