Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Power of a Greeting Card

Do you love getting cards in the mail?  Who doesn't? There's something about seeing a hand-addressed envelope with a real live stamp that makes your heart skip a beat.  It's even better when you receive a card and it's not your birthday or a holiday but rather because someone simply cared enough to send you a note. (I think I now know where Hallmark came up with the slogan "When you care enough to send the very best.")

During the year-end direct mail frenzy, Dayton Children's opted to include a greeting card in our packet for donors to send a personalized holiday card for a patient. The response was outstanding and our response rate was improved and the average gift was about $10 more than usual.  More importantly, however, were the thoughtful messages include in the cards wishing our patients well. For six weeks, we were able to deliver a card to a patient and his or her family every day. It was meaningful for families to know that complete strangers made the thoughtful gesture to think of the children in the hospital. If they knew that a donation accompanied those cards, I think they may have even smiled a bit wider.

Last week I featured a wonderful story from Dayton Children's about Nevin.  Nevin has been an extended-stay patient at the hospital and was disappointed that he couldn't go out to play in the snow. What five year old wants to stay indoors when he could romp around outside in a foot of snow and build a snowman? His physical therapist, Janet Squires, in a very creative therapy session, brought a big bucket of snow into Nevin's room so he could play in the snow and build that snowman. Hats, gloves and boots were all a part of the experience. Take a moment to watch the video...I guarantee it will make you smile. 

The response to Nevin's story has been wonderful. It has been viewed 700+, been featured on WDTN News, and shared on Facebook and Twitter. We didn't do this as some kind of social media experiment but I will admit, we are very pleased with the response. The response from the community has been positive and Janet came up with genius plan #2.

With the support of David Grimes, the local owner of  Ace Handyman Hardware Stores, a mailbox was donated and installed on our hematology/oncology unit at Dayton Children's. Every day, Nevin and the other patients need to walk to the mailbox to check for their mail. While it is a good therapy exercise, the kids look forward to getting their cards and letters every day. Our marketing manager, Betsy Woods, prints out emails to deliver to the mailbox. And the emails have been coming daily.

If you watch the video or look at Nevin's photos on the Dayton Children's Facebook page, you will quickly realized that Nevin has something of an obsession with Spiderman.  I've watched this boy grow up at the hospital and truth be told, I have never seen him out of a Spiderman costume. A note arrived on Friday from The Children's Miracle Network with a special Spiderman Valentine for Nevin. Brothers from Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity at Truman State University (in Missouri!) had visited Dayton Children's a few weeks prior for a national leadership conference. They visited Nevin and many other patients that day. TJ, the chapter president, wrote to me and asked if it was okay for them to send cards and letters to the kids and also inquired if they could send PlayStation2 video games.  Oh, yes!!

This was just the tip of the iceberg. Emails, cards and letters are a welcome sight for kids in the hospital. If you want to help, you can send also to:
The Children's Medical Center of Dayton
Attn: Betsy Woods, Marketing
One Children's Plaza
Dayton, OH 45404-1815

Rest assured, they will arrive in the mailbox or on the meal trays of our kids every day.

A simple greeting card or note to let a sick or injured child know you care. Does it get any easier than that? Getting kids to smile is priceless. It's a really worthwhile investment.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Spark of Caring - Building a Snowman Inside

Yesterday I wrote an article about the simple gesture of doing something just because it is the right thing to do and that is can bring a smile to someone else's heart. 

In the midst of about a foot of snow, grown-ups can easily forget that kids love to play in the snow. But when you are hospitalized, battling cancer and not allowed to go outdoors, it can really get you down. Today, Dayton Children's put up photos about Nevin.  Nevin experiences long hospital treatment stays.  He has practically grown up at Dayton Children's, as we've all seen him in his Spiderman costumes since he was just a toddler.

Nevin wasn't having a good day. He wanted to be outside playing in the snow and to build a snowman. In a pure act of kindness and creativity, Janet Squires, our rehabilitation services manager, brought the snow in to Nevin. Be sure to click here to see all the photos.  Better yet, take two minutes to watch the video. I guarantee this will warm your heart.  This is what it means to ignite a spark of caring.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Igniting a Spark of Caring

Unconditional kindness moves me.  Random acts of sincere kindness with no ulterior motivation inspires me.  I am fortunate to work at The Children's Medical Center of Dayton where acts of true caring and compassion are a daily occurrence.  It is impossible to work here and not see something that encourages the heart.  I think this is where nonprofit organizations shine their brightest light.  The ability to do good simply because it is the right thing to do is what generates followers.  Yes, I am a passionate advocate of social media, direct mail, digital story-telling, but when it comes right down to it, people support organizations they care about.  Their caring often starts with just that one simple act of kindness that sticks with them forever.  And in just about every case, that comes from a very real, sincere, unconditional demonstration of kindness between two people.

Yesterday, I witnessed something at Dayton Children's that just made me sit back and smile very proudly.  I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to see one of those moments that is so meaningful and inspiring that I've not been able to get it out of my head.  Dayton Children's has an extraordinary corps of volunteers.  More than 600 men and women, from the ages of 15 to 95, come to work at the hospital because they care about this place and our children and their families.  I want to share with you a story about one of our volunteers:  Jamie Hanna.

To begin with, Jamie is one of those women you just like to be around.  She lights up the room with her smile and her laugh. She makes people feel great all the time and she never has an unkind word to say.  (Yes, folks, those people really do exist!).  Jamie has been a long-time member of the TWIG Auxiliary and can always be counted on to step up and help. In fact, this year she is the co-chair of the Gem City Jam Golf Outing -- shameless plug here: the best golf outing in the Dayton area that takes place August 23.  Jamie  has volunteered for years in The Spot Shop, a wonderful gift shop at the hospital.  She is well known at the hospital by our staff, primarily because she goes out of her way to just be an awesome person.  We all love Jamie and appreciate her amazing spirit. Her photo is below with another amazing volunteer, Sue Labatsky. Jamie has the green boa on.

A few weeks ago, Jamie's husband, Jack had emergency quintuple bypass surgery.  It was a fluke that they even found out about the heart blockages.  Jack is just as special as Jamie.  He works hard professionally and he's always there to back Jamie up.  Jack has probably lugged more trees for Sugarplum Festival of Trees, sold more raffle tickets, toted silent auction packages, spotted hole-in-one-contests than any man I  know.  Jamie's the official volunteer but Jack is the extra bonus prize.  We were all devastated to learn of Jack's heart attack but fortunately he is on the mend and he made a foray to Dayton Children's yesterday.

I was eating lunch with several development staff members when Jamie came over to our table to visit. We all had a good laugh and suddenly, Jamie's eyes just lit up even more so than usual.  Up walked Renae Phillips, the Dayton Children's Vice President for Hospital Operations and Chief Nursing Executive.  Renae is everything a pediatric nurse should be: kind, compassionate, capable, organized, friendly, hard working.  She is a role model to our entire institution.  When she saw Jamie, Renae just wrapped her arms around her in a huge hug and they embraced for what seemed like an eternity.  I didn't know they knew each other that well but Renae knows Jamie and knew about Jack's heart attack. It was a really wonderful moment, just seeing these two embrace.  It is an example of the kind of caring we see every day and it is why I love working here.

Renae then followed Jamie over to her table in the cafeteria and Renae gave that same genuine, loving hug to Jack.  There is no doubt that Renae was happy that Jack was getting on his feet.  You can't fake that kind of care and concern for people. 

What I like is that just the week before at a TWIG event, I saw nearly the same episode but with David Kinsaul, the Dayton Children's CEO.  As soon as he saw Jamie, he gave her a huge hug and immediately asked about Jack.  For an institution that has more than 1,500 employees, 600+ volunteers and thousands of community supporters, I was immensely impressed that our CEO knew exactly what was happening to one of our volunteers and reached out to her in a genuine showing of compassion and care.

It's moments like this that makes me realize how special Dayton Children's is that our senior management team is fully aware of things happening in the lives of our "family" and that they reach out to show they care. That is perhaps one of the most important aspects of leadership and it what I believe ignites a chain reaction of caring.  This was a simple act with no expectation of getting something in return. Genuine compassion can easily get lost in a cynical world.  Fortunately, true care and concern beats cynicism every time. It's the Rock-Paper-Scissors game where you always come out on top if you do the right thing because it's the right thing to do.

What does this have to do with philanthropy?  Everything! People want to support an organization they feel connected to.  Strong connections come from people, opening their hearts and doing something that makes ad difference...even if that difference is simply giving someone a hug.  Jamie Hanna is a life loyal volunteer.  I can see why she is so attached.  Then again, Jamie's spirit is what we have to be grateful for in the first place.

I am a lifelong member of Sigma Sigma Sigma and we have a phrase that every member learns from the day they join that helps guide our lives:

"To give much is to receive much."

Jamie, like so many others, gives 110% because that's who she is. It is part of her inherent nature. I know she will be the first to say she receives so much more in return. If we all adopted this attitude to do right by others and give because it is the right thing to do, imagine what kind of change could happen in the world.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Donor-Centered Thank You - Great Example from Best Friends Animal Society

I admit, I think Penelope Burk and her concept of donor-centered fundraising, is a gift to development officers. Her recommendations are based on quantifiable data, expertly researched and extremely valuable. I have had the privilege of hearing her speak at several conference and every time I come back inspired to focus more and more on what donors expect to hear from the charities they support.

In her book Donor-Centered Fundraising, Burk outlines 20 elements of a great letter thank you letter.  Because I think it's important for you to buy and read this book, I won't outline all of those but what always stands out to me is that the letter needs to be personalized and that it acknowledges how the gift will be used in specific terms.  It also arrives immediately and speaks directly to the donor.

I made a small gift via the Best Friends Animal Society yesterday to aid the rescue efforts for animals in Haiti. I was looking at their site for something else and saw the button to give for this special mission. I was familiar with what Best Friends did to rescue thousands of animals after Hurricane Katrina so I knew they would go out of their way to help the plight of animals lost and injured after the Haiti earthquakes.  I immediately felt compelled to make a donation, even though I had already helped with several other Haiti relief efforts.

I was particularly pleased with the immediate thank you note I received in my email after making my gift. I have no problem with email thank yous. It saves postage and even though they are automatically generated (one of the few fouls per Burk's rules), I did like that it told me very specifically how the money was going to be used: to fund a mobile clinic in Port-au-Prince to deliver food and water to animals as well as provide vaccines to dogs to prevent the spread of rabies.

I was also impressed with how Best Friends leveraged social media in the thank you letter, providing me with a link to share with family and friends. They also included an opportunity to sign up to be a monthly donor so that resouces are available when the unexpected occurs.

Finally, I was impressed with the inclusion of the Charity Navigator Four Star Charity link. This lends the charity legitimacy, much like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. 

The thank you letter was concise and it made me feel like I was doing something important.  Will I give again to Best Friends? I can't help myself. I think this organization does a remarkable job for helping animals and they do an equally fantastic job stewarding their donors. Best of all, this charity constantly educates its donors on how their gifts make a difference.  Many nonprofits can follow their example on how to foster loyal repeated giving.

Here's a copy of the note I received.

If I could give development officers a couple of pieces of advice: 1) Read and use as a frequent resouce Donor-Centered Fundraising and 2) apply the principles for writing outstanding thank you letters. The positive response from your donors will be worth every bit of time and effort you put forth to change how you focus on your donors, particularly from a stewardship perspective.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Creating a Culture of Generosity

I read a great blog article today on http://www.change.org/ entitled "Establishing a Culture of Generosity."  It is part of a series on undergraduate social entrepreneurship.  I was fascinated first by the inherent inclusion of charitable giving in the overall concept of social entrepreneurship.  I very much like the idea that young people are philanthropically motivated and it appears that with the advent of social media, giving something back to the community, even the global community, is easier than ever.

The article implies that students are in an environment where they want to help one another. Greek organizations help each other and are duty-bound to give to charities. Student organizations have leveraged the desire to want to do something to make social change works well by mobilizing others to donate to a cause. Microgiving is the new trend, when a student simply needs to text in a code to make a $5 or $10 donation.

I am inspired by colleges and universities that encourage students to volunteer and to donate. In creating a culture of generosity, one needs to make sure to include all aspects of how someone can give. That includes gifts of manhours, skills, and money (the proverbial "time, talent and treasure"). I am inspired even more when parents begin to cultivate a philanthropic spirit in children. Parents can set an example by their own volunteer support, charitable attitude, and donations.  My favorite gifts to receive at Dayton Children's are those from kids who saved their birthday money or asked for donations to help sick kids rather than ask for presents for themselves at birthday time. 

Last year, we had an eight-year old girl, Allison, donate $250 to the NICU at Dayton Children's. She said, "I already have enough toys. I wanted to do something for the hospital because they saved my life when I was a baby." From a stewardship perspective, our NICU staff did everything right. When Allison came to make her donation, the entire staff came out to thank her and take pictures with her. They asked a new mom to bring her baby to the window so Allison could see how small she was at her own birth. The nurses presented Allison and her five-year old sister with tiny baby diapers for their dolls. We then invited the entire family to share their story on the annual Children's Miracle Network Telethon.  There is little doubt in my mind that this made a positive impression on Allison and she'll likely donate again and again because it made her feel good and important.  And she was.

The Peter Pan Children's Fund is an amazing organization that encourages children' to give to pediatric hospitals. By participating in the  Peter Pan Birthday Fund Club and collecting donations, the Peter Pan Children's Fund will match those gifts with an additional $100.

Churches can teach children about generosity by having kids participate in offerings. When I was growing up, we had our own tiny offering envelopes. My brothers and sisters and I would put in a quarter of fifty cents and these donations would be collected during Sunday School. 

I participated in Blue Birds and then Camp Fire USA growing up. These organizations, like Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, instilled a sense of importance for volunteering. My dad was extremely active as a founding member of his Lions Club and we went to dozens of fundraisers and community service projects. For years, my mom was the epitome of a community volunteer. She and a friend managed a Storytime Workshop at the local library (my mom is an artist and she would illustrate stories as her friend told them...magical!). She was active in the church, a professional sorority, SPURS, and our school PTA. I hope parents are setting the same kind of example mine did about the importance of volunteering and donating time and resources.

Microgiving is the rage now with the ability to text donations. Mobile applications are being developed at lightening speed. Facebook Causes offer all types of innovative ways to mobilize donations. There are hundreds of examples of how people have raised money using Twitter. Charitable giving is fun and a cool thing to do, especially for college students. Philanthropy is an affordable thing to do.

The definition of philanthropy means caring for mankind. It is a myth that philanthropists are wealthy individuals capable of giving millions. Yes, those wonderful people do exist, but millions of people became philanthropists during the last few weeks following the earthquake in Haiti. It's not so much the amount of the gift but rather that you made a gift at all that makes you a philanthropist.

The visibility of giving is helping create a culture of generosity. It has people asking themselves, "What can I do?" It is setting the example for children to understand they have a moral obligation to help others in need. I encourage parents to help their kids find a cause to believe in and then find a way for them to volunteer or save their allowance or holiday gift money to make a donation. Whether that is animal welfare, the environment, sick children, global hunger is irrelevant. Something touches children and their first instinct is to want to help. By fostering that caring nature, you'll be creating a culture of generosity that can only grow as kids mature. When they reach college, that attitude to want to help, to want to make a change, to want to make a diference for others should be well entrenched. Colleges won't have to establish a culture of generosity. It will be just a natural part of the experience.