What would you save?

welcome to IdyllwildI am watching the news as Idyllwild, California is in danger due to a forest fire. I was Vice President at Idyllwild Arts for five years and it has a special place in my heart.

All my friends and their homes are safe – for which I am grateful. Now I hold my breath that its beautiful campus doesn’t burn down. I love those buildings – I raised money to build some of those buildings. I know they are only things, only possessions, but I worry for them.

All of this got me thinking – what would I grab if I had to evacuate quickly? When I lived in Idyllwild, we were always ready to evacuate because of fire or earthquakes. I kept my photos in bins under the stairs, ready to throw in the car. I also needed any work files, computer, or papers. I also needed to take my jewelry, clothes, and shoes.They were my biggest investment during my working years. I planned to pile as many as I could in the car before I took off.

Now? What would I throw in the car? Most of the photos are digitized. All of my clothes are dance pants and tops suitable for tapping. I no longer have Hugo Boss suits or expensive shoes. Well, actually, I kept the shoes – I like to look at them arrayed on the shelves. Everything else can be easily replaced by going back in my order history on Amazon – press of a button.

Ok, think Jolynn. You’ve got 20 minutes. What would you save? Cathy and Lucy. Then I’d drive over to make sure Connor and Melissa and dogs are safe.

I like this. It’s freeing. Nothing is all that important to me anymore. Except maybe my iphone. And my computer. And my xbox. Tap shoes. Well, other than those.

What would you save in your allotted 20 minutes?

So you think you know your dance…

“Of course I know the dance!” I confidently tell myself. After all, I found the music. I choreographed it. I taught it to the class in this very room for heaven’s sake!

Three steps into the dance on a stage across town… and suddenly, I’m lost.

This is a perfect example of an Illusion of Competence.

When you are learning something, you can fool yourself into thinking that you know the material when you don’t. For example, you may have the solution to an algebra problem in front of you. You look at it and say, “Oh yeah. I know how that happened. I know how it’s solved.” However, you haven’t worked the problem out yourself. You only know how someone else has done it. It hasn’t been learned deeply in your brain.

This can happen in dance:

  • You nail the step when the teacher stands in front of you, but can you do it by yourself?
  • One of the other students taps next to you and calls out the steps. If that student is absent one day, you can’t dance!
  • You can see the other dancers in the mirror, but if there is no mirror, you don’t do as well.

One particularly insidious Illusion of Competence happens when you absorb subliminal cues around you as you learn. You are all at sea when you perform someplace different.

As the teacher, I need to direct a more efficient learning environment for my students.

  1. First, of course, I want to make certain they understand the steps and are able to do them. Teaching in chunks is one way to do this. In future blogs, I’ll talk more about other teaching methods and ideas.
  2. Second, shake it up! Unknowingly, you can take in subliminal cues from the space around you or the people in that space. This can throw you off when you have to dance in an unfamiliar performance venue. To combat this, practice in a different place… or even facing a different wall. Put an impromptu audience together to view a performance. Wear a different pair of shoes.

I learned about Illusions of Competence in a course I took about how the brain learns. The professors applied it to learning subjects in school, but I thought it matched perfectly with tap dancing.

A quick side-note regarding a book I’m reading and would like to recommend: What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing. This book came out in late 2015. It is written by Brian Seibert, a dance critic and writer for The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, The LA Times, etc. etc. I’ve just started it and I am fascinated.

I’m off on my tap cruise. I look forward to meeting new tappers! This is a real change of venue for me. I won’t be under any illusions at all.

Tap Dance – It’s all in your head!

Dancing FeetYes, I know tap dance is physical. There is anatomy, movement and muscle memory that are all integral to teaching students.

The BRAIN, however, is crucial to tap.

One teaching technique that allows the brain to learn faster and more efficiently is chunking.

Chunking is the idea that you put anything you teach into small pieces. Those pieces then fit together to form ribbons of knowledge that, again, fit together in various ways to allow you to remember larger amounts of information. This is critical to learning science, math, and many other subjects.

It is exactly the way tap dancing is taught. Chunks! Often when you are showing a new step or series of steps, the students are disconcerted or disheartened at the jumble of taps or intricacy of movements. However, through chunking, the students can more easily break down, learn, and maintain the new steps.

It is only natural to teach chunks of tap. We all do it. Put simply, you teach a shuffle in one lesson. You teach a ball change in another. During the third lesson, you put them both together.

Scientifically speaking, a chunk is a network of neurons that are accustomed to firing together so that you can think a thought or perform an action smoothly and effectively. Focus and repetition help to strengthen the neural pathway that is formed when you first learn the chunk.

Artistically speaking, the beauty of learning in chunks is that you can be creative. You are not stuck with one particular step to use over and over. You put the chunks together in new and creative ways.

In the meantime, your brain is using that neural pathway that has become stronger and stronger each time you do the step or even THINK about the step!

As I work on reclaiming my tap skills learned so long ago and especially in teaching my classes, I am having a wonderful time incorporating science and other processes into my practice.

I LOVE TO TEACH TAP AND I LOVE TO TAP DANCE! I smile every time I put on my shoes. I’m going to explore how this feeling can be explained through science, psychology, sociology, technology and probably many other -ologies. In the meantime, please know that I’m enjoying every difficult step that I finally master, every new song I hear that is perfect for teaching a flap, every time one of my students does something she’s never done before and looks at me with that amazed expression on her face. It’s always a joy. It’s tap.




4 Ways to Make A Site Tour Magical!

The site tour is the Shangri-la of fundraising. It’s where the magic happens. It’s a destination we all try to reach and when we’re there – we are rewarded. It’s well known that if you persuade a potential donor to visit your site, they are more likely to donate to your organization.  There are probably statistics somewhere to back this up, but I think that all I will say here is … “duh.”

You have a tour set up – the important thing is not to waste the opportunity. Make donor magic!

It’s difficult to get the attention of donors in this economic climate. If you have a board member who is finally bringing two of her best friends to visit your organization – it is a big step. Foundation visits can be especially complex since the program staff is constantly visiting agencies. They have seen it all –  it may take some extra planning and preparation.

To make a site visit productive for any visitor and to ensure a future gift, don’t forget these four steps.

#1 Know your guests

Do your research. Know their potential for giving and their interests. Know their names and make certain your staff and president know them as well.  There is nothing worse than hearing the headmaster mispronounce a potential donor’s name for an hour. It happened to me. I made the mistake of letting it go the first time – then I couldn’t correct him the next 15 times. It was agony.

Discover and take advantage of your guests’ connections to the organization. If they know a board member, try to have that person attend the tour as well. If they are a fan or friend of a professor, teacher, clinician or staff member, put that program or office on the tour.

#2 Take care of the details

Make use of your event planning skills. Start a few days before by sending out personal, friendly, confirmation emails. Make certain that you provide thorough driving directions. Is there enough parking for your visitors? Put up signs if necessary or provide someone to direct them to their parking. Will it be a hot day? Provide them with water or plan for periodic rest breaks. Be sure to let them know what to expect so they wear the correct clothing and shoes. Make it easy on the guests – the staff should wear nametags.

 #3 Plan the agenda carefully, just not too carefully

There are some consultants and ‘experts’ who recommend a scripted tour with canned speeches and heartrending videos. I am of the opinion that a visit should be natural and heartfelt. I like to be just as entertained and touched as the visitors. A savvy Foundation officer will know whether it’s all too rehearsed.

That doesn’t mean that the tour shouldn’t be well-planned, though.  The following is a check-list for organizing a tour.

  • The Talent – this is the tour guide, someone with charisma who knows the program and can explain it clearly. I ask my guides to provide examples or stories as often as possible. For example, I have one guide at a program to which I just love to take visitors, who stops during the tour and points to a telephone… and tells a story. This was the phone where one very confused man, brought in by police as homeless with suspected mental problems, was able to call home to Peru. He wasn’t homeless, he was lost. This particular program deals with 1200 homeless and mentally ill people a year. They were happy to help a regular tourist.
  • The Client – this can be a student, teacher, patient, parent, whoever can bear testimony to the service that the organization has done for them. I try to speak with them a few days before to tell them that we would like to hear how they came to the organization and how they’ve been helped. However, it doesn’t always work out that I can run through their presentation with them. It is sometimes a roll of the dice. However, I must tell you that I have never, in all my years of putting tours together, been disappointed. I attribute that to two things: 1) I have worked for amazing organizations and 2) I have learned to manipulate the heck out of a situation. If it doesn’t seem that the client is providing the right information – I start interviewing them. More often than not, they get on the right track and begin to tell some amazing stories. (Be sure you have tissues ready for your guests – and for you.)
  • The Donor – (Notice I’m already calling them a donor – they will be, soon.) The most important thing to remember about your guests – listen to them very carefully. They will give you clues that can lead to gifts. Be aware of their questions, their demeanor. Stay near them to catch any nuances thrown your way. If you are the tour guide, it may be a bit more difficult, but it can be done. Walk with them, not in front of them. It allows you to establish rapport with them and you’ll be ready when they begin to talk with you.

Your connection with your guests allows you to be prepared for changes or trouble enroute.  Did they suddenly show a lack of interest or disagree with something you said? Do they want to linger at one spot or seem to want to go off in an entirely different direction?

#4            Follow-up

This is one of the most important issues and yet sometimes the most difficult. You are tired, busy, ready to move on to the next project, but you must follow-up. Have your next step ready before the tour. Know when you will next be in touch. Make certain that everyone associated with the visit is thanked. Finally, write-up the visit and record it in your database.

When there is a site visit scheduled, give your guests a memorable tour and be prepared to dazzle them with your magic!

7 steps to an eye-catching, emotional, informational email message

When you market via email, you face two big problems. Will it catch your donor’s attention? Will it move them to action? An email is very easy to delete. What can you do to keep them reading your message?

Use this 7-step email format when you write an informational message.  It will be easier for you to write and for your donor to read.

How many times have you stared at the computer screen, fingers poised above the keyboard and your head so full of ideas – BUT YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START?

Try placing your information in the following 7 areas  and the process will be easier.

#1 Header – Your headline is the first and most important item. Give them a reason to continue to read. Here is a blog post that gives some good advice on writing a header.    http://bit.ly/ekyBfE

#2 Opener – Remember that your goal is to get your reader to continue reading – to go to the next step in the formula. Use these 3-4 sentences to get to tell them your exciting news and to get them to continue reading to learn more.

#3 Image –  Put the image side-by-side with the opener. This will make the first content they read only half of a line of text so that it isn’t intimidating or a barrier to reading.  It’s been shown that people are more likely to read shorter lines of text.

#4 – Point of Interest – Add some spark to your email with a pertinent quote or a statement. Make it a different font, size or color.

#5 Content – Here is where you put your main information. This is a great place to add emotion.  If they feel something about what you’re describing, they are more likely to take action.

#6 Sub-header – This is a promise to your reader that there is more interesting information to come.

#7 Wrap-up and call to action. It may be used to drive them to your website or to subscribe to your emails or social media.

This email layout has been a great help in our work. I hope it works for you!

One sure-fire way to alienate your customer

I received an email yesterday with the greeting, “Dear Valued Customer.”

This came from a vendor advertising their new Summer/Fall Catalogue. Less than a month ago, I registered on this vendor’s website – gave them my name, address, phone, company name – everything but my blood type. I talked to the President of the company on the phone. We made an appointment to talk about buying their product in December. And yet a few weeks later my new best friends write …

Dear Valued Customer!


This was a good reminder to me of how crucial it is in fundraising to personalize your message. Customer or donor – it’s all about relationship, relationship, relationship.

The only thing worse than a Dear Friend letter is spelling the name wrong. A certain publication that shall remain nameless (but to which most of us in development subscribe) has just started emailing me with the greeting “Dear Connie.” I’m fascinated. I can’t wait to see how long they keep this up.

Your donors or customers want to feel that you know them, your business matters to them and you would miss them if they were gone.

Here are 3 easy ways to personalize your message and retain your donor:

  1. Mail merge your solicitation whether it is a letter or email. Technology exists out there to help you with this. Your printer can personalize your mailing. E-mail marketing firms personalize your emails to your donors.
  2. Use your database to its full potential. Do random checks to make certain that you have the correct names in the correct places.  Keep a record of all contact with your donor and enter notes into the database.
  3. Expand the personalization. Find ways to use a personal touch. In letters to your donors, mention a last gift. In reports to them, tell them what impact their donation made. When you call to thank them for their gifts, reference your last conversation.

Finally, when you email or text your donor or customer – don’t call her Connie if her name is Jolynn. It’s just too easy for her to hit the delete button.


Building Donor Relationships – one tweet at a time.

Here’s a classical frustrating moment in Fundraising: Have you ever heard this from a board member?

“If only we were better known! If people knew who we are – they’d give to us.”

Here’s another one: “We are the best kept secret in [insert state, city or category].”

We know that fundraising is about building relationships. As fundraisers, we are, often as not, trying to accomplish that one person at a time. How can we expand that effort?

Recently, a volunteer told me that I could take a lesson in “PR” from Coca Cola, “…a company known ALL OVER THE WORLD, Jolynn!”

Do you want to know why?! Coca Cola’s marketing budget is currently around the $11 billion mark. I could get a lot of awareness and catchy tag lines if my marketing budget was… well, it can’t be helped. And, they are right. We need awareness.

So what can we do? Here one quick idea around social media and awareness:

If your board members, volunteers and staff have facebook pages or twitter accounts – you can work on a campaign of word of mouth advertising.

Ask your board, your volunteer support group and your staff to take 5 minutes to put a message up on their wall. This isn’t about fundraising, it’s about sharing the mission of the organization. They would be acting as ambassadors, not solicitors. Provide the message – maybe in a couple of different forms – to your ambassadors.

An example would be:

I work (volunteer) for such a great organization. ABC Charity just won a prestigious award for outstanding research and I couldn’t be more proud. They are saving childrens’ lives! Go here to see a great story.

(The link must land on some quality content on the ABC Charity website.)

Provide a message to them once every couple of weeks. Again – drive them to your website where you have some fabulous content for them to see!

It’s an easy way to encourage engagement on your website, participation by your supporters and awareness of your cause.

A real-life example of how this works:

In a recent meeting with a great board member, I was going over his portfolio of contacts to determine strategies for approaching them. We were stuck on two – one is a well-known radio personality. The other was in the entertainment business – again, well-known. My volunteer was hesitant to approach either of them for donations. I quickly changed tack. Do they have twitter accounts? We looked them up and they do – with quite a few followers. How about asking them to tweet a message from us when we have something great to share? My board member loved the idea and was perfectly willing to do this.

Of course, we hope that while they are tweeting out our message, they get to know us and will be ready to attend events, go on tours and become supporters.

Isn’t it nice that we have so many options open to us now, fellow fundraisers? Social media and content marketing is a great way to build relationships.  So get out there, label your campaign, enlist your volunteers and send out your message!

Working with your Board – one quick tip for orientation or a retreat.

Remember elevator speeches? How often have you drilled your staff or your board on condensing your mission, vision, purpose or case into a 30-second mouthful? Well, in today’s world of short messages and even shorter attention spans – 30 seconds is too long.

I got this tip from Warren Riley of NPO Solutions at breakfast last week in Pasadena. He held a retreat for a board and after all the hours of orientation and reams of material – he asked them to sum it all up … in a tweet!

What a great idea. I loved it. Not only do you get your best fundraisers and ambassadors – your board members – sitting around parsing through your mission, but you also get to teach the less progressive ones about twitter.

Tweet at the retreat. Sweet!

Same old, boring Charity Fundraiser? 3 easy ideas from digital marketing to add a spark.

At a recent fundraiser, guests were kept apprised of the upcoming event through social media.

You nailed it! You have sponsors, great auction items and a respected honoree…  Is it even possible to make your upcoming event any better?

Before you answer, let me guess what you want out of an event:


Donations NOW.                    Donations LATER.

Am I right?

You’ve achieved the NOW – don’t forget about LATER.

You want to keep these donors so that they give again, either at your next mailing or at the next event. You want to become their friend, their confidante. You want them to take your phone calls/emails/letters.

Use digital marketing and your event to make that happen. The following suggestions are easy for anyone to do. Basically, all you need is email and a website.

It’s all about communication.

# 1    Set up a website to show off the auction items. Or use a page on your own website to display the items.

  • Use this as a great way to pull people into your event. People love to look at the items that are being auctioned off. They can make a list of items to bid on at the event or even pre-bid on-line, if you allow it.
  • A big plus is that you’ll make your auction item donors happy that they are highlighted on-line and that links are provided to their websites.
  • I have used Auction Maestro at my events for many years. This is software with which you can develop a database, enter all of your auction items and run the auction on the day of the event. There are different packages with some amazing bells and whistles. I’m sure there are more of these companies out there – I’m suggesting this one as an example since I know it well and they’ve always been great to work with.

#2  Get the word out – to everyone.

  • Four weeks ahead of the event, send out an email to a list made up of attendees, donors, supporters and friends. It’s a simple, personalized email that can be sent through a service such as Constant Contact or Raiser’s Edge’s email module. I recommend using something like either of these services because the emails can be personalized and are less likely to be discarded as spam. Introduce yourself as their contact to the event and invite them to go onto your Auction website to see the great auction items that await them at your event.
  • Regularly, every few days or once a week, an email goes out to remind them to check back on the website to see new items. Different items are highlighted on the landing page every week. Best of all, they may take a moment to read the blurb about your charity.
  • Create a big-ticket raffle and offer it to attendees and non-attendees alike. This is a raffle ticket your committee will be selling ahead of the event. All of the tickets should be sold by the week prior to the event. The ticket costs anywhere from $50 to $200. Since a limited amount of tickets are sold – it’s a great buy and a great chance at a trip or car or? … the sky’s the limit. More about this in a future blog, but for now, a word of warning: Raffles are not legal in every state – check the regulations.
  • Provide information on directions, parking, weather, dress, speakers, celebrities attending or any other specifics to the event. This will be directed specifically to the attendees, so make certain that you have your list coded to pull those people into the distribution.

 #3    Follow-up. Thank them and send pictures of the event.

  • Send your new friends and donors a thank you for coming to the event the very next day. Include a picture or two. Give them an idea of how terrific the event was and include a few highlights. Tell them to watch for more pictures. If you know how much the event brought in for your charity – tell them the news and thank them for helping to make it possible.
  • A few days after the event, personally email photos to your biggest sponsors and donors. These are photos that you had taken of them at the event. Of course, you’ll know which of them need hard copies sent through snail mail.
  • Within a week, send out another email with more pictures to your whole list and tell them that a lot of pictures are up on your Facebook page. Provide the link. Ask them, while they are there, to “like” your page.

Your donors will like the attention because it’s about them. You’ll be reporting back to them on the success of their event. They will be more willing to consider another gift at a later time.

Three simple Digital Marketing tools at your fingertips!

Jolynn Reid