Posts tagged ‘mistakes’

July 27, 2018

How to NOT Make a Mistake Worse

There is an adage, first published in The Bankers Magazine (1964) that advises wisely:

If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

The Law of Holes suggests we should strive to not make bad situations worse through further unhelpful, counter-productive behavior.

Sadly, many people, including nonprofit managers and fundraising professionals, fail to heed that fine advice. Instead, when in a bad situation or when confronted by criticism, many folks make matters worse by reacting defensively, acting helplessly, remaining in denial, criticizing the critic, or ignoring the situation altogether.

Fortunately, many people handle criticism gracefully and, in the process, set a fine example for the rest of us.

Recently, I wrote about my wife’s failed attempt to donate to a local charity. While my wife and I have never supported the organization, we do agree with its mission. Therefore, it was with great interest that I noticed that the charity was hosting a fundraising event with a speaker I wanted to hear. My wife went to the organization’s website to buy tickets. However, due to a website glitch, she was unable to complete the transaction. So, she then called the organization during office hours. Not being able to reach a live person, she left a voice-mail message. No one from the organization returned her call. We ended up not attending the event.

After I posted about my wife’s experience and what fundraisers can learn from it, I sent the organization’s Executive Director an email and a link to my article. I sent the email on Tuesday evening at 7:01 PM. I expected one of two things to happen: 1) I thought I might receive a defensive response the following business day, or 2) I might not receive any reply, ever.

Instead, my guess was happily wrong. That very evening at 7:21 PM, I received a message from the Executive Director. We can learn much from the tone and content of his response:

Dear Michael,

Your email was both upsetting and instructive. I appreciated the spirit of the message and have already begun to think about how to use it to create change and improve. Also I read your blog. I’m curious if you are a professional fundraiser? Either way you and your wife have my apologies for this unfortunate experience. It is clearly our loss when customers and potential friends are turned off. It’s contrary to the purpose of running these events and clearly counter productive.

In addition to my apologies you have my gratitude for bringing this to my attention.

Sincerely,

(name withheld here)”

Here is what we can learn from the email response:

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February 12, 2016

Do You Really Know Your Donors? — Part 2

In a cautionary tale earlier this week — Part 1 of a two-part series — I looked at the missteps one nonprofit organization took by not taking the time to get to know one of its loyal donors. In Part 2, I now examine a horrible fundraising appeal from an organization that actually knows its potential donor quite well, though it failed to leverage that knowledge.

Stethoscope and Piggy Bank via 401(K) 2012 via FlickrI originally got the idea for this post from one of my readers who contacted me with a link to an interesting New York Times article: “A New Effort Has Doctors Turn Patients Into Donors.” My reader wanted to know what I thought of the emerging trend of having doctors actively contact their patients for fundraising purposes.

I delayed writing about this subject because I have mixed feelings about it. Then, in December, I received a year-end appeal from my surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Cancer Center. The letter helped crystallize my thinking.

First, let me share a bit of background. A recent study by Dr. Reshma Jagsi, a radiation oncologist and ethicist at the University of Michigan, was published recently in The Journal of Clinical Oncology. It was the first major examination of the role of physicians in fundraising.

The New York Times reported:

In an unprecedented survey of more than 400 oncologists at 40 leading cancer centers, nearly half said they had been taught to identify wealthy patients who might be prospective donors. A third had been asked to directly solicit donations — and half of them refused. Three percent had been promised payments if a patient donated.”

Involving doctors in the fundraising process raises a number of ethical concerns. Dr. Arthur L. Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, shared some of his concerns with the Times:

Patients may be emotionally vulnerable; doctors have very close ties to their patients, which can strain asking on both sides; and the fact that incentives to ask sometimes skew toward the doctor’s own program rather than the most needy areas of the hospital.”

Another issue is, how will giving or not giving affect the level of care, or perceived level of care, from the doctor? Will patients feel coerced to give?

While I see the enormous potential for ethical pitfalls, I also see the significant potential benefit of having doctors involved in the fundraising process. The issue is how and when they are involved as well as the quality of development training they will receive.

For example, if I’m half-naked in my doctor’s examination room, I certainly do not want to receive an ask for a contribution. If I’m drowning in hospital bills, I’m not going to be particularly receptive to a fundraising appeal. However, if a development staff member wants to have lunch with me and my doctor to discuss the physician’s latest research, I’m perfectly amenable to that.

There are right ways and wrong ways to involve doctors in the fundraising process.

UPMC DM Appeal

UPMC Cancer Center Direct-Mail Appeal.

That brings me to the letter I received from Dr. David Bartlett in December. Dr. Bartlett is a world-class oncologic surgeon and medical researcher. He is one of the leading experts dealing with Appendiceal Carcinoma with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP), a very rare form of cancer I am currently battling. (You can learn more about my fight by clicking here.)

Dr. Bartlett knows me very well. In addition to knowing me as a patient, he knows that I’m a professional fundraiser who shares his passion for finding a more effective treatment for PMP. The development staff also knows me. Prior to going for surgery two years ago, my wife and I reached out to and met with one of the development professionals for the UPMC Cancer Center.

Yet, despite their knowledge of me, they sent me a piece of garbage intended as an appeal letter. The direct-mail solicitation was definitely not the way to involve my doctor in the fundraising process.

Let me outline the ridiculous mistakes that the UPMC Cancer Center made:

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October 9, 2015

Do Not Make This Year-End #Fundraising Mistake

The fourth quarter of the calendar year is a popular time for charities to send out fundraising appeals. As a result, nonprofit organizations raise a lot of money during the fourth quarter. In addition, many nonprofit organizations host galas in the fourth quarter. Love it or hate it, #GivingTuesday is in the midst of the holiday season.

‘Tis the season to fundraise.

If you doubt that, just Google “year-end fundraising.” You’ll get over 20 million results!

Unfortunately, despite all of the terrific how-to articles, blog posts, books, webinars, and seminars, most nonprofit organizations continue to make a massive year-end fundraising mistake:

They overlook planned giving.

When developing a year-end fundraising strategy, most charities fail to include planned giving for a variety of reasons including:

  1. They don’t have a planned giving program.
  2. They think all planned gifts are deferred.
  3. They think that planned gifts are not time-of-year sensitive.

Let’s take a moment to look at the above reasons more closely.

Keep Calm - Management Center Mugs by Howard Lake via FlickrIf your charity does not have a planned giving program, it probably should, assuming you have individual donors. The effort does not need to be elaborate or fancy. The most common planned gift is the simple Charitable Bequest through the donor’s will.

While Bequests are the most common type of planned gift, not all planned gifts are deferred. Don’t over think it. Planned gifts are simply any gift that requires planning. Here are some examples of planned gifts that result in current, rather than deferred, giving:

Gifts of appreciated stock or property (i.e.: real estate, art, collectibles, etc.):

When a donor makes a gift of appreciated stock or personal property, she can avoid capital gains tax and receive a charitable gift deduction. Sadly, many fundraising professionals believe that individuals with appreciated stock or property somehow already know about the advantages of gifting such assets. However, that’s not always the case. Consider this true story from my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

A member of the board of a scholarship foundation was approached at a cultivation event by a modest donor who wanted to give a $5,000 cash gift. The board member thanked the donor but asked, ‘Do you own any appreciated stock?’ The donor was a bit puzzled by the question, but replied, ‘Yes, I do. Why do you ask?’ The board member then explained that if the donor contributed appreciated stock valued at $5,000, rather than cash, she could avoid the capital gains tax, thereby resulting in a savings. The donor replied, ‘I can avoid giving my money to the government, by giving the foundation stock? That’s a great idea! And, since I really don’t need the money, why don’t I just increase my gift by the amount I’ll save in taxes?’ She did exactly that. However, her generosity did not end there. She was so moved by the work of the foundation and the good advice she had received that allowed her to avoid some capital gains tax that she consulted with her family and her advisors eventually giving over $15,000 to create a namesake scholarship fund.”

Since over half of all Americans own stock (Gallup, 2015), it’s very likely that some of your donors are in a position to donate appreciated securities to your organization. They just need to understand how they can benefit and what the mechanics are.

Gifts from a Donor Advised Fund:

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February 22, 2013

What to Do When You Mess Up?

[Publisher’s Note: Before getting to this week’s post, I want to mention that Michael J. Rosen, CFRE, was a guest on The Nonprofit Coach Radio Show hosted by Ted Hart, ACFRE on Tuesday, February 26, 2013. Michael discussed his book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. You can download a free podcast of the show by clicking here.]

Have you ever messed up at work? Stumbled? Blundered? Bungled? Botched? Made an oversight, gaffe, or mistake, big or small?

If you say you haven’t, I know that one of the following is true about you:

  1. You’re not telling the truth, to others or, perhaps, just to yourself.
  2. You have a selective memory.
  3. You haven’t been paying attention.
  4. You have virtually no work experience.
  5. You need to be more creative and experimental.

Because I believe we have all made and will make mistakes during our careers, I’m going to share five tips with you that will ease the sting when such incidents occur:

Own it. When you make an error, resist the temptation to pass the blame. Instead, take responsibility. When we own our mistakes, we’re more likely to earn and retain the respect of those around us. Moreover, it puts us in the best possible position to do something positive in response to the problem.

Do not hide it. In politics, there’s a saying: “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover up.” The idea is that the cover up is usually more damaging than the trigger offense. It’s harder to fix a problem if you cover it up or simply pretend that there is not a problem at all. Furthermore, if people suspect you’re hiding something, they’ll apply that suspicion beyond the one instance. Honesty really is the best policy.

Apologize. If your misstep damages or offends another person, apologize immediately. Ok, I know that lawyers often frown at the idea of an apology. They fear it is an admission of guilt that can expose you and your organization to liability. I say, if it’s appropriate, suck it up and apologize anyway. At the very least, express your regret, which might lower the risk of legal liability since it is not an admission of guilt. (By the way, since I’m not a lawyer, I’m not giving you legal advice.)

Learn from it. When we learn from our mistakes, we’re far less likely to repeat the stumble. In some cases, learning from our missteps will allow us to improve our skills or our processes. In other words, if we look at mistakes as an opportunity to grow, our organizations and we can actually be better off than before the incident.

Rubio Water BottleTurn a negative into a positive. I like the expression, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” We can often turn blunders around into something good. In 1928, Alexander Fleming slipped up. He mistakenly failed to cover a Petri dish containing a Staphylococcus culture. However, it’s a good thing he messed up. When he examined the exposed Petri dish, he observed that mold growth had impeded the spread of the bacteria. Fleming’s mistake, and subsequent observation, led to the use of penicillin as a life-saving antibiotic.

In recent weeks, the news media have shared a couple of stories that nicely illustrate the points I’ve just made.

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June 1, 2012

Problems: What Separates the Good Guys from the Bad?

I have some bad news for you. At some point, your organization is going to stumble. It’s going to mess up. Hopefully, mistakes will happen infrequently. But, happen they will.

What separates the good organizations from the bad is not which ones can be perfect. Perfection is impossible. Nevertheless, some managers continue to expect perfection of themselves and their colleagues. This may stem from a perfectionist personality or, perhaps, a misunderstanding of the principles of Total Quality Management 

Developed by W. Edwards Deming and others, TQM is a management philosophy and process that, when applied to the nonprofit world, involves all staff, volunteers, vendors, service recipients, and donors in the enhancement and maintenance of quality of products, services, and processes. In short, TQM is about continually striving for improvement rather than attaining perfection.

If one desires perfection, he or she will likely become quickly frustrated by problems and even sweep them under the rug. By contrast, those who embrace the idea of working for continual improvement will welcome problems as an opportunity to enhance products, services, and processes.

So, when it comes to problems or mistakes, what separates the good organizations from the bad is how the organization deals with them. Is the organization combative or defensive? Or, does the organization welcome feedback and challenges as an opportunity to improve?

This should come as no surprise to you: Those organizations that meet the latter description are more likely to provide better products and service, and they are more likely to have happy, generous volunteers and donors.

So, how can you deal most effectively with a problem or mistake?

Step 1–Understand It:

You can’t solve a problem or fix a mistake if don’t know about or don’t understand it. So, if someone tells you they have a problem with your organization or that it made a mistake, listen carefully and, then, ask questions.

For example, a donor may call you and say, “Hey, you people misspelled my name in the annual report!” Ok, the mistake is pretty clear. Even so, asking more questions will clarify the problem and, if you confirm the spelling of the person’s name, will help to minimize the risk of making a similar mistake in the future.

In another case, a donor may simply call you and scream, “You people are a pack of idiots!” In that case, the problem or mistake is completely unknown and will require some serious probing.

Remember these helpful tips:

  • When confronted with a problem or mistake, do not react defensively.
  • Do not ignore the problem or mistake.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Ask the questions that will help you understand the issue.
  • Do not be dismissive of someone’s complaint. At the very least, it’s important to the person complaining.

Step Two–Own It!

When you hear about a problem or mistake, own it. Yes, at times, this can be very difficult to do. But, do it.

If it’s your fault (i.e.: you misspelled the donor’s name), apologize. If the situation was truly outside your control (i.e.: an unexpected rainstorm forced the cancelation of an outdoor event), express regret. And, work on dealing with the situation.

I had a guest blogger whose website had a glitch. One of my readers contacted me about not being able to order a book from the site. After making sure I understood the problem, I responded to my reader by expressing regret for the difficulty, recommending a course of action to her, and telling her I would help by contacting the author.

Even though the problem did not involve my company, my website, or my book, I took responsibility for helping. By the way, the author quickly fixed the problem and was grateful to learn about it.

Remember these helpful tips:

  • Be willing to express regret and concern. Be ready to apologize.
  • Never say, “It’s not my job.”
  • Be helpful even if you’re not the source of the problem or mistake.
  • Even if you refer the issue to someone else to address, follow-up to make certain the situation is remedied.

Step 3–Consider Alternative Solutions:

Now, you’re ready to consider the entire range of solutions to the situation. For example, with the website glitch I touched on above, I considered a number of courses of action including:

  1. Simply refer the reader to the author’s contact page.
  2. Tell the reader I would handle it.
  3. Not communicate with the reader, but pass along the information to the author.
  4. Suggest that the reader contact the author directly and express that I would do the same.

By considering all possible courses of action, the best solution will eventually emerge.

Remember these helpful tips:

  • Consider all courses of action. The best solution may not be the first idea you come up with; it might be the 20th.
  • React quickly. Problems do not improve with age.
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