Don’t Shortchange Your Philanthropic Potential
A wonderful client was very excited. She was working with longtime friends and introduced them to her organization. Due to circumstances, they connected with great interest in what the organization was doing.
“We are going to be making a gift,” the donor shared. (This donor does not make small gifts.)
“I haven’t even asked for a gift, and we are just trying to help you,” the client responded sincerely.
“I know,” the donor said. “But fundraising is all about relationships.”
This is a perfect example of the benefits of a donor-focused, relationship-based fundraising program.
There are two all-stars at the University of Georgia—Parker Middleton in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and Dana Strickland in the College of Pharmacy. Both are longtime friends and have inspired me to accumulate greater wealth, so that I can make a bigger difference for both of their institutions.
“Shortcuts make long delays,” writes J.R.R. Tolkien in “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” This is especially true in fundraising. When you forget to be donor-focused and relationship-focused and take a more transactional, sales approach, you will fall far below your short- and long-term potential. Philanthropic fundraising is very different from economic development work or political fundraising, for example.
We don’t work on campaigns without the vital reach of a planning study with confidential insight from key potential donors. After 30 years, I am still amazed what people will share to help the client, if they trust you. Things that would never be shared directly.
Likewise, while we might help with board giving, we traditionally don’t make asks in a campaign because we know the client’s staff and volunteers will be far more effective. We are the “hired guns” engaged for a brief period of time. While we establish wonderful relationships, the relationship with the organization usually precedes and when built correctly will certainly follow our engagement.
There are organizations that, typically with roots in economic development campaigns in the chamber world, ask for gifts. This is perfectly fine in a transactional economic development approach, but, frankly, goes against most of what I have observed over 30 years in the field.
Research does show that people give to people. People who are involved in an organization—serving as volunteers and board members—give more overall and more to those organizations where they are involved.
If you want to build a culture of philanthropy, there is no substitute for peer-to-peer asks and that means relationships built over time in most cases. Having volunteers involved on a call in nearly every case enhances the outcome. There are also tenured professionals who, like my friends Parker and Dana, can very effectively manage a portfolio of relationships and be very successful at securing gifts.
Philanthropy is very personal. Having a “stranger” suddenly dropped into a relationship to ask for a gift is not only awkward, but doesn’t show the donor respect or a commitment to a culture of philanthropy.
Take the “highest and best-use” approach in your advancement program. And the highest and best use of staff and volunteers is to nurture long-term, genuine relationships. Effective counsel can conduct research, conduct a plan based on reach and direct the implementation of the plan—including coaching of staff and volunteers so that they feel comfortable and are successful in asking for gift investments. And remember, the “ask” should be one of a series of conversations with the potential donor about their opportunity to create a solution to big challenges.
Build a culture of philanthropy. Challenge your board and staff to embrace a donor-focused, relational approach. Invest in your board and staff and build a development program that is built to last—through leadership transitions and that grows stronger and stronger with the success and capacity-building of each campaign.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.