Counting steps



Since mid-July, I’ve been counting steps. (The idea is to log 10,000 steps each day.) I started during vacation, when we tend to walk a lot. Then I decided to keep going. I downloaded a little app to my phone and carry it with me. During the day, I can check in to see where I am in relation to my goal.

It’s been a pretty easy way for me to push myself to move a bit more. Looking a bit shy of the goal? I walk a little more. Almost there? Well, there’s still time, let’s see if I can get another 1,000 today. Unfortunately, I’m a skilled procrastinator. So constant motivation and bite-sized pieces of effort seem to work for me when weekly or monthly goals do not.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it seems like I might be on to something. And that’s where it might matter to you.


The progress principle – and you.

Have you heard of something called “the progress principle”? I hadn’t, but here’s the scoop.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, researchers Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer shared:

…of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.

So. Lots of smaller wins keep you creative and motivated. Just what we need at this time of year, right?

Even better, in a Forbes article, they connect their “progress principle” to our work. They recognize the intangible advantage we have – there’s an emotional satisfaction that comes from helping people. That’s often very motivating!

But they note:

In spite of this, it is often easy to lose the connection between the day-to-day work of an organization and its overall mission. So, leaders must make sure that employees understand how what they do contributes to that mission, and make it clear to them that those contributions are important. One way to help promote this connection is suggested by the research of Adam Grant and his colleagues. They have shown that workers’ motivation is increased if they can have some direct contact with people who have benefited from the services they provide.

That makes perfect sense, right? When you’re feeling unmotivated, the best thing you can do is reconnect with your mission.


Do something good


Counting down to year end – do something!

As of today, there are about 60 work days until year end. This is our busiest season. I hope you’ve already got your fundraising mapped out through that date. But I want to encourage you to add just a little to that plan, every day. Because small steps can add up to a more successful program in the long run.

It helps to have a goal, of course. I track my walking goal daily, but my real goal is feeling better and maybe feeling more comfortable in my jeans. Not world-changing, but meaningful to me.

I’m sure you have dollar goals. Maybe broken out into daily or weekly targets. Those are pretty easily measured, but not as easily controlled. (If you know how to guarantee you’ll raise a certain amount by a certain date, I definitely want to hear about it!)

But think about more than that. Stay focused on the larger goal – your mission. Why are you raising this money? What will change if you succeed? What will happen if you don’t?

And what about retention goals? Those go beyond the immediate dollars. Using the increased communication you’ve probably got planned for the next few months as a means toward bringing donors closer to the work they make possible will pay off now – and later.

Once you’re clear about what you want, you can add a few more steps. Find small, easily accomplished goals every day between now and year-end. Here are some ideas:

  • Talk to your program staff and find a new story.
  • Send a handwritten thank you note.
  • Rewrite your thank you letters.
  • Videotape an interview with someone your organization helps.
  • Interview a donor.
  • Call a donor just to say thanks.
  • Write a new appeal draft. Or write it again.
  • Update your database. Make sure you’ve got names right.
  • Check your numbers against your goal so you know where you stand.
  • Read an article on an area of fundraising you want to know more about.
  • Begin a new welcome email series or a mail welcome pack.

You get the idea. Promise yourself that you’ll take one step every day. One step to bring you closer to your donors and to your mission.

So what about you? Please tell me what your plans are for the rest of the year. What are you doing every day to make this the best year-end ever?




photo credit, steps: y.caradec via photopin cc

photo credit, sign: HowardLake via photopin cc

You just haven’t earned it yet, baby

Morrissey, Quart 06. Photo: Kim Erlandsen, NRK P3 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Morrissey, Quart 06. Photo: Kim Erlandsen, NRK P3 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Every time I hear a frustrated fundraiser talk about donors who aren’t giving, that lyric pops into my head. (In case you don’t know, it’s thanks to Steven Patrick Morrissey, of course).

I know it’s human nature to look around for someone to blame when things don’t go as planned. But we need to quit blaming donors for not giving. If they’re not giving, it’s because we just haven’t earned it yet.

Here are some ways you can start earning it:

Put your donor in the spotlight

Seriously, folks. It’s not about you or your organization. It’s about what the donor’s amazing generosity could do for the people who need her. I’ve suggested hanging a sign over your desk that says “It’s not about you”. I was only partly kidding. Keep it in mind every time you write or call a donor.

And remember Tom Ahern’s “you glue”. If you’ve just written an appeal, and the only time the word “you” appears is in “your gift”, go back and do it again. That page should be ALL about the donor. You should see “you” everywhere. It pulls the eye and makes your reader feel involved. You’re crazy not to do it!

Stop selling so hard

This is related. Maybe you’re tap-dancing up and down the page, sure that your whiz-bang statistics are going to wow your donor into giving. Or you’ve provided multiple logical arguments for the gift. If so, just cut it out. You can’t bore someone into giving. She’s not going to give because you’ve sold your organization. She’s going to give because she wants to help someone or something. Show her the why. Chances are, it’s not about numbers. It’s about one person (or animal) she can help.

Focus on what’s in it for your donor

And I’m not talking about tote bags and coffee mugs. What we offer is intangible. But intangibles like changing a life can be very powerful. I don’t like coffee mugs and tote bags, because they make the donation process feel transactional. So that’s not what I’m suggesting. But your goal should be to show the donor what she’ll get out of it – that wonderful, warm feeling that comes from helping someone.

Mind your manners and show some love

A tax receipt is not a thank you. A generic postcard is not a thank you. A letter that talks about tax-deductions is not much of a thank you. Say thank you. Say it well, say it promptly and say it often. Make it emotional. Make it effusive. Make your donor blush. This is no time to hide behind formality. Or to cut corners to make it easier on your staff.

Don’t ignore her

After a gift, first make sure you show lots of gratitude. But then don’t forget to keep communicating. Don’t put the donor on the shelf until next year, unless you’ve specifically been asked to do so. Let your donor know what her gift is doing. Let her know that she’s still needed. Make her your partner. Keep the relationship going!



Why we do it

A friend shared a video that I had to share with you. If you’ve ever wondered why donors donate, this might help.

I hope it also reminds you of why you do this work.


Are you guilty of donor abuse?

It happens too often. You might want to check yourself. Here are some signs:

You value the person according to their checkbookcheckbook

It’s happened more than once. I make a thank you phone call, only to hear the person on the other end protest. “You don’t need to call me! I’m not important enough for that.”

Of course, the reaction only underlines how important it was to me to make the call.

Now, I do understand it’s a bit Animal Farm. All donors are equal; some are just more equal than others. I get it. It’s impossible to offer the same level of personal care to every donor. And if you want to develop a good major gifts program, those donors will receive more attention.

But we don’t need to treat smaller donors like smaller people. It’s possible to put systems into place to make sure every donor feels valued. But it only happens when gratitude is part of the organization’s culture. And if you must prove the importance of making every donor feel valued to some powers-that-be, point to donor retention studies. Finding a new donor is far more expensive than keeping the one you have. And then there’s the lifetime value of the donors’ gifts. Loyal, happy donors’ gifts add up – even if they come to you in smaller amounts at a time.

You want to “educate” your donors

This idea comes around time and again. I’ve seen it recently in articles about the Ice Bucket Challenge. “Donors aren’t making good choices!” “They’re giving where it won’t have the greatest impact!” “We need to educate them so they’ll give better!”

It’s hard to find a more patronizing idea.

apple and books
Donors don’t need us to educate them. Their decisions don’t have to be carefully vetted, logical ones. In fact, they’re usually not. Donors give from their hearts. Sometimes, they even give on a whim. Does it matter? Only if you’re experiencing some big sour grapes about this latest viral fundraising trend. Yes, ALSA got a boat load of money. Good for them! I hope they can make the most of it. Just remember: that wasn’t your money going to ALSA instead of your cause. Donors always get to choose how they give.

You don’t have to educate donors. But you can offer them great reasons to think of your own cause. You can show them what a gift could do. You can show them how they could help someone. You can and should offer them the chance to make a difference through your organization. So quit whining and get on with making the best, most emotional case you can.

Donors will decide if it’s good enough.

You do a bad job recognizing their gifts

So, you’ve received a gift. Wonderful! But what do you do from there? If you answer “cash the check, put the donor on a list, and send a receipt when we get to it”, you answered wrong. If you answer “send out a generic postcard and a receipt slip”, you answered wrong.

Get their name wrong. Neglect to update your records when requested or when you have new information. (Marriage, death, divorce…) Incorrect recognition listing. Record the gift for the wrong area so the money isn’t spent in the way requested. None of this is acceptable as a practice. If you do it, stop!

Yes, we’re all busy. Yes, getting the data right and creating a warm, genuine, personal thank you process takes time. But mostly, it takes focus. You and your organization have to choose to do it well. It matters to your donors.

Donors aren’t a means to our ends. Our organizations are the means to their ends. Our organizations exist so they can invest in a better world. Keep your priorities in the right place and remember to treat people like people, not numbers.

Let’s stamp out donor abuse. What do you say?

Why I write

Last week, my friend Diana Schwenk shared her thoughts on writing and handed off #WhyIWrite to me.

Here’s why:

Creativity will out

Pretty much how I spent my childhood. (I did get better, though)

Pretty much how I spent my childhood. (I did get better, though)

People are creative – whatever outlet they choose. And if one outlet is not available, that creativity will find its way out into the world somehow.

For as long as I can remember, I was dancing, singing, acting. I loved to draw and paint. But I’ll admit, writing – especially creative writing – scared me.

But life happens, change happens, priorities shift. I grew up. Few employers wanted to pay me to sing or act. When I began my nonprofit career in professional theater, I no longer had time for performing. But I learned to write to our donors. Writing, once scary, became a fun challenge. And the more I did, the better I got.

Thoughtful communication

Despite my history, I’m an introvert. I don’t like to speak before I think. I try to listen more than talk. That’s why I prefer writing over speaking. It gives me time to think. It gives me a chance to get it right. I don’t have to fill the silence with “um” while I consider my words. And yes, it lets me feel like I have more control.

Emotional rewards

Writing is a craft, a skill that can be learned. It’s satisfying to put what you’ve learned to work. Especially when that work is for a great organization. It’s even better when what you’ve written works. There’s nothing quite like a stack of return envelopes in the mail to make your day.

I have no plans to write a novel. But what I do write – to and for donors – is creative. I share stories and I look for a reaction from my readers. That reaction helps organizations do their work. It makes the world a happier, kinder, more beautiful place. That’s such a privilege!

Your turn

How about you? Why do you write?



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