Donor Relationships Belong to the Organization
One of the great fallacies in the nonprofit fundraising world is that fundraising professionals take donor relationships with them from organization to organization. It is not an effective strategy, and it is wrong and unethical. It is a significant way fundraising differs from other professions.
We were meeting with a prospective client recently, and they asked if we had a list of major donors in the region—an area that we work in daily. I shared that we understand the local philanthropic climate and know most of the key players, however, we don’t maintain a list. In fact, we delete a client’s prospect list from our files after each engagement. We do have a thorough and proven practice to build a list of prospective potential donors specific to each client without sharing another client’s confidential information.
In one of our primary markets, there is a firm that promises to make “a favorable introduction” to area foundations and other funders. This is not only not effective, but against our AFP code of ethics.
Often, we hear a client wanting to hire someone with “connections” versus a successful fundraising professional who knows best practices and has a track record of success. The most successful organizations tend to hire for qualifications, while smaller and struggling organizations reach out to hire for “connections” often in desperation or with the thought that the board will not have to be strong ambassadors, much less fundraisers.
A favorite mentor of mine was a major foundation CEO. He would lament the fact of a few consultants who would meet with him regularly, but each time bring another organization. He never knew who they were representing, and it wasn’t effective.
The AFP Code of Ethics is clear, saying that fundraising professionals will:
- Not disclose privileged or confidential information to unauthorized parties.
- Not exploit any relationship with a donor, prospect, volunteer, client or employee for the benefit of the members or the members’ organizations.
- Protect the confidentiality of all privileged information relating to the provider/client relationships.
- Adhere to the principle that all donor and prospect information created by or on behalf of an organization or a client is the property of that organization or client.
Build deep donor relationships, but never forget they are for your organization and are not a transactional commodity to be shared, brokered or taken with you. By upholding our code of ethics, we strengthen our profession and our effectiveness!
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.