Stop Comparing Potential Donors
There are certain aspects of fundraising for nonprofit organizations that mirror product sales. Former sales professionals are often successful fundraisers; both employ the skills of active listening and matching people with the most appropriate product, service or mission. Both must be adept at a process that begins with prospecting and ends with stewardship after the sale or charitable gift.
But that is where the similarities end. Take car sales as an example: If I have filled out an online form on a site like TrueCar that has described the car I want, disclosed that I’ve already secured an auto loan and noted that I am “ready to buy,” I can be considered a pretty good bet for a car salesperson who pays attention and treats me with respect. If the sales team has a morning meeting and goes through 10 online forms they received over the weekend, and the other nine are marked either “planning a purchase in three to six months” or “just browsing,” then my form marked “ready to buy” makes me prime “low hanging-fruit” in their eyes.
I already have a loan and have said what kind of car I want. The work for the salesperson should be minimal and the reward high, assuming they are paid on commission (which, as a point of fact, is another difference between sales and fundraising: ethical guidelines prohibit fundraisers from being paid on commission).
If I buy a car from them, they will probably check in once or twice after I drive off the lot to make sure I am happy with my car. They may mail me a postcard in six months inviting me to a Prius owners’ barbeque (I have never understood the appeal of eating barbeque with people I don’t know who drive the same type of car as me). Then in two years, if that salesperson is still there, they will contact me about trading in my car for a newer model. That isn’t really stewardship, but it does involve remembering to follow up.
The relationship-building process with people who want to support the mission a nonprofit delivers is much more personal, complex and — dare I say — more important than the selection of a car.
Business With a Heart
The process of effective fundraising requires a certain level of monetizing a mission to make it work. It can be difficult for committee members to participate in a prospecting meeting for a campaign, because at that moment, the focus isn’t on the warm and caring mission, it is on how to fund that mission appropriately; it is on the dollars that make the mission possible; it is on budgets, projections and Return on Investment (ROI) and Cost to Raise a Dollar (CRD) calculations. This can be done without losing sight of the mission, and it can be done while still treating donors and potential donors with respect.
Regardless of how much money a person has, wealth does not automatically translate into an affinity for your organization or its mission. Some people just love rescue dogs. You can introduce them to your mission of making the works of Frida Kahlo available to the masses, but you can’t force them to believe equitable access to Kahlo paintings is important (or more important than rescue dogs) if they are not inclined to. So hone in on the strategy and tactics that help you find and build relationships with the right people. At the risk of oversimplifying, our focus should be on:
- Identifying people you can introduce to the organization’s mission.
- Finding people already in your donor management system whose gift history signals they’d be open to elevating their relationship with the organization.
- How should you communicate with them, and who should do it?
- Invite the prospective donor to engage with the organization by taking a tour, attending an event, talking to a client, etc.
- Find out their interests, passions and concerns.
- Do those interests, passions and concerns coincide with any needs of your organization in support of mission delivery?
- Recognize and understand what motivates the person to give philanthropically.
- If we’re talking about major gift prospects, then we also want to identify the person’s potential capacity and determine what an appropriate ask is for this stage in their relationship with the organization.
- Who will ask for the gift (who is the solicitation team as well as who will actually say the words)?
- How will the team prepare for the solicitation?
- Where will the meeting take place?
- Do you have the appropriate donation/pledge form for the donor to sign?
Thanks and Recognition
- Does the gift come with any qualifiers (such as supporting a particular program) or stipulations (like a matching gift where the same amount of money must be raised from other sources before this gift will come to fruition)?
- Are there naming rights that need to be addressed in a specific way during a certain timeframe?
- What are some unique ways you can thank the donor? By this point in the relationship, you should know whether or not your donor appreciates tchotchkes, or if they’d prefer a call from a board member or a short video thank-you from staff or clients.
Stewardship and Continued Relationship Maintenance
- The gift does not stop with the thank-you. As much care and attention as was spent on the prospective donors before the ask should be sustained over time. In fact, each new gift from a donor is an opportunity to bring that donor closer into the fold of the organization, until the point that they feel as much of a responsibility for successful mission delivery as you do.
- You are not too busy to be genuine. Sometimes in fundraising we become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks that need our attention; sometimes things slip through the cracks. Don’t let sincere relationships with donors be one of them.
Remember, as fundraisers, we’re here to be the conduit that helps people who want to make a difference to invest in the missions that match their interests. We don’t go to them with our own agenda and try to “convince” them to donate to the project we are most focused on at the moment. We find out what they care about and talk with them about what good can be done because of their gift. Trying to persuade a donor to invest their dollars in a program that doesn’t interest them puts you on a fast track to losing that person as a supporter.
So forget about the low-hanging fruit. Don’t use car sales strategy and tactics. Do find out donors’ interests. Do say thank you. Do show them what good their money is making possible. Do maintain a sincere relationship over time. These are the things good donor relationships are made of.
Tracy Vanderneck is president of Phil-Com, a training and consulting company where she works with nonprofits across the U.S. on fundraising, board development and strategic planning. Tracy has more than 25 years of experience in fundraising, business development and sales. She holds a Master of Science in management with a concentration in nonprofit leadership, a graduate certificate in teaching and learning, and a DEI in the Workplace certificate. She is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), an Association of Fundraising Professionals Master Trainer, and holds a BoardSource certificate in nonprofit board consulting. Additionally, she designs and delivers online fundraising training classes and serves as a Network for Good Personal Fundraising Coach.