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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Molly* approached me about how to deal with a troubling issue without clear protocols: sexual harassment that couldn’t be reported to HR, because it wasn’t from a coworker, but other peers in the industry during training or networking events.

“I saw that you had recently been blogging about topics dealing with attending conferences,” she told me, “And I hoped that you’d address the issue of networking gone sour, but I didn’t see it, so I wanted to ask you directly for some advice on the issue.”

I told Molly that she was by no means the first person to mention this or to have it happen – and not just at larger conferences, but also during smaller gatherings, such as one day seminars or half-day workshops, or less formal networking events, such as happy hours.

“Oh, I definitely see people step over the line during events that have more alcohol,” Molly told me.  “In fact, I’ve made it a policy not to go to them alone.  I always find another woman to attend them with me, and either I leave when she does, or, if I can’t find a companion, I don’t attend.  Period.”

Molly’s most recent incident occurred while she was in a social gathering with nearly a dozen people, but as she was networking (she thought), one man in particular began by showing interest in her career and mentioning people he could introduce her to . . . only to make more and more off-color jokes as he ingested more drinks after dinner.

“At first, I told myself that it was simply the alcohol talking, since he was professional prior to drinking so much,” Molly said, “But at an event with hundreds of people over the next day and a half, he seemed to ‘bump into me’ quite a bit.  And his comments and jokes continued until the end, including an inappropriate offer.  I had difficulty enjoying the conference, frankly.”

“It didn’t seem to make any difference when I tried to emphatically mention my husband, since he was married, too.  He was – or pretended to be, more likely – oblivious to my declining of his advances and offers.”

“After I returned home, I was a bit surprised – not to mention revolted! – to have gotten an invitation to connect on LinkedIn,” Molly said.  “I mean, it took a lot of work on my part to remember the good things about my time at the conference, and not let him ruin it for me!  WHY would I drag the bad part home and continue any more of it?”

I told Molly that, although the experience was definitely a negative one that she didn’t want to repeat, since it wasn’t in her day-to-day workplace, she did have the option to Forget It! and purge this man from her life, essentially.  Beyond that, we wanted to work on some preventative tools in case something similar occurred in the future.

Her idea of teaming up at social gatherings was a good one, and had been serving her well, but as she discovered, there would still be times when she would be on her own, social setting or not.  Cheating herself out of career networking opportunities because of the jerk potential wasn’t really a good long term strategy.  Instead, we worked on her defense mechanisms and behavior toward said jerks.

Many women, particularly those in service-type positions, are very uncomfortable taking an aggressive stance.  Not only does society in general condition women to be polite and non-confrontational, but for anyone who works in a service-oriented profession, they, too, are coming from a position of, “How can I help you?”

It’s a double whammy for women in these professions to counter both layers of conditioning and go on the offensive, so to speak; however, this is the stance that is absolutely necessary for dealing with sexual harassers.  They are counting on not being challenged – and if they are, their immediate response will be that they have been “misunderstood,” “taken out of context,” or in some other way, it is the fault or shortcoming of the victim they are trying to intimidate.  (“Can’t you take a joke?”)

A more effectively disarming response is a cold stare, accompanied by, “I don’t think that’s appropriate,” “No, I don’t think so,” or “Obviously not,” and so forth.

When reviewing what had happened with Molly, and how she thought things might have been different had she initially responded negatively, instead of trying to be polite, understanding or forgiving, Molly realized that it would have been a much better conference.  Either she would have “insulted” him to the point he didn’t speak to her anymore (fine), or he would have gotten the message and behaved more appropriately (also fine).

Since Molly strongly prefers either of these outcomes in the future, she plans to execute one – or more – of the disarming responses we’ve rehearsed if and when she encounters a jerk atmosphere while networking.

When Nina* got downsized from her sales and marketing position, income was a concern, and she wanted a job – any job – right away.  She preferred to get something comparable in her field again, but in the meantime had to pay her bills.  I suggested that she take a position waiting tables at a local restaurant.  This would make good use of her sales skills, and free up her daytime hours when she did get interviews scheduled.

Getting hired as a waitress didn’t take very long, and I coached Nina on how to make the most of that position, while we were still working on finding her a job in her chosen field.  I pointed out to her that being successful at waiting tables, like her previous position, depended upon working well with other departments and distinguishing herself and her talents from the rest of the staff.

For example, I encouraged Nina to make a point not only to say “Hello” to the staff members in the kitchen, bar, hostess stand and bus stand, but to learn everyone’s name as best she could.  She also went beyond her waiting duties and helped out when she had an extra minute to refill condiments in the kitchen, garnishes in the bar, or clear a plate or two on the tables for the bussers, and so forth.

She soon noticed that, during busy times, her special orders were given special attention in the kitchen, her drinks came out a little faster from the bar, and when there were many dirty tables, hers got cleaned and reset a bit faster than the others, which turned into more revenue for her over time.

Nina also networked with the other servers, and picked up additional shifts of theirs when she could.  Not only did she want the additional income, but there were times when she was scheduled for day shifts that would occasionally conflict with an interview, and I pointed out that the best way to ask for a favor was from someone for whom she had already done a favor.  This strategy helped her be versatile and available whenever interviews did come along.

Of course, Nina was also already good at sales, so she suggested additional menu items, such as appetizers and desserts, upsold the brands of liquor, and generally made her customers feel welcome.  Management soon noticed the trends in her sales and customer feedback, including some customers who started requesting being seated in her section.

Within about a year, Nina had only had a couple of job offers in her field, but the pay was so poor, it didn’t even compete with what she was making waiting tables, so she turned them down.  Shortly after, the restaurant manager approached her about becoming the marketing director for the restaurant, due to the talent she had demonstrated there, combined with her people skills working with the staff.

Nina was a bit stunned but pleased to Fix It! by getting promoted back to what she had been doing, from what was only supposed to have been a temporary part-time job.  She got her “new” job without an interview, since her boss already knew her, and ended up making almost as much as her previous salary.  Not only did she have very little training required, but she was pleased to learn that she had a great deal more creative control, because management had a lot of faith in her judgment and talent from the start.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Opal* and Peter* deal with workplace issues

Gloria* and Herman* manage the subtle disrespect of coworkers

The three basic types of nonprofit workers


My Director Will Never Go For That

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

It’s conference season. Too often, I’ve witnessed a person in a session, hearing a great idea being presented – and then turning to me and saying, “I’d LOVE to do that at my place, but my director will never go for it,” typically followed by a sigh.

Don’t get me wrong . . . I don’t claim to know their director or their organization.

But, this person presumably attended this session to learn more about the topic at hand – and while we’ve all had difficult bosses to work with, this person has already cleared a substantial hurdle:  they’ve been sent to a conference to learn more about their field!  A lot of people I speak with would love to be in their shoes!

Whenever you’re approaching your director with a new idea it always pays to put yourself in their shoes first.  What is the likely response?  More importantly, why?  If the answer is no – why is it no?  Is it due to additional cost, staff time, or something else?

You can’t address an objection effectively if you don’t know what the objection is to begin with.

For example, when I speak at sessions about Incorporating Online Giving With Direct Mail, a reason people often give me that their leadership doesn’t want to add online giving has more to do with ignorance:  I wouldn’t give my credit card number over the web, and I don’t think our constituents really want to, either.”

A way to combat this argument is with a one-two punch:  First, by demonstrating industry standards – showing results of a study that demonstrate how pervasive online giving is, regardless of age, for example.  This can be followed up by results of the organization’s own online giving results to counter another common, but ignorant objection:  “That may be true for that population, but it doesn’t apply to our constituents.”  (We’re different.)

It’s also essential to realize that even if you’ve heard – or had – the best idea in the world, it probably isn’t realistic to expect that absolutely everything is going to go your way and be fully implemented immediately.  Once you accept this, you can prioritize your requests and ask for the most important aspects first.  Change can be difficult for people to accept, and it doesn’t always have to do with the price tag.

This is why tracking is so vital.  When you return with tangible, visible results of the success that your proposal is starting to yield, NOW is the time to request that Stage 2 be implemented, and so on.

Of course, you can get these ideas from many sources – not just attending conferences.  You might be inspired from reading various related websites, blogs, taking online training courses, as well as old fashioned networking.  Each person must use the resources they have available to them.

A few days of exposure to the full throttle of session after session at a conference can leave one with a combination of being inspired and overwhelmed, though, when seeing what other very successful organizations are doing with their campaigns.  The thought of trying to implement such changes into your program with staff and/or officers who are resistant to change can even bring about anxiety.

Here are all these wonderful campaigns, strategies and tools – but how will you take them back and implement them, you wonder?  What if you are also lacking the staff and/or budget that they have?  It can seem daunting, if not impossible.

Taking notes during the sessions on how they began their campaigns is always a good idea, as well as asking questions about how difficulties were handled along the way, since all projects have them.  Most presenters welcome being contacted after their sessions, so be sure to take down their information for follow up questions later.

If I don’t see you at NTEN or AFP International in Chicago, perhaps we’ll meet up Pittsburg next month, or Richmond this July, when I am presenting about online giving again?  I can also be reached via my LinkedIn button below.

If you really do have a director who refuses to try anything new – ever – regardless of the idea’s merit, then perhaps it’s time you asked yourself if you should Fix It Or Forget It?  Where do you see your career headed, and can your current position take you there?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

What Will Year-End Bring – And What Will You DO With It?

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Nearly every non profit earns a substantial amount of its budget at year’s end. For some, this season is a do-or-die time of year. Either way, how many will take the time to analyze which appeals were most successful and which should be re-evaluated?

Overall dollars are important, certainly, but a great deal can be learned by delving into who gave what to which appeal when, why, by what means, etc. Reviewing details of response rates, click through rates and so forth now can help you better plan the upcoming year’s success, once you know what your constituents are responding to.

Take this challenge: Find the separate segments that are performing the very best and the very worst, regardless of whether or not you made more money overall. Where are your trends happening? Which demographics are taking off, and which ones are starting to drop off? Can you see that they are by age, geography, gender – or is it by the channel they are using, such as direct mail, email or social media? Perhaps it’s a mixture of several variables. How will you determine this to make next year’s appeals even better?

In addition to your analysis, it’s essential to keep up with current trends in the industry, which is rapidly changing. Although your organization most likely can’t respond to everything, a good goal would be to add two new things in 2011 that will interest and engage your constituents. For example, perhaps you might start a Facebook page and add video components to your email appeals. These don’t both have to begin on January 1st, but have a plan and work toward projected launch dates for each.

While assessing your year, consider other areas for improvement that affect fund raising indirectly, but may not come to mind immediately when you are doing your initial evaluation.

Find ways to boost your organization’s publicity. If you know a reporter, that’s wonderful, but reach beyond traditional means. What about bloggers? Consider asking several bloggers to write about your latest event, press release or promotion. Also remember to promote directly to your followers and friends, asking them to retweet/forward/share your latest news or video to their friends. This is the nature of social media, after all. (Remember to reciprocate now and then.)

Something else that is crucial to fund raising efforts, but often overlooked: database software. Does your database have dedicated fields for Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, text messaging, etc., or are you using [Other1], [Other2], [Other3] and [Other4]? This will make tracking next to impossible . . . and it’s only going to become more difficult as time goes on. What/how are you going to update your database with social media information or text messaging? Mobile giving and text messaging is only going to become more relevant as people have fewer land lines.

Actively seek feedback from those constituents who support you the most! Getting written documentation, as well as photos and video, will be very compelling testimony that can be used in your appeals (with permission, of course), to demonstrate to other potential donors why your organization is worth contributing to.

Just as you commit to boosting the value of your organization’s Annual Giving program by adding to its portfolio with a couple of new features, make certain that you add to your own professional portfolio as well, and increase your own skills and knowledge by a couple of features this year. Even if your training budget has reduced or evaporated completely, the Bilou Calendar lists many low cost and free online courses throughout the year, and you can subscribe to it. Don’t shortchange yourself or your personal career development.

Also remember that while online courses are very helpful, nothing takes the place of the value of face to face networking. Meeting with those in your profession on a regular basis can provide insight, education, mentoring and connections that possibly lead to a future job one day. If nothing else, staying in touch with those in the same profession helps one feel less isolated. Depending on your area of fund raising, you might find better networking with AFP, AHP, APRA, CASE or NTEN, or a combination therein.

The best year-end gift fund raisers can give to themselves is less exhaustion for next year by earlier, better planning for 2011. This begins with an in depth evaluation of what was done, but the follow through is not only adding some upgrades for the organization’s program, but investing in the fund raiser as well.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown

What Are You Learning?

Monday, September 27th, 2010

People never stop learning.  In one form or another, we all continue to discover, absorb and conclude, whether we do it in a classroom or not.  Ideally, organizations realize the need for employees to continue keeping up with current trends and they budget for this.  Unfortunately, this isn’t typical, so what’s one to do?

Of course, everyone should grow and learn new things on the job, but some jobs require a steeper learning curve than others, because the evolution of their field is moving more rapidly than others.  Annual Giving is one such sector, since technology affects this part of fund raising more than, say, Planned Giving.  Certainly new laws on estate planning are important for professionals to know, but it’s doubtful that they are changing as quickly as the landscape of social media, for example. Often one feels that if you blink, you might miss something.

A recent study by Guidestar on the economy’s effect showed that five of the top six ways that nonprofits used to reduce costs were related to staffing, salary and benefits, which surely translates to less funds for training as well.

Couple this with the fact that when training budgets are doled out, Annual Giving professionals typically receive the smallest allowance, and you have a double whammy of those in need of the most training having the least means to receive it.  Seth Godin makes a good argument about how the old business model of worker and employer is disintegrating, and stresses the importance of a worker being “fast, smart and flexible” in our new, emerging economy.

Here are but a few examples of items that Annual Giving professionals will need to add to their toolbox:

•     Facebook has a reputation for changing its features on a regular basis.  Facebook Places is one of the newer features to learn.
•     Twitter is rolling out several major changes, including the ability to view photos, video and past tweets without scrolling.
•     Video – It’s going to be more than just creating something on YouTube or Vimeo and inserting it into an email or posting it onto your Facebook page.  Soon, every individual, company and organization will be able to have its own web-based “tv” channel.
•     RSS (Real Simple Syndication) or text messaging – see some examples of how it can (and is) being used, including a non profit example.  How can you use RSS to keep in touch with your constituents?
•     SlideShare  –  Beth Kanter has great suggestions.  Although I clearly don’t utilize it enough, you can see results of various polls I’ve taken on social media habits from audiences over the years.
•     LinkedIn is changing the specs on its site, upgrading the social networking and other features a great deal lately.  What will that mean for how you market yourself online?
•     Technology requirements to handle all of your applications and other needs.  The Seattle Public Library launched a matching gift campaign, and their site crashed soon after the campaign began, in response to the outpouring of the unanticipated support.

Patrick* made a point to sign up for as many classes as his organization – and professional society – offered during his first year on the job, in order to learn as much as he could.  He wanted to be well versed, and take full advantage of what the company (and his membership) had to offer.

At the end of his first year, he had raised a great deal more money than his predecessor and also implemented some successful new events, etc.  He arrived at his performance review with a list of his accomplishments and a calendar of the trainings that helped him learn how to achieve said tasks, as well as a proposed schedule of upcoming courses.

He was stunned at his manager’s reaction:  Instead of praising him for having a good plan and learning so much, he chastised Patrick for having taken so many courses:  “I had no idea you were spending this much time out of the office!”  His manager denied Patrick’s proposed training schedule for the new year, and said he would have to cut it by half.

“When I asked ‘Why?’ since I had clearly raised more funds,” Patrick recounted, all I could get was, “‘It doesn’t look good for you to be gone that much.‘”

Patrick made a point in the future only to highlight the end result (his accomplishments) and not the means of achieving them (his training) during performance reviews.

Ramona* also met with difficulty over getting training.  She knew that budgets were tight, so she rarely asked to go to seminars, but there was one that she felt was very valuable and was not terribly expensive, so she asked to attend.

When she approached her director, he only pretended to review the materials and listen to her argument, but turned her down almost immediately.  Ramona decided not to give up just yet, and searched the seminar website for scholarships, since she couldn’t afford the entire cost herself.  Finally, she contacted the conference organizer when she found no scholarship application online, and explained the situation.  She was successful in getting a free admission to the two day conference!

Ramona made a point to network with others in her professional society – locally and nationally – and had a friend in the nearby city, within a day’s driving distance.  She arranged to stay with her friend, rather than pay for a hotel.

Because her manager hadn’t bothered to notice the details of the conference during her initial request, Ramona simply put the dates down as a vacation request, stating that she was “visiting a friend,” and said nothing more about it.  She returned with more skills – and contacts – to put in her professional toolbox.  She knew enough about her manager’s dynamics to realize that he wouldn’t reward or praise her for her resourcefulness, but most likely subtract future opportunities from her if he knew she had received this training.

While neither Patrick’s nor Ramona’s situations are ideal, they each found ways to continue developing their skills professionally, working around the limitations set before them.  Although it’s important to invest in yourself when necessary, it’s also essential to know when to draw the line and realize if you’re simply not being supported – and never will be.

What then, are some tangible, low-cost actions that Annual Giving professionals can take, to sharpen their skills and become more knowledgeable about this profession that seems to be moving at the speed of light?

•     Network within the professionJoining a professional society such as AFP, AHP, APRA, CASE, NTEN, etc. is advisable.  Connecting with others who are dealing with similar issues can be invaluable.
•     Invest in a mentor relationship – Ask someone you admire to coach you in an area you’d like to learn more about, but also offer your skills to another who is eager to learn.
•     Research scholarships – Many organizations offer scholarships for membership and/or conference attendance.  Investigate and use these applications sparingly, since they’re often only valid once.
•     Take online courses – A great deal of training is available online, and because there is no space to rent or perhaps a limit on attendance, the cost is often very low or even free.  The Bilou Calendar lists many courses related to Annual Giving, and you can subscribe to it.

In the end, you have to drive your career and determine its direction.  You’re learning new things constantly, regardless.  The question is, what do you most want to learn?

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

(When) should I start looking elsewhere?

Monday, September 6th, 2010

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In honor of Labor Day, I help examine a question that millions of workers ask themselves on a regular basis.

In addition to the time I’ve personally spent on both sides of the interview desk, over the years I’ve heard numerous stories from clients I’ve either counseled for months during their job search, or just chatted with while designing their resumes.  Certainly, many people are currently out of work and looking for whatever employment they can find right now.  It does help to do a targeted search, though.  Making the best use of your time can improve your odds significantly.

For many people, making the decision to start looking for another job is the most difficult step of all in the entire process.

Is it the right time?  Is there anything better, anyway?  At least what I have is a known quantity, right?  How do I face all of that rejection, interview after interview, before I get an offer? What are my strengths and weaknesses?  I don’t even know where I see myself NEXT year, let alone in five years . . .  Maybe I’d better wait and see if it gets better . . .

Here are some guidelines I give to people, as a sort of mental checklist, to see if staying or looking might be a better move at this time.  Each person has to decide for her/himself, of course:
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What priorities do you have with employment?

Location?  Salary?  Title/Authority?  Benefits?  Training?  (Consider your reaction, for example, if your salary increased by 20% but your commute time doubled.  Would that matter?)  Make a specific list of the top five aspects of a job that you seek.  What are you receiving and what are you lacking?
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Don’t wait until you’re miserable at your current place of employment

ALL job searches take months to complete.  Not only will it make the process seem longer, but it might actually be longer!  Presenting a positive outlook is important when interviewing, and you are less likely to do this if depressed.  In addition, you may be more desperate to leave, so that you end up taking something you typically wouldn’t and are no better off.
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Think ahead about your career and act instead of react

Escaping a bad situation is one reason to leave a position, but that is reactive.  What do you want as the next step in your career?  Can you get that where you currently are?  If yes, list the steps you need to take and begin on #1.  If no, then it probably is time to start looking elsewhere.
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Realize that everything you do and don’t do is setting the stage – or blocking your path – for your next position, promotion, assignment, etc.

This has to do with more than your wardrobe, although that is certainly an element.  Are you punctual – and work more than required hours when that’s what it takes to get the job done?  How good are your writing, spelling, grammar and computer skills?  Do you contribute ideas or wait to be asked?

How many people outside your immediate department know who you are and what you do?  If someone (not necessarily your director) were asked for input on an important project, would they respond, “[Your name] would be great for that!”?  How can you make that a reality?  Many jobs are hired through word of mouth and networking instead of from responses to listings; therefore, you need to be known for your expertise through various channels.
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Invest in yourself

It’s best if your employer has a training budget and pays for you to attend various courses and seminars, but if not, attend these on your own.  (This should also be an indicator to you about whether or not you want to stay with this employer: How much can you grow and learn here?  Will they even care or reward you if you do?)

Many online trainings are available, and you can see a variety of free and low cost courses listed on the Bilou Calendar, depending on what you’re looking for.  Membership in professional societies also provides valuable face-to-face networking opportunities.  How many online publications do you read to stay informed about what is current in your field?  Finally, in this competitive job market, having your resume professionally designed and/or a career counselor can help give you an advantage over other job seekers.

Whatever your final conclusion is, most people feel more assured if they run through a checklist similar to the one above and actually do an assessment, instead of constantly wondering, “What if . . . ?”  Only you can decide to Fix It Or Forget It! in the end.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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