Maintain Your Fundraising Relationships
In fundraising communications, it is important to tailor your message as much as possible to the recipient. This can mean segmentation on a larger scale or individual personalization on a smaller scale. The same is true about fundraising relationships.
... and yes, our field is still all about relationships. To be most effective, the people who are closest to the donor or prospective donor should play a key role in nurturing the relationship.
Repeatedly, I’ve seen organizations—large and small—really shortchange their potential and dishonor a relationship by awkwardly moving a relationship—often more concerned about “credit” than honoring the donor. One major university takes prospects at $1 million and up from its colleges where the relationships are, where the students and faculty are, and where they know more about potential projects and outcomes.
Another major university recently hosted a world-renowned speaker. This alumnus was pitched for a gift after their first visit in several years. Instead, they should have done the research and taken the time to deepen this relationship, allowing the alumnus to fully enjoy the speaking opportunity and take advantage of existing affinities and relationships that were not maximized.
I recently received an email on planned giving from one of my alma maters. It did not come from the president or a known staff member, rather from a consultant who was being portrayed as a staff member. The message should have come from someone within the institution. In the rare circumstance that the gift is complicated, the very qualified planned giving consultant could be brought in. Every member of the staff should be versed on initiating conversations on planned gifts—focused on shared values, legacy and the like. This means that donors will have conversations for as long as possible with the staff they know and feel most comfortable with.
When best implemented, fundraising is relationship-focused, honors the donor, is undertaken with the highest ethical standards—and sincerity—and is a team effort.
Support existing relationships and work to enhance them—do not take them away from their origins. A call or visit from the president or another leader often enhances a relationship. Special invitations to events can be meaningful. However, acknowledge that fundraising is a team approach. Don’t cast aside the volunteers and staff who have strong existing relationships. This also provides a leveraging of resources and expands capacity.
In higher education and other larger organizations with branches, division or multiple sites, this means empowering and coaching leaders at the levels closest to the donors to nurture relationships. This not only is a valuable leadership development tool, but also can add to job satisfaction.
This coaching is vital and must be ongoing—and accompanied by accountability—building fundraising into the job descriptions and expectations. While this is a big investment it will yield far greater results.
Remember to keep and honor the sources of your donor relationships and use these genuine relationships, history and knowledge to deepen the relationships and meet the needs of both the donor and your organization.
It is not about credit. It is not about you. It is about opportunities to be a part of a transformational experience.
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.