The Donors Are Waiting (For You)
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Hardly a week passes without an article appearing claiming to offer the Google Maps or MapQuest directions to the land of serious—and unbelievably generous—philanthropists. These benighted and enlightened individuals are known in the fundraising world as “major donors”, “principal donors”, even “the big kahunas.” That last moniker makes my skin crawl.
The conventional fundraising wisdom is if we only have the right map coordinates and secret handshake, we’re in. And so, our fundraising challenges will miraculously evaporate. Countless webinars, short courses and workshops claim to offer this treasure map.
Well I’m here to tell you this tale is half right. It’s not the half you imagine, however.
Earlier this month I had the distinct pleasure of being one of 30 fundraisers invited to participate in an invitation-only, three-day conclave of 200 top-wealth advisers, philanthropy advisers, family office executives and philanthropists.
We were treated to world-class speakers, intimate discussion groups, and the best philanthropy planning and financial advice money can buy. All these in the low-key, informal atmosphere and protective boundary of an outstanding resort. Jeans-casual giving, I’ll call it.
It was a heady—and revealing experience. Those attending formed a who’s who of the philanthropic world. It was name-brand philanthropy at its finest.
It was also very enjoyable and rewarding. I made a number of new friends and reconnected with a few longstanding ones. I always enjoy the company of well-motivated and strategic thinking people. They both inspire and motivate me.
I learned new things, and reconfirmed some of what I already knew. I’ve been asked to help plan next year’s gathering and am very much looking forward to it.
So what really goes on at such a donor powwow? For those of you who may be just a bit curious, allow me to draw back the curtain a bit on the mystery.
First, donors are, by definition, generous people. Yes, that’s right, “generous.” The first dictionary meaning is “characterized by a noble or forbearing spirit, magnanimous, kindly.”
They’re generous in small things as well the big. They defer to you when you’re seeking a seat in a room. They listen attentively and solicit your opinion before offering theirs. When making a gift, they don’t need to be cajoled, pitched, sold, panhandled or ambushed.
They decidedly do not appreciate being presumed upon, however, nor seen as simply “funders” to a cause—yours or any others’.
They do want to be considered of value for the persons they are—not the money they have. They do expect to be treated as investors, not check-writing machines.
And—as I’ve said many times—philanthropy for them is definitely not about the money. It’s about the realization of a vision through their values that they simply cannot buy—at any price. It’s about the burden of resources they often feel to use what they have wisely.
Principle No. 1 of The Eight Principles™ is "Donors are the Drivers®". Donors drive philanthropy not with their money but with their values and visions. Their visions and values.
Many are frustrated and bewildered. One said to me, “Larry, it’s really hard to give money away.” What he meant wasn’t that he had only limited resources with too many potential causes to satisfy.
He shocked me when he told me he has contacted a number of nonprofits expressing his interest only to be told they’re “busy” completing a grant application, they’ll “get back to him”, or simply brushed off altogether since he will be invited to their next event—which he isn’t. This individual easily has an eight-figure capacity. Here’s a hint—he doesn’t drive a German automobile, fly in a private jet or wear Italian suits.
Can you begin to appreciate why some of those we approach for support are just a bit jaded?
I came away from this event more convinced than ever of what Paul Schervish demonstrated a long time ago—philanthropy is elastic. There are an incredible amount of resources available to those who will engage rather than seek to entice.
Money—a lot of it—is left on the table by nonprofits year after year. I’ve never had much patience with the whiners—those who complain about the paucity of available funds in philanthropy or the intense “competition” for these. After my experience at this gathering, I no longer have any patience.
To a person, the wealth advisers and philanthropists were focused on how more impact can be achieved. Although money is the propellant, it’s not the object.
We hear a lot about how millennials are focused on impact and transparency. Guess what—other donors value authenticity as well.
In fact, the more serious the donor—whatever the age—values alignment and the realization of their vision are the where their focus is. It’s the millennials who have brought these attitudes from the stratosphere of giving down to sea level.
The takeaway? If you want to build your cadre of serious donors—philanthropic investors who can be counted on year after year—you can do it. Anyone can.
The challenge is to put yourself in the mind and situation of your prospective investor and ask the question whether your cause is worthy of your support. Why or why not?
Principle No. 2 of The Eight Principles™ is "Begin at the Beginning™." Begin by first couching your message to donors from their point of view.
Remember it’s not about money but relationships and you’ll be way down the road to success—with all of your donors regardless of their generation.
I had a number of wonderful conversations with very well-motivated individuals, during the conclave.
In the next few weeks, I’ll relate to you some of these nuggets. Until then, remember that sustainable and scalable philanthropic revenue is available to your cause or organization—if you really want it.
By the way, it’s not called a “conference” for a reason!
Let me hear from you. Please share your situation and the challenges you face in developing sustainable revenue streams. Email me, and I’ll arrange a brief consult providing you with practical guidance. I’ll choose some of these thorny obstacles to share, along with my insights, in upcoming columns.
Success is waiting. Go out and achieve it.
Larry believes in the power of relationships and the power of philanthropy to create a better place and transform lives.
Larry is the founder of The Eight Principles. His mission is to give nonprofits and philanthropists alike the opportunity to achieve their shared visions. With more than 25 years of experience in charitable fundraising and philanthropy, Larry knows that financial sustainability and scalability is possible for any nonprofit organization or charitable cause and is dependent on neither size nor resources but instead with the commitment to create a shared vision.
Larry is the author of the award-wining book, "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising." He is the Association of Fundraising Professionals' 2010 Outstanding Development Executive and has ranked in the Top 15 Fundraising Consultants in the United States by the Wall Street Business Network.
Larry is the creator of the revolutionary online fundraising training platform, The Oracle League.
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