For Valentine’s Day, Love Your Supporting Cast!
Many professionals at a certain age remember the show "I Love Lucy." Each week, Lucy Ricardo would get into trouble and drag her husband, Ricky, into the same situation. From time to time, faithful but unassuming neighbors Fred and Ethel Mertz would either be part of the problem or come to the rescue and save Lucy for another week. The focus was always on Lucy with help from Ricky. Yet, if you watched the show you felt that you needed to see Fred and Ethel to balance the ensemble. In many ways each show has a cast that is the sum of its parts.
Fundraising professionals always seek to understand prospects. Is it the husband, wife or both? Who is the decision-maker in the family? One key question is how much research can be obtained to give us vital strategy information. While we focus on the main prospects, we tend to forget or disregard the importance of others in the prospect's life that could influence a gift or possibly the size of a gift to your organization. You never know the impact others have on your potential donors.
If you think about it, your goal is to obtain a long-term relationship with each prospect and eventual donor. In a way, you are the director of many sitcoms involving hundreds of people. You promote activities on a daily and weekly basis. While you seek a long-term engagement with prospects and donors, the depth of engagement and length of an extended relationship intensifies with the size of a gift. For example, you may have a semiannual or annual meeting with donors of $5,000 or so. When seeking six- and seven-figure gifts, you must know the donors and everyone in their ensembles, if that is possible. Plan on a strategy that involves continuous touchpoints.
For example, I was seeking a seven-figure gift from a prospect. I knew at the beginning it would take time and relationship building to get to the point of being allowed to ask for the gift, much less a potential positive response. With one couple, over a span of two to three years, I got to know the husband and wife. As that engagement matured, I met their family members, family foundation director, attorney, CPA, trust officer, members of their board and personal friends. I even got to know their doctors and nurses.
Over time, I was invited to "family" activities and grew to know each member of the cast on a personal level. Trust was built with the family that allowed regular communication vehicles to be employed. As a parallel strategy, I exposed the prospects/subsequent donors to my organization's leadership team. It did seem like I was a director of a show, as I had to constantly make sure the main actors and cast were on the same page.
If all goes well, you may obtain a series of larger gifts. Some relationships will bounce from a cycle of cultivation, solicitation, stewardship to the same cycle over and over again. Over time, be sure not to drink the Kool-Aid. Your relationship with these donors should always be institutional in nature. As you leave the organization, which you will in due course, these donors will hopefully develop the same relationship with your successor. Get over the loss and feel good about the fact that you did your job.
Your goal as director is to keep the sitcom in play from year to year and avoid the show being cancelled. Make sure to properly develop some type of engagement with the entire group. Know each person on an individual basis, and determine what makes each person tick. You need to make people feel important on their own merits, not simply because they are tied to the donor you are trying to cultivate. They know the score without stating the obvious. Over time, with job changes, your name will be scratched from their Christmas card lists. Meanwhile, always show love to the Lucys and Rickys, plus the Freds and Ethels.
Happy Valentine's Day!
F. Duke Haddad, EdD, CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition, he is also president of Duke Haddad and Associates, LLC, and freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the past 13 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration, master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.