How to Tell If Your Major Gift Program Is Transactional
The choice of words we use often carry more meaning than we might intend.
You’ve had the experience, I am sure, of saying something that was meant to be softer than what you really meant, and the other person calls you out with: “Well, what are you really trying to say?” And you are caught having to explain what you really mean.
Or you use a word that carries a different meaning for the other person than it does for you. And once that word is out, you can’t take it back. You can only watch the effect of it on the other person. And you feel regret. Or you want to explain.
The interesting thing about the choice of words is that they can reveal what we really mean — what is in our hearts is now out in public. Or they can change how we actually think about things. That is why there is always a caution about using negative language as it can affect the person receiving it and also the person using it.
The older I get, the more I have trained myself to keep my mouth shut — to not just blurt out what is in my head and to be careful about how my words affect others.
All of this sensitivity on language and words has caused me to often reflect on one word and a two-word phrase that are often used in fundraising in general and particularly in major gifts. Jeff and I have written about this before. Here they are:
- Annual fund
The use of these words makes me uncomfortable. Here’s why.
I know that those who use this word means “donor” when they use it. At least I think they do — although the word prospect is often used for someone who is not a donor but could be (a prospective donor).
But when you use the word prospect to talk about a donor, you reduce the person to an economic source versus a human being who is a partner. That is why I object to the use of the word. Your donors are people with hopes, dreams and wishes for our hurting planet. And they should be talked about and considered as partners in what you do, not potential givers.
Giving is the second thing they do. Being a partner and participating in your great mission is the first thing. It is important to keep this hierarchy in perspective.
And if you keep using the word “prospect” to describe them, believe me, you will treat them as a transaction. You will have spoken that reality into existence. Please do not do that. Call them donors or partners. That is what they are. And they are one of the most precious relationships you have been privileged to steward.
You might say I am splitting hairs here. That it really doesn’t matter — prospect or donor — it is all interchangeable. It does matter. It will shape how you treat them.
And a person who is not a donor, are they really a prospect, or are they a potential donor? You might be wagging your head impatiently as you read this. That’s OK. I understand. Just believe me, your choice of words defines your valuing system. And what you value will drive your behavior.
Annual Fund or Annual Giving
An unfortunate choice of words to describe an economic activity that happens once a year. In essence, the annual fund is about money and the donor giving one time during the year. It is not about the relationship. It is not about getting great things done. It is not about investment and the long term. It is a one time a year transactional event. And that is what is wrong with it. It suppresses giving, reduces donors to sources and is strategically and economically flawed as a concept.
Let us show you the numbers of the organizations who use these systems: high attrition, low average gifts. It is one of the worst fundraising concepts around.
Donors who are invested in your cause will give more than once a year, will have a proclivity to upgrade their giving, will get involved more in your mission and will be more loyal.
Words. Easy to toss around. But they carry great meaning. That is why Jeff and I are relentlessly talking about the use of these words — because we want to be a part of contributing to a shift in major gifts, from a transactional paradigm to a relational one.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.