CHIEF EXECUTIVE TURNOVER: Intangible Rewards of Selecting the Right Candidate

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“You have chosen…poorly,” said the knight guarding the Holy Grail. The famous line from the movie, “Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark,” was spoken as an intruder tried to select the of cup of Christ from over a dozen options. I think of the line from this movie every time I hear about an exceptionally great or an unfortunately poor choice to lead an organization into the future. Continue reading

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GIVING SIGNALS: Clearly Defining Successful and Unsuccessful Donor Visits

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Feedback loops can be either positive or negative, causing things to quickly go from bad to worse or from good to great. Feedback loops can be applied to almost any kind of system—social, political, or economic—including nonprofit fund development systems. Over the last few years, a typical feedback loop at nonprofits is one that has led to the abandonment of quality donor communications, particularly person-to-person visits and actual conversations with donors. One thing has led to another, which has led to another, which turned into a vicious cycle. Continue reading

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LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE: Senior Development Executive’s Role in Evaluating Donor Visits

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Nonprofit leaders are very good at tracking past performance—each donor’s giving history and each fundraiser’s contribution to the budget. However, nonprofit leaders tend to be far less committed to consistently and carefully evaluating our ongoing donor visits. In other words, our evaluations are so focused on past performance that we’re usually not as good at identifying future giving signals in our ongoing conversations with individual donors. Two conversations illustrate my point. Continue reading

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THE LISTENING HABIT: The Donor’s Story and the Organizational Story

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Many companies are attempting to brand themselves as having a deeply embedded culture of listening. I really don’t know if these companies and their employees actually listen to their clients and constituents any better than their competitors or if the listening promotion is merely a marketing slogan. What I do know is this: In thousands of conversations with donors over the years, I have come to realize that often THE DONOR’S STORY is just as important as your organizational story. Occasionally, it is FAR MORE IMPORTANT. Continue reading

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THE PREPARATION HABIT: Making the Most of Your Donor Visits

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Building long-term donor relations is an acquired skill that’s perfected over time. You can’t just wander in and expect to be successful because you “really, really love people.” Nor can you build a successful career by simply working hard. If it were as simple as that, a lot more fundraisers would be a lot more successful. The truth is, there are communications, management, and organizational skills at every level that are just down right essential. Continue reading

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PERPETUAL NAMING RIGHTS: Three Cautionary Tales and One Essential Piece of Advice

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Two separate gifts to New York City’s Lincoln Center illustrate the naming rights dilemma that many nonprofit leaders face. The first mega-gift came in 2008 from billionaire David Koch; the second from music and movie producer David Geffen. Both gifts to then Lincoln Center were for $100 million. However, two donors’ approaches to naming rights could not have been more different. A third illustration is sordid tale about a $20 million pledge with naming rights to small college that ignited a firestorm of anger among local residents, faculty, current students, and alumni. Continue reading

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RULE OF RECIPROCITY: Exchanging the Currency of Philanthropy

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One of the most powerful social norms is the rule of reciprocity. When we receive gifts, favors, invitations, or random acts of kindness, it creates a very real sense of personal indebtedness—a felt-need to pay back the favor. If, however, receiving gifts creates such a strong feeling of personal indebtedness, then career fundraisers are on the unfortunate side of that equation. Below are several ways fundraisers use the “currency of philanthropy” to build genuine reciprocal relationships among major donors.

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