Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hot Dogs & Philanthropists

What does it mean to be a "member" of a non-profit organization? Really...what does it mean to you? I can get my head around membership to Costco, an airline lounge, a committee, and countless other examples. Member of the faculty, member of Congress, member of the FDIC. But I fail to see the purpose of membership to a non-profit.

I come from the world of professional fundraising where we talk about membership often. And I draw a distinction between membership that is tangible and membership that is tactical. For example, to be a member of Costco, I pay an annual fee and in exchange I get access to meaningful discounts, generous return policies, extraordinary telephone support from the electronics concierge, and fun food samples and $1.50 hot dogs and a soda. Heck, because I am an "executive member" I even get an annual rebate check that is a percentage of my annual purchases. Membership means something to me and to Costco and this meaning is not philanthropic. There is tangible value in the exchange between us and I expect more for each membership upgrade I elect. Costco expects nothing more from me as a member except more money for each of these elected upgrades. No membership, no access to the big box store. Fair enough!

But to be a member of a non-profit organization is a very different matter, really; it largely a one sided tactical matter. Non-profits use the term member as a way to ingratiate the person more deeply so that they will make larger and more frequent gifts in the future. Membership is an gift upgrade strategy. And yet, by using the term member, we are setting up the relationship to be one of mutual exchange--I give you money and you give me something in return. Membership is not philanthropy and it does not sustain organizations long term!

Organizations that focus on membership miss the point completely. Membership, as a fundraising tactic, is about quantity--gather loads of $35 or $125 members and keep growing the membership and never think about how to deepen the relationship for even larger gifts and greater connection to the charity. Charities call these people members and these people are treated like members--you give us more money and we give you more "premiums", an annual meeting/gathering with a briefing by the board chair, and towels in the gym or a members only space.

So here is the rub--members to non-profits are not members...they are donors or philanthropists! And non-profits with a focus on membership development miss this point! We have created an entire class system in our organizations that categorizes people, their donations, and their motivations unfairly and inaccurately. This is especially tricky for social justice organizations, by the way. The system we have created states implicitly and explicitly that small gifts are membership gifts and large gifts are from philanthropists. Members are treated to low touch, cool, automated contact (lots of direct mail) and philanthropists are treated with high touch, warm, personal contact (major donor dinner parties).

Yet, it is my belief (and it is a much better tactic), that it doesn't matter what amount is given to the organization, the giver is a donor. And a skilled fundraising team will know how to sort and segment these donors based upon a wide range of strategies and then employ tactics to engage the donor more deeply in the organization's mission. A skilled fundraising team does not look for ways to extract more money from our members (or ignore them completely), we look for ways to deepen relationships. The gifts will follow.

A person's membership in an organization is not important to me at all; knowing what motivates a person to give to the organization whether it is $35 or $35,000 is what is meaningful (and strategic) to me. When we focus solely on members, we only care about how much a person gives and how frequently. If we focus on donors or philanthropists, our focus is on why they give and our shared connection to the common cause..

I would love to see non-profit organizations talk less about having hundreds or thousands of members and re-frame this language to having hundreds or thousands of donors. You can still give out bumper stickers and internally categorize people by gift amounts if you wish, but I urge you to think about how you hold (and service) your membership and your philanthropists. Members and philanthropists are not interchangeable terms; they are completely different.

And I am curious: Where do you spend your time, with members or philanthropists? How does that work for you? What do you believe about the person who gives your organization $35? $350? $35,000? If you seek to use tactics that are automated as a capacity matter, what would it look like to have these tactics be philanthropy directed and not membership directed? What does membership services or member relations or membership desk mean to you? How about donor services or donor relations or donor desk? Where are you a member and what do these memberships mean to you?

The way we do our work is typically a reflection of what we believe/feel about our work. Are you servicing members or are you cultivating and nurturing relationships with your donors?

Give it some thought and then give me a call!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pete & Repeat

Remember the childhood game (annoyance?) that went like this: "Pete and Repeat were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off. Who was left?" and your playmate would say "Repeat" which then started the whole process over again...and again. Even a third grader didn't have the patience to put up with that repetition for too long. And yet we do this playground game in our adult lives constantly. Infinite loops!

Think about the continuous, infinite loops you play in your mind. These loops are the messages or patterns or behaviors or thoughts or practices or tasks or what ever that keep going in the same direction over and over again, often not serving us. We all have them!

I am struck by the loops that keep us stuck. They are everywhere. If we keep telling ourselves that something is the way it is and will always be so, we are soon unable to break that pattern. We believe it completely. Loops I hear often:
  • We are a small organization and therefore we can't do that...
  • I cannot afford to have a development director...
  • If my board would only do that, we could then...
  • I cannot exercise regularly because...
  • We can't work across department lines because they don't...
  • My CEO/Executive Director is such a poor leader because...
Get it? These are loops that play again and again and don't allow anyone the opportunity to change. We hear the message so often we believe there is no other way. We are destined to be n bigger than the loop we keep playing. Infinitely.

So what gives?

I am curious, how do the loops you play serve you and/or your organization? What is the value they provide you? How do they enhance or take away from you and your success? What do you notice about breaking the loops? What does this process look like? Who else do you enroll in your loops? Whats the enrollment process look like (a gradual indoctrination or a hostage take over)? What would it be like to live/work/play loop-free? What would be possible?

Have a great week. Have a great week. Have a great week. Have a gre...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Coaching in the News

How nice to see the cover story (and cover art!) of the magazine insert in my local newspaper be about coaching this morning! Check out the article here: Coaching Versus Therapy: Two Ways to Go when Life Gets You Down. It's a good, easy, and informative read.

I love the questions and statements integrated into the cover art (cannot find a picture of it online):
  • If your life could look the way you'd really like it to look, what would it look like?
  • In psychology we've been taught to metabolize pain and recover from grief but we have not been taught how to harness joy.
  • How can you BE your very BEST self?
  • What do you want to be?
  • What's my vision?
  • Positive psychology isn't about happy talk.
  • Therapists follow the trail of tears and coaches follow the trail of dreams.
  • Therapy is something very sacred and powerful. Coaching is something else. Coaching is a different process of change.
  • How can we be pulled by our future as much as we are driven by our past?
I do resist the describing of coaching juxtaposed to therapy. Describing what something is by describing what it is not is pretty weak. The similarities between the two are really in the mechanics: a person listens, a person (or persons) talks. But they do entirely different things for the client. Similarly, I often here coaching described in comparison to consulting. Again, how do you describe what something is by describing what it is not? Coaching and consulting do have many shared characteristics and they are completely different (really!). I have probably fallen into this trap myself--describing coaching in terms of how it is similar or different to therapy or consulting--and I will strive not to in the future.

Coaching is...a relationship between a trained* and certified* coach (or coaches!) and an individual, a partnership, or a team. Often the coach will have a specialty area of expertise; mine is leaders of non-profit organizations and philanthropists. Coaching can take place in person or by phone or video-conference. Regular appointments are scheduled, typically a couple meetings per month. Coaches are very active in the relationship. Sometimes they will simply (actively) listen but and more often, they ask useful questions that take the client to the conclusion/resolution/action they seek. Coaches will push the client. Coaches will work with the client toward goal setting and accountability. There are as many styles of coaches as there are coaches! Coaches coach.

Coaching, therapy, and consulting--three different things! If therapy seems right for you, hire a therapist. If consulting seems right for you, hire a consultant. If coaching seems right for you, hire a coach. And if you would like to give coaching a try, give me a call.

*We coaches actually go to school to do this work! We attend hundreds of hours of coaching classes through accredited coaching programs. We take oral and written examinations, are extensively reviewed by master coaches and peers, and commit to ongoing education and training. We, who are members of the International Coach Federation, subscribe to the highest ethical standards in the industry. There is a qualitative difference between a trained and certified coach and someone who has worked hard in their field and says they do coaching (usually to peers or colleagues). Check out the links on the right side of this blog for more information about what coaching is, the industry, and the training involved to become a coach.