Okay, I recently let folks know I’d “finagled” a discount for them. After one reader told me the word “finagle” means “to obtain something by devious or dishonest means,” I sent an apologetic “Ruh Roh” email. I received a lot of forgiving feedback. Thank you! Many of you kindly supported my initial use of the word “finagle.” Apparently, there is more than one definition.
Susan sent me this:
finagle (third-person singular simple present finagles, present participle finagling, simple past and past participle finagled)
- (transitive) To obtain, arrange, or achieve by indirect, complicated and/or intensive efforts.
finagle a day off work
- (transitive) To obtain, arrange, or achieve by deceitful methods, by trickery.
finagled his way out of a ticket by pretending to be on the way to a funeral, distraught
I think the word has come to mean “using super-human negotiating skill to obtain a superior result“
Terry sent me this:
I thought you meant “obtain (something) by indirect or involved means.” I always felt it was sort of clever or creative negotiations to get something done when it seemed like it couldn’t be done.
Sam sent me this:
I always thought it was someone who could manipulate circumstances to achieve some goal. No adverse implications. No criminal intent. Just clever in being able to make something work that really shouldn’t have worked.
And there were more. I thank you all.
You made me think.
And not just about negotiation (which is a subject unto itself), but about being clever. And thoughtful. And about what it takes to obtain superior results.
All good outcomes require a little positive finagling to get there.
Lots of things can be good and bad at the same time.
For example, any of your fundraising and marketing strategies can work, or not work.
It all boils down to intention, and exertion.
Maybe what we can call “internal finagling” with yourself to obtain a superior result?
Let’s take the annual report as an example:
If your intent in sending an annual report is merely to check something off your “to-do” list, you may not accomplish much other than your objective of task completion. Your intent isn’t evil; just passive and not well thought-out.
If your work in creating the annual report is simply to retread what you wrote/designed last year, you may create a real snooze fest rather than generating the type of “feel good” that will spur donors to give again. Your exertion isn’t filled with trickery; just not very full at all.
So, those ways of executing an annual report are “bad,” because they’re a waste of effort and money. It may not exactly be “deceitful,” but you’re cheating yourself – and your supporters – if you talk yourself into believing producing pages and pages of boring text and stock photos, printing them up on glossy paper, and mailing them in a big envelope with lots of postage is a good use of your time.
Of course, executing an annual report can be a very “good” donor upgrade and retention strategy if you explicitly name this as your objective, study examples of what works/doesn’t work, and put in the strategic work to make it likely to happen. And I’m not just talking about annual reports here.
This “intention + exertion = good/bad outcome” equation holds true for just about anything you can think of doing to boost your philanthropic revenue (i.e., appeal letter or email; thank you message; social media communication; special event; grant proposal; website landing page, etc.).
You are in charge; be aware of what you’re getting into, and potentially missing out on, when selecting and executing your strategies.
Every strategy has an upside and a downside.
Strategize to be “good” by always doing these three simple things.
So, you all got me thinking about what you most need to finagle to be a superstar fundraiser. As I thought about it, it quickly boiled down to three simple things. But, as with anything worth doing, the devil is in the details.
I’ve come up with an acronym you can use to assure you never neglect any of these details moving forward.
You’ll be ahead of the game if you just give yourself a P.A.T. (Plan; Ask; Thank) on the back before embarking on, or fleshing out, any strategy. Seriously, these three things are the heart of all effective fundraising. Include them. Everywhere.
If you don’t plan, you won’t do. If you only plan, that’s not doing.
“The best plan is only good intentions unless it degenerates into work.”
— Peter Drucker, Author, Management Thinker
Okay, so I want you to:
Write down a plan for anything you hope to do this month, next month and every month next year. If you commit in writing, you’re much more likely to follow through. “I have the plan in my head” is you gaslighting yourself.
Be specific. Include the what, where, when and who. It’s not a plan if it just says “produce an annual report.” What will it look like? Where will it be distributed? When will you share it? Who will be in charge of copywriting, design, production, mailing and so forth? Does everyone responsible have this strategy blocked out on their work plan? Do they have the resources they need to succeed?
Get all stakeholders on board with the plan so it becomes a team effort.
If you don’t ask, you won’t get. Make sure everything you create has an ask. Everything.
Your ask can be hard and specific or soft and generic. But don’t spend time doing anything that doesn’t have at least the whisper of an ask in it. That’s your job, as a philanthropy facilitator.
Make it as easy as possible for people to (1) want to give, and then to actually (2) make the gift. For example, I like to:
Make at least three asks in every fundraising appeal. Ask at the beginning. Ask in the middle. Ask the end. You must make sure people notice the ask, so put it where folks will find it. The P.S. is a very good place, as eye motion studies reveal that’s one of the first (sometimes only) places readers look.
Use borrowed principles from psychology, neuroscience and behavioral economics to incline people to say “yes.”
Personalize as much as possible to build relationships, including the judicious use of real handwriting.
Include a donate link to a well-designed donor-friendly website landing page, making sure it is optimized for mobile.
Offer various options for giving, including credit card, check, stock, donor advised fund and monthly or one-time. If the communication is digital, include a mailing address and phone number. If snail mail, include a URL and phone number. You want people to easily be able to reach you!
Insert a tribute giving envelope in a thank you letter, annual report or newsletter, offering an easy means for donors to send a future gift in honor or memory of a loved one. It’s not an explicit ask; more just a convenience for donors who may wish to avail themselves of this easy “gifting” opportunity.
If you don’t thank, you won’t establish the trust required to build a sustaining relationship. And repeat donors are your lifeblood given the fact it costs $1.25 to raise $1.00 from a new donor, of whom less than 20% will ever give again.
Learn to thank well. And not just in the obligatory thank you letter or email that follows a donation. All the time.
For example, I like to:
Thank donors in advance of their gift. Assume in your writing they are caring, generous, visionary souls. It’s easy if they’ve given or engaged before; name what they’ve done: “Thank you for your past support…” “Thank you for being a caring volunteer…” Thank you for supporting this vital work with your attendance…” If they’re new prospects, name something else about them: “Thank you for your community leadership…” “Thank you for being caring and compassionate…” “Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.”
Send multiple thank you’s. It doesn’t hurt to create more than one point of contact. When gifts are earmarked for particular programs, consider sending an additional thank you from the program director. Or ask a board member to add a personal thank you note.
Send thank you videos. Pictures can be worth 1,000 words, so use them to demonstrate the impact of the donor’s giving.
Send thank you texts. If you have phone numbers, and permission to send texts, this can be an extremely effective mode of communication. Texts are opened at an average rate of 95%+ vs. an average email open rate of under 25% [see Rally Corp; Give Smart].
Incorporate thank you copy wherever you can imagine it, including newsletters, blogs, annual report, social media, advertising, event programs, merchandise – you name it.
Everything you do should be done thoughtfully, or not at all. If you find yourself operating on auto-pilot, pat yourself on the back!
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Refresh your thinking, and refresh your plans!
Images courtesy of Kaleidico; Brett Jordan, and Nicholas Bartos on Unsplash