Mazarine Treyz: Hey, everybody. Welcome. This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising, and today I have the privilege of talking with Ms. Tycely Williams, who is going to be speaking at our next level conference. She’s going to be speaking about specifically the one thing that nonprofits can do to save money and make exponentially more money based on her research. And welcome, Tycely. Thank you for being here.
Tycely Williams: Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.
MT: So Ms. Tycely Williams, who are you and what do you do?
TW: Great question. I oftentimes tell people that I’m a matchmaker. I spend my day looking for donors that care about saving lives, and we promote our mission at the American Red Cross as a mission and an opportunity for people to save lives. So during the day I lead a group of committed charitable fundraisers here in the national capital region in Washington, DC. Our aim is to raise about $9.2 million annually. So as a chief development officer, I spend a lot of time trying to inspire teams, working alongside with volunteer leaders, as well as our internal stakeholders to advance the mission of the American Red Cross and to ensure that we are keeping to the forefront the interests and the priorities of our donors.
MT: Oh, absolutely. You’ve also done academic research on fundraising effectiveness. What did you find in your research?
TW: Well, you know, the thing that I love about social science research is whenever you get the findings, I think people, you know, when you start these journeys you often times know what you’re likely to find.
TW: So when I went back to graduate school at Georgetown, we were tasked with doing research within our field that centered around leadership. After 18 years of working in the nonprofit space, I really felt like I was interested in learning more about resignation. I think Penelope Burk has done a great job, amongst many within our field, kind of highlighting just a large epidemic and a large problem that we’re seeing in various organizations and various corners of not only the States, but outside of the States, pertaining to the high rate of voluntary resignation among charitable fundraisers. So I really wanted to convene two focus groups to just look at some separate incidents and try to determine from the incidents that people could recall and recount what were some common occurrences. To try to have a better understanding of the root cause. So we had two small focus groups, and within each of those focus groups were charitable fundraisers that represented a variety of different sectors. Charitable fundraisers with different ranges of experience and expertise within the field. And it was interesting that as people began to recount their experiences, or that they were experiences that happened within a six week window, or experiences that people were recounting from as long as 18 years ago, that within the majority of those incidents the source was that there was a lack of leadership. That individuals who were tasked with leading the organizations or leading the financial development department, that they lacked the ability to provide a charitable fundraiser what they needed in order to be successful.
A lot of charitable fundraisers reported when they witnessed voluntary resignations that they believed that those fundraisers left because the environment was not supportive of them as individuals. The environment was one that did not create a culture of fairness. The environment was not properly staffed, and so there was oftentimes an expectation that one person was hired to do five people’s jobs. The financial goal oftentimes was unrealistic. It was set without input from the frontline fundraisers, which as you can imagine, created lots of frustration. And the charitable fundraiser oftentimes did not feel as if their individual strategy could be resourced if they desired to have a consultant, for instance. Something that wasn’t budgeted for. If they desired to attend professional development and conferences. That was something that was not made available. So within many of these incidents of voluntary resignation, if the leader of the organization or of the department could have been able to make different choices, it is highly likely that the charitable fundraiser would have stayed in that environment. Because we actually analyzed the environment that the charitable fundraiser left and the environment that the charitable fundraiser went into, and what the perceived value of that alternative was. It wasn’t compensation. It was interesting that oftentimes the charitable fundraiser did not leave because of an increase in pay. But they left because there was a perception that the competitor down the street would offer an environment where their needs were met.
So that’s what I think we’re trying to do with this session. Just trying to expose and unveil the importance of sound decision making, making sure that that charitable fundraiser, that matchmaker is your link to your external donor base, to the companies within your community, to the individuals, and you don’t want that link to consistently shift and change. You want your ambassadors to have some consistency and continuity so that your relationships with your donors not only can grow, but they remain trusted relationships. Because I have not investigated, but it would be wildly interesting to investigate and examine what happens when our donors are experiencing these high rates of resignation. What conclusions are they drawing about our ability to be a trustworthy institution/organization? If they’re consistently witnessing people rotate in and rotate out.
MT: Yeah, that’s actually something that came up during the major donor master class that we did in October with Jay Love who has been a major donor. He’s also the founder of Bloomerang and some other software companies. He said his alma mater came to him, asked him some questions. He and his wife, they spent three hours together, had a wonderful time, and then three months went by and they didn’t hear from them. Then another month went by and they got contacted again by the charity. It was a new person, and they asked to meet him for coffee. He’s like, sure. They met him for coffee and they asked him the exact same questions that the previous person had asked, and he just got really upset. He was like, I’ve already given you this information. You don’t know me anymore. He felt, I would say, just like a cog. You know, a cog as a donor, not as an individual. You know?
TW: Yeah, and that’s a great point, a great takeaway for us. We’ve got to get this right. We owe it to donors like Jay to make sure that they are having a positive experience in exchange. Because they are going to invest in organizations that can give them a favorable experience, and they’re going to align themselves with organizations that they don’t feel like they’re having to have repeat conversations. That’s where it becomes even more difficult to maintain your competitive advantage, when you’re not able to do those things.
MT: That’s right. So this brings us to the heart of our interview and the heart of our questions today, which is what is the one thing that organizations can do, senior leadership can do, to save money and make more money in their nonprofits.
TW: Yeah. Well, I think in order to make sure that we are honing in on the costs. You know, there are human costs and then there are financial costs. The financial costs can be astronomical, when you look at the initial investment that you make into onboarding and the amount of time you need to have a charitable fundraiser in place to recoup those costs. I think with senior leadership, I would encourage them to ensure that prior to retaining talent, that you assess the state of your existing organization, and you make the necessary shifts and changes by listening to those who are within the organization with current charitable fundraising responsibilities. And hearing from them on what it is they value and how from their values you can create a culture, you can create an organization that in all facets of the work, that you are able to demonstrate the organization values what matters most to those who are helping to drive the daily operations.
I think oftentimes, it is so hard for people who are not charitable fundraisers to understand just how difficult the work is without having the proper ingredients. So it’s amazing how you can take a charitable fundraiser who has a stellar resume, who has solid skills, and you put that charitable fundraiser in a toxic environment that lacks values, that isn’t resourced, where you have leadership style that isn’t inclusive and doesn’t solicit feedback. Those that are executing the plan and attempting to reach the financial goals. That when you take someone who knows how to raise money and you put them in an environment that’s not going to enable them to raise money. You’re not going to get to your desired outcome, even with a fantastic charitable fundraiser.
It reminds me of an analogy of an apple pie. I think senior leaders often think that the only thing you need in order to raise money, the only thing you need at the table are apples. That’s your charitable fundraiser, and if you’ve got your apples, then you’re going to have a pie. You’re just going to have something yummy and tasty. But in order to have an apple pie, apples need more than other apples, you know? You’ve got to have sugar. You’ve got to have flour. You’ve got to have cinnamon. There are so many other things that are needed in order to reach the desired outcome, and I think in the event there is an organization that has experienced high levels of turnover, the first thing you have to do is to accept that change must happen and change must occur.
The best people to aid and assist with the change are those people that you are relying on to actually execute the strategy. So there’s so many lessons to be learned from other organizations who have gone through this process. I just hope that senior leaders will find themselves in a place that they value the work of their frontline fundraisers, and they do the necessary internal analysis and change to create a more positive and inspiring work environment.
MT: Yeah, I mean, when we think about the bottom line cost of this, we know Penelope Burk, her research in donor centered leadership has shown – I have an article about this. I’ll link to it. Even if you’re paying your fundraiser $50,000 a year, you are also going to be losing $300,000 a year when they leave, and especially if their position is left vacant for any length of time, maybe more than a month. So for small nonprofits and for larger institutions, the numbers go up the larger the money is that the fundraiser is raising. So if they’re a major gifts officer versus if they’re a one person shop. It’s hard to see that hidden cost of the fundraiser leaving. But the cost is there, and it’s not just in donor goodwill. It’s in actual dollars raised.
MT: So it would be in your nonprofit’s best interest to keep your fundraiser as long as possible and keep them happy and successful and resourcing their goals, as you said. So that’s some of what people are going to be learning at your session at the next level conference. They’re going to be learning about the outcomes of your research, and also the costs of having this turnover. Not just in the human way, but in a bottom line way. So what action tips would you be offering for senior nonprofit leadership in how to be more effective in fundraising from your session?
TW: Well, you know, the commitment that I made to you, and the commitment that I’ll make to everyone who’s going to join us. The action items are going to be things that any nonprofit regardless of size, regardless of discretionary budget line items – you will be able to implement. They will be actionable. They will not cost money. The tips will center around shifting your mindset and shifting the manner in which you approach charitable fundraising. So our session is going to kind of start with how do you uncover and adopt values. We do a fantastic job in the nonprofit space with the identification of our mission and our vision, and those statements you see prominently displayed on our website, collateral material, on our walls. But if you walk into a nonprofit and you just talk to whether it be a charitable fundraiser or anyone else, and you just say, “Talk to me about what you as an organization value,” you’re likely to get blank stares and people will not necessarily be in a position to articulate the organizational values.
So we’re going to start with saying, before we really try to assess what types of modifications need to occur, let’s first talk you through how do you have a collaborative exercise on the adoption of shared values? And then how do you ensure that those shared values are seeing different dimensions of the organization that not only affect the success of the charitable fundraiser, but also affect the success of all employees within the organization? So we’ll talk a little bit about staffing. How do you staff a shop? If you do have a one person shop, how do you involve volunteers? How do you involve interns? How do you occasionally resource consultants? So that one person is not responsible for all of the work. So the staffing is something that’s really important.
We’ll talk through systems. Oftentimes charitable fundraisers feel like they don’t have the systems they need to be successful, whether that’s database, your technology. There are people out here still using Excel spreadsheets for donor records. So talking through how you may be able to investigate solutions that will help you identify and integrate better systems into your organization. We’re going to talk about style, leadership style. How do you ensure that you’re hiring people that are going to demonstrate a commitment to the shared values in word and deed, in how they treat people? And a reminder to the senior leadership that they, too, have to have a leadership style that is firmly rooted in the shared values. So that’s just a little peek into some of the things that we’re going to chat about. But we’ll be very intentional to ensure that in a concise way, we’re rolling out actionable recommendations and suggestions that can be modified based upon the individual size and focus of the organization.
MT: I love that. That’s wonderful. That’s something that will really help people not only save money, but make a lot more money with their nonprofits. I mean, according to Penelope Burk’s research, she said that the nonprofits that kept their fundraiser over a course of over two years or even three years – which is not the typical time – they were able to raise $500,000 more than if they had lost them and had to retrain somebody all over again. And the money increases the longer you keep your good person. So anything else you’d like to add?
TW: You know, I think we’ve covered everything. I’m happy to hear from folks prior to the session. I know you can add a link to my personal email address. But if there’s specific questions that people have, or if people would like for me to highlight certain things, I look forward to hearing from folks and just making sure that together we’re creating a session that s going to be fun and very productive.
MT: I love that. I love that. Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you, for this wonderful interview.
TW: Thank you. I’m so grateful for the opportunity. I love, love, love being able to pair up with the wild woman of fundraising. I tell you, it’s great.
MT: Thank you. If you’d like to learn more from Tycely Williams’ original research on how to take your nonprofit to the next level, click below and learn more about our Next Level Fundraising Conference April 4th-5th, 2016.
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