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Season 2, Episode 26

In this special Valentine Day podcast, campaign expert Andrea Kihlstedt is joined by Toolkit advisor Kent Stroman; together, they encourage you to hold the chocolates and highlight the impact. You’ll learn how to share your donor love today by showing them something specific they’ve helped make happen.

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This episode was recorded as part of a live webinar held Monday, February 14, 2022. To participate in future webinars, register at ToolkitTalks.com.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So as you can see, I am not joined by my wonderful partner, Amy Eisenstein today. Amy has had a death in her family and she has gone off to a funeral and we have asked our wonderful colleague, Kent Stroman, to join us. Kent is one of the Capital Campaign Toolkit advisors.

And Kent, just tell us a little about … Just a little about you, and then I’ll give everyone the lay of the land of what we’re going to do.

Kent Stroman:
Well, let’s see. How far back do you want to go?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Not that far.

Kent Stroman:
Not that far, okay. So I won’t tell you then that I have one brother and five sisters.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
No.

Kent Stroman:
But my background’s higher education, I was in higher ed for 25 years. Primarily in finance before I discovered this beautiful world of fundraising and advancement.

And then 20 years ago, 21 years ago, Andrea, I started the consulting firm, which actually in a way connected us. And boy, it’s been a real joy to work alongside you and Amy and Capital Campaign Toolkit, and see the impact that you’re having literally around the world.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
All right, Kent, you want to start us off on that great topic?

Kent Stroman:
Yeah. So donor love, I’m curious, Andrea, when you use that term, could you give just a little bit of context in how you think about it?

Defining Donor Love

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah. I’ve actually thought about it a lot recently. I’ve thought the notion of love a lot recently. And I don’t know if any of you are familiar, some of you must be familiar with the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk who is so articulate and who has written so many books. And he has written a lot on love, and he died recently at the age of 90-something.

Kent Stroman:
Wow.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And he was a wonderful sage and he wrote a lot on love. And if you really read what he wrote on love, he defines love in some way as just having a big heart. And it’s a big heart that can embrace everybody, that can embrace everybody and everything. And so his concept of love is not so much directed love, amorous love, immediate love, but it’s the love of openness and acceptance, and seeing people for who they are, how they are, as they are.

And I think as I read his writing, that that definition of love is a very good one for the fundraising business. That that’s the kind of love we want to have for our donors. We don’t want the tacky love, the pretending love. We certainly don’t want the amorous kind of love, but we want it to be loving. We want to be generous in how we are in the world, and we want to be generous in our response to our donors. How do you think about it, Kent?

Kent Stroman:
Yeah. Well, you’re right. It’s certainly multidimensional. When I think about love, appreciation, stewardship, as it relates to fundraising, it reminds me of a quote that I’ve never been able to find the source out, but here’s what it says. “Whatever we praise, recognize and reward, we will see more of.”

And oftentimes what I see both sadly in my own behavior and in organizations around me, is we ask people to do good things, like volunteer or financially support a mission. And they do. And then we immediately ignore that and go on to the next request for people to do good things. And I love it when we’re intentional about helping people feel good for doing good.

And so this topic of donor love, big heart, expressions of stewardship, I think is really timely. One that is easily ignored, but it doesn’t take that much effort to set ourselves apart from the norm.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And in your experience, what are the ways in which people have done that, that you’ve seen that have really made a difference?

Kent Stroman:
Yeah. It ranges a lot because I believe that it’s appropriate for us to be more intentional. I’m going to say, yeah, more … I think we should be more intentional when it’s people who are making gifts that are more significant to them. And we tend to be maybe more universal when it’s the masses. Here’s what I think, is not necessarily a good answer. Send a ink pen with the name of the organization on it. Now that was a great idea the first time it was ever done, but that’s a few decades behind us, and who doesn’t already have enough ink pens that don’t work that well.

And so I’m going to make a suggestion kind of in the midpoint, but more than an idea, it’s a principle. Somebody once said that people won’t throw away or won’t discard leather or metal. And so, well, actually I’ve got right here on my desk. I have a little leather coaster, got my company name on it. And a coaster doesn’t cost a lot. I mean, I think I can get these for about a dollar each, that may be more than what we’d want to use. But ask yourself, is there something that’s durable and will have a long-lasting impression, a positive impression?

And so that’s at the smaller end of the scale. When we think about the other end of the scale, and in my experience, this is sometimes harder. How do we say thank you in an appropriate way to somebody whose resources may eclipse our own resources? And can I share two words that I think are really powerful in that, Andrea?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Please.

Thanking Major Donors — Notice and Ask

Kent Stroman:
I’m going to share a six-letter word and then a three-letter word. So six letters, notice. N-O-T-I-C-E. I think if we want to thank somebody in a way that’s appropriate to them, then we should notice what they notice. What is it in their surroundings that captures your attention? Somebody said, “If you want to know a person’s heart, notice what they notice.” And so notice, pay attention, be attentive, and let the recognition be appropriate to that particular individual.

Thee second one and, Andrea, I know you’re not going to be at all surprised just when I share my three-letter word, because this might be my favorite three-letter word, in is ask. A-S-K. And so actually I was in a conference years ago. And one of the trustees of a very large, very prominent foundation made this comment as it related to donor recognition and thanks. He said, “Here’s what we don’t want. Please don’t send us another plaque.” He said, “We already have closets full of plaques. And when you do that, we appreciate your intention, but whatever you spend on it is wasted.” He said, “If you want to know how we’d like to be thanked, ask us.” And I thought, “Well, that’s brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that?”

But I’ve had some really engaging conversations as I thank people for their gift. And then just ask in a very sincere fashion, “How could we say thank you?” And oftentimes that stimulates conversation, and unfolds a layer of what’s within their heart that’s different than what we’ve talked about, even to the point of getting that million dollar or two million or $5 million gift in the first place. So six letters and three letters, maybe there’s some guidance there.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah. Thank you, Kent. You know, you always have a way with words. I always learn something when you share your nuggets like that. The idea of asking someone as a way of appreciating them is such an interesting idea. We always think about asking people for gifts, but we don’t think about asking people how they want to be recognized. And combining that with noticing people. For much of my adult life, I have always found myself wanting in a gift-giver. Some people look to me like they are natural gift-givers.

Kent Stroman:
Oh, uh-huh (affirmative).

Andrea Kihlstedt:
They always pick the perfect gift, that they have a knack for it. And I’ve often felt like I don’t, I haven’t done that well in my life. I just, it just hasn’t … I have a daughter who just is amazing at it. She manages always to find the perfect gift at the perfect time for people. And in recent years, much to my delight, now I’m about to be 77 so it’s a long time in my life that went on without having done this. But I’ve been in the last five or 10 years, I’ve actually gotten much better at it. And I think the reason I’ve gotten better at it is because I am doing better at noticing people. I’m doing better at noticing, which is what you bring up.

And I think that that’s the key to recognizing anyone. That do you really want a Starbucks card or a pen or whatever? Wouldn’t you rather, or wouldn’t your donor rather have a note or an email that notices them, that lets them know that you have seen who they are and you have seen the generosity in their hearts.

Kent Stroman:
Yeah.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Wouldn’t that be a better way to do it? Now I’m not against sending brownies. At the Toolkit we actually send people brownies, we like to celebrate by sending people brownies. We do that and we believe in it, and it’s nice and it’s fun and everybody likes it.

But actually taking the time to look at someone and say, “Kent, I so appreciate your ability to wordsmith in a way that you can put a message out there so that I will remember it,” I suspect is a better thank you to you than any box of candy I could send.

Kent Stroman:
And you’re very good at that. Thank you, Andrea.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Well, to me, it’s the heart of donor recognition. I mean, I bring it up here, not because it’s some other topic of course, but because if we get better at actually looking at and seeing our donors. And start to understand their patterns, and start to understand why they give, and start to actually see or ask them to share what is in their heart when they make those gifts, then even small gestures will be big thanks for them.

Kent Stroman:
Yeah, yeah.

The Ultimate Story of Donor Love

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Now I told you before, Kent, that I have a story of a big gesture —

Kent Stroman:
Oh yeah.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
… and I do want to share that. I do have a story of a big gesture with one of my clients years ago. I did a campaign for a hospital. It was a first campaign this hospital had done in many, many, many years. And I don’t know, it was to build a new women’s wing, women’s health wing. And there was a woman whose name was Becky. Becky had been a nurse herself, and she had served on the volunteer committee, women’s auxiliary, whatever they called it. And then she was invited to serve on the board.

And this campaign came along and Becky, who was a very capable woman, who was retired, took hold of that campaign lock, stock and barrel. I mean, she worked endlessly and tiredly to make that campaign successful. And it was incredibly successful. She worked with the board, she worked with the development director, she worked with the head of the hospital. For two and a half, three years she worked to make that campaign successful. At the end of the campaign, someone on the board decided that they needed a way to recognize Becky for all of her remarkable work.

Kent Stroman:
Nice.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And he went to all of his colleagues on the board quietly, and he put together a fund that took Becky and her husband to Italy for two weeks.

Kent Stroman:
Oh, wow.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
All expense paid trip.

Kent Stroman:
Wow.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Because he knew that they had wanted to do that. What a gift.

Kent Stroman:
Yes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
What a remarkable gift.

Kent Stroman:
Yeah.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
It wasn’t hospital money. It was personal money from her colleagues, put together to do something that she had talked about wanting to do. I mean, she was just knocked out by it and they had a wonderful time. The board felt great, she felt great. So that was a huge, big gesture, but an appropriate one.

Tokens of Donor Appreciation Need Not Cost a Lot

Kent Stroman:
Yeah. That’s great. Well, I can give you an example on the other end of the spectrum. And I mentioned that I was in higher ed for a number of years. And during that time, the university started a nursing program, and there was one lady who had been extremely generous, for a variety of reasons, to the program. And I’d been in Lois’s home many times, she lived alone. She had a very successful career. She did not want for material possessions. And it was one of those things where going in her home, you thought, “What thing can you give her?” There wasn’t a thing you could give her. But I knew what she loved. She loved nursing.

And so, when it was time, I think this was the second or third class of nursing students to graduate, and they have this special ceremony. And so when that happened, I get snapshot of it and I went to Walmart. This is a high dollar story, I went to Walmart and bought a frame for an eight by 10 picture. And I asked all of the graduates just to write their name on that photograph.

And then one of the graduates, young nurse, went with me and we knocked on the door. Of course I made arrangements, but we knocked on the door of Lois’s home. Her caregiver invited us in. And I said, “I wanted you to have an opportunity to hear our appreciation from the voice of somebody who benefited directly from your gift.” And so the young nurse, Jennifer, just in very natural ways, talked about what it had meant to her to be able to get her nursing degree and where she was headed off to. And then we gave her this simple photograph in a frame and said, “My classmates and I joined in just saying thank you to her.”

And you know what? When I came back on other occasions, that little frame that was like a tripod and sit on a table, was in a prominent place. And it meant so much to her for the remainder of her life. And I know that if we had given her a thing, I could have taking her roses or chocolates, brownies, she wouldn’t have been able to take a trip to Spain for two weeks. But she treasured that as if it had been something that was as costly.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
That’s right, that’s right. Yes, it really has nothing to do with cost, does it?

Kent Stroman:
Yeah.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
It has to do with understanding the people who are making gifts to your organization. And that’s true of everyone, it’s a matter of making a marriage work actually. I mean, if you look at love on the other side, you and I have both been married a long time, Kent.

Kent Stroman:
Added together, and it’s a long time, Andrea.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Oh, added together it’s a very long time, Kent. And start to think about, “Well, what makes that work?” It’s coming to understand the other person. Not always agreeing, not always even liking, but coming to understand the other person and being able to call them out for what you see that’s good. These simple things are so difficult to keep in mind sometimes.

We are about to end this part of what we’re doing, but put your questions in the Q and A box. I see we don’t have a lot of questions, they don’t have to be on donor recognition. They can be on anything you wish, because we will soon pivot over to your questions. But before we do that, Kent, do you have a final word on this subject of donor recognition and donor appreciation, donor love?

Be Sincere in Your Donor Gratitude

Kent Stroman:
I think if I had to boil it down to one word, it would be the word sincere. Whatever you do, if it’s sincere and if it’s done in a sincere way, it will carry the message that it’s intended to do.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah. Funny how hard that is, isn’t it?

Kent Stroman:
I know. We try to make it complicated or extravagant or whatever. Yeah.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah. I mean, it doesn’t have to become … It can be very … The problem is that sincerity, particularly I think when you’re crossing off and you’re crossing boundaries, socioeconomic boundaries, for example, or you’re crossing age barriers. You have a young development director and an older donor, or there are all kinds of things that we cross in this business. And it’s not so easy to be sincere sometimes, it’s not so easy to let yourself be open enough to be sincere.

I think we need to give credence to the challenge of doing this well, and to finding something in your heart. I mean, let me go back to Thich Nhat Hanh, because why I like his definition of love, that the love is within the individual. It’s finding in yourself a big heart.

Kent Stroman:
Yeah.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
That is big enough to be able to share it with everyone else. And I think that’s such a practice. I think every religion, as we’ve had some people put, talk about the Bible in this, every religion has its version of that.

But I think if you can hold onto that notion and express it in your fundraising practice, this business goes from being about money to being about something more powerful and moving. Both to you, the development person, and to the donor, the giver that everyone is giving in this exchange.

Kent Stroman:
Very well said.

Wrapping Up

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Kent Stroman, thank you so much for being such a sage and smart and insightful and articulate human being. We are privileged to have you on the Toolkit team.

Kent Stroman:
Well, it’s fun to work with you, Andrea. And this was really a robust conversation. Not just between the two of us, but with everybody on the call today, and what a fun … Over 100 people, what fun.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I know, fun, right. So thanks to all of you for being with us. Amy is missing you and we’ll be back next week with you all. And we look forward to seeing you all then.

Kent Stroman:
Thanks, Andrea.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Bye-bye.

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