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Season 2, Episode 41

In this special edition, fundraising expert Amy Eisenstein is joined by Andy Robinson, a 40-year industry veteran and co-author with Andrea Kihlstedt of a seminal fundraising book. Together, they discuss critical training skills and why you need to improve them.

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This episode was recorded as part of a live webinar held Monday, June 6, 2022. To participate in future webinars, register at ToolkitTalks.com.

Amy Eisenstein:
Hello everybody. I’m Amy Eisenstein. I’m super excited to see you here. Andrea is off in California with her whole family, her kids and her grandkids celebrating all sorts of occasions, including her birthday, which was yesterday. And so today I am very excited to have actually a good friend and colleague of both mine and Andreas. But I will tell you, I am super excited to have Andy Robinson here with us today. His resume speaks for itself, but I will tell you, one of his many claim to fame is coauthoring a book with Andrea called Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money. And I have to tell you that it is my go to training book and it has been since it was published. I don’t know what five, six years ago, Andy, would you say?

Andy Robinson:
I think that’s right. I think that’s right.

Amy Eisenstein:
And Andy has written several other books. I’m going to let him share some of them, but he is an expert in training among many other things. And people know him as the Swiss army knife of nonprofit consulting because he does a little bit of everything. So if you’re going to do a board training, whether you’re hiring a facilitator or not, I would highly, highly recommend visiting Andy’s website and getting this book, Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money. It is chock-full of recipes, of training recipes and exercises.

So, Andy, what do you want to say about yourself? Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started with training and then we’ll get into why it’s important for everybody on the call today.

Andy Robinson:
Okay. That’s great. I’m Andy Robinson. I’m coming to you today from Plainfield, Vermont, which is where I live. I have been raising money for nonprofit organizations since 1980. So that’s 42 years. I have had my own consulting practice doing these sorts of things for about 26, 27 years. So I’m a one person business. And as Amy suggested, I support people with fundraising, planning, board development, marketing. I have facilitated mergers, I’ve done a little bit of nonprofit hospice care, help organizations pass away gracefully. And a lot of what I’m doing now is train the trainer and also helping people who are starting their consulting and training practices to build viable businesses. And that part of my work is not something I charge for. It’s just something I do to support the community. Because people did that for me when I started out 20 odd years ago.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah.

Andy Robinson:
And I am a big fan of Andrea and I’m a big fan of Amy and what they have built here is amazing. And they are both very skilled fundraisers and really thoughtful business women and are good at this stuff. So the fact that you signed up for this and you’re participating means you’re very discerning, because you’ve chosen good people to learn from.

Amy Eisenstein:
Well, thank you, Andy. The feeling is absolutely mutual.

Fundraising Training Today is Less Trial-and-Error

Andy Robinson:
And so if you want your colleagues, board members, volunteers, staff members, whomever to participate in fundraising effectively, they need to learn how to do it. And back in the day for me and this may have been true for Amy, a lot of it was trial and error. And I think what’s happened in the last 20 odd years and I can claim credit along with a lot of other people, is that we have professionalized the part of this where we train people, how to do it. And so there are skills available and tools and techniques for how to be better at training people to embrace fundraising.

So bottom line is any capital campaign you’re doing is a team sport and you need a team. And if people are going to be on the team, they have to learn how to play the game and do it well. And I don’t mean the game in a negative sense, I mean, in a positive sense. So yeah, I think every successful campaign rises or falls based on the participation of your group. And if you want them to participate well, you have to teach them how to do that.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. I think that’s such a good point and I love starting off with that quote from Kim or I don’t know, philosophy that nobody comes out of the womb knowing how to fundraise. And I think that goes beyond that. Nobody comes out of even college or business school or most careers knowing how to, or feeling comfortable with fundraising.

Andy Robinson:
Yep.

Amy Eisenstein:
It is a skill that we practice and learn and the more we practice, the better we get. I mean, one of the analogies that I use is, it’s hard to learn to swim, but you do it, you practice. First, you go underwater and you fail a few times.

Andy Robinson:
You flop around a lot.

Amy Eisenstein:
You flop around. Learning to ride a bicycle, whatever skill you’re learning, with practice you get better. And maybe those aren’t quite the right analogies because I think any good fundraiser always has a few butterflies. There’s always some degree of nervousness, no matter how many times you’ve asked for a gift or requested funds because every interaction with every donor is different, but there really is an element to practicing. And so, whether or not you like the word training, some board members don’t want to be trained. But if they practice, I find that even some of the best fundraisers on our boards are always happy to have practice and get better. So Andy, what’s a training exercise or two?

Andy Robinson:
Yeah.

Amy Eisenstein:
What do you want to highlight? Let’s get to some nitty gritty details of how people can really apply. What should they do with their boards?

Redefining the Word “Fundraising” & The Fundraising Cycle

Andy Robinson:
So the first thing that I do generally is I try to redefine the word fundraising, because people assume that fundraising is asking and to be super clear if nobody’s asking for money you’re not raising any money, but fundraising is this whole suite of behaviors. It starts with identifying potential donors. We cultivate them, we educate them. When it’s time, we ask them. When they give we thank them, we appreciate them. We’re looking for ways to involve them more deeply. And if we’re good, we ask those people that we have involved more deeply to identify new donors that we can reach out to. And there are many names for what I just described, but generally it’s some version of the cycle of fundraising, right?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andy Robinson:
It’s that whole suite of behaviors,

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andy Robinson:
That we use to bring people in, solicit them and connect them more closely to our groups. So, you know what I often, when I’m training boards or training people who are new to fundraising, I often start there because people have this phobia about the ask.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andy Robinson:
And what I will say is not everybody’s going to be an asker and I’m okay with that. But I think everybody can be a fundraiser.

Amy Eisenstein:
I completely agree.

Andy Robinson:
And part of the work in getting people comfortable with fundraising is to have them figure out where they fit on that cycle. And in my fantasy world, everybody is comfortable asking, soliciting gifts. I have not found that world yet so.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah.

Andy Robinson:
Right. So.

Amy Eisenstein:
I’m giving up on that I think. Right.

Andy Robinson:
Amen.

Board Members Should Help Fundraise, But Not Necessarily Ask

Amy Eisenstein:
And you know what I have to say, I want to emphasize that to everybody listening because I think that’s really important because I think there’s a lot of development directors and executive directors and maybe even board chairs who feel like every board member needs to ask for gifts. And it simply is not true. Every board member needs to help with fundraising, but it does not have to be asking. They can, as Andy said, they can help identify donors. They can help thank donors. They can help cultivate donors. There’s lots of ways to get board members involved in fundraising and sort of once you let them off that asking hook, they may sigh a big sigh of relief and then be willing, more willing to help with thanking or cultivating or even identifying donors. And so that’s a really, really important, very first basic. Yeah. Aha,

Andy Robinson:
Amen.

Amy Eisenstein:
For many board members. Yeah. Okay, good.

Andy Robinson:
And it takes the stress out of the room. So, and I’ll present this visually and we can even share the exercise with you guys. It’s easy to do, but it’s basically this circle and I will put it up on a screen or up on a flip chart or whatever tool I’m using. And I’m saying like not everybody’s going to be here. And in fact, if you carve out the time allocation in terms of where you spend your time as a fundraiser, like 10% of the work is solicitation and the other 90% is the things we do before and the things we do after.

And so if you frame it up that way again, people’s stress level tends to drop. And then the question is, how do we plug you into this model? You Sally board member, you Jose board member, like where are you on this? And how do… And what’ll happen I think is people may come in doing things that feel less stressful, like writing a thank you note or hosting a party or whatever their comfort is.

And once they’ve mastered that, you can say, okay, I’m going out to meet some donors. Would you like to come along and just see how that works? You can tell the story about why you’re on the board, how you connect with the mission. I think it’s awesome as a board member for you to do that. I’m staff, I can close the gift. I don’t need you to ask for the money, but I’d love for you to observe how this conversation works. So there’s a name for this in psychology. It’s called aversion therapy. And if you’re afraid of snakes, they put you in a room with snakes, right?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andy Robinson:
If you’re afraid of spiders, they put you in a room with spiders. People are afraid of donors, for reasons that are unclear to me. But if you put them in a room with a donor and they observe that sort of conversation and they can see that donors actually don’t bite, they’re lovely people, they care about the mission. Many of them give money. And it’s like, oh, that’s not scary. So I don’t know if this is a second step, but this in essence is another form of training, is to bring board members along with staff or seasoned solicitors to just observe how it works. Because that demystifies it. And what’s nice about that, that’s not training with a capital T. That’s like I’m going along to see somebody. Would you come with me and just tell them why you care and you can observe the rest of the conversation.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. I think that’s a great model to think about, having a mentor system, right?

Andy Robinson:
Yep. Yep.

Amy Eisenstein:
You can either mentor from staff to board member or even board member to board member. Maybe you have two or three board members who are competent, capable, experienced, comfortable solicitors, who would be willing to bring along another board member to have them shadow them and serve as a mentor.

Andy Robinson:
Yeah. And then you debrief it after. You sit in the car or you sit on the bus, or you sit in the coffee shop and it’s like, what did you observe? Like when I said this, she said this. How do you think I reacted? Did I handle it well? How would you have handled it? And spend a little time to unpack it together. So Amy, you’ve trained a lot and I’m going to let you get in here. I mean, do you have a favorite exercise? Or if people are starting to grasp the fundraising isn’t solicitation only, it’s this whole suite of behavior,

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah.

Andy Robinson:
Where would you take them next?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. So I think that it’s both important to start. I start exactly what you just described, as not everybody needs to be a fundraiser. In fact, I tell them —

Andy Robinson:
No, no, no pause, pause. Not everybody needs to be an asker.

Amy Eisenstein:
Thank you. I totally —

Andy Robinson:
Everybody needs to be a fundraiser.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes. I totally misspoke. Thank you for stopping me there.

Andy Robinson:
You’re welcome.

Amy Eisenstein:
You’re absolutely right. Not everybody needs to be an asker, but everybody does need to be a fundraiser for sure. And it’s interesting. Sometimes I actually don’t want everybody to be askers who are just so uncomfortable because what happens is that they ultimately don’t do what they’re supposed to do or they under ask. So I’m happier to have those people get comfortable and be good and solid thinkers and identifiers. So, but I think it is important to have some dreaded role play. I’m going to go there with the dreaded role play.

Andy Robinson:
Do it.

How to Conduct “Trio” Training

Amy Eisenstein:
I love that you actually bring training into real world scenarios and actually have people shadowing people. I think that that is absolutely a critical piece of this because there’s only so far you can go in a boardroom or in a sort of a made up scenario. But I think I like to have people break into groups of three, right? You have one person as the solicitor, one person’s the donor, one person’s the observer. And instead of giving people a made up scenario, I like to have them think of a real donor. Right. Think of someone that you would like to ask, a real life donor.

Andy Robinson:
Yes.

Amy Eisenstein:
And what would you like to ask them for and practice that? And I think that the key is having the observer give both positive and constructive feedback. Let’s put it that way. How do you set up those practice scenarios?

Andy Robinson:
Yeah. So this is one of my favorite exercises and we called it, in the book we called it the trio ask though it has many different names. What you just said is absolutely true. And what I will do to make this very clear to people is if it’s Amy and Andrea and Andy and we’re in the group and I’m the solicitor, I might say, okay, who am I soliciting? And Amy says, I’ll volunteer to be that person. And I’m going to say, okay, you’re going to be my friend, Joan and Joan is 75 years old. She has given to my organization for multiple years. I know she is a big donor to other organizations and she’s only giving modest gifts to us. And I’m trying to find out why, and hopefully get her to increase her giving. But I know she’s capable of a much bigger gift because she’s given these gifts to these other groups that I know about.

So you’re going to be Joan in the role play and I’m going to be Andy and we’re going to practice and Andrea’s going to observe. So it’s actually laying out in some detail Amy’s role play, which is going to be in this exercise. And in terms of the critique part, after you’ve done the role play, I would suggest that the asker, in this case it would be me, has to go first. And I would also suggest that I have to give myself two compliments and then one suggestion and the tendency, if you do this is to go to the negative. Oh, I stumbled over the words. Oh, I wasn’t clear. Oh, I muff the ask. And we have to sort of turn off that self criticism in our heads,

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andy Robinson:
That’s part of this training. So the rule is you have to give yourself two compliments and then you can give yourself a suggestion. Amy would go next as the person being solicited. And she gives me the, asker two compliments and a suggestion. And then Andrea, our observer would jump in and she would give two compliments and a suggestion. So this whole thing takes probably 20 minutes to do the whole thing. But if you’re on the receiving end, you’re going to get six compliments. Like, and it’s a running joke because like when was the last time you got six compliments in 20 minutes. Right.

Amy Eisenstein:
I love that.

Andy Robinson:
This never happened.

Amy Eisenstein:
I love starting with the person. Yeah, with the solicitor. I’ve never done that before.

Andy Robinson:
Yes.

Amy Eisenstein:
But, yes.

Andy Robinson:
Make them say good stuff about themselves. Right.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andy Robinson:
This is what I, and people struggle with it, frankly. There’s this like awkward thing. And then if I’m like watching the room and I can see them I say, are you done with the role play? Yes. Well tell me two things you did well? They get there. Right.

Amy Eisenstein:
Right.

Andy Robinson:
Like I didn’t die. I didn’t have a heart attack. Right.

Amy Eisenstein:
Right. The donor didn’t get up and walk out.

Andy Robinson:
And I was authentic. Right. I was nervous and I expressed that and that was okay. I said, great. Give yourself one suggestion. Next time I’m going to practice more than we have a chance to practice today. So I feel more comfortable.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. Excellent.

Andy Robinson:
So those are two really good exercises. We have the cycle of fundraising and then we have this trio role play where people are actually practicing asks with each other.

Amy Eisenstein:
Excellent. I love that. All right. So I want to pause for one second and invite those folks who are with us live on Monday afternoon here to put in some questions, we’ll be taking questions in just a minute, mostly focused on training. But I have to say Andy’s an all-around general fundraising expert. So feel free to let them rip. And if you’re listening on the podcast on the recording, then let’s give them a few last words of wisdom before we turn to questions here. Okay.

Andy Robinson:
And yeah. So quick question from Lisa. After 20 minutes, do you rotate? Yes. Yes. Yes. The idea is that everybody plays all three roles.

Amy Eisenstein:
Right.

Andy Robinson:
So this exercise takes about an hour. So that’s a great clarification. Thank you, Lisa.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. And yeah. Yep.

Real-World Practice Sessions

Andy Robinson:
While we’re waiting for people to post questions, I have a question for you, Amy. And you can tell me if it’s a good idea or a bad idea and maybe we’ll argue about it, because that’s always more fun.

Amy Eisenstein:
Love it.

Andy Robinson:
What I recommend to people when they’re new to this is to identify two or three or four donors that they can contact with the following pitch. And they can say, I’m learning how to raise money. We’ve been doing practices. I’m a little uncomfortable. I’d like to come and practice on you. Just so we’re clear, it’s a real ask. I hope you’ll give money, but more than the money, what we really need is feedback. And you’re smart. You’ve done this before. I would love to get with you, practice my ask with you and get your feedback.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andy Robinson:
So this requires some vulnerability, right? Because you have to be willing to say, I don’t know what I’m doing here, but you can help me do it better. And I think we’ve all heard the great cliche, which is if you want advice, ask for money, if you want money, ask for advice. So this is like the classic example of showing up to ask for advice in an authentic way, but you’re probably going to get a gift out of sympathy or for no longer reason because you made yourself vulnerable with the donor.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah.

Andy Robinson:
So I’m arguing for imperfection and I would love to hear your take on that.

Amy Eisenstein:
I think that is absolutely brilliant. I’m absolutely in favor of practicing in real scenarios. So the first step would be, let’s break it down into steps, the first step would be to role play in a boardroom or in a training room. And then maybe to go out and shadow someone and watch someone,

Andy Robinson:
I love it.

Amy Eisenstein:
Who’s good at it. And then the next step would be to call up. I actually have people do this with board members, with each other, say I’m coming to practice, but I’m really going to ask you. So board members can ask one another.

Andy Robinson:
I like it.

Amy Eisenstein:
And then of course, ask for feedback, debrief afterwards, say, listen, I’m really asking, but, and not but, and I want your feedback as well. And you can even say, listen, tell me what I did well and tell me what I should have done better.

Andy Robinson:
Love it. Right. So let me also put the, I mean, there’s a couple of parts of this, which are unexpected.

  1. Number one because it’s practice and everybody knows it’s practice, it’s less stressful.
  2. Number two, as I mentioned, you’re probably going to get a gift out of sympathy for no other reason.
  3. But number three, you just added someone to the fundraising team because anyone who’s critiquing your pitch and helping you get better at solicitation is now a member of the fundraising team. So the more people who are helping generally speaking, the more money you’re going to raise, the more allies you have in the community who are supporting the campaign.

So I think it’s like a three for one. The risk is that you do it badly, but it’s practice.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah.

Andy Robinson:
Right. And if somebody doesn’t want to be practiced on, they’ll say no, thank you, Andy. Find someone else to practice on. But I do like your idea of starting with the board members, working with each other. That makes sense to me.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. And then you’re going to go out to other donors. Now I just was going to say something and it vanished. Poof.

Andy Robinson:
Well we have Q&A in the box, so let’s do some of those.

Final Thoughts

Amy Eisenstein:
All right. Okay. Let us wrap up just the podcast portion. So any final thoughts for our podcast listeners? And then we’ll turn to Q&A and keep discussing this. And those of you listening to the podcast if you want to catch the Q&A next time, sign up at www.toolkittalks.com and you will be able to join us and ask your questions live and in real time.

Andy Robinson:
Okay.

Amy Eisenstein:
So Andy, what’s one final training tip before we turn to questions that you want to share with our listeners?

Andy Robinson:
Yeah. One final tip is this, the word trainer or facilitator can be really intimidating. Like I’m not professional. I’m going to hire somebody to do that. And I wouldn’t stress about it. I mean, one advantage of writing a book about this stuff is you have to take all your wisdom and carve it up into pieces and write it on the page so it’s transparent. But somebody told me once an expert as anyone who knows 5% more than the other guy, and that’s sort of how I live my life. I don’t have a lot of deep expertise, but I know enough to get through whatever I’m doing. And I feel like you should bring the same attitude to this job. Maybe you’re not a trainer with a capital T. It’s okay. What you’re doing is initiating a conversation or you’re giving people an exercise and maybe you will facilitate that exercise imperfectly. It’s okay.

And so the last thing I would say before we go to Q&A is trust the group. Because if you show up and you’re like, I don’t know what I’m doing or I’m going to do this imperfectly, but I know the group is there to support me and help me and we’ll figure it out together. That’s a really good way to do this because it empowers the people in the room and they’re not on the receiving end of the training. They’re actually co-creating the training. And if you can let the group be that sort of group, this’ll be much easier for you.

Amy Eisenstein:
I want to add and yes, and be prepared. You don’t want to show up unprepared. Andy, if people want to learn more about training from you, where can they find you?

Andy Robinson:
My main website is AndyRobinsononline.com and then TrainYourBoard.com is the blog, the E news, the book, there’s videos. There’s all sorts of cool stuff in there. So that’s trainyourboard.com. And if you contact me, I’m happy to add you to my E-list and we’ll notify you of upcoming trainings and blogs posts and so forth.

Amy Eisenstein:
Excellent. All right, great. Thank you so much for sharing all of that wisdom.

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