I was recently invited by the dynamic fundraiser, writer, speaker and blogger Mazarine Treyz at Wild Woman Fundraising in Austin, TX to come over as a guest blogger and share some of my insights about planned giving.

My starting point for writing was Steven R. Covey's principal that we must first seek to understand, then to be understood. For me, this has become a guiding star'

In my professional practice, I find myself advising individuals about the incredible possibilities that are available for philanthropists to help create a better life and world for others. In order to be able to assist others in this process, I have always felt it important to be an active participant in philanthropy myself and to experience what it is to support the missions of charities that are meaningful to me before offering guidance.

For my guest post, I decided to focus on the experience I had as a gift planner who created a legacy gift. The process took over a year and it taught me some incredibly valuable lessons about how it feels to create a bequest gift. I know that it has created a new understanding for me when I help others who are contemplating this type of gift and I hope my insights might inspire other fundraisers and advisors who haven't joined the legacy gift circle yet themselves to take the leap!

Check out my article at Wild Woman Fundraising!

A special thanks to Mazarine for a fantastic opportunity to share my thoughts with her readers! Her website is full of information about building a fundraising program, online marketing and career managment
There has been a lot of discussion lately about the need for transparency and accountability between charities and their supporters. Last week, I came across a tip sheet on Best Practices in Charity Annual Reporting that I thought would be worth sharing and discussing. In it are some good ways of assessing annual reports both for charities and for donors.

Ask Better
At the core of my work is the principle of helping charities to become excellent in the art of asking for support. So vital to attracting donors to a charitable mission is the act of reporting on business activities and how the dollars raised were used in the charity's operations. The Best Practices paper reported that few Canadians feel that the charities they support do an excellent job of providing information about how donated funds were used for programs. 

Today's philanthropists think about their donations as an investment - is it time for Canadian charities to take more of a business mind-set? Think of each fundraising campaign as an "IPO" and your annual report as a sales brochure showing the potential value of each investment. Is your charities' report up to the standard set by these best practices? 

Give Smarter
I had also had some wonderful opportunities to speak last week with three advisors about teaching their clients the art of becoming philanthropists. When you step back for a moment, it's a wonderful feeling to know that we live in a place where so many are able to help others either thanks to a family legacy or from their own accumulated wealth.

The problem for so many individuals and families is the challenge of determining which charities' missions match best with their beliefs and which ones can deliver the best value for their donations. Evaluating charities based simply on the percentage of dollar raised spent on administration of programs is often too superficial to really measure efficiency and effectiveness. Giving smarter is about looking for those annual reports, choosing to give to organizations who do provide comprehensive information and challenging the ones that you already support to go deeper and address your questions if their reporting isn't meeting the best practices described in the paper.

Personally, this line of questioning has led me to radically change my own giving habits and re-direct my annual donation dollars to the organizations that have the time to tell me more about the role my support plays in their day-to-day operations! It is also a good reminder of the importance of sharing this same story on behalf of the charities that I assist professionally.

What are your own charity's reporting best practices? Are you satisfied with the information that your charities provide you with as a donor?

Let's talk!
Stay tuned for an announcement about my first post as a guest blogger...
So many good articles and posts have passed by on my desk today that I thought I would share some of the best ones.

Giving from the Heart

Sometimes, affordability is a big question we have to ask ourselves as donors when contemplating a gift to charity. The answer always seems to come from a place where we balance our human passions and our material needs in some magical dance to come up with a dollar figure that feels comfortable.

I saw this astounding article today about a homeless man who is supporting a single mother and her child after she experienced a job loss. For me, it was proof that when we decide to help others, the motivating factor has more to do with our hearts and our desire to help than our actual financial ability.

I criticize myself frequently because my giving is rarely a "stretch" for my family financially and this story is going to force me to ask more serious questions about whether I can do more to help others. As a fundraiser, it reminds me that reaching my supporters in a way that creates passion in their hearts is the number one priority.

Please and Thank You

I participated last week in a twitter conference called Small Non-Profit Chat (#smNPchat) on Donor Accountability. A good summary of the conversation appeared here. Transparency and accountability were strongly linked with the idea of stewardship; it is important to share information about the impact of each donor's investment in your organization and that engagement has to continue beyond simply asking and move toward creating a "stakeholder" role for supporters.

Today, Michael Rosen posted some great thoughts on stewardship in relation to legacy gifts that really reinforce the notion that even in lean financial times, charities and non-profits cannot afford to neglect that personal thank-you.

Fortune Telling for Fundraisers?

Sometimes in the rush to ensure that your charity can meet current operating needs, the idea of investing in a Gift Planning program to raise future gifts may seem foolhardy. The question about expected ROI is a natural one for any board member or director being asked to consider investing in this type of program.

In my view, the answer is sort of like reading into a crystal ball. If your organization has a pretty good track record of legacies coming in and a reasonably sized list of those who have committed gifts (I'm talking at least 15-20 names), then it might be possible to make some good guesses and assume that moving from a passive to an active program will improve the situation. Harder to do without data or  track record at all.

The better question, from my perspective, is not about ROI but on possible opportunity loss. Good Works Co. in Ottawa is a full-service charity consultancy that frequently conducts polls to assess interest and capacity among Canadians for making legacy gifts. Their 2010 Legacy Poll results are available here and here.

There has been much concern during the economic downturn about falling donation revenue across North America. What these studies show is a trend that mirrors the early 1940s where current giving revenue suffered, but legacy gifts continued to increase. More importantly, the studies illustrate that the time is right to talk to Canadians about charitable bequests and that the potential funds available for charities are staggering.

The good news here is that sometimes, simply learning how to broach the subject is all you need...

Look forward to giving more, becoming more thankful and offering new opportunities for others to help together with you!
I saw an article today addressing the issue of how a large percentage of professional fundraisers would like to take on leadership roles in the non-profit sector but that few executive positions are filled by people with that background. 

Here is the link to an interview with two fundraisers who were successful in making the upward transition:
Civil Society - Voices from the Other Side, Fundraisers who become Chief Executives

The argument that the two interviewees make centers around the broad range of high-level business, relational, and communication skills that are required of successful fundraisers and how well they translate into leadership roles. I agree that some of the most dynamic individuals I've met have been in the fundraising industry and that there is an ability among many of my colleagues to create and communicate a vision for the future with clarity and passion. In other words, there are excellent leaders hidden in the ranks!

From my perspective, there are two things that might help:

1. As a community, fundraisers need to articulate better for themselves and their peers what it is exactly that they do. What is required of them daily for success and what special talents do they bring to the table? I always think that the CMA does a great job of doing this in their television and print ads for their own constituency.


2. Fundraisers also need to develop personally as great leaders. They need to look for opportunities to learn from the best of the best and to understand what leadership means. Some of my colleagues have taken the step of enrolling in Leadership MBA programs. Others have looked to expanding their reading lists, networking with leaders and seeking out mentors both on and offline. 

One of my current favorite sources for information is Alan Kay who offers coaching in the Solutions Focus change model. In one respect, leading is about knowing how and when to create and facilitate change. I learn a lot from simply following his free webinars and blog posts. 

What else do you think we could be doing? If your aspirations include leadership, how are you moving in that direction?

Update: Excellent article on Fundraising and Leadership appeared via the AFP Resource centre. Here's the link: Association of Fundraising Professionals

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