Lori Jacobwith is a communications and fundraising coach, consultant and blogger. She founded theand is author of the forthcoming book, Withism’s from Lori: Boldness, Clarity and Wisdom for Fundraising Professionals Making a Difference. The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of and a frequent contributor to the MKCREATIVE blog.
MKC: You’ve been a development director, an executive director, a CEO. So why did you shuck off all the power, the glory, the fame, the money and decide to be a trainer or a coach?
LORI: I love affecting change. When I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to help other people. I was able to help people as a development director and as an executive director, but I wanted to be able to help people at a larger scale. I got a taste of seeing what a trainer and a coach does by attending trainings, sitting in the audience, and I realized, I want to help a roomful of people at a time.
MKC: I’m particularly interested in your online fundraising community. What is that about?
LORI: It’s for people who would really love to have a coach and don’t want to either spend the time or lots of dollars for coaching. Through a monthly webinar, an e-newsletter that I share with that community, or some email exchanges, they get support, they get listened to, they get new tips and tools.
I’ve loved it, and it grows every day. I’ve got members from all over the North American continent right now. I believe they will tell you that the hour they spend live with the webinar speaker or listening to the one-hour webinar after the fact just jazzes them right back up to loving their job again. I have speakers other than myself, and I do master coaching four times a year, where we really dig into a topic.
MKC: Is that interactive?
LORI: It is. The webinars where you’re just talking – I don’t know, I always imagine they’re checking their email and doing something else – so I have tons of questions I ask. They use the chat box, they raise their hand, we do polls, we do surveys, and then there’s always time for questions.
MKC: What seems to me unusual is that you emphasize both communications and fundraising. Why that combination?
LORI: It’s my belief that there is only one thing in life that causes success in all areas of your life: Are you being clear in your communication? Are you assuming they know what it is you want them to do or are you actually spelling it out? Are you articulating a real example of a human story, defining what the impact is with the donor’s dollars? All of it boils down to, what are we saying, how are we saying it, and even, what are the word choices we make. My broken-record, soapbox message is, be thoughtful about your word choices.
I listen for scarcity language at organizations, such as, “It’s really hard to raise money in this economy.” Well, it actually isn’t. Most of the groups I’ve worked with in the last two years met or exceeded their fundraising goals, but they were really thoughtful about communication. They communicated what their impact was, what it cost to serve that kid or serve that meals on wheels program or help that homeless person, and they talked about what it would take to end the year without having any funding gap, without having anyone who came to their door not be served. I had one group raise a million dollars over their goal – in this economy.
MKC: I noticed on your blog that you’ve been talking a lot about fundraising readiness. Do you find many nonprofits that are looking for help are not ready?
LORI: (chuckles) Were you listening to my phone conversations yesterday? I believe people have really great intentions about helping others, and they may start this nonprofit, or take this job to run a nonprofit, and not quite understand that the fund development part – raising awareness and inviting people to give – is about 50 percent of their job, whether they’re a board member or a staff member. On visits I’ll always ask, “When you ask a board member to serve, do you tell them you’d like them to bring guests to your events?” (Well, no, we just hope they will.) “When you invite someone to an open house, do you tell them that by coming to this open house, you’re going to learn some statistics about homelessness in our community and how you can make a difference in reducing homelessness?” (Well, no, we tell people to come because we’re going to serve wine and cheese.)
If it’s an established, longer term organization, hopefully yes, they’ve got a lot more attention and understanding of readiness. But that said, I spoke two days ago to the CEO of a 60-year-old organization and because they’ve been government funded for their lifespan, they are just now thinking they should invite individual donors to support them. She really didn’t have a clue about how to go about doing this, and oh, we would have the board help with this? That was a whole new concept. So they were not ready.
MKC: What are the issues that are keeping your clients awake at night?
LORI: In the economy that we’ve seen over the last couple of years, program funding support has changed. Government contracts are a little harder to come by or are changing. Foundations, both corporate and community foundations, are deciding either to batten down the hatches or they just have less to give. The other big thing besides the money, of course, is there are more people looking to nonprofits for support. The number of people to serve are outpacing the dollars “from the usual suspects.” In the last 5 to 10 years, social-profit organizations’ focus has become, let’s start raising money from individual donors. That’s where I come in.
MKC: You seem to have embraced social media. Do you advise clients to jump into social media as well?
LORI: Absolutely. To dive in, and allow their staff and board to participate as well. And that means you’ve got to have a policy around it, and you’ve got to have a strategy around it.
So many times CEOs of nonprofits who haven’t jumped into social media with both feet are worried that giving access to Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and YouTube for the staff during the day will distract them from their work. And it might – in the beginning – because it’s the shiny new object – but you have policies around sick days, and what you wear to the office, and other things, so have policies around social media too, and allow your personality as an organization – especially if you’re a caring, gentile, loving organization, as most that I come into contact with are – start to show up on your Twitter feed or your Facebook page.
MKC: What keeps you at high energy and in high spirits? How do you stay focused on accentuating the positive?
LORI: For me, I make sure to meet a client from every organization that I work with as a coach, and as many organizations as I can who come into contact with me through trainings or my online fundraising community. I ask them to tell me about one person whose life is different because of their work, and sometimes I actually get to meet that person face to face. I get to hear amazing stories. I get to hear the good news every day, a couple times a day. I’ve heard two stories already today from groups I work with. They reduce themselves to emotional moments when they tell the story, and I’m connected to why our work together really matters. And that helps me help them more. It helps make it personal for me. What I remind people is, if that’s what’s happening for me, their vendor, their coach, imagine someone who says, I’ll give you my time, I’ll give you my dollars. Imagine what it’ll do for them.
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.