Crikey! Help us help ourselves!

Short rant-y bit.

Some of the methods we fundraisers use to get information out to our audiences are developed to showcase what we want the audiences to know.  Blergh.  We have to develop pathways that provide what the audience wants to know.  Big difference.

H-to-the-r is working on a project.  She’s on-line, looking for contacts and contacts’ names at a bunch of universities.  The contacts work in areas related to alumni activities.  H has worked in university environments for years.  She knows how to look for people on pages and directories.  H has a wonderful new computer.  H is way smart.

It’s bad enough that some of the universities’ pages won’t load quickly (do they think home and international computer users have the same university-speed load times?).  Some won’t load at all (ack!).  But if she gets on a site, and if she finds that the department site she needs exists, she is finding it a very difficult task to find Phone Numbers on these sites.  Phone Numbers.  Come on.

It’s fairly easy to find links to click or ‘contact us’ forms.  It’s harder to find actual names of individuals with certain responsibilities.  H can’t find basic phone numbers, or department phone numbers even!!

So props to the streamliner universities who don’t infest their pages with long download time gadgets, sound files (Peaches & Herb, really?), flashkibbles and moviebits.  Props to those that list alumni and development staff, that add photos of staff members, that have phone numbers and e-mail addresses for actual staff members.  Props to those who let the audience ask the questions it wants to ask, and ask directly.

Isn’t the point of relationship-building  to help prospects and donors know who we are, what we do and why we’re there?  Shouldn’t we be prepared to deliver the information the audience is going to need?  Aren’t we suppose to help them help us raise the ducats? 

So I am wondering if the distance that a poorly-messaged (is that phrase way wack?) website creates between the audience and the fundraiser is an institutionally acceptable way of telling the audience what we want them to know.  The acceptance of this delivery method gives us the freedom and distance to decide when we will talk to someone who needs an answer, or gives us the excuse of an increased response time to an e-mail message to a general mailbox.

You know I loves me some social technologies, even basic ones like a website.  I just don’t like them to serve as a barrier to real talkings.  Real talkings is the only time we get to provide an immediate answer to the questions the donor wants to ask, provide what the donor wants to know.

<<shaking it off>>

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2 responses to “Crikey! Help us help ourselves!

  1. Stumbled upon your blog and appreciate your thoughts! Re: universities putting names/pics/contact info online, I work with universities who have made the decision to NOT put their development staff info online (especially MGOs info) because that information is used by headhunters far more than anyone else – including donors or prospects. And keeping a staff intact for more than 2.5 years has become a primary leadership concern. This issue also has led some universities to forego attending professional conferences and instead have professional development programs tailor-fit for their personnel and delivered on their campuses.

    I blog at http://www.jasonmcneal.com Stop by and visit. 🙂

    • Jason, thanks for visiting my blog and making your comment. I’m sorry I’m a bit slow to reply.

      I have experienced the no-post and no-conference environment you are describing, having worked at two universities with that approach, and I understand the concerns. It’s expensive and time-consuming to find and hire a really good fundraiser — I know it because I’ve had to hire departmentally and division-wide. I got those search calls too, so I know how staff can be found.

      But I’m stuck in the belief that staff retention should not be a primary motivator for withholding information from public view (or for reducing staff education opportunities). I’ve described my frustration with public interfaces that do not take into consideration the primary market — if the university’s target donor market doesn’t use the internet, or they don’t take on-line gifts, or they don’t have event response available on-line, then, ok, let up a bit on sharing information. However, without quantitative information about their site click-through and roaming, I’d be hard pressed to write off the investment in sharing a little bit of information on a hunch that some/most of our staff will get a call from a search firm. What I’d hope is that the university will reasonably assess who is using their development site and why — that should drive the content, including or excluding the provision of staff information.

      About conferences, we did an 8-school survey for a client on staff participation at conferences. We found it was a staff de-motivator to be kept from attending. The three primary themes described by the staff survey respondents were: ‘we are not valued enough to train’; ‘the managers do not get around to budgeting for or setting up training (not a priority)’; ‘the manager thinks his way is the only way to do this and he might be wrong.’ None of those themes works well in a retention plan! In a big budget shop, it is more likely that training will be funded, either externally or internally. In a mid-sized budget shop, it was determined in our study that external training was more likely than internal training. So I guess that I’d look at that conference decision with regard to the actual likelihood that a skill set gap can be addressed by hiring in or sending out with the existing budget.

      In one of my big-budget universities, we had professional fundraising staff divisional training with 6 other universities with historic and budget similarities. Even higher-level staff did not get to select program content (we had data proof of a strong growing contingency of women donors but a higher up did not believe women made giving decisions in families — so no womens’ philanthropy session!), and we did not get to select any of the sessions we could attend! It was so frustrating because the work environment was highly hierarchical and the decision about sessions was made a couple of tiers up for each staffer — by someone who may or may not understand any given position’s current operational and skill needs. Talk about making the staff feel impotent and unimportant! I should say, however, that the support staff actually did have a decent training program that allowed for both internal and external conference attendance — the support staff retention rate was fabulous!

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