How do you say “thank you”?

In philanthropy, it’s easy to get caught in the asking mindset. You begin to look at the year as a series of campaigns and strategically craft just the right message to just the right audience. And while I’ll be the first one to applaud a well-thought out annual development plan, I want caution that failing to balance asking with thanking and thoughtful recognition creates donor fatigue, and worse, donor turnover. As we head into Giving Tuesday, here are 3 things to ask yourself if you’ve spent most of 2016 with an asking mindset:

  1. Who is the most important donor segment to your organization? Nothing replaces deeply knowing and understanding your donor file. The more you familiarize yourself with your donor segments, understand their giving patterns, and talk to actual donors about their interests in your mission, the more effective you will be at finding new supporters and keeping current ones deeply engaged. Because retained donors are becoming keenly more aware of how your organization is asking for their support and equally more savvy in their evaluation of how their dollars are being put to work, soliciting their perspective can make your future efforts more informed and impactful.
  1. What does the cadence of your stewardship campaigns look like? While many organizations have refined their annual development processes, they may not be taking a comprehensive look at how their stewardship efforts parallel-path or overlap their timed development tactics. This is an important next step in providing a holistic donor engagement experience. Consider this exercise based on your current End of Year campaign. First, look at how many emails you have planned. What is the “thank you” process if someone gives after the first email? Does this differ or stay the same for donors who give after subsequent emails? What if someone gives multiple times? Do they receive the same “thank you” twice? Is there any donation level which would trigger a special thank you gift the first week in January? Is there any donation level where your major gift team might call and extend the offer to visit that donor in the new year? Take the extra step to walk through use-cases like this with your Development Team and you will start out on an even better foot in going into 2017.
  1. How have you reinvented your donor acknowledgement in the last 1, 3, or 5 years? I’m all for process and automation. And I’m a firm believer in standardization. That said, creating a stewardship matrix with associated templates doesn’t mean you and your development colleagues “set it and forget it”. Each year, designate a time to revisit, evolve, and improve these tactics. Discuss whether long-standing donors are still being given a genuine and unique appreciation process. Consider whether the organization has had or will have any milestones which could be worked into your acknowledgement process. If you are feeling extra innovative, ask your newest or youngest employee to propose a totally new stewardship matrix/process. Getting a new perspective may be a simple way to delight and wow your donors!

Happy (almost) Giving Tuesday! And thank you, thank you, thank you for passionate, thoughtful campaigns this holiday season.

Going from Manager to Solopreneur, and figuring out “What’s Missing?”

For many young professionals who are working on advancing their careers, becoming a manager feels like a very notable step on the stairway to success. Oftentimes, this level of promotion acknowledges that you have mastered the day-to-day tasks of your role, you show promise on looking ahead and building readiness plans, and you understand the value of creating collective buy-in on an idea.

After managing a team for five years, a portion of which was saturated with drastic organizational change and turmoil, I determined that I no longer felt effective leading my team. The challenging part of this realization, for me, was that when I walked away from managing my team, I began to question whether I was losing my ability to be a “team player” – an attribute I hold as one of my highest values.

After I started working for myself, I noticed that I was still responsible for a lot of my manager-like duties. I was developing strategies, outlining tactical plans, organizing projects, doing monthly invoicing, and balancing budgets (my own!). And yet, I was missing the most rewarding part of being a manager – building a team! I decided there must still be a way to support the growth of others without hiring staff, so I committed to taking or making coffee dates with past colleagues, friends, and acquaintances. This small effort has helped me feel like a mentor again while cultivating my ability to provide objective advice and ask questions which generate more conversation and discussion around critical decision points. It’s also been really rewarding to have these conversations with past direct reports, because they seek out opinions on topics that I’m not sure we could have or would have discussed when we were in a formal management structure.

If you are a solopreneur, I highly encourage you to identify what is missing from your independent work and determine ways to fill those “workplace voids”. By doing so, I think you’ll be happier in your work and continue building valuable skills should you decide to head back into a traditional management structure.

Let’s grab coffee! Email me at annemarie@findsmallwins.com.

Lunch Served with Swear Words and Sunday Predictions

I’ve seen my fair share of events. During my tenure at LIVESTRONG, we were fortunate to produce events around the globe. They ran the length of the athletic spectrum and also included events more programmatic in nature like summits, cocktail receptions, galas, and even a startup incubator.

In recent years, the competition in the event space has become steep. There is no shortage of opportunities for supporters of any cause to find an event to participate in. What I really appreciate about this influx of options is how it has forced a rethinking of the “typical” nonprofit event. While we tell ourselves that we innovate on a regular basis, anyone who has operated a successful event or series will tell you that the drive to change or iterate lessens each year that you hit your numbers (either attendance or revenue).

Last week I attended a luncheon hosted by 22Kill. 22Kill works to raise awareness for veteran suicide and educate the public on mental health issues. As the wife of a veteran, this cause does hit close to home but what stood out to me was how dialed in they were to who they were, what they were there to do and how they did it.

First, their event was geared toward “Leaders in Construction”. It was held in the middle of the day, on the Friday going into Labor Day weekend. Here’s why that’s genius: Most working folks know their office is going to be a ghost town on this particular Friday afternoon so they are more inclined to attend this lunch and then start their weekend early. From the organizer’s side of things, they could position their ask to the hotel for a meeting room which was probably sitting in “wasted inventory” because of the lack of demand during this day/time, keeping costs low.

Second, they were hyper specific about their audience. I should go on the record to say that my ticket came from one of my clients, who has a relationship with 22Kill. However, as a female in non-profit consulting, I was not their target audience. From the title of the event alone “Leaders in Construction”, you probably guessed this was a male dominated event. Add to that that the guest speakers were a former UT long snapper and a decorated Marine and you get a room packed with middle to late aged gentleman who were clearly friends and supporters of our Armed Services and passionate University of Texas Alumni. This crew could come from work and feel comfortable showing up in jeans and a button down or slacks and a polo. They were easy going and seemed to generally network in the same circles (which always works in your favor when it comes to table sales).

Finally, when it came to the program, I was reminded just how important it is to select the right messenger. When someone can speak first-hand about the impact of your organization’s mission and work, your attendees will listen. The Marine involved in the program, who was not over-scripted or encouraged to curb his language, spoke very openly about the struggles he had as a wounded veteran. Similarly, Nate Boyer offered his perspective on the VA, his predictions on the Notre Game, and the budding situation with Colin Kapernick. Neither ever apologized for speaking honestly. The combination of vulnerability and authenticity struck me. They were obviously supporters and advocates for 22Kill but they were  also unabashedly themselves, and no one in the room was worried about the political correctness of the two intertwining.

At the end of the event, the organizer allowed time for smaller organizations, who 22Kill would ultimately point veterans’ toward for programs and services, to speak to the group. During their brief comments, he showed the text-to-give thermometer which tracked the progress of this particular event and its ability to share profits with its smaller partners. As someone in a non-profit sector, I know the lift involved with direct service. As a guest at that luncheon, I also knew I wanted to see this group of people be able to help more veterans. And like so many others in the room, I gave again.

Sure this event was a luncheon but it was more than that. It was a really smart fundraiser by 22Kill, who made a tactical strike on Austin and walked away with raising $60,000 for our Warriors.

5 Things I Didn’t Learn from My M.B.A.

Disclaimer: This article isn’t intended to diminish what I learned at the University of New Haven. They provided me with a great education which has been the springboard for a series of career opportunities. I decided to get my advanced degree at the ripe old age of 23. I left undergrad, changed campuses, and bought more expensive books. I saw the decision as “investing early” but I didn’t have a deep understanding of how this level of education should be approached. Looking back, it may have been this lack of maturity and perspective that prevented me from hearing the subtle, but valuable takeaways the professor was sharing. It could also be that there are some things that you can only learn from mentors and peers, who teach you through their actions and interactions every day.

Lesson 1: Build buy-in before you get there. Most work places host meetings. Lots and lots of meetings. Because of the sheer frequency of meetings, it is easy to forget that not all meetings are equal and that leveraging a meeting to your benefit is a learned skill. If you are called upon to share important project information or ask for support on a new proposal, your first step should be figuring out who you need at that meeting and what their current opinion is on your topic. Take the time to talk with each stakeholder individually before the meeting. Share some of what you’ll discuss in the meeting and learn their concerns. When you get to that very important presentation, you’ll have a clear idea of what information needs to be shared to get approval/buy-in and be able to proactively address obstacles in front of your managers and peers. Bottom line: You’ll get more done and be perceived as a rock star.

Special thanks to Ellen Barry, for modeling this behavior and showing me how ‘working the floor’ breaks down interoffice barriers.  

Lesson 2: Get comfortable with your content. What I don’t mean here is memorizing sound bites. When you only bother to understand your role/project/business at a surface level, you will struggle with answering questions on the details. Good managers/investors/partners always want to know more. Give it to them! Show them that you understand your world (whatever size it may be) inside and out. Share the stats that excite you. Reveal the trends that scare you. Offer your biggest success. Follow it with your biggest challenge or hard lesson. When you are comfortable with your content, the depth of your knowledge translates into confidence and thus builds trust with others.

Special thanks to my previous boss, Nick Denby, who always shared my love of spreadsheets but constantly pushed me to deliver insights out of the data.

Lesson 3: Ask for feedback and ask again. In my M.B.A classes, I saw that confidence (and maybe even a little ego) went a long way in leading a group project or getting your voice heard. From what I remember, most people were comfortable speaking up, sharing their opinion, and advocating strongly for their ideas. I don’t remember us taking the time to discuss group dynamics. I don’t remember anyone coaching me to ask how people were feeling. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I started to realize that soft skills played a big role in creating trust and building teams. As a social worker, he shared a lot of valuable tools which made me a better colleague and a better manager. The more I learned how to ask questions and open the floor to feedback, the easier it became to build a team dynamic and work effectively together.

Special thanks to my husband, business partner, and unofficial life coach, Athan Schindler, for helping me understand people and emotions better.

Lesson 4: Praise Matters. In grad school, we didn’t spend too much time on how to manage across generations. We didn’t even really spend time acknowledging how women may manage differently than men. “Management” could be solved by a RACI chart, adequate communication, and effective project management. In many ways this, this equation matched my way of thinking. As I moved into a middle manager role, I had defined my convictions around team work, figured out how to get groups to complete large projects, and found my authentic voice. However, it wasn’t until I saw how my colleague took the time to give positive feedback to members at every level of her team that I realized the power of praise. By watching her, I noticed how she applied appreciation to situations and changed outcomes. I also saw how she shared credit up and down her chain of command. She was never too busy to lend a hand or offer a high five. By working with her, I learned how to acknowledge what others bring to the table, and recognize them in a way that felt authentic to me, and the results were powerful.

Special thanks to Devon McGoldrick for understanding my cynicism enough to take me on as a work friend and let me learn from her.  

Lesson 5: Send thank you notes. Honestly, I’m not sure when this practice fell off my radar. My Mom was hyper-vigilant about timely correspondence after all my birthdays and holidays as a kid but somewhere along the way I stopped appreciating that gifts were more than just physical representations. In the work world, when someone gives you their time, they are likely foregoing money or their own productivity to help you out. It can be easy to overlook this in an office setting when everyone is perceived to be working toward the same goals. However, as a freelancer and a non-profit professional, thanking people has continued to be an area where I reinvest my time. Not only is it a great way to refill your own tank, when admin tasks may be wearing you thin, but it is amazing to see small acts of kindness snowball into bigger relationships and collaborations.

Special thanks to my former teammate Brian Myers for constantly challenging me to be more thoughtful and weave a bigger relationship web.

Research is easy. Change isn’t.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time researching event trends both in the for-profit and non-profit space. It isn’t unusual to be in research phase, as we head toward 2017 planning season, but the difference this year for me, is my ability to be more objective about what information I should be looking for and how I should put it into action.

In the past, my planning approach looked something like this:

  1. Evaluate current event portfolio
  2. Determine which events to keep or sunset
  3. Analyze internal data to inform event growth strategies
  4. Determine incremental improvements that would add value but be cost effective
  5. Finalize organizational planning documents and budgets

There’s nothing wrong with this approach if your organization is in a growth stage. That is to say, if your brand affinity is getting stronger, your event revenue is increasing, and your retention rate is growing, that is likely a focused approach and efforts are well-directed.

However, if your metrics are less favorable, your event satisfaction is waning, and your staff’s excitement about next year is low, it may be time for a new approach. In fact, through all of my event research, my key finding was that nothing is working 100% of the time.

To me, that news is liberating.

It means that your 2017 planning can be more untraditional without the risk of missing the “silver bullet”. Because there isn’t one.

Consider the potential outcomes if you loosened the reigns, and your planning approach looked more like this:

  1. Discuss most valuable donor audiences
  2. Brainstorm vehicles which appeal to key audience interests and highlight your mission
  3. Determine how event fundraising can be more directly tied to programmatic efforts
  4. Build bridges with corporate and major giving team members to create collaborative strategies
  5. Diversify your event portfolio with proven and new ideas

If you’re eager to bring innovation and small wins to your non-profit in 2017, it may be time for a change in mindset. I firmly believe that exploring a new approach is simply time spent on trying something new. I’m happy to share my research with you so you can decide for yourself the best approach.  If you’d like a copy of my environmental scan, drop me an email at annemarie@findsmallwins.com. Happy planning!

Trust is a powerful thing.

The most recent TED Radio Hour podcast (though it is a re-run), on the NPR app, called Trust and Consequences really struck a chord with me.

If you’ve ever been on a team that went from winning to falling short day after day, then you’ve probably questioned “what happened?”. It is not uncommon for team dynamic to change. What is uncommon is honestly pinpointing the source of the problem as opposed to the environmental symptoms.

In my life, I have been on 2 teams that unraveled.

The first instance was an athletic team. Our team had gone from conference champions to a group with in-fighting and cliques. At the time, I thought it was that breakdown of camaraderie which was the cause of the bad play and our sub-par sportmanship. What I didn’t realize at the time was how trust (or the lack thereof) had basically eroded our ability to function as a selfless team. Instead we spent hours on drills, on plays, and on chalk talks, under the impression that it was actually a lack of will or skill which was plaguing us.

The second instance was much more recent and much more public. I worked at an organization that had been on a rocket-like trajectory since inception. As a young professional, working in a place like this was career-heaven. There were always new opportunities, big relationships, interesting projects, and a culture of winning. In this situation, our team had access to an endless stream of opportunities, until one day it all came crumbling down and the opportunities stopped. What I didn’t realize at the time was that our culture also had a lot of other (better) values which dried up in the organizational collapse – like compassion, humility, and trust. After the fall, we outwardly struggled to regain public trust and we internally struggled to regain trust in each other and in ourselves.

The common dominator in both situations – trust. Here’s what Simon Sinek says about trust in the opening from his TED talk, “Trust comes from a sense of common values and beliefs. And the reason trust is important is because when we are surrounded with people who believe what we believe, we are more confident to take risks. We are more confident to experiment (which requires failure be the way). We are more confident to go off and explore knowing that there is someone from within our community, someone who believes what we believe, someone we trust and who trusts us which watch our back, help us when we fall over…”.

Sinek goes on to say that it’s nearly impossible to define the “steps” that build trust. I agree that the process is different for every group. Here are three things I’ve found to build trust in small work teams.

  • Prioritize the Group and then the Individuals. I firmly believe in the idea that no one person is more important than the team. I talk openly about this with my teams and I use the discussion to share how committed I am to ensuring the success of the project. I then follow with individual discussions to highlight the strengths each person brings to the table and how I’m relying on them in this process. A team functions best when roles are clear. This allows each individual to shine in their space and then be credited for what they added to the collective success. If you are already holding group conversations, try going one level deeper to individuals and see whether it makes a difference.
  • Practice what you preach. Once you’ve established rapport within team, remember the rules you set or those that the group has created. Playing by the same rules shows that you consider yourself an equal in the process and you respect the members of the group. A great example of this, which I’ve seen consistently violated, is timeliness. As a leader, if you are late to a meeting, apologize the first time. If you are at risk of being late in the future, either adjust the meeting start time moving forward or give your team a 30 minute heads up so it can be rescheduled. Everyone is busy but you will quickly lose the team’s trust if you treat their time as less valuable than your own.
  • Pass the credit on to others. As your team gains momentum, others may begin to know your success. When you receive compliments about your team or project, ask that person to directly reach out to your teammate instead. All too often, compliments and pats on the back stay at the top within a leadership circle when they are much more powerful shared with those who are doing the work. You may be amazed by how the team continues to excel when they are getting recognition from others around the organization.

Trust is a magic fuel for teams which takes hard work to create and can be lost in an instance. As a life long athlete, and as a manager, my radar to detect that feeling is always on because I know there is a tangible difference in the performance of a team and each of its unique individuals when trust is present. As the team is moving forward, working toward their goals, hitting their stride, I’m the person monitoring the group. How does the atmosphere feel? What are people’s attitudes towards the project? Towards each other? Towards themselves? Does everyone hold a stake in the success? How will the group adjust to setbacks and external obstacles?

It’s not an easy job but building trust within your team and within your organization is one of the greatest skills you can bring to the table. Whether your team or company is riding the waves of success or slogging through the valleys of hard work, trust can change the way you and your team feel each day in the office and subsequently change the actual outcome of the situation. Remember, “Leaps of greatness require the combined problem-solving ability of people who trust each other.” Good luck!

Do You Create New Beginnings or Smooth Transitions?

I’m starting a project with a new client. I’m getting to know her team. I’m drafting project briefs and timelines. I’m outlining goals, getting buy-in, asking about potential roadblocks, and generally enjoying the opportunity to bring fresh eyes to a project.

It got me thinking about the morale boost that exists at the start of something. You know, the very beginning. My approach, my attitude, my processes…they’ve all be filled with energy, direction, and positivity. I started to wonder whether I had gotten better at working? Had I really hit my stride as a consultant? Or was it something else?

And then I realized, I had the benefit of a new beginning. And as we all know, new beginnings are pretty rare in organizational culture.

When I think back on my life as salaried employee, with a nice long work tenure, I vividly remember a lot of transitions, as I prepared for staff to roll on/off, as events came/went, or as projects began/ended.

But a fresh start? Nope. I don’t remember intentionally ever creating a moment(s) like that.

And in hindsight, as a manager, that feels like a real miss.

People in general (and teams) thrive on clarity – of roles and responsibilities, of project goals, of what success will look like. When a team is being built, it is easy for a manager to do this. This is as close to a beginning as you’ll get. If you are building your team from scratch, you have the opportunity to write job descriptions, outline a team structure, and determine the workload for each of your new hires. However, as your team gets up and running, creating “a beginning” becomes harder and harder. And, if you have a well-functioning team, who has worked together for years, you may find yourselves in a fluid work flow (ah, manager nirvana!), which also means you are at risk for being stuck in a bit of a mindset rut.

Don’t get me wrong. Team chemistry is highly sought after. As a manager, I reveled in building a team. As captain, it was my job to find the right people for the roles I needed, support them in being successful at those roles, and then refine the work/process so that we achieved our goals. This isn’t an easy job but get it right and you’ll find yourself in an environment that embodies the magic trifecta of friendship, efficiency, and success.

But it can’t and doesn’t last forever, and when there is change (small or large), I now think I did my team a disservice by “creating a smooth transition”.

“Smooth transitions” mean you simplify and avoid the problem. You rush past a reset in favor of keeping things moving forward. You avoid disrupting anyone’s (or everyone’s work) out of fear that temporary uncertainty will make the whole house crumble and undo all of your hard work.

I get it. I’ve been there.

But now consider this. What about giving your team the chance to unload baggage? What about hearing their ideas on ways to work better? What about airing and addressing the roadblocks that exist? What about creating a new beginning, where morale is naturally lifted and reset?

These are the possibilities you create with new beginnings.

Let’s all get a little more intentional about these resets. Given the work groove I’m in now, I know I will. Cheers!