Reaching Out — and Reclaiming the Relationship
Have a fundraising challenge that you want to crack? Do you want to be strategic with your efforts and get results? Weary of doing the same old, same old and hoping for different outcomes?
Email me with your particular problem, and I'll arrange a quick consultation offering you a practical solution you can implement. I may even use your situation to share with my readers. Names are changed, of course!
I had the pleasure of speaking with the president and membership director of an independent secondary school a few days back. Carla and Juan had reached out via email, and now we were on a conference bridge. Carla was speaking from California, and Juan was in Georgia.
Although volunteers, these two young people are on a mission. Up front, they told me they want to increase alumni participation in the annual appeals in the next year by 20 points — minimum. Given that the participation rate for alumni at this school is currently around 20 percent, there's plenty of room to grow!
Carla opened our conversation by speaking about the need to "restore trust." Juan immediately brought the issue of giving to the front. I asked them both, so which issue do we need to deal with first — trust or participation?
They told me that one issue dovetails into the other. I asked them to briefly tell me the full story. Ten years ago, the then headmistress decided that the school's future lay not with alumni but with a couple of well-healed foundations that were offering to "remake" the school. With a cooperative governing board, the school embarked upon a metamorphosis — including a name change — all without prior consultation with alumni.
Predictably, alumni began to believe the school no longer valued them or their support. Financial support from alumni donors declined dramatically. Foundation leaders told school leadership not to worry as they were underwriting the school's major finances. Who cares, right?
You know the rest of the story. Five years into the "remaking" of the school into the vision of the foundations' leaders, the two sponsoring foundations felt that they needed to "move on" as the school had "failed" to achieve the lofty new vision they had imagined. The funding — amounting to slightly over 50 percent of the operating budget — was suddenly, and almost without warning, withdrawn. The school's administration and the governing board had made a Faustian bargain and lost.
Carla and Juan have seen the hiring of a new administration and the enlistment of a number of new board members who want to return the school to its roots. Having survived the sucking sound of money leaving, school leadership wants to reach out to alumni but doesn't really know where to begin.
My counsel was to keep it basic; keep it simple. Avoid maudlin mea culpas or grand plans. Begin with the premise that there is residual affection and connection with the school among alumni. Build upon that — one piece at a time. Rekindling the fire, however, will not be a simple matter nor will it necessarily be on the old terms that were once sufficient.
As to where to start, I suggested to Carla and Juan to work with the administration to ask alums what they would like to see. Reach out to them without agenda or program but with an honest desire to reconnect on terms that the alumni set. I told Carla and Juan that the school had two tremendous assets in them and that they should be the vanguard to reach out to alumni for their input.
Gradually, alumni can be brought back into the life of the school. Yes, they could solicit alumni for the annual fund. There need not be a "waiting period" if it was kept low-key. Such a request coupled with a genuine expression of interest could actually work to strengthen the whole effort.
Principle 7 of The Eight Principles is Renew & RefreshTM. Pay particular attention to renewing your relationships with those loyal supporters as you reach out to potential new donors. Never make the mistake of thinking that one can replace the other.
I extend my thanks and very best wishes to Carla and Juan for sharing their situation so candidly.
Let me hear from you concerning your particular situation and the difficulties you face in developing sustainable revenue streams. Email me (info@TheEightPrinciples.com), and I'll arrange a brief consult providing you with a practical solution. I'll choose some of these thorny obstacles to share, along with my insights, in upcoming columns.
Success is waiting. Go out and achieve it!
Larry believes in the power of relationships and the power of philanthropy to create a better place and transform lives.
Larry is the founder of The Eight Principles. His mission is to give nonprofits and philanthropists alike the opportunity to achieve their shared visions. With more than 25 years of experience in charitable fundraising and philanthropy, Larry knows that financial sustainability and scalability is possible for any nonprofit organization or charitable cause and is dependent on neither size nor resources but instead with the commitment to create a shared vision.
Larry is the author of the award-wining book, "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising." He is the Association of Fundraising Professionals' 2010 Outstanding Development Executive and has ranked in the Top 15 Fundraising Consultants in the United States by the Wall Street Business Network.
Larry is the creator of the revolutionary online fundraising training platform, The Oracle League.
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