“Discovering” the Delights of AFP in Boston

Congratulations to the Association of Fund Raising Professionals for another great international conference. The world’s largest gathering of fundraisers, held this year in Boston, brought together thousands of fledgling development officers looking learning a new profession, as well as veterans like me seeking to “sharpen tIMG_0039he saw.”

The 2016 conference was a significant step forward in many ways. Among the primary advances were increases in programming geared toward more seasoned fundraisers. This included numerous workshops focused on major, planned and principal gifts, internationally focused fundraising sessions, and programming centered on ethics. While more introductory courses were of course covered, this was a most welcome change.

Unexpected Learning Opportunities

As noted by AFP CEO Andrew Watt – who has brought outstanding energy and innovation to the organization – some of my best learning moments happened during informal one-on-one discussions with conference attendees. It’s amazing to me that I can learn as much, and sometimes more, in these “accidental” conversations as opposed to attending strategically planned workshops.

A few of my colleagues know that one of my passions is major gifts, specifically in the area of meeting new prospective donors. As such, it was of great interest for me to hear several questions about discovery calls from fellow participants in workshops I attended. The comments went something like, “It’s great that I am learning how I can find more individuals who might fit the profile (through data analytics, etc.) of a prospective major donor, but that doesn’t help me get in to see them.”

The dilemma is a common one, and unfortunately, there are still limited resources on the topic (my research is one of them). The relative lack of information on “getting in the door” is an example of how our profession is in some aspects still in its infancy.

Philanthropy is a World Matter

I was also struck once again by the diversity of participants, as attendees from all over the world made it to Boston. For instance, I learned that 14 delegates from Japan were in attendance, and there were many others from countries such as Brazil, Australia, and China. It’s always interesting to hear about the opportunities and challenges of our global partners, and fascinating to learn how many of our experiences are shared. Personally, I’m incredibly blessed to have been invited to speak at the Fundraising Institute of New Zealand conference next month, and am greatly looking forward to further expanding my international fundraising knowledge base while in Auckland.

I was intrigued to find out that our international colleagues have a significantly better grip on world affairs in comparison to those of us in North America. In a session led by global fundraising expert Penelope Cagney, participants learned that twice as many Europeans have passports as compared to US citizens. Such a disparity provides one indicator that Americans can be perhaps too internally focused, and this in turn has impacted – some would say negatively – our current situation in the political arena. In a similar vein, another presenter explained that while Americans try to present themselves as very independent, when it comes to giving most prefer to follow the crowd. If their friends, family and classmates, etc. give to a specific cause, they are more likely to do so. These are examples indicating that diversity of thought in the US may be narrowing rather than growing.

Donor Retention Remains a Challenge

One of the big topics at the conferences focused on the continuing problem of donor retention. Unfortunately, there is no one solution. Several presenters indicated, however, that improvements in stewardship and fundraiser tenure could go a long way toward rectifying the situation. Specific to my situation in higher education, one way to improve donor retention is to report on the activities of scholarship recipients after they graduate – an excellent idea to show the long-term impact of a donor’s investment.

An Easter Basket Filled with Fundraising Tips

One practice that helps me properly digest everything that I learn at the AFP conference is simply the idea of making a list of best practices and memorable quotes. In doing so, I prefer to focus on quality rather than quantity. Here are some “pearls” I found in Boston:

  • The practice of mirroring, or imitating what the donor says and does, can pay big dividends;
  • The phrase “What inspired you to make your gift?” is a great tool for sparking donor dialogue;
  • The fundraiser can use his/her personal story to gain the interest of prospective givers, and
  • Giving the donor a road map that indicates the fundraiser’s intention to eventually ask for a (major) gift can improve chances for a successful solicitation.

I’d love to hear from others about their personal highlights from the conference – we all benefit from the shared experience.

I’m grateful to AFP and the thousands of attendees who made the 2016 conference a smashing success. Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you in San Francisco next year!

Published in: on March 23, 2016 at 8:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Stepping Up Philanthropy in San Antonio

ImageAs I write this, I’m returning from the 51st meeting of the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in San Antonio, Texas. With each passing year, I see the advancement of philanthropy domestically, and perhaps more importantly, internationally. This year we learned that interest in the fundraising profession is booming in unlikely places like Mongolia and South Korea. Later this year, In Brataslava (Slovak Republic), the first Central and Eastern European Fundraising Conference will be held. What a fascinating and rewarding time to be a fundraiser! My personal experience at the conference included hosting development professionals from South Africa, and meeting colleagues from places like Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Egypt.

These countries and many others are thirsting for fundraising knowledge. The introduction of a new master’s level program/certificate in international fundraising at the conference is evidence of this.

Such global interest in our profession provides great opportunities. During a signing for my book, “Opening the Door to Major Gifts: Mastering the Discovery Call,” I met two fundraisers from France were very eager to read about my experiences. My Mom would be proud (that side of the family is French Canadian)!

One reason for opportunities from my perspective is that so very few countries and cultures are familiar and/or comfortable with the idea of major gifts. In the international context, “face to face” fundraising typically refers to street solicitors approaching strangers for a monthly credit card gift (in some corners, these folks are crassly referred to as “chuggers,” or charity muggers). That’s very different of course from the American view of face to face identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship.

Consider also that at the typical AFP conference, typically half of the attendees are first-timers. For these people, major gifts are probably not an area that they have yet tackled. So, AFP must focus a lot of energy on annual giving, direct mail, social media and special events. All important techniques to be sure, but all on the “indirect” end of the fundraising scale. In and of themselves, they are not “transformational” methods of development.

To further illustrate, last fall I was fortunate to be invite to present at a great conference in South Africa. In one of my sessions, one young university fundraiser told the audience that his boss expected him to ask for a gift during the first visit with a new prospect. At least in some pockets around the world, there is certainly a lack of understanding about how important patience and relationship building in the role of obtaining major gifts.

Rather than being disheartened by instances like this, I see it as an opportunity to teach and aim for improvement. I believe that every worthwhile non-profit/NGO should focus at least part of their efforts on long-term relationship building. The annual fund will always be important, but that alone is unlikely to move the needle significantly in our philanthropic efforts. To truly transform our organizations, our communities and our world, there must be an emphasis on what I like to call the “long game.” Let’s not spend so much time trying to meet this year’s fundraising goal that we forget about the big picture. What are we doing to provide transformational change in our organizations 10 years from now, 20 years ahead, or even 50 years into the future? What seeds are we planting today to sustain and propel our causes well into the future?

In the end, I’m grateful to have an opportunity to address this challenge. As I say to anyone who will listen (and I attempt to tell many who won’t), so many organizations are not nearly ready to begin asking for major gifts. They need to first initiate meaningful and lasting relationship with current and prospective donors – the focus of Opening the Door. If they do that, the money will take care of itself. Once you have a comfortable relationship with your donor, it really isn’t that hard to ask. And, if you do it right, your supporters will even thank you for the opportunity!

Congratulations to my colleagues at AFP for another great conference, and regards also to the thousands of participants who added to the rich and diverse nature of the event. As you head back to your communities re-energized with new fundraising knowledge, I wish you the very best in your annual fundraising campaigns. At the same time, remember to keep your eye on the horizon. Never forget about the importance of the “long game.”

Published in: on March 26, 2014 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Another Conference Concludes

The South African Institute of Fundraising Conference has concluded, leaving behind some very enjoyable times, knowledge gained and friends made. My final presentation rediscovered my passion for fundraising when a young fundraiser asked about my approach to major gifts. His comment was that in South Africa, fundraisers are often expected to make an ask on the very first visit. He contended that there is very little patience for cultivation to mature. Some of this is understandable, as the need for South African charities is so great. Just last night, we heard from an HIV charity that the US government shutdown is threatening to cut off vital funding. Incredibly tragic and totally preventable. To my point, however, is that we all need to respect and honor the fundraising process. To be in a hurry is typically being doomed to failure. I told the young man that he needed to tell his boss things from the donor perspective. If his boss were the prospect, how would he feel about being solicited for a large sum of money from a total stranger?  Not too cool, is it? Fortunately, I really believe events like the SAIF Conference are helping to create a better understanding of the major gifts process. I for one was very enthused by the reaction to my plenary on major donor discovery calls (the topic of my book, of course). It seems there is a great thirst for understanding the intricacies of major gifts, and how we as fundraisers must continually work diligently to uncover new prospects on an ongoing basis. I feel very positively that the audience appeared to be on their way toward this line of thinking and strategy.

As for the SAIF experience overall, it was incredible. I have never met a more lovely and caring group of people. The conference attracted a total of 21 speakers, including such well known philanthropy experts as Bernard Ross, Stephen PIdgeon and Guy Mallabone. It was an honor and a thrill to be a part of this esteemed cohort. As I said, the time in Johannesburg relit my passion for philanthropy, and I am feeling incredibly blessed to have had the experience.

Published in: on October 11, 2013 at 7:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lessons from South Africa

Greetings from Johannesburg! The Southern African Institute of Fundraising is underway and I am pleased to be among the featured presenters. This morning’s plenary on major donor discovery calls was well attended and I was honored to joined internationally known consultants Steven Pidgeon and Bernard Ross on the agenda. What struck me about the attendees is that they seemed very hungry for practical tips. My discussions with a few of those in attendance leads me to believe South Africans are very interested in major gift fundraising, and ravenously accept ideas that will help them get started. Many of the charities are small and rurally located, so they are often “one person” shops. They have to do the direct mail campaign, the special event and social media. They want to do major donor work, but finding the time to make personal visits can be challenging. Regretfully, it appears that the economy has kept attendance numbers down a bit, a real shame. In a perfect world, the worse the economy, the more that fundraisers should have opportunity for professional development. Attending Guy Mallabone’s session on major donor fundraising was a treat for the afternoon. A reality check in his list of “basic questions to know” (i.e., how many active donors does your charity have) was absolutely brilliant. Tomorrow, I present on approaching American foundations for funding and am anticipating a good turnout. Cheers to all from beautiful South Africa!

Published in: on October 9, 2013 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Investing in Our Profession — And Ourselves

From the author of “Opening the Door to Major Gifts: Mastering the Discovery Call” (Charity Channel Press, 2013).

I don’t know about you, but if I never see another dire report bemoaning the troubles of the fundraising profession, it will be fine with me.

Mind you, I’m quite aware of the challenges that we face. Reports like “Underdeveloped” (January 2013) rightfully underline that there has been a seemingly unending revolving door to and from the development director’s office. Insufficient training and support typically handicaps the new fundraiser, and those who do excel usually move on quickly — they can write their own ticket.I-am-an-accountable-employee

Much has also been been made of the average tenure of the new fundraiser — as little as 16 months — which is not nearly long enough to build the relationships necessary for successful resource development.

Indicators like these point out that nonprofit organizations can do much more to “embrace fund development” and “elevate the field of fundraising.” Rather than treating the fundraiser like a second-class citizen, the work of development must be valued and appreciated at every opportunity. No argument here.

There is another factor, however, that needs to come to the forefront. Fundraisers must be held personally accountable for their success, or sometimes lack thereof. One of the reasons that I wrote “Opening the Door to Major Gifts” was that I saw a lack of discipline and commitment on the part of a number of fundraisers whom I have known and worked with over the years. Yes, their organizations could have done more to support them. And yes, each nonprofit as a whole should be held accountable for fundraising. But in the end, the buck stops with the development director.

It is my opinion that more new fundraisers would find success if they exercised rigor through the use of proven fundraising practices. My personal methods of identifying and qualifying potential major-gift donors are an example of such methodologies, but there are many other effective practices in major gifts.

On many occasions in the past, I can recall a colleague telling me how difficult it was to make donor appointments. My response was always to inquire how many times the colleague had attempted to reach the prospect on the phone. More often than I would like to recall, the response was “two or three” times. That is simply not nearly enough. I suggest at least seven attempts to reach the prospect by phone before either recycling them for later followup or dropping them from your list.

The bottom line is that the fundraiser must be personally culpable for triumph or failure. Yes, we should work to encourage greater organizational support of our work. But let’s also make sure that we are maximizing the resources that we have available.

Another methodology I advocate for in “Opening the Door” is to spend at least one hour each day (uninterrupted if possible) attempting to set up donor appointments. Try it, and you will find that you can make a ton of calls in 60 minutes. But you have to make the commitment to do it, even on the days when you don’t feel like doing so. I know, I have days like that too.

Again, I do not deny that the fundraising profession often gets a bad rap. I think as time, however, moves forward that it will eventually change for the better. Increased professionalism, training opportunities and the growth of the nonprofit sector all point to an improved outlook.

Until then, we should not use such factors as an excuse for any fundraising challenges that we face. Rigor, discipline and persistence can all take us a long way toward elevating the development profession and advancing our collective fundraising success.

Published in: on July 7, 2013 at 10:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Is This About a Gift?

From the author of “Opening the Door to Major Gifts: Mastering the Discovery Call” (Charity Channel Press, 2013).

Every once in a while, I run into a prospect who tries to cut through my efforts with a simple, penetrating question:

Is this about a gift?


Put another away, I recently gave a book talk which was well received. However, at the end of the presentation my session host expressed skepticism about my process. “People know you are a director of development, so they know you want money,” the host exclaimed. “Aren’t there people who don’t want to go through this (cultivation) proess? They might not want to make a gift, and even if they do they may not have time for multiple meetings.”

The end result of this skepticism is often the question about my pursuit of a gift. The answer is simple:

I explain that while my function is to raise philanthropic support, my initial visit purpose is never to solicit them. I’m there simply to meet, say thank you, and assess the prospect’s possible inclination to make an investment in the future.

If the first visit is a success, of course my goal is to have a second visit. Maybe there will be an ask at the second visit, but maybe not. Everyone is different.

Whenever the “question” arises, prospects typically are quite satisfied with my answer. If the prospect pushes back more after hearing my response, however, it’s probably an indication that a meeting is not likely to happen or that a meeting will not be productive.

Again,  I have, on a number of occasions, indicated to prospects that a gift discussion during a first meeting rarely happens and that when it does, it is always at the suggestion of the person I am meeting with. The subtle message is that asking for a gift would not be appropriate because we don’t really know each other yet.

Don’t let the “question” ever stop you from seeing your prospects. They just might start thinking about a gift after they hear what you have to say.

Published in: on May 29, 2013 at 4:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Why I Decided to Write a Book

Opening the Door to Major Gifts

At 52 years of age, I have wondered aloud why I waited until now to write my first book. I suppose the answer is that I have never seen a need for such an endeavor. My approach to work has always been practical, so it was not until I saw a problem that needed to be solved that I became motivated to write. I’ve seen way too many new development officers struggle to get appointments with new prospects. Once the relationship had been established, it wasn’t nearly as hard to continue cultivation and even ask for a gift, but hoo boy — that first meeting is a bear. Setting up and conducting the discovery call was easily my most difficult challenge when I started in major gifts fundraising 15 years ago.

“Opening the Door to Major Gifts: Mastering the Discovery Call” (April 2013) will make its debut from the publisher

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Published in: on May 9, 2013 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Do You Need Wealth Screening?

From the Author of Opening the Door to Major Gifts: Mastering the Discovery Call (Charity Channel Press)

When making discoverpuzzled-look-picy calls, there are many ways to obtain valuable information prior to the visit. One method is to hire a wealth screening service to survey your donor database and determine the approximate ability of donors to give generously. While this can be a valuable service, it certainly isn’t mandatory. In the best of worlds, all donors who come to your organization — whether through a special event, direct-mail donation or online gift — should be reviewed by a committee of knowledgable volunteers AND analyzed through wealth screening software to determine capacity. Unfortunately, both methods have drawbacks. While volunteers are often willing to share their insights about prospects, they are generally less likely to introduce you to them or accompany you on a visit. Further, while wealth screening can give you some indication of a prospect’s ability to give, it tells you nothing about the individual’s inclination to make a major gift.

What all this means is that you need to go see your donors and find out for yourself. They are helpful, but you do not NEED volunteers or fancy software. Just meet with your prospects, ask questions and LISTEN. You will know soon enough how they feel about your organization.

Here’s an example of how wealth screening might be helpful, but certainly is not vital. Let’s say you have time to only see one prospect, but have two on your list. The first prospect has a wealth screening rating of $50,000 and has made annual gifts of $500 to your organization in each of the last three years. The second prospect has a capacity rating of $500,000 but has not given at all in the past five years. Before that, there were only two gifts, each for $25.

So, which prospect are you going to try to meet with?

The first prospect will definitely be my top priority because the prospect is a significant annual donor, and in fact a donor of some consistency (three straight years). The second prospect may have great capacity, but I have no idea if there is any real interest. Previous gifts were not large, and they occurred some time ago.

That’s why I think wealth screening and gift ratings are helpful but not necessarily essential. In this case, did the wealth screening really matter? At its simplest element, if someone is supporting your organization significantly and consistently, why not try to go visit that person — if for no other reason than to simply say thank you?

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Published in: on May 8, 2013 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kiwi Wanderings, Part 1

Two weeks in New Zealand is not nearly enough, but it’s a start.

We departed on the long journey to Wellington on May 7th. As funny as it sounds to recall the famous movie it really did involve Planes, Trains and Automobiles. We drove to catch our favorite commuter train, the South Shore Line, in Michigan City and departed at Millennium Station. We caught a great Greek lunch at Roti and then headed down to the Washington Station to board the CTA Blue Line to O’Hare. While waiting to board the train we met Dave Russell, a cool drummer who showed Anya how to play the bongos. 

The flight from Chicago to LA was nothing compared to what came next. From LA to Auckland, NZ, the flight is more than 13 hours! Fortunately, Air New Zealand is wonderful. Great stock of new release movies makes the journey seem shorter and the food is excellent. Dinner and breakfast both had touches of homemade quality, such as almond cake for dessert. Flying to NZ you cross the international dateline, so it is in fact tomorrow there, 16 hours later to be exact. No wonder they say that New Zealand is place to be if you want to see the sun rise before anyone else in the world.

Imagine our bleary-eyed surprise when we were greeted by a representative of the Fundraising Institute of New Zealand (FINZ) upon arrival at the Auckland airport. FINZ was the association sponsoring John’s visit to Wellington. We were so pleased to be greeted a Kia ora (a greeting used by the the native Maori) by the FINZ Fellow, or a senior member of the organization, and be bid a good short one hour journey to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital and the site of the FINZ conference where John was to speak.

Being in NZ a few days before the conference, we grabbed a rental car and drove an hour to the north to the Kapiti (pronounced KAP-i-tee) Coast, which is noted for its fine beaches. We wound up staying in the Paraparaumu Beach at the Lindale Lodge. It was obviously “low” season at the lodge since we were the only tenants, except for the many cows and sheep which we enjoyed visiting in a nearby pasture. Lindale also has some lovely tourist shops. John located a store with many different types of honey, and also a cheese shop. If you have never had New Zealand cheese before, you are missing something. The stuff is of the amazing, creamy buttery variety which you do not quickly forget. In town, there are also many lovely shops including a fish and chips place. Being bourgeouis Americans we did not realize that tomato sauce (ketchup) did not automatically come with the chips/fries but it was not a major inconvenience. The fish was fresh and downright heavenly.

Just to north of Lindale is Wainkanae Beach, where we found a cool bird preserve called Nga Manu (na MAH-nu) which is Maori for The Birds. Nga Manu was the first, and only place where we saw the famed Kiwi bird. Because the Kiwi are nocturnal, unless you are really quick or lucky you will not likely see one unless you are at animal facility with blacklights like Nga Manu. We were lucky to have arrived just before feeding time. Our guide was very knowledgeable and let Anya assist in feeding our feathered friends.

After our journey through Nga Manu, we found there to be little commerce in Waikanae Beach, save for the The Drift Cafe. This inviting and homey restaurant features amazing gourmet dishes (John had the prawns–exquisite) in a cozy setting that includes a fireplace, a couch and lounging chairs. After this repast we roamed the beautiful beach area which is filled with gorgeous sea shells and many other interesting finds.

After the trip to Kapiti, it was time for John to get back to Wellington for the conference. Gretchen and Anya were there only momentarily though before departing north along the eastern coast toward the noted architectural city of Napier. Gretchen had read about Napier as a child and fulfilled a “life long dream” in reaching the city. I can offer little narration regarding the trip, but they did return with a some cool photos.

Published in: on June 12, 2011 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kiwi Time!

I’m back home after an amazing trip. Although my travels took place in May, the journey really started when I received an email in December from James Austin, CEO of the Fundraising Institute of New Zealand (FINZ), the professional body for those employed in or involved with fundraising, sponsorship and events in the not-for-profit sector. I was delighted to receive an invitation to be a featured speaker at the annual FINZ conference in Wellington. FINZ is a small association, but the conference has been held for many years and has invited some very prestigious folks over time. I was honored to receive the opportunity.

The invitation fulfilled a personal goal that I set several years ago to speak at an international conference. Coincidentally, New Zealand was at the top of my desired list of international destinations … funny how things work out.

For the engagement, I agreed to deliver a day-long preconference masterclass, a couple of educational sessions during the conference, and a plenary address to conclude the event. Three other international speakers – Robert Osborne Jr. of the Osborne Group (New York), Martin Paul (Australia) and Alan Sharpe of Harvey McKinnon Associates (Toronto) – were also invited, but I was the lecturer from the most “exotic” (i.e., remote, unidentifiable) location. I had an opportunity to spend time with Sharpe and found that his plenary on thank you letters was both entertaining and informative. The fact that Alan has family in West Michigan also made for a good discussion of common interests.

The Kiwis are amazing hosts. I was greeted at both the Auckland and Wellington airports by a FINZ representative. In Wellington, the FINZ communications director, Susan Fogarty, gave a hearty welcome and a cup of coffee and made sure I got safely to my rental car. Susan is the person who makes FINZ “go” and has been my primary contact in preparing for the conference. In her other “life” Susan is a published author (her book “Susan in the Suburbs” is popular among Kiwis) and has worked as a standup comedienne as a former member of the renowned Groundlings. She went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure I was well taken care of.

Prior to the conference, I had an opportunity to visit the FINZ office in downtown Wellington. While the office is modest, I appreciated how well the FINZ team of James, Susan and accounting manager Leigh Brown work together. I learned that until fairly recently, FINZ was completely volunteer driven. James, a former Wellington fundraiser, is the association’s first CEO and was hired following an exhaustive search.

During the course of our stay in Wellington, my daughter became ill (she is fine now) and James, who I am sure had farther better things to do, personally drove us the local medical care center. As I said, the Kiwis are incredible hosts.

A good deal of attention was given to the “care and feeding” of conference guests, including a welcome dinner and a conference concluding brunch. During the welcome dinner I had lovely conversations with many Kiwi hosts and witnessed a “playful” fight among some “mates” in the lobby of the restaurant where we dined. James indicated, tongue in cheek, that this was part of the evening’s entertainment. There was also an opening reception during which an improvisational troupe led attendees through a mock “fashion show” with balloons, streamers and various other party favors serving as clothing accessories. It appears Kiwis do not take themselves too seriously and enjoy a bit of light-hearted fun.

It was during these events that I learned the most about Kiwi culture. One of the most important things to know about New Zealanders is that they are globally aware. Almost everyone I met at the conference has lived in another country, and many have lived in the United States.

My new colleague Nigel Sanderson from FundraiseOnline is a Wellingtonian who lived in New York for a couple of years. Nigel described to me the nature of fundraising in NZ. While very welcoming to strangers like me, Kiwis are somewhat reserved in nature. Nigel described “street appeals” that are prevalent in Wellington. “Solicitors” hold donation buckets near business establishments similar to Salvation Army personnel in the US, but would never dream of attracting attention, i.e., ringing a bell. Nigel pointed out that it is illegal in Wellington for solicitors to “shake their buckets” as that is considered aggressive marketing. Simply put, Nigel described the Kiwi philosophy as one of “we don’t want to impose.”

This philosophy seems consistent with my observation that face to face fundraising with individuals is less prevalent in New Zealand compared to the United States. According a study conducted in 2006, 35 percent of New Zealand giving comes directly from individuals (gifts and bequests) while the lion’s share of giving is from foundations, trusts and businesses (57 percent). As we know, this is dramatically different from the US where individuals typically make up at least 75 percent of philanthropy. My masterclass participants verified all of this, although a few of my observations about the best ways for Kiwis to research foundation funders were a tad off the mark.

The point that I subtly tried to make (although some participants might not have viewed my attempts as subtle) during my time in Wellington is that there appears to be a grand opportunity at hand to increase major gift fundraising. According the 2010 Gallup World Giving Index, New Zealand and Australia tied for first globally in generosity, with 68 percent of the adult citizens in those countries making some kind of monetary gift to charity. Here in the good ole USA, where some mistakenly believe philanthropy was “invented,” we lag behind in fifth place in the same poll with 60 percent of Americans giving.

It is indeed true that while Kiwis are much quicker to embrace technology than their American colleagues, they are looking to the “states” to learn about major gifts. I met many New Zealand fundraisers who were most appreciative of any information that I or my fellow guest speakers were able to provide. I believe the Kiwis are more than capable of adopting these ideas if they so desire. As a society, New Zealand tends to undervalue its capabilities. My conclusion after my visit is that Kiwis are really a lot better than they think they are.

Regarding my previous mention of Australia, I was pleased to see many colleagues from the neighboring country in attendance. Leo Orland, who serves as the board chair of the Fundraising Institute of Australia (FIA), is a treasure trove of information regarding international philanthropy trends. Leo has been very active in the international Certified Fund Raising Executive movement, and the CFRE credential is popular in Australia thanks in part I am sure due to his good work.

I was told that CFRE is THE fundraising credential in New Zealand. Knowing this, I was honored to serve as the host of a FINZ luncheon for CFREs. I learned that there are only 19 CFREs in New Zealand currently, and some in attendance openly inquired what could be done to further promote the credential. I suggested that FINZ could do promotion in its publications, but ultimately it was about taking the case “directly to the people.” FINZ members need to be counseled, perhaps on a one-on-one basis, regarding the value of the credential.

My belief is that many fundraisers pursue the CFRE for very personal reasons and not necessarily because (in the U.S. anyway) the credential can result in promotions and higher pay. The Kiwis tell me that the CFRE is an unknown in their country and definitely does not result in more pay or higher positions. That is just as well. In the end, my personal opinion is that CFRE is really mostly about taking pride in our profession and showing that pride by pursuing a globally agreed upon certificate of standards.

The masterclass I led focused on relationship building. While somewhat reserved, the attendees did participate well and asked very thoughtful questions. Some of the materials I presented about New Zealand philanthropy were a hair off base, but no one was offended and there seemed to be some appreciation for the effort, however misguided.

A highlight of the masterclass was an exercise that I led focusing on communications and marketing efforts. I asked the participants to “imagine” their charity had received a $100 million gift, and to describe in detail how they would announce such a transformational investment. After a great discussion, I revealed that my employer (Western Michigan University) had recently received such a gift for support of a new medical school and passed along information about Operation Historic Moment (www.operationhistoricmoment.com), a brilliant marketing effort announcing the gift led by our consultant Jim Small. In a nutshell, the effort created tremendous “buzz” prior to, during and following the announcement through the use social media, countdown clocks, highway billboards and even mysterious “Goldmen” (students wearing gold suits) making appearances at high profile campus events.

My plenary on ethics closed the conference. I love talking about ethics, and it appears Kiwis share my enthusiasm for the topic. During my comments I told the true story of a colleague who was offered a gold watch by a donor as a thank you in celebration of a seven figure gift that the donor made to my colleague’s institution. I could tell that the audience became personally engaged in my colleague’s quandary, and a spirited debate ensued. My sense is that New Zealanders have a very strong moral and ethical base, and seem to have a greater passion, as a whole, regarding this topic compared to American fundraisers. Although I have spoken on the topic on numerous occasions, I learned as much or more from the audience about ethics from their comments than anything I may have personally imparted during the plenary.

I was involved in several conversations about international philanthropy and New Zealand’s potential. My friendship with Andrew Watt, new CEO for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, as well as my volunteer role on the AFP international development committee, likely played a role in this. I developed a friendship with Johan Vos, a Wellingtonian who was FINZ board chair for five years and who has also been active in AFP. Johan serves as national director of Alzheimers New Zealand and is a good student of American and international philanthropy. Johan’s wife is from Washington D.C. and is a native of Holland (he is very familiar with the country’s connections to West Michigan).

Although I am relatively new to the international committee, I know that one of its core accomplishments to date has been the establishment of an international code of ethics. Johan told me there is interest now among committee members to create international standards in various categories of fundraising, including annual giving, events and bequests/planned giving.

In summary, my time with the Kiwis was unforgettable but briefer than I might have liked. I was in New Zealand for two weeks, and with several days devoted to the conference I did not have nearly enough time to fully experience the country’s amazing and raw beauty. I’ll blog about my “tourist” travels in upcoming post. The next time I make it to New Zealand, I plan to spend at least a month!

Published in: on May 23, 2011 at 9:45 pm  Comments (1)