Know the Gatekeepers — and the Rules for Fundraising Success
I was distraught. Frustrated. Mad at myself.
We had been talking with a potential client for months. There was synergy — for many reasons we were a match. A perfect match. The client had reviewed a few proposals and let us know that we were the firm it would like to work with.
Then there was a call. A new chief financial officer at a state institution decided that this really needed to go out to bid. We had worked with others at the same institution and this had not happened, but we saw it as due diligence to help our client keep the family happy.
To say that the state bid process was involved is an understatement. We usually pass on such opportunities and did not fully understand the ins and outs. We should have.
After a lunch celebrating a week of hard work refining our original proposal into the bid specifications, we tried to submit the bid. We couldn't find the link. After calls between our team we reached out to the state agent. "The bid closed at 3 p.m.," he shared.
We looked at the original request for proposal that said 5 p.m. in disbelief. One of our team members had spoken with him on what we thought was the day before the deadline, and he shared that it had been extended. He did not share that the time had changed.
"You should have downloaded the new specs," he said. Unfortunately, he and his team had rules (some of them binding, we discovered) that we were not aware of. We really did not know him — but we should have. He was our gatekeeper. We are still hoping that a bit of common sense might prevail, but this tough lesson reminded me about gatekeepers in fundraising.
They can be formal and informal. Influential advisors can serve as gatekeepers to your proposal or inquiry because even in casual conversation they can shut it down.
A client just asked me if a donor ever allows direct access or if it is always through his family foundation chief. I had to think. I had developed a relationship with direct access, but for most, it is through the foundation. But my visits are never directly about gifts or a client, and I didn't want to violate that and lose my access and relationship. We developed a strategy where the client would interact with the donor face to face and she could softly ask for a visit.
We were recently interacting with a major foundation for a client — a closely held foundation. It wasn't like any other we had worked with. Major assets, but its functions seemed decades behind — even an antiquated application form. We began to strategize how we could develop a relationship with the foundation head. Our client had some access to a few of the trustees, but we needed to get a better sense of the dynamics.
We are working to reach out to the trustees and to the foundation director.
We all have gatekeepers and influencers in our lives — and so do our donors. Some are formal, and some are informal. They can be family, friends, staff or professional advisors.
As you develop strategy — your moves management — be sure to learn who they are and even if you feel you have a great relationship with the donor. Don't get caught surprised! Know the gatekeepers, and nurture relationships with them!
Also be sure you know the rules — formal and informal. We all have them — things we will be OK with in a giving process and things that may prompt us to walk away from a gift or an organization.
Things can change. You may not be fully aware of what is going on. Be prepared!
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.