Episode 39: Jamal Iqbal – Growing major donor income in Higher Education and beyond

Episode Notes

Aristotle observed that excellence is less about one-off events and more about habits. If you broadly agree with this idea, then what are the habits that move the needle for improved RESULTS in your field of fundraising?

If you work in development in the Higher Education sector, or in major donor fundraising in any charity, I hope you will find this episode instructive, because I share the first half of a really interesting interview with an experienced high value fundraiser named Jamal Iqbal.

Jamal is Head of Development at the Faculty of Engineering at Imperial College London, and his team have been getting consistently great fundraising results in the last couple of years. So I was keen to ask Jamal what habits and principles he believes are making the difference.

In this discussion, we explore ideas around focus and tenacity, how Jamal approaches conversations with potential supporters, the top three books he recommends to everyone in his team, and lots more.

If you want to share this episode because you think it will help other charities, universities and schools at this difficult time, THANK YOU VERY MUCH! We are both on Linked In and on twitter my name is @woods_rob.

Further Resources

FREE E-BOOK

If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, I cover lots of helpful tactics in my free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise money with major donors, corporates and trusts, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

Jamal recommends everyone in his team read these three books, and I too have found all three books to be extremely helpful in my understanding of human nature and positive influence:

  1. Influence by Robert Cialdini
  2. The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath
  3. Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff

Quotes

‘Look for the anomaly, look for the individual who’s consistently creating amazing results and look at their behaviours. What can you learn from their example?’

Jamal Iqbal

Rob: ‘If you could have any message on a giant billboard that every fundraiser would see, what would it be?’

Jamal: ‘Tenacity! I think that any exceptional fundraiser will have that one quality in abundance. Tenacity, that’s the word.’

Transcription of Episode 39

Hey there, folks. Welcome to Episode 39 of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast. My name is Rob Woods, and this is the show for anyone who works in fundraising and who wants ideas for how to raise more money, enjoy their job and make a bigger difference even during the pandemic. Today, if you work in high value fundraising, I hope you’re going to find this episode really helpful, because today we’re looking at habits and skills that help you increase income through major donor fundraising with an excellent fundraiser named Jamal Iqbal who is head of development at the Faculty of Engineering at Imperial College London.

I first met Jamal when he took part in our corporate mastery program several years ago and was really impressed by his passion for learning, his clear thinking and his ability to generate fabulous results for the children’s charity that he worked for at the time. Jamal is now in a different job, but his team has been achieving some excellent results this year, and I was keen to hear from him some key principles that he believes contribute to this success. During this chat, we explore ideas around focus and tenacity, how he approaches conversations with potential supporters, his top three book recommendations, and lots more. I really enjoyed this discussion with Jamal. Whether you work in higher education or for a charity or nonprofit, I hope that you’ll find it helpful too.

 

This episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast is brought to you by the Bright Spot Members Club. As a practical alternative to one off conferences and courses whose impact can fade all too quickly, the Members Club is an online resource that gives you ongoing access to a whole library of video training courses, monthly coaching webinars, and live training events. It’s all designed to help you learn, enjoy your job and raise more money. To join the 300 fundraisers already in the club or just to find out more, go to brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

Rob:

Hello, Jamal.

Jamal:

Hi, Rob. How are you?

Rob:

I’m really well, thank you at the end of a busy week. How’s life treating you during this crazy year?

Jamal:

Yeah. Yeah, it’s certainly been an interesting time, but I’ve started to get too used to the new routine now.

Rob:

Great. Yeah, and who knows what the next few months is going to bring us, but I guess if we’re just taking things day-by-day, week-by-week, that’s all we can do. And that’s one reason I definitely wanted to talk to you because when we caught up the other day, it sounded to me like the word on the grapevine was correct, which is that in your role, things are going quite well. It sounds like your team are doing pretty well as well in the face of a difficult situation for fundraisers everywhere. But just to set the context, you and I first met, I think, when you were at the NSPCC children’s charity in the UK, but now you’re at Imperial. What’s your job title now?

Jamal:

So I’m head of development for the Faculty of Engineering at Imperial College, and essentially my role is heading up all philanthropic income, which comes to any one of our 10 departments. So I work very closely with 10 heads of department and also our Dean, Professor Nigel Brandon.

Rob:

Okay. So that’s a big job. I think one of my questions, because I think it’ll set it up nicely, I think you’ve got a slightly different take on development fundraising than some of the people I’ve met. I sense some of that becomes because of the career you’ve had so far. Like I said before you worked at a children’s charity, but before that, just talk us through top line what your job was originally.

Jamal:

So yeah, absolutely. So I spent almost 10 years in investment banking predominantly in treasury roles for private banks. And essentially I made the move across into the world of philanthropy again about 10 years ago. So I’ve had a 20 year career, 10 years in investment banking and 10 years in development.

Rob:

Goodness me, there’s clearly going to be some crossovers between the skills you need to do well in either career. What do you think some of those crossovers are and what are some of the things that you have quite deliberately taken from that other world that you have found helpful now that you’re a fundraiser?

Jamal:

Yeah, absolutely. I think that there’s some really transferable skills from the corporate sector into fundraising. I think the first is the ability to build relationships. I think relationship building in banking is absolutely key, especially with clients. I think the type of individuals that I was interacting with tended to be high net worth individuals, which again, you come across in philanthropy as well, and also large corporates as well, because again, that tends to be another area to raise funding from. Interestingly, when I made the move across, it wasn’t as easy as I originally thought it would be.

I think that the reason for that is I think 60 or 70% of the skills are very transferable into the sector, but I think you need to understand this 20, 30% around fundraising mechanics. So before I moved across, I didn’t know what major gifts were or corporate partnerships. I think there was a little bit of learning there, but I really do think that there’s a real advantage and real benefit of bringing individuals across from the private sector into development, just because they have a different perspective.

Rob:

Of course it’s difficult to generalize, but from your point of view, do you think that some people in that original sector you were in were especially thorough and/or was there anything about the training you had then that you found has stood you in good stead now that you’re a fundraiser, but you’re also a leader of fundraisers? What are a couple of the principles that worked for you then that now you keep going, even though you’re doing a different kind of job?

Jamal:

I always tell this story about when I first started my role in investment banking, there was a team of 18 of us who are all doing a very similar sort of role in treasury. And I’m often one to look, as you are as well, to look for the anomaly, look for the individual who’s creating these astronomical results and look at their behaviours. And one of, well, a couple of things that I noticed from one individual in particular who was very successful was just that the way that he managed his days. That was something that really influenced me and I was mentored by him for quite a few years, and now I’ve taken that into my training of my team. But I think time management in our roles as fundraisers is very key.

I think that sometimes you can be led into sort of rabbit holes of lots of different distractions, but having laser-like focus on what you are doing in terms of your portfolio of prospects that you’re looking at I think is key. So the first thing is to have a manageable amount. So if you’ve got 200 prospects that you’re looking at at any one time, that’s probably too many. If you’ve only got five, that’s probably too few, right? So trying to find that sweet spot of actually how many is manageable, I think is absolutely key. And I think secondly, replenishing your pipeline because once you start working on a particular gift, that can be quite time-consuming, but quite often what happens is the moment that gift comes off, you haven’t been doing any of that work in the background to replenish your pipeline with new prospects. That can be quite problematic. So there were some of the key learnings I took across from my previous career.

Rob:

This chimes with lots of research I’ve done elsewhere about these bright spots, these anomalies that are just doing twice as well or even more compared to others. That approach to doing the most important things and prioritizing them and finding a way to not get pulled in other directions, though it can be extraordinarily hard, that is a quality that I’ve noticed in most of the people who I’ve interviewed over the years who are doing really well. Practically speaking, it’s one thing to intellectually get your head around that truth. Are there any tips? Just different things work for different people, but in the last decade, are there a couple of practices or habits that you tend to do to help one keep giving time and energy and problem-solving effort and courage, for want of a better word, to those key prospects or key projects that are likely to bring results?

Jamal:

Yeah, absolutely. So I think one of the ways to structure your day is breaking it down into the different compartments as it were. And I think that there’s a certain amount that you need to give to reacting to emails. Obviously we have of emails that are flooding in. One of the things that I found really useful actually is that I will shut down my email for particular periods during the day when I have a particular task that I need to do, whether that’s writing a proposal or writing an email to a particular prospect or to an academic. So that then stops all of the distractions because one of the things is that even if it’s bleeping in the background, you will be distracted and you’ll say, “Oh. Oh, I’ve got email from X. Oh, why don’t I just have a quick read of it?”

Before you know it, you’re half an hour later, you’ve been distracted from what you’re doing. I think the other thing is that you’ve got to make time to … We talk a lot about cultivation in [inaudible 00:09:33] and cultivation of our prospects and donors, and you’ve got to donate a specific amount of time to have that interaction. Now, pre-COVID that might be a coffee or a dinner or hosting somebody on campus. But even now in the midst of COVID what I found is that lots of individuals actually, it’s easier to get time in their diaries because everyone’s working from home and we’re all using Team and Zoom. So those interactions, even checking in with somebody I think are really important to keep the relationship and in essence, the gifts moving forward.

Rob:

Yeah, though it’s not always easy. The sending of an email sometimes if it’s well-written might get some good results, but there’s usually more creativity, variety, and persistence required to get these conversations. So again, the knowing that that is true and will serve your results and therefore your cause is step one of this, I think. And again, practically speaking, do you have any … No one tactic works for every supporter or indeed every nonprofit, but do you have a couple of tips that you and your team try to practice to get more of those conversations and interactions with the people who care about your cause?

Jamal:

Yeah, absolutely. I think in HE in particular, we’ve obviously got an alumni base of a particular department or particular faculty, so we’re quite privileged to be in that position. But I think one of the things to be mindful of is that a lot of the time an individual might have moved away from London, might have moved abroad and might not have any interaction with their old university. So that’s, again, something to be mindful of. So I think being entrepreneurial in terms of the way that you connect with an alumnus and initiate a conversation, as it were, I think is paramount. Also, you find that there’s, updating somebody on what’s happening in their department at the moment, a chance to have a coffee if they’re traveling through the UK, any sort of initial interaction I think is key.

And just be mindful of the fact that majority of individuals have gone to maybe two or three different institutions. So you’re one of maybe three that they’ve gone to. One might be in the States, one might be in London, one might be somewhere else. So I think that’s something to be mindful of. I think that that initial interaction, majority of the time for us isn’t focused around philanthropy. It’s really just trying to understand a little bit more about their time at the college and their professional journey post-graduation because I think that’s absolutely key. And although we work in development, I think we’re also, as part of our roles is alumni relations, because if you’ve gone to any university, you are part of a global community and staying in touch with that global community, even if it’s to catch up and find out a little bit more about their journey I think is absolutely key. So that would be my strategy.

Rob:

Yeah. As obvious as that sounds in a way, I think deep down sometimes someone who works in development or fundraising, deep down they weren’t trying to get the conversation just to care and catch up as an end in and of itself. They genuinely we’re sending the email to try and get some money, get something somehow. Some might say this is just semantics, but to me, the clear intention and valuing the intention is just to have a conversation and get nothing in return or simply to understand someone, the clarity that that’s what you’re trying to do, I think it can make you more brave and more creative because you don’t feel like you’re manipulating or trying to take something. If you have the conversation, it’s a good thing to aim for in and of itself. And the more we make that shift, we’re going to try harder to reach out for it because we don’t feel like we’re endeavouring to play some bigger game or some manipulation.

Of course, the glorious paradox is the more you become a giver, not a taker, the paradox is some of those conversations in and of themselves might lead to a relationship where someone wants to step forward. So it serves your bigger picture need for development and for funding anyway, but not confusing the two and not letting the need in due course for funding to get in the way of the desire simply to catch up with people. I think that can help a fundraiser to be more proactive, brave, creative, and in due course, do better at this challenge of engagement.

Jamal:

Yeah. I think there’s two things. The first is that not every individual that you speak to is going to make a gift. So somebody you might just talk to and hear about their journey. Somebody might want to mentor and volunteer. Somebody might want to speak to some students, and then there might be an individual that wants to give. So like I said, there’s various different instances there and not all of them are directly related to philanthropy. I think the second thing to be really mindful of as well, and this is something that I talk a lot about, is that I speak to hundreds of people every year and the vast majority of them don’t … The first thing that we talk about isn’t philanthropy.

Some of them, philanthropy isn’t even on their radar, but through conversations, you start to talk about various initiatives, et cetera and they start getting interested. But the vast majority of people, that’s not on their mind. It’s something that you just start talking about and that’s why we call them discovery conversations, because you might discover that philanthropy is something that you’re interested in, but it’s not. As fundraisers we think that’s the first thing that individual wants to talk about, and it rarely is.

Rob:

Yeah. That makes sense. Sometimes Jamal, I love going deeper in the style of conversation we’ve had just now. Just occasionally on the podcast I also just try out quick fire questions. So if it’s all right with you, I’m going to ask you these questions. I don’t need necessarily a long answer. It might be short one or you might feel willing to expand if you like, but if you’re up for that, here’s my first question. Jamal Iqbal, in the last five years, has there been a new belief, habit or behaviour that has most helped you in your job?

Jamal:

Yeah, there has actually. I think, and this will be a surprising one. I’ve actually implemented a physical exercise part to my day and also a part where I switch off from my laptop and my phone and without any device at all, will spend, I don’t know, maybe 45 minutes for a walk, just to clear my mind. I found that made me a lot more productive than without exercise and without that mental break.

Rob:

Fantastic. Many of us know this, but we think we’re too busy to actually implement it. Research in a book, excellent book by Arianna Huffington called Rest and that book I sometimes talk about called The Miracle Morning really do suggest to me that if you test out for a week that doing a more deliberate proper switch off time, for instance doing exercise, it pays you back in terms of your productivity. So thank you for sharing that one. Question two, Jamal, if metaphorically speaking, you can have a giant billboard which all fundraisers or development officers or charities would see, what would it say and why? It could be a few words, it could be a short paragraph, it could be someone else’s quote.

Jamal:

That’s an interesting one. I think I’ll probably just have one word, which is tenacity, which I think every single fundraiser needs to have that one enduring quality. And I think that anybody who works in this profession will know that is great when we talk about the big story where you’ve closed a huge gift, but we’ve all been in that place where we’ve had no’s or something hasn’t gone according to plan. I think that any good or exceptional fundraiser will have that one quality in abundance. Tenacity, that’s the word.

Rob:

Yeah. I’m just smiling to hear you say that because you and I met four or five years ago and I noticed and admired many qualities in you then, but one of the key ones that stood out ahead of most of the other people on that cohort on that course was that persistence and that tenacity. So I’m not surprised that you’ve brought that out as a very high value on your list. Third question, is there a book that you found especially interesting or helpful or influential to your thinking or to your career? It might be about fundraising. It might be about anything.

Jamal:

Yeah. Well, I’m going to cheat here and I’m going to give you three books because these are the three books that anybody who joins my team, I absolutely insist that they have to read. Any fundraiser I would say these should be on your bookshelf. And I would encourage you to buy a copy so you can write notes in it. I often say don’t borrow somebody else’s and lend them to anybody else. Keep them. So that would be Influence by Robert Cialdini, The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. Those three books would be my recommendations.

Rob:

Thank you, Jamal. I love all three of those and I’ll make sure I make those nice and clear in the episode notes on our website, if people want to check them out. Okay, next question. Is there any advice you’d give to a smart determined person who’s just entered the development or fundraising profession?

Jamal:

Yes. I would say the first thing I would do is find a good mentor. Find somebody who is in the field of fundraising that you are in who has been wildly successful and get them as a mentor. I have a mentor who used to be at London School of Economics and I bother them on a very regular basis to seek counsel, to knock ideas around, and also just talk about general things that I might be working on. I think that the one thing which I found really valuable from a mentor is a sounding board. Do you know when you’ve got that prospect where you’re stuck and you’re not sure what your next move is, or you’ve got a prospect which is moving really well and you’re just thinking about how you might steward that prospect or how you might close a particular gift? I think a mentor is absolutely key.

Rob:

Certainly, I found that to be true of my career as well. It’s made such a difference being able to talk to those people. And just one practical tip I would give for the listener, which is rather than make too big an ask of someone and their time and say, “Oh, reaching out to you. Would you be my mentor,” if you can think of a couple of people who might fit the bill or someone you know who might know of such people, that’s step one. And then don’t then ask, “Will you be my mentor?” Just ask for the first step. “Do you have 20 minutes? I really, really admire your book or I really heard your reputation. I really was so inspired to see how well you’re doing. I’m a bit stuck. Could I get 20 minutes of advice?

I wonder if you could help me.” Again, be respectful. They may need to say no, and that’s fine, but if they then say yes and it goes well, at that point, they are probably hopefully going to have enjoyed doing that. And at that point, if you then ask if they would consider you being able to check in with them for half an hour or an hour once a month, then you’re more likely to get a yes. Whilst again, as Amanda Palmer would say, even making that ask in a non-pushy way, respectfully understanding that busy people might not be able to say yes, but if you do it in those stages and with those beliefs, I have found many people are more likely to get this kind of mentor support rather than make one ask by email that was too big a deal and then get no, and then just feel discouraged.

Jamal:

Yeah. I’ve done, well, I’ve had various approaches for mentoring, and I think the person who’s reaching out needs to be mindful of A, the individual’s time and B, what are you actually asking for in terms of commitment? Because if somebody reaches out and says, “Let’s have an initial coffee just to talk about what we want to do.” And obviously that turns into mentoring. If somebody says, “I want half an hour with you every three months,” that’s quite doable. But if somebody reaches out and says, “Could you mentor me? Let’s have an hour every two weeks,” that’s not going to be, that’s not going to happen. So to be mindful of what your commitment is, ie, minimum level of commitment. And also I think identifying the areas that you, that you’d like to develop or you want to help on as well, I think is important to outline when you’re asking for help.

Rob:

Great advice. There’s lots of good advice out there. Sometimes a good piece of advice makes sense in a certain context, but it can be misunderstood or it can be retweeted or re-spoken at a team meeting or on a conference stage and actually give an unhelpful impression. From your point of view, have you ever heard some advice bandied around in our sector that you wouldn’t necessarily agree with in the way that people often say it or hear it?

Jamal:

I think just one of the things that I found with the sector in general is I think where fundraising for me is actually quite straightforward. Everything is about building a relationship with an individual, correct, or a company. And I think there’s some times we overcomplicate what fundraising actually is. People tend to give to other people, right? I think that that over complicating what is essentially quite a simple profession. I think it can be quite, quite confusing, especially for individuals who are coming in to see. They’re making it sound so complex. Actually, this sounds like it’s going to take me 15 or 20 years to be able to raise my first gift. Actually, it’s not. When you boil it down, the principles are quite straightforward.

And one thing that springs to mind, actually, I saw some research and yesterday actually in the US, and I think it was across five institutions. They were looking at principal gifts that they’d had these five institutions and they’d done lots of analysis. And the two, the two things that they came away with, I think the first was that every single person who had given had a personal relationship with the development officer that they’d been interacting with, a solid personal relationship. And secondly, I think 84% of them had come back to campus a couple of times before they made a gift. That first bit really sticks with me is that that’s 100% of those donors had a relationship with the fundraising officer.

Rob:

Yeah. I think that’s such a valuable one. You’ve reminded me of in my head when I think of some wonderful stars who I’ve admired and learned from in this field, one of the things they’ve all got in common is they’re good with people and crucially, they make time to spend to do relationship and therefore they find ways, tools, systems, tricks to get the other stuff out of the way so they’re having more decent conversations, more relationship in any given working week across their career. That helps some supporters want to give really generously. By all means there is system, there are tactics, there are techniques, but all of them fundamentally are to serve this priority of those great relationships. My next question is in the last five years, Jamal, have you got better at saying no to distractions? And if so, do you have any tips for anyone else who wants to improve this crucial skill?

Jamal:

Yeah. I think you need to be, I always talk about laser-like focus, but it’s very true. The email one is quite obviously you can switch that off so that you’re not distracted, but I think the second thing is even when you’re in an institution, you can get quite easily distracted. You have to be quite firm about what your particular role is within an institution. So you can get drawn into five or six different things, which aren’t relevant to your actual role. Being quite direct and saying that actually, this is my role and I need to really focus in on this bit. And maybe somebody might give you a query, which you think, oh, actually I can help with that. It might consume three or four hours and you might be better off just giving it to the actual relevant department and say, “Actually, could you have a look at this query for me?”

So I think knowing what your role is and your focus is, and knowing that you’ve got a group of or an infrastructure around you which is built to work on specific areas and being able to distribute it, I think quite often we get into this mindset where if anything comes into your inbox, you have to be the person to deal with it. That’s not the case.

Rob:

Yes, that makes sense. So Jamal, I need to bring these conversations to a close. You’ve been extremely generous with your time. Huge congratulations to you and your team. It sounds like they’re working really hard and they’re doing really well, getting some great results, so well done. And secondly, thank you so much for making time to come and share with the podcast listeners your ideas and advice so that hopefully it can help and inspire them as well. I do really appreciate it. Jamal Iqbal, thank you ever so much for joining us on the podcast. Goodbye.

Jamal:

Thanks, Rob.

Rob:

So there you go. I hope you found Jamal’s insights and examples were helpful. If so, please remember to subscribe to the podcast today, as I’ll soon be releasing the second half of my interview with Jamal in which we zero in on his tips for inspiring supporters through the power of story. For now though, you can find a short summary, the full transcript, and some details of the books we discussed in the episode notes of the blog and podcast section of my website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk. If you’d like to find out more about our training, coaching, and inspiration for fundraisers, the Bright Spot Members Club, you can find out more at brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. There you can get a sense of all the resources that our 300-plus members get access to, including an extensive library of my best training films and downloads available 24/7, live weekly coaching calls on a range of specialist topics to suit the pandemic, and our supportive community.

And if you found my conversation with Jamal useful or encouraging, I’d be incredibly grateful if you could take a moment to share it on with other fundraisers, either directly or by social media so that we can get these ideas out to as many charities as possible during this difficult year. If you want to get in touch, Jamal and I are both on LinkedIn and on Twitter, I am @woods_rob. Finally, thank you so much for making time to listen today. Until the next time, hang in there and good luck with everything you’re doing to make a positive difference.