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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Primum Non Necere = “Don’t Lose What You’ve Got!”

hippocrates       I’m sure we all recognize the name Hippocrates. He was the father of modern medicine. He was also the father of modern sales and fundraising.

You say you never heard that last part before? Well, it may not be entirely true, but there’s one thing old Hippocrates said that we in fundraising and sales would do well to remember. In Latin the saying is rendered, Primum non necere — in English we say, “First do no harm.” I would prefer to translate it, “Don’t lose what you’ve got!”

If you’re in sales or fundraising you know all too well the relentless need to bring in new business and new donors. In order for our organizations to grow, or even to avoid shrinking, the pressure is more or less constant to generate revenue from new sources. I’m not arguing with that — but I am suggesting that, as we focus our efforts on new clients and new donors, we must not overlook the ones we already have. Just because a donor has supported your organization for years or a client has given you their business season after season doesn’t mean we can ever take them for granted, not for an instant. If you’ve ever had a steady client decide not to renew because someone else came along and took away the business while you weren’t paying attention, you know what I’m talking about.

For me the truth behind the axiom “First do no harm” is simple: it means, first, pay attention to the relationships you have. Shore them up. Keep them vital. Keep reminding these clients and donors why they want to do business with you. Avoid relationship complacency at all costs! Seems to me that there are at least four reasons why it’s imperative that we work hard to avoid losing what we’ve got.

Current clients can decide to go away. This seems obvious but it bears emphasis. Let’s say you have an In Kind client who gives your organization $25,000 worth of goods and services every year. Because it’s not cash, it’s easy to take it for granted and assume that In Kind gift will always be there. But one year that client is going to be preparing their budget, and if you haven’t done a good job of keeping the relationship active and reminding them of the benefits they enjoy by doing business with you, they may decide to terminate that deal. Your boss may suddenly have to start writing a $25,000 check every year, and she is going to wonder why you blew the relationship! So I need to continually re-sell the clients I have.

Current clients can be encouraged to grow.  Again, this is obvious to those of us who have been around the sales/fundraising block a time or two. Generally speaking, which is easier to find — a brand new dollar from a brand new source, or a dollar increase from a source who already has a relationship with you? As you cultivate current relationships, you clearly need to avoid pushing too hard, but you also need to avoid being fearful. Asking for a larger gift or a larger sale, when done properly and appropriately, can be your quickest route to increased revenue.

Current clients can be encouraged to refer. Few things are more gratifying to a sales rep or fundraiser than a referral. It means someone we already call on felt good enough about our relationship to tell a friend! But let’s not assume that referrals will happen in a vacuum — instead, I have to be reminded of the need to stay in touch with current donors, give them success stories, and reinforce the importance of their gifts. Then I’ve earned the right to ask for those golden referrals! But if I’m not cultivating those current relationships, I’ll bet those referrals will be few and far between.

Current clients provide a vital base of support. Even if present clients or donors never change their spending or giving from one year to the next, those dollars are vital to your success. Treat them with honor and care and attention! Again, reminding donors why they give, or clients why they do business with you, helps keep those current dollars flowing. If that flow stops, your work just got a lot harder!

So let’s all get out there and find those new sources of revenue! But in the process, remember, friends, Primum non necere — “Don’t lose what you’ve got!”

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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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In the Weeds

cat_in_the_grass     The Big Team Project starts out with the loftiest of intentions. The boss brings everyone together and launches the new initiative. We are going to re-organize the way we do business! We are going to come up with a Vision Statement and a Set of Values that will define us for the next three decades! We are going to establish new paradigms in Customer Service and Total Quality Control! There will be brainstorming assignments, work teams, and No Bad Ideas. We will re-invent ourselves! So roll up your sleeves, because today we begin!

Everyone comes to those first few meetings salivating with anticipation, eager to reinvent, re-think, re-launch and re-imagine. But after a few months all the team wants to do is retreat. What happened? The energy has dissipated, the fresh thinking grown stale, the milestones fewer and farther between. Where’s all that the excitement? When did the air go out of the balloon? Who rained on our brainstorm?

Here’s how these efforts sometimes progress.  During those first few meetings, fueled by great intentions, the team makes great progress and everyone seems to be on board. But then the questions become more complex. The issues grow more opaque. The take-aways become increasingly obscure. The impatience grows more obvious. The lofty goals evaporate into the fog of petty argument and passive aggressive “whatever” attitudes. That dreaded nemesis “Process Fatigue” begins to set in — a toxic condition where a few impatient nay-sayers are finally joined by a growing chorus of equally impatient colleagues asking with one irritated voice, “Can we please just get on with it??!”

Face it, Project Leader — you and your team are deep into the weeds.

Most of us have been there. I was once part of a Strategic Planning team that met weekly for a period of, as I recall, at least two years. We found ourselves in the weeds a lot, debating about the meaning of terms and the pointless details of timelines that would never be met. Ultimately there was an organizational change at the top and the whole project was shelved. Hopefully your project isn’t headed for that same dismal fate!

If you’re a Project Leader and your team seems stuck, the team needs you to help get things moving. So here are three things you might want to focus on. First, replace confusion with context. When a complex project goes awry it’s easy for members of the team to lose sight of the goal and start asking, “Can someone remind me why in heck we’re doing this? What’s the point?” That is the leader’s Central Question! You may understand the point fully, but your team might not, so you need to remind everyone frequently why this project is important. Make sure everyone comprehends where we’ve been and where we’re going. Put the project into a larger context and your team should become reinvigorated.

Second, overcome complexity with clarity. Some projects are just inherently complex, and you’ll never succeed by trying to “make it simple.” But you can make it clear. Use straightforward, non-technical language. Break big concepts into bite-sized chunks and, again, help people see how these smaller pieces fit into the larger task. If you’re a highly analytic leader, learn to use emotional terms to motivate your non-analytic colleagues. When you speak with enthusiasm, confidence and conviction, your clarity can overcome a lot of fear. Take charge and be clear.

Third, turn paralysis into progress. Leaders need to understand just how frustrating it is to be on a team that’s going nowhere! The fastest way out of the weeds may be to back up a bit — something strong-willed leaders hate to do. Figure out where things began to go off the rails. Maybe you need to re-frame the discussion, rearrange the teams or reconsider the timeline. Maybe you need to focus on one or two areas where progress is possible and leave the others for later. Momentum brings a kind of energy that can often sustain itself — just as the feeling of being stuck in the mud brings the fear that it will always be this way!

Context, clarity, progress — help restore these to your project and leave the weeds behind.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Things You Plan For (and the Things You Don’t)

House Bridge Collapse     You can pretty much plan for every contingency, right? Dream on! Murphy, the gent who wrote his famous law, is alive and well, thriving in the overlooked details of our best intentions.

I’ll bet the guy who planned to move this building down a rural highway made all the right plans — almost. He made sure the building was secure on its trailer. He checked the tire pressure. He made sure the tow vehicle was operating properly. He probably had the pilot cars in front and behind to warn motorists he was coming. He took care of practically everything! But one important detail he assumed would not be a problem turned out to be a REALLY huge one.

Unanticipated problems often surface despite our best efforts. I have a good friend who spent years in the direct mail business. She told me once that they had a client in Hawaii for whom they were doing a direct mail piece — tens of thousands of brochures bearing the company’s address. Only thing was, the company was on the Kalanianaole Highway. Not wanting to mess up such a complex name, the team proofread the address a dozen times to make certain they spelled “Kalanianaole” properly. Finally satisfied, they sent the piece to press. Only after the final brochure came back did someone notice that, while they had indeed spelled “Kalanianaole” correctly, they had misspelled “Highway.” The whole order had to be reprinted.

One of the keys to good planning is not to do it all by yourself. I can think back on several examples in my career where I thought I was taking care of all the elements of a project solo, only to overlook one or two really obvious, really important details — like ordering 2,000 sales folders for my radio station and finding out I had specified the wrong colors. (Teal green and magenta came out as baby blue and bubble gum pink — yuck.) Or the time as a junior officer in the Navy when I took custody of 20 copies of an important document that I was supposed to relay immediately to another ship, only to forget and leave them behind my desk — where we found them three days later after we had sailed away. (The admiral was not amused.) Or the time…well, you get the idea.

The wonderful Old Testament book of Proverbs says a lot about this — for example, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the righteous listen to advice.” Ouch! So Rule #1 is to surround yourself with good people and don’t make plans in a vacuum. Rule #2 is to control what we can control. Do your best to plan for every reasonable contingency. But try your best not to obsess unnecessarily — because remember Rule #3: Murphy was right.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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