4 Tips for Mining Your Organization’s 'Acres of Diamonds'
Just the other day, I was talking to a small nonprofit organization about its foundation funding. This particular organization, like so many of the organizations that I’m fortunate enough to come in contact with, is engaged in doing wonderful work within its community, the kind that is important, truly inspiring and creates positive change.
Alas, what I was hearing from it was not a reflection of its efforts and its impact. Instead, what I was hearing was, “Funders aren’t interested in us because we don’t do blah blah blah,” coupled with, “It’s so hard because we work with men, and most of the funders want programs that work with women and children.” Big sigh.
Listen up. Have you ever read the famous Russell Conwell essay, “Acres of Diamonds”? Did you know this piece provided the very foundation for Temple University’s mission? Conwell’s central idea was that one never has to look far for opportunity, achievement or good fortune, because the resources to get there from where you are exist in an easily accessible place: one’s own community.
Inspired by his travels throughout the Middle East, Conwell opened his work with an anecdote about an Arab guide in search of diamonds. In pursuit of his goal, he sold his property and set off in search of them. The new homeowner stumbled across a mine of diamonds on—you guessed it—the Arab guide’s former property. What does this convey, loud and clear?
“Dig in your own backyard!”
The crux of “Acres of Diamonds” actually translates to one of the greatest secrets of fundraising ever revealed. It’s been my experience that virtually every organization fails to fully mine the innumerable diamonds hidden within its own database, within its own circle of friends, within the resources taken for granted. Instead, it is forever searching for answers elsewhere. It is looking for new donors and new methodologies, not to mention becoming easily distracted by the next bright, shiny object dangling before it.
So how can you find “Acres of Diamonds” within your own organization? Focus on developing a positive, forward-thinking attitude. If a positive attitude is something that is noticeably lacking among your organization’s members, fret not. As a species, we have the capacity for amazing, remarkable change.
Go through the motions and that will help get you there. What are they? Well, start with a few of these steps:
1. Begin with your organization’s thank-you letter because carpe diem—seize the day, along with every opportunity (especially this one). Are you using your thank-you letter as a tool to engage your donor? As Lisa Sargent noted, “You should audit (and edit) every thank-you letter you send.” Spend some serious time crafting and honing your organization’s thank-you letters for optimal results. In this case, every recipient feels the warm, fuzzy feelings that appreciation and empowerment brings.
2. Make your loyal donors “ambassadors” for your organization by creating “pass it on” packets for them to share among their friends, neighbors and family members who might be similarly interested in your organization. As ambassadors, they have the power to create networks within their own social circles and day-to-day lives, and it all leads back to you. Pretty cool, no?
I used this tactic during my tenure at one of the very first organizations I worked with, and voila! We reaped the benefits and were rewarded with a number of brand new major donors.
3. During a recent Twitter conversation focused on the topic of board fundraising, one of our participants pointed out that the struggle to “get” boards to fundraise doesn’t necessarily have to be such a struggle. From her own experiences, she learned that when board members are given the task of thanking, the pure joy and satisfaction that they receive from that simple job empowers the most reluctant among them to move on to the next step: fundraising!
One of my clients took this to heart and began scheduling regular “thank-a-thons” during its board meetings, during which it provided every member with a name or two, a sample script, notecards and pens. Imagine one donor’s delighted surprise after he or she received a personalized thank-you card penned by a bishop. Can you say “super star”?
4. On a monthly basis, provide your board members with one to five donor names to phone and thank personally. Get your staff to climb aboard, as well. When program staff are involved in the “gratitude” aspect of fundraising, they gain a deeper understanding of what development does, which in turn makes your job easier.
But beyond providing the staff with invaluable insight, it also fosters an environment of gratitude, and that’s something that you’ll notice. It affects everyone in a positive way and strengthens your organization as a whole.
And this is precisely what you want, because it transforms the attitude of gratitude into a culture of gratitude, and that kind of stuff is contagious. You see, when gratitude is given the space to flourish, it becomes self-perpetuating. You'll witness so many spontaneous acts of kindness and goodwill, you’ll lose count, and not only that, but they’ll attract the same in return. A cultural shift, not only for the better, but for the best.
Pssst! Can you feel it? Don’t look now, but you’re standing on a mine of diamonds—right under your own two feet!
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.