Don’t Be Afraid to Throw the Fundraising Penalty Flag
When I opened the email, I cringed. It was from one of my alma maters, but I still wanted to throw the fundraising penalty flag.
First, it greeted me as “Fellow,” a term used to describe alumni based on the athletic mascot. With today’s technology, there is no excuse for a fundraising program — regardless of size — not to personalize. Truth is, this is my graduate school alma mater, and I attended as a working adult. I’ve never been to a sporting event of theirs.
The few sentences that followed were not well worded. Then the email listed opportunities to learn about estate planning — good enough material.
The email was signed by the school’s planned giving consultant. While he addresses me (not by name) as a “Fellow” — it has his name and title as planned giving consultant.
I happen to know him, and he is superb at planned giving. But why in the world would he be the signatory on an email? His name would not resonate with alumni.
With most planned gifts being simple, this should have been signed by a leader at the institution — someone I could call and connect with. Then, if I needed special attention, they could bring in the planned giving expert.
Here are some basic things to keep in mind about fundraising communications:
- Make it personal. Every appeal should be as tailored to the recipient as possible.
- Make it compelling. The copy should have led me to continue reading for reasons other than critiquing it.
- Build capacity. Every fundraising staff member should have a knowledge of the basics of planned giving. Then you can use staff, consultants or allied professionals for circumstances needing advanced planning.
- Lead with your team. OK, I’m a consultant. We believe in hiring consultants. But consultants should primarily be behind the scenes and putting you, your key volunteers and staff in the limelight and guiding them to deepen lasting relationships.
Your consultant will be engaged for months or at the most two years. He or she should be empowering and coaching you and your staff on engaging in cultivation activities. No “hired gun” will ever be as successful as a donor or as a staff member or volunteer who is invested in the organization’s mission. This is not about “convincing” someone or “selling them.” Yes, your language should be strategically chosen, but a major gift is the result of a longer term relationship and ongoing discussion.
It is similar to hiring consultants to make the ask. That works for chamber of commerce community development work and any transactional campaign, but true philanthropy is transformational and relationship-based. I realize there are many consultants who have this approach. However, it is not the philanthropy that I have carefully studied and practiced for decades.
Give your donors, staff and volunteers the exhilarating joy of a true philanthropic experience. Make your fundraising personal and compelling. Develop capacity among your volunteer and staff team — skills that will benefit your organization for generations to come. Accept your responsibility, seek the highest standards and enjoy the greatest success.
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.