Friday, September 10, 2010

A Donor's Story

This week I had the privilege of meeting a wonderful woman and she has given me permission to tell her story.

We will call her ‘Sarah’ to respect her privacy. Sarah and her husband ‘Mike’ are major donors and long time supporters to the charity I work for. Their file is significant and goes back a long way. Three years ago they took out a seven figure insurance policy and named our charity as the beneficiary. Every year they pay a five figure premium on that policy and receive a charitable tax receipt.

The file for this donation is in top shape. It is easy to see when the policy was purchased, what the premiums are, when they are due and who to contact at the insurance company. When Sarah and Mike pass on (which will be quite some time as they are both in their early sixties) we will receive the donation. The file also outlines that we are to purchase a piece of land and create a nature reserve in honour of their son and name it after him. The file is a shining example of what we should all be doing so that our successors can continue the relationship.

However, what the file doesn’t really tell us is that their son died very quickly of bone cancer when he was nineteen years old - almost fifteen years ago. That he loved nature and was full of empathy for animals. Once he even stopped his teenage friends while driving to help an injured seagull. The file doesn’t tell us about how all the teenagers he grew up with coped with the loss of their friend or the hole left in Sarah and Mike’s lives because their son was an only child.

The insurance policy is part of how they are coping with this great loss. This donation and their connection to our organization is a connection to their deceased son. Their gift is how their son will live on forever - in nature.

I love meeting donors and have been very fortunate in the past ten years to get to know some spectacular people. I can’t express with words how much I love this part of my job. But, this was a very special donor visit, and very rare for a generalist fundraiser. In forty five minutes Sarah and I shared tea, a tear, some laughter and some candid conversation. We also decided that a copy of the picture of their son that hangs over their fireplace should be in our file. Sarah is glad to write down her son’s story and the feelings that she shared with me for the file too. We are going to do this because we know that by the time this donation is realized it is very likely that I will have moved on and obviously Sarah and Mike won’t be involved.

Yes business administration is a very important part of our jobs. Good charities like mine know this. Let us also remember that complex donations are usually extremely well thought out and full of emotion. Let’s start making sure that those who follow us get to shed tears with our donors too – even if it is just by reading their story on paper.

Thank you for spending time here.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

SOFII is great...but what do you actually DO with it?

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I've been a SOFII enthusiast for several years. I still remember the first exhibit I ever read. SOFII saved the day for me back in the fall of 2007. It is easy to recall the feeling and pressure of being a lone fundraiser with writers block. After discovering SOFII and stealing an idea from this exhibit, my fundraising paralysis dissolved and my appeal was dropped in mailboxes just ten short days later.

Since then I have written about SOFII often here and here and my very favourite courtesy of Roger Craver here. Its hard to imagine anything more important than providing fundraisers around the world with a free, accessible archive of great fundraising case studies and articles. I know, The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration is helping raise more money to feed children, protect and restore the environment, seek social justice and help the poorest and most destitute people on the planet. But how? By reading an exhibit or two a few times a month?

It is time for us to start talking about how we use SOFII in our work. I'll start.

My team at Ontario Nature is small. There are five of us. A development assistant, member and donor stewardship coordinator, data person, grant writer and me. That's the core team. Pretty bare bones but all enthusiastic, young, fabulous, funny and yes junior fundraisers. Learning and growing needs to be part of what we do together - everyday.

When we have team meetings there is always a lot to talk about. One constant agenda item is:

I ask each person to visit SOFII before the meeting and to bring in one fundraising example and a suggestion for how we can innovate to incorporate a new idea to improve service. At first folks weren't sure but I was the new Director and they played along to impress. Since then we have had some excellent ideas come from the team. For example:

After visiting SOFII Randie thought that all staff should be able to process a gift. We shouldn't lose a donation because she wasn't there. Now all program and admin staff have donation slips at their desk and Randie reviewed the process with them.

After visiting SOFII Irene thought we could revamp our thank you letters to be more personal and warm. She was right and we did.

I still smile when I think of Kiran (now enjoying maternity leave) admitting that she hadn't put much effort in and she brought forward this example from UNICEF because 'it must be good it's been around so long and I do the Christmas Cards so it got my attention.' Good enough for me!

These might all seem like pretty basic ideas to seasoned fundraising professionals. What I like most about this is the process. Asking staff to look beyond their own day to day challenges, beyond their own function and even their own organization. Getting the team to see things differently and then asking each other 'How might we do that here?' Together they are constantly striving to do things better and I thank SOFII for that. Our development team. Nicole, Randie, Lauren and me at Malcolm Bluffs Nature Reserve on a retreat weekend (we missed you Irene!).

Learning and growing in this sector needs to be done more than once a year at a conference. New ideas need to happen everyday. SOFII is always there for us. To be used in our own way to help us do our jobs better.

I hope SOFII will continue to be there for us all. That is why in addition to time and enthusiasm I also give SOFII my money (and my husband's money). I hope you will too. But more about that later. For now let's use this space to talk about your favourite exhibit or how you have used SOFII in the fundraising trenches. What impact has SOFII had on your work?

Thank you for spending time here.

PS Thanks to the fabulous development staff at Ontario Nature who tolerate me. I must remember to tell you the story of the day they became superheros.