Be Sure It Is All About the Donor and Not All About You!
Fundraising is all about relationships: The depth and quality of relationships between donors and the institution—the organization’s staff.
It is also all about numbers. You must have a certain number of donors at specific levels to meet your goal (unless you have one donor driving the project, but then you will most likely eventually have to worry about sustainability).
With these factors in mind, to be most effective you need to do two things:
• Leverage relationships. Engage staff and volunteers beyond the development function to advance relationships (you most likely will never have all the staff you might want or need, plus the engagement of other staff and volunteers adds greatly to the experience for your donors and to your effectiveness and efficiency).
• Do not let ego get in the way. This most often is with staff—CEO or chief development officers (CDOs) who feel that they must get credit for every gift.
It is hard to develop genuine relationships when you are most concerned with credit.
The truth is that if you are the CEO or CDO, you do great credit for every gift received and the best role you can fulfill is that of a leader—casting vision and empowering staff and volunteers to enrich relationships.
Recently, I was talking with a volunteer who had helped connect several six (and even seven) figure prospective donors to their alma mater. The advancement office leadership had changed in recent years, and there was a new president who did not understand fundraising. While the president’s heart is in the right place, it seems that the new advancement head was most concerned about ego and being the one to secure gifts—even if it means tripping over or taking over prospects from wonderful staff in colleges and units who have had long-term relationships.
The friend had most recently offered several times to connect the president and a major prospect, only to find out that the CDO had outreached to that person (successfully) and not bothered to involve or update the volunteer, who would be a key influencer. And, in fact, the volunteer had cautioned the president about engaging the chief advancement officer in the relationship, because, to many, they appear to be “transparent and transactional.” It is no surprise that this chief advancement officer is now widely known to “poach donors” to get credit.
Last year, we were working on a campaign for a wonderful cause. They were very successful, but the CEO was just driven to be in the limelight and take credit for everything. She did not leverage volunteers, give them credit or put them in the limelight. While the goal was surpassed, several hundred thousand more dollars could have been raised—probably a million or more—with the proper approach. In every email to the steering committee, she listed all that she had done—not what the volunteers had accomplished. If volunteers don’t feel vital and valued, they will easily step aside.
When I was a CEO and had five offices reporting to me, I wanted to support those in the field and help them thank donors and volunteers, but not interfere with deep relationships. I was in the leadership and leveraging business.
When I was last in a CDO role, I had a wonderful CEO who understood that all success ended up being a win for the organization—and him personally. He empowered his team, delegated and, for major donor relationships, was not possessive or territorial. He understood in some circumstances, I had the better relationships; in some cases, he did; and in other cases, another staff member or volunteer was to be leveraged. It was a team approach.
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.