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Rainy Day Woman

1-12 Rainy Day Women #12 & 35

Well…they do stone you when you are trying to be so good.

Laying in bed in the early morning hours of Sunday August 28th and listening to the relentless wind and rain of Hurricane Irene, I wondered when, not if, the power would be suspended and for how long we would have not communications with the outside world.  It wasn’t long after that fitful and fearful sleep.

Eleven days later, I read emails again.

Yes, that’s right – eleven days without email.

Now some amongst you might consider this to be a blessing.  Right here in this blog I have made disparaging assertions about the overpowering nature of Internet communication.  Yet, without it, for so long – it’s like being cut-off from the world, from the pace of it, the thick of it.

Worst is, as a small business owner with big expectations of creating change in a fast-paced world of people who have limited capacity for not getting what they want, when they want it – being out of reach is a very bad feeling.

I began to feel that kind of  detached and disoriented sensation you feel when walking into a dark room and struggling to find the switch.  I felt the kind of rage you feel when you stand in line for too long for no good reason.

And I felt like a rainy day woman, just like Bob Dylan describes – being stoned when all you were doing was just trying to walk down the street.  For that’s what email is to us this day, as ordinary as walking across the street.

My Internet company tries to confound things so much they even have two names – like they needed a disguise – Optimum AND Cablevision.  Why have two names – you just spent more money on marketing instead of on me and millions like me who were out of touch, getting stoned for just being good.

Last night was the limit.  On the twelfth day after we said good night to Hurricane Irene, Optimum/Cablevision calls me with a customer survey.  I did not give good marks.  When I could push “one” to talk to a customer service rep, it rang 53 times and no one answered…

I am up and running again, as they say.  Write to me – I will write back…at least until the next time I get stoned for trying to be so good.  Enjoy the music while you wait to be connected.

P.S. on Day 15 &16 – Trying to be good gets you nowhere – out again for 35 hours, on again for four, off again for five.  Now it’s time to write a mea culpa to clients…

The toll plaza employee explained to me that the only reason I had a flat tire in the middle of the Massachusetts Turnpike was because “it’s Tuesday!”  This sage young woman attempted to divest me of my inclination to explain my misfortune as a sign from a higher power – that an authority was somehow trying to teach me a lesson that I should pay more attention to the maintenance of my car – and to my life in general, which was spinning out of control while trying to do too many important things at once.

Truth is, it was 95 degrees outside, the car had almost 54,000 miles without a tire problem and I was pushing the limits of speed trying to get back to the office after 10 hours of back-to-back meetings with little sleep – all while trying to plan the final details of my daughter’s wedding.  In essence, I was due for an event to stop me in my tracks.  Pun intended.

When a character right out of central casting showed up nearly two hours later to change my tire, I could only laugh.  He had the requisite missing teeth, the telltale grease on his face and hands, a rag hanging from his belt. But he was wearing a Red Sox cap.  Totally out of my social universe but a kindred spirit.  We assessed the possibilities of a World Series run for the Sox and I gave him the $20 he asked for to change the tire.  Yes, $20.  I guess inflation hasn’t affected the tire-changing trade yet.

Well, just because it was Tuesday, I had a flat tire and I met a young woman dedicated to customer service in her job (two thumbs up to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority!) and a man who took pride in tire-changing, even if he did sorely need a bath – he gets points for being an avid Red Sox fan.

Got me to thinking about what it means to need to be more focused on things that matter, like getting your tires checked, having time to think in between meetings and slowing down, knowing that you will get to your destination eventually, even if it’s later than you wished, as long as you get there safely.

Tuesday will always come again and I wonder what might happen this Tuesday to remind me that I need, like you do, to make sure that everything I can control is under control and that when things get out of control that I can learn from the chaos.  There’s four new tires on my car now.  What will you do to take care of business this week? Personally…professionally…and organizationally?


So it would seem that a revolution could begin by generating millions of Tweets but can a government, rule of law, philosophy of way of life, social policy, defense policy etc. etc. be established through Tweeting? I think not. Can multi-layered relationships and issues be managed and resolved through emails? I think not. Can I think properly most of the time anymore?  I think not, literally…I think – NOT.

If I let it, and most times, it’s completely out of my control, I could spend an entire work day answering emails. Not only this but, like the days where you published or perished, if I am not Tweeting, posting on Facebook, writing in my blog, participating in a chat group on LinkedIn, and checking my personal email on AOL, I am not a part of the “conversation.” I am cheating my own reputation if I am not out and about cyberspace, commenting on every little line of 140 characters being Tweeted to me or asking brilliant questions in a webinar.

I have lost my ability to be thoughtFULL. Full of ideas, thoughts, creativity. People pay me to be thoughtful.  Clients pay me to differentially assess every situation, every relationship, every challenge in an organization. That was a tall order, one that is relished by me, but adding the noise to it, has increased the complexity exponentially.

According to an article that is now pinned to my bulletin board, not bookmarked on my computer, but actually the physical paper with a push pin through it, written by Bill Keller of the New York Times…
“The shortcomings of social media would not bother me awfully if I did not suspect that Facebook friendship and Twitter chatter are displacing real rapport and real conversation…the things we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet – complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy – are things that matter…There is a growing library of credible digital Cassandras who have explored what new media are doing to our brains.”

I fear losing my ability to think. Not getting any younger, and comically questioning the number of brain cells that are dying everyday anyway…I am wondering whether sooner, rather than later, will I lose my ability to think altogether? So, yes, let’s begin a conversation…maybe over the phone, or in person, over coffee, how we might get back to where we once were – mostly face-to-face, or staring out the window – not at a minute-sized screen or maybe…I will meet you at Walden Pond and we can silently ponder together. Let me know when you are free…in a one-sentence email, please.

Last night I renewed my faith in humankind from a very simple act of kindness bestowed upon me by a stranger. After a very frustrating afternoon spent in traffic on the New England Thruway I decided not to let the day go by without accomplishing something on my “to-do” list. So, at 7:00 in the evening I sojourned (love that word, from Passover Haggadah, although they were sojourning in the desert for 40 years!) over to my local Party City store to buy paper goods for my daughter’s ordination celebration. First, let me say that going into this store is totally overwhelming but quite entertaining (pun intended!). If you suffer from decision deficit disorder, this is not a place for you. Finally, I decide on a yellow and blue motif and start loading up my cart with plates, napkins, cups etc. I obsess about whether to get a square or round plate. Square ones are so, well, hip and Asian fusion. Whatever…I just keep throwing things in the cart.
Over comes a woman with a hand-basket filled to the brim with goodies for her party. She begins a conversation with me. I have to say that I bristled at first. Sometimes I feel like a magnet for strangers – somehow I am always being asked for directions and talked to randomly. Must be the face of a consultant they see! So she asks me if I want a 20% coupon. And I become suspicious. What’s the catch, I am thinking? How completely awful of me. So she explains to me that she is a coupon clipper extraordinaire and checked websites before coming to the store. (So now I am feeling very guilty and extravagant…) Instead of just printing out one for herself, she printed out three of them – one for her, and two for strangers she meets in the store. Did you hear what I said?? Just to be nice to strangers she meets in the store! I am astounded. Me, who propagates the milk of human kindness and helps people give of themselves everyday. How can I be so jaded to not believe that someone would be so very generous? I take the coupon gratefully and marvel aloud to her about her good citizenship. I tell her not to give up on people and I tell her I hope that people will see her as a role model. I will never see this woman again, I think. But I will never forget her thoughtfulness and kindness and I am thinking about how we can all do the same, in our own ways. I bet you she throws a wonderful party.

The Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2010 Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy studied 800 households with incomes of over $200,000 and more than $1 million in net worth.  Here’s some of what they found:

  1. These donors gave when they believed their gift would make a difference and to support causes they believed in.  Tax considerations played a backseat in making these decisions.  Implication:  Search for donors who share your mission and begin a journey of mutual support.
  2. These donors stopped giving to a particular organization if the solicitations were too frequent, if an inappropriate amount was asked for or if there was either a change in their own circumstances or an unexplained change in leadership or work of the organization. Implication:  Research your donor well to determine appropriate “ask” and make the solicitation meaningful, update the donor on the organization without asking for support i.e., educate the donor.
  3. Donors have high expectations of the organizations they support and have great confidence (a whopping 95%) that the organization has the ability to solve societal problems. Implication: Evaluate your performance and demonstrate your impact with donor education and involvement.
  4. Donors consider several factors in making a decision who to support:  sound business practices, acknowledgement of contributions (including sending receipts), spending an appropriate amount on overhead, and not distributing their personal information.  Implication:  Develop a strong program of stewardship, including donor recognition.  Be transparent and share how your organization operates.
  5. 67% of high net worth households report that they confer with their partner when making decisions about charitable contributions.  Implication: Make every effort to educate and solicit the household and not just the individual.

If you are interested in exploring other details about the philanthropic practices of high-net worth individuals, check out the complete study at http://www.mediaroom.bankofamerica.com

Study after study about donor motivation reveals that it’s just not the tax deduction that guides charitable giving. Actually, in nearly all studies, the tax-deduction is very near to the end of the list.  So why do we persist in ringing the four alarm fire bell at the end of the year, in essence, begging for gifts, making us look like we are at the end of our rope??

Two days left! Two hours left!  Sorry, but it sounds to me like a fire sale, not an attempt to build synergy and support for a cause.

What do the studies show about donor motivation?  It’s the cause and the donor’s connection to the cause. So why are organizations obsessed with end of year giving? There are 365 chances every year to give and your organization should be better prepared to take advantage of every opportunity, every single day.
Step #1:   Make Your Development Plan – do it before the end of January.  or, ANYTIME  – just do it!  Link your strategic plan to your organization’s strategic vision and plan.  Donors DO care about where you are going and how they can help you achieve your dreams, goals and objectives.

Step #2: Recognize the Building Blocks of Development – Donor Cultivation (all education activities), Asking (all forms of solicitation) and Donor Stewardship (donor recognition, keeping your current donors informed and close to your organization)  Build your development plan around those building blocks.

Step #3: Identify and segment your potential donor market.

Step #4:  Create your case for giving and then tailor the messaging around that case for each market segment.

Step #5: Train your solicitors to be more effective.  Train everyone in your organization to be a successful fundraiser.

Step #6:  Record all your interactions into your database.  Keep track of who said what to whom and on what day.  Record all your gifts.  Make a comparitive analysis of what processes are yielding the highest results, compare your tailored messages and see how each one works.

Step #7: Tweak your plan.

Step #8:  Keep on going.  Provide continuous coaching and mentoring for the process.  Keep motivating your team.

Step #9: Celebrate your successes and honor your volunteers efforts…your professionals too!

Step Ten:  Don’t stop.  You have 365 days to raise the funds you need to support your strategic vision.

If it sounds like too much and you don’t know where to start, hire a consultant.  That’s what we’re here for.  We can provide the structure, the coaching and the education you need to move you into a rhythm of effective fundraising, 365 days a year.

Looking up to the sky, we look for the north star in order to navigate the milky way.  When we get lost in the dark, we look to the sky, to find “north.”  When we do, we can more easily find our way.

In your organization, how do you find your “north?”  What’s your direction?  Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency says to Newsweek…”We laid out three ideas: we would follow the law, and we would follow science, and we would operate transparently.”  I’d say the EPA has determined its “north.”  How elegant.  How focused.  How easy to understand and communicate.

As an organization, can you find your “north?”  Can you be compelling and simple explaining to someone who you are and what you do?  Or does it take more than five minutes to explain the many layers of what you do?  Are you sometimes confused?

Peter Drucker, esteemed professor and scholar of business proposed that “a mission statement is divinely ordained.”  He said if it took more than one sentence to articulate your mission then you didn’t have a deep enough grasp on what your organization was trying to accomplish.  

When there are stars in the sky, go out and search for the north star.  She’s easy to find.  It’s the brightest star in the Little Dipper.  She has been used for navigation and to determine latitude.  She’s a marker, she leads the way.

You can’t lead the way if you don’t know where you are going, if you can’t articulate your mission or simply state what you do, what you value and your strategy to achieve it all.

Find your north.  And then light up the world with it.

Who Cares?

Organizational leaders, both professional and lay, become so ardent about their mission and core business that they begin to believe that EVERYONE will. So they don’t take the time to ask…who cares? And why should they? Can you get someone to care if they don’t?
This is where the discipline of market segmentation comes in. You must define who your best audiences will be to absorb your messages and support your mission. It’s a process and it takes research, intuition and a careful selection process. A market segment is a group that shares similar attributes, is distinct from other segments and is expected to respond similarly to the stimulus of a carefully crafted case and message. Although each segment has been identified to “care,” it’s still critical to tailor your message to each sub-set. The core message about the business of the nonprofit may be the same but the ancillary messages will be tailored to each market segment, increasing the possibility that the group and its constituents will become positively affected by the organization’s message. You know the results you are looking for – donations, grants, enrollment, admission, in short, ENTRY, SUPPORT and ALLIANCE.
Many organizations fret that “no one cares.” Someone always cares. You have to go through the process of seeking them out, writing a compelling message, and delivering it personally.  It’s hard to get someone to care if they don’t have any market segment attributes that would link them to your organization’s mission and purpose.  Time well-spent is time focused on identifying market segments with affinity for your organization and tailor your marketing efforts to each segment.

Check your work.
And then double check.
New Jersey school children just got deprived of millions of dollars of Federal aid through the Race to the Top education initiative. How could this happen??
The state officials and employees completing the forms filled the form out incorrectly on one significant question. The mistake was so blatant that you have to wonder “what were they thinking?!” I think that they were not thinking at all actually.
NJ Governor Chris Christie is mad! He thinks that someone in the Obama administration should have called him and let his people correct the error! Such chutzpah! Obviously the governor has not a clue how grant-seeking works. Welcome to my world, Chris Christie. In grant-seeking we all pray that the foundation director gives us a second chance! For anyone reading this who has taken an exam or written a grant knows…read the questions. Then answer the questions as asked.
Too bad for the kids of New Jersey – maybe Governor Christie should make up the difference and stop being a cry-baby.  And…just a piece of advice – anyone who proofread that grant request (assuming people did of course) should be fired.
Moral of the story – check your work, and check it again.

The Hyatt Touch

The successful hotel chains, like Hyatt, know that it takes a village to make the bottom line grow.  They expect every member of their teams, from the bell captain to the general manager to be focused on their mission – guests who keep returning, generating income for the company – and ultimately for themselves.

So why is it that social sector businesses think it’s someone else’s job to raise revenues from fundraising?  Why is it that about every other day another client asks me if they can hire someone to raise money for them and do it on commission?  Why is it that about every other day someone asks me how to hire a better director of development – translation – hire me someone who will raise all the funds for us and none of the rest of us will have to be involved?

First of all, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) states clearly that it is unethical to retain what is essentially a “gun for hire.”  As members we are asked to ascribe to standards and ethical practices that ensure that our profession remain honorable.

I say – it’s my story and I am sticking to it – fundraising is the responsibility of everyone in the organization – the board, the staff (even the maintenance crew!), and the consumers.  Everyone has to pitch in and be part of the plan! 

If it takes a whole village to raise a child and takes hundreds of employees in one hotel to feed the black ink of the bottom line, why should it take one lonely director of development to provide the financial sustenance for a social sector organization?

In nonprofits, we are always talking about touching people’s lives.  How about adopting a little bit of the Hyatt Touch?  You can’t touch people’s lives without funding and you’d have more of it if more of you were out making it happen.

Does your organization have the Hyatt Touch?  If you do, write to me and tell me how you do it.

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