Sandy Rees writes the “Get Fully Funded” blog in addition to consulting and coaching nonprofit leaders on fundraising. A former Development Director for nonprofits, she has written and co-wrote 7 Essential Steps to Raising Money by Mail. The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of and a frequent contributor to the MKCREATIVE blog.
MKC: I notice that some of your blog posts draw a lot of comments. Is that something you were going for?
Sandy: Yes. One of the whole points to having a blog is to engage people in dialogue and conversation. I find that the more I share what I think and the more that I ask others what they think, the more people are willing to make a comment.
MKC: Have you gotten to know your readers a lot better that way?
Sandy: Oh gosh yes. I feel like I have a handle on them. It really tickles me when I go somewhere to speak, inevitably somebody will say to me, ‘Oh my gosh, I feel like I know you already!’ because they’re reading my blog and following me on Twitter, or maybe we’re friends on Facebook. I like it because I think it makes me an awful lot more approachable.
MKC: How would you characterize your readers? What kind of organizations are they with?
Sandy: Most of my readers are from smaller grassroots organizations. A lot are founders who are now executive directors. They know there’s a big old world out there as far as social media goes, and they’re real interested to hear what’s the latest and what should they be doing. A lot of people look to me to tell them some of the things they ought to have a look at or participate in.
MKC: What are the biggest challenges that your readers and clients are facing?
Sandy: I think the obvious one right now is what to do in light of the economy. Certainly the first thing I tell everybody is, ‘Don’t panic. It’s all going to be okay. You need to keep doing what you know works. Don’t stop asking for money. Keep telling your story. Keep asking for a gift. The minute that you take your eye off that goal and start to look around and get scared, you’re going to talk yourself out of asking for a gift, and then you’re not going to raise much money.’ The organizations I’ve been working with in a coaching capacity one-on-one over the last couple of years have not only continued to raise money and be successful but some of them have had their biggest years ever.
MKC: In your blog, you seem to put a lot of emphasis on planning. Is that something that development people are prone to skip?
Sandy: (laughs) That’s what I’ve noticed. An awful lot of people out there fly by the seat of their pants. In the past when I did that, I found I would spend my days dealing with the crisis du jour. When you do that, you never really move things forward. If you don’t spend a little bit of time thinking about what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to do that, you’re probably not going to accomplish much, you’re just going to spend a lot of time fighting fires. The trick is learning how to get far enough ahead of the crisis to be able to spend time doing some planning.
MKC: Do you also give them instruction on how to plan?
Sandy: Yes. I wrote a handbook calledand in it, I take folks step by step through how to create a plan – a very simple plan to help them set the goals that they want for moving their organization forward – and then how to follow through on those goals.
MKC: What is your advice these days about social media and whether small grassroots groups should get involved at all?
Sandy: For some organizations it can be a really good thing, and for others it can be just a huge waste of time. For a small organization with an executive director who spends part of her time doing fundraising, and then part of that time on social media, I’m not sure it’s the best use of their time. I do have a couple of clients that have done a really nice job of promoting their thrift stores using Twitter. It’s a really neat way for them to let people know what kind of things they’ve just gotten in at the store. For animal shelters, I’ve seen them do very similar things about the animals they’ve just gotten in and how cute and sweet they are, and that works really well. And likewise I’ve seen something similar on Facebook. But the organizations that seem to be doing really well with social media are real clear about why they’re doing it and what they want to accomplish with it. Organizations that just jump on because they see everybody else doing it tend to get frustrated because nothing’s happening.
MKC: On your blog you also talk a lot about donor-based fundraising. Can you give me a sense of what you mean by that?
Sandy: I explain it in terms of transactions versus transformation. Too many organizations do things of a transactional nature. They maybe have a bake sale, or an event. For the person giving the money – and I don’t even want to call them a donor at that point –they’re getting something in return for their money They’re there as long as they’re getting what they want, and when there’s nothing more that they want, they’ll go away. In a transformational situation, somebody is giving money because they care about the work the nonprofit is doing and they want to change lives. That’s a donor that’s going to be around a while. That’s somebody who’s really engaged in the work the organization is doing. Those are the kind of donors that are going to keep giving when the economy gets a little tough.
MKC: It sounds really easy as you say it, but it also sounds hard to do.
Sandy: It’s really not. It’s just a matter of finding those people who really care about the work your organization is doing, then starting to develop relationships. The thing is, most people are accustomed to relationships developing naturally, organically. When we start to develop relationships on purpose, that gets a little uncomfortable for some folks. It starts to feel manipulative. What I try to do is teach them how to come from a place of passion and compassion and commitment to the organization, to build that relationship with integrity, so they don’t feel they’re doing anything to take advantage of the donor and the donor feels totally engaged and wants to support the organization.
Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at donakchin.com.
This interview series is produced with the generous support of the Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone.