Getting Through: 3 Easy Tips to Avoid Communication Death Traps

Sydney Harris quote

I got an email like this* the other day which just cracked me up:

To: Helen Brown
From: XYZ Company
Subject: The Master List of DNS Terminology


XYZ Company is passionate about internet performance, particularly when it comes to DNS. We realize that DNS, ISC and BIND can be difficult to understand when the terminology is unfamiliar. It’s easier to get the most cost efficiencies from your DNS provider and services if you know the basics. That’s why we’ve created “DNS, ISC and YOU.” This essential e-Book lists the need-to-know terms that you’ll frequently hear when DNS is discussed. Download now and start saving your company money!

Best regards,

The XYZ Company Team

Ummm, yeah.

So here’s this company, trying to convince me about how good they are at helping people find clarity, and their one shot at grabbing me is an email chock full of acronyms and techie terms. Even their company name was an acronym!

As I hit the delete key, I started thinking about the ways we communicate. And then I thought, “Uh Oh.”


As fundraisers, we may understand what LYBUNT means, or what “gift planning” or “special gifts” are, but consider this: through the eyes of a donor, what kind of message does it send them if the Director of Special Gifts doesn’t come see them? Is their gift not …special …enough to us?

As prospect researchers, we may know what the SEC is or what SIC codes are, but imagine your reader is a brand new frontline fundraiser (or maybe even an experienced one!) – that person may have no idea that you are talking about. And maybe they don’t want you to think that they don’t know. So the information you’re sharing with them to help them do their job better – isn’t.

What we say – and how we say it – matters.


Regardless if we are communicating with donors or creating internal information, don’t we want to be sure we are all on the same page? In the long run, isn’t it just more efficient to be clear?

With that in mind, here are three tips to help you get through to your readers:

  1. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Are they a bullet-points kind of person? Do they want all of the salient details on the first page? Give them what they want. You’re not writing for yourself, for posterity or to get a good grade – you’re writing to communicate valuable information for the purpose of motivating them to action.
  2. Don’t allow people to feel dumb. If your reader doesn’t understand what something means, they’ll skip right over it. Do you really want a donor to skip over an important passage in their planned gift proposal? Or a fundraiser to pass over the fact that the prospect you just researched for the last two days has over $2 million in stock options what will mature next year? If they don’t understand, it’s your job to make sure they do.
  3. The first time you use a jargon term or acronym, spell it out. If you were talking with your mom and used a phrase or acronym from your office life (like screening, principal gift, D&B), would she understand what you meant? If not, spell it out the first time you use it. Even though Mr. Long-time Fundraiser was the one who requested the report and knows what a CRT is, know that it may end up in front of someone else’s eyes entirely.

Which brings me to the Death Trap part of this

If a report (or proposal) is too full of gobbledygook, it’s just not going to get read. It might even get tossed aside “for later.” (Read: never). Or given to someone else to read and deal with.

And since you can never be sure where internal documents are going to end up, it’s important that each page prominently contains the word CONFIDENTIAL. Remind readers in the document’s footer to shred confidential materials after use.

Trust me, you don’t want the next time you see that information to be on the front page of the newspaper.


*slightly edited to protect the guilty and prove a point

What’s in your toolbox?

tackle box

How do you know if your researcher or research team has all of the tools needed to be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead?

When a fundraising office needs to be sure they are ready for a capital campaign, the traditional path is to contract with a campaign consultant to do a needs-analysis and feasibility study.

While those consultants have deep knowledge about how to configure a team of fundraisers, how to craft a campaign message, and how to set up volunteer boards, many fundraising consultants aren’t well-versed in how to effectively deploy the intelligence side of the shop: prospect identification, research, and relationship management.

[Read more...]

16 cool resources every fundraiser should know about

I love free stuffThis list of resources answers many of the frequently-asked questions we get from clients asking “where should I go to get…?” Everything on the list is free (or very inexpensive) and will help you be more efficient and get the best expert advice.

Great free tool: the gift range calculator

This is the tool you use when you’re new to fundraising and your board chair says “Welcome aboard. I need you to tell me what we’ll  need to do to raise $10 million.” No need to panic, just use this handy little gift pyramid calculation tool as a starting point.

Contact report get-it-done-quick short cut

You’ve probably heard about companies like PhoneTag that inexpensively transcribe telephone voice mail messages and send you an email. But did you know you can also use a service like that to leave yourself a detailed message about your recent donor visit?

When you get back to your computer, edit the transcription and then copy-and-paste it right into your database. Done in a flash! Some donor databases allow you to dictate call reports right into a donor’s record from your mobile phone; check with your vendor to see if this mobile feature is available to you.

Need expert decision-making advice on technology?

Let’s face it, few of us are tech gurus. Robert Weiner is one of them, though, and his list of fundraising technology resources is terrific. For example, you will find an article here on the 10 most common mistakes people make in buying donor databases (and how to avoid them). Want to figure out why your team won’t use the new database you just spent $$ to buy? The answer is here.

The most complete fundraising resource page is at Supporting Advancement [Read more...]

Fundraising intelligence

maui rocks wave

There’s been a sea change in prospect research, and it was front and center at our international industry conference last week. The 27th annual APRA conference, held in steamy Las Vegas, was called “Prospect Development 2014; new approaches, new connections.” The Twitter hashtag was #APRApd2014 (have a look – good stuff there). As always, it was a great conference with lots of meaty takeaways.

Nonetheless, I kept shaking my head every time I saw the conference name or used the hashtag. I’m just having a hard time with “prospect development.” Not the profession – the name. Prospect development is relatively new as a descriptor for what we professionals formerly known as “prospect researchers” do. [Read more...]

5 ways to get a seat at the strategy table

In late June, the HBG team hosted Natalie Westfall, a nine-year research veteran and a member of the steering committee of Researchers in Fundraising (RiF) in the United Kingdom.  Over Natalie’s 10-day visit, we collaborated on projects, did several show-and-tell sessions with the different resources we each use, and discussed the similarities and differences of prospect research in the US and UK.

One of the similarities we found was the issue of how prospect researchers can be front-and-center in the fundraising operation – true strategy partners. We’re delighted to present some of Natalie’s insight on the topic here.

Natalie Westfall 2014

Prospect Researchers: going beyond the ‘Who’

The Prospect Research specialism has come a long way in its relatively short life; from books to the internet and (hopefully!) a departure from the familiar request that haunts every prospect researcher: ‘can you just Google this person for me?’

These advancements and the desire to add greater value, have in recent years, seen a prospect researcher’s skill set widen beyond traditional research to more advanced data analysis, and using insight from their research to help shape strategic fundraising plans.

I really like this simple flow chart and have used it in a number of planning documents to illustrate how much additional value can be added if the Prospect Research function is allowed to go beyond producing pieces of pure research.

Research to action [Read more...]

Web Search Strategies: Traits of Great Researchers

DNAHow do you know if there’s researcher potential within you? Nearly every time someone interviews me about prospect research, they ask me “what are the key components of a great prospect researcher?” Here is where I start:

  1. Natural curiosity
  2. Tenacity, paired with…
  3. The ability to know when to stop

These, I think are the top three. The first, natural curiosity, I like to describe in this way: [Read more...]

The Boys of Summer

Back View of Baseball Player

For some folks it’s Gershwin’s “Summertime” performed by the incomparable Ella. For others it’s James Taylor’s “Summer’s Here.”

For me, it’s always been “The Boys of Summer.” From the opening beats and guitar riffs, I’m instantly sucked back to a hot cloudless day driving in a Mustang by the ocean singing with my friend and Don Henley at the tops of our voices. Don was unable to physically make that gig, but let me tell you, he missed a good one.

I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun. You’ve got your hair slicked back and those Wayfarers on, baby.

What pulls you instantly back to summer when red and gold leaves, or snowflakes, are falling? Is it a song? A scent? A flavor? [Read more...]

Effective Web Searching – social media search tips

Are you including social media searching as part of your prospect research?

Today’s blog post is a slide show featuring some tips and tricks for getting the most out of searching Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Make sure to turn your speakers up if you’re solo (or plug in your headphones) and click on the little speaker in the center of each slide to listen to the audio.

Let me know if you have found other ways to search these great resources!

Having trouble viewing the presentation in this window? Go here:

iPad and iDevice users: I’m sorry – The audio may not work for you. It’s a Flash thing, apparently. Come back later and view this post on a laptop or desktop.

The Field Guide to Efficient Searching

Let’s just dive right in, shall we? Here are my top five tips for efficient web searching.

Tip #1: Use Quotation Marks

Bing Council on Foreign Relations

If you want to get the best results for an exact name or phrase, always put your search string in quotes. This works really well for names, for example, of a person or an organization.

Searching on Bing for Council on Foreign Relations got me 18,700,000 hits. Searching for “Council on Foreign Relations” narrowed down the hit count to a mere two million.

This might not matter when you’re searching for something like the COFR, but what if you’re looking for a name? [Read more...]

Web search overview: Three Key Things Everyone Needs to Know

farm gate

Web searching can be a lot like hiking. Sometimes it’s a pristine path along the coast with stunning views over the channel, other times it’s a bracken-laden jungle where you can’t even see your feet. I’ve been on both kinds of paths, and I much prefer the former. [Read more...]