The Three R’s of Fundraising Success
Perhaps I’m dating myself by conjuring the age-old axiom about the most important subjects in grade school being the three R’s of Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. But in today’s frantic pace of fundraising, a new trio of R’s easily emerges and takes center stage.
First and foremost are RELATIONSHIPS. The essence of the fundraising process, no matter what the methodology, are the relationships we build. Many of us honed our ability to build donor relationships via our own relationship with one or more mentors. I personally can thank so many key individuals in the nonprofit sector for fulfilling that role for me.
If you haven’t been fortunate enough to have had a mentor relationship, I urge you to make finding and building one a priority. One of the many joys of this sector is the strong abundance of experienced professionals willing to help others. All of the top-notch, experienced fundraisers know that sharing the proper methodologies with those eager to learn improves the results for everyone.
If you know how to create and build friendships, then you know where to begin to build long-term donor relationships. One of my mentors in the nonprofit world alluded to the fact that you just have to substitute the care and concern of the mission of your organization for the genuine care and concern you build about each other with a friend. If you’re successful with building true care and concern, proper support in the way of gifts and time will soon follow.
Keep in mind a few key differences will come into play for the successful fundraiser. Among them will be the fact that you must be able to replicate this relationship building, even for major donors, on a much larger scale than you do for personal friendships. A key facet of this will be the third R coming up in a minute.
In addition, many individuals will become life-long supporters of the mission and thus your organization, without actually becoming personal friends. And that’s just fine, because it means you’re mastering the steps to building a relationship.
Just keep applying the natural steps we all embody with our dearest friends. Obviously, outlining all of the steps could easily be another full article. Suffice to say that keeping some of the following in mind will start you in the proper direction: listening, remembering, relating, caring, staying in touch, informing, asking, helping and thanking.
The second R is RESEARCH. This doesn’t have to be fancy, although it is easy to be quite professional with the many wonderful prospect research/screening tools on the market. A key new development in the area is the online look-up service. Such online services allow you to easily identify wealth via asset listings. Those services, usually much more economical than a complete screening of your prospects, allow you to look up details about individuals one at a time.
Since one of your best predictors of success in creating a new major donor is some form of prior relationship, using a one-off lookup makes all the sense in the world. If your current board and top donors suggest individuals that they know, you can easily perform proper research before the first personal call. This also works for prior multi-year donors who have not reached the major category.
Your research can take other avenues, which also pay dividends, as you build the relationship. It could research about more than financial assets. Finding information from your contact source about the prospect’s personal opinions and passions is invaluable. If you can add other such key information about family situations and needs, which in many cases can only be uncovered via other personal relationships, then you are fully prepared to start and build a strong relationship.
The third and final R is the most often overlooked, but never by the top fundraisers. It is RECORD KEEPING. Yes, just like the top sales and marketing professionals I have known, the top 20 percent of the fundraisers achieve more than the next 80 percent combined.
In this day and age, it is so easy to truly have at your fingertips hundreds of details on a thousand or more key people you are building/maintaining relationships with. The best professionals know their brains can only keep so many details on so many such individuals.
Imagine if you could remember the details of every conversation, meeting, written communication and e-mail. Add to that the fact that you can now easily track where every relationship came from, what stage it’s in, and what the next step and ultimate goal are!
For example, if a major-gift prospect shares a passion or a personal memory in an early conversation, what would it mean to relate back to the passion or memory numerous conversations or steps later? Should perhaps your relationship-building strategy be built around those items? It is for the top 20 percent of fundraising professionals.
If you aren’t able to personally and easily store and access tons of such vital information, then you are severely limited in the results you can achieve. All nonprofits, no matter what the size, must consider all such information a key asset. They must insist upon it, garner it and, most importantly, protect it. Any nonprofit that just has a record-keeping system consisting of a listing of gifts/pledges and prior written communications falls into the “limited” category. The best fundraising organizations harness the power of aggressive and extensive record keeping and use it to enable and insure outstanding results.
So there have it. The Three R’s of fundraising success. Although relationships, research and record keeping are not the only factors, they are among the ones most often mentioned by my personal mentors in this field over the last 25 years. Perhaps they can help you achieve new heights of success too.
Jay Love is president, CEO and co-founder of eTapestry Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.