It Is All About the Donor
I felt the potential donor’s pain. It was very clear, and their level of frustration high.
A friend had long been involved with a college at a major university. Over nearly a decade, the college’s chief development officer had become a good friend to the prospective major donor and their family and was shepherding the relationship through some incredible wins for the family and the institution.
About a year ago, a relatively new vice president intervened in the relationship. Evidently, they felt that all seven-figure prospects should be their purview, not the college or unit where the relationship was based and had history.
The vice president began meeting with my friend, even without the college’s knowledge. The college would learn of the meetings through my friend. It was very disjointed, but moreover, it was not donor-focused. Evidently, the vice president was not able to relate the proposal to the prospective donor’s family, and the vice president made it clear that there was “a way we do things” at the university. The prospective donor sensed that the gift was no longer about impacting student lives or the college.
A basic tenant of fundraising is that you always visit at a location most comfortable for the prospective client. Well, the most recent visit with my friend, again scheduled without the college’s involvement, was held at a busy restaurant—noisy, hard to order and with a long line. This breakfast a basic development rule—when discussing a gift, you meet at a private location where you can have a confidential discussion.
It hurts our profession when members are not donor-focused. Savvy donors can pick up on sincerity.
David Snow, one of our wonderful senior consultants, was sharing about his decades of experience hiring first as a business owner and then as a chief advancement officer and CEO of a nonprofit. He always looks for integrity and passion for the cause.
In this case, the chief advancement officer is in their institution in less than 10 years. Passion for a cause shows. Integrity means honesty in all relationships, and it also means putting a donor first, not your institutional or personal needs.
Fundraising is at its best a team approach: allow and empower staff with the closest relationship to continue that relationship—not to move a relationship among staff because of some artificial structure or a desire to get credit. You can find appropriate ways to show support from higher levels, such as invitations to special events, etc., but keep those closest engaged throughout. And be prepared to celebrate success together—for the donor, for those who will benefit … and yes, for the institution.
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.