Try Harder (and Smarter) to Become a Philanthropic Priority
Giving increased by 1.6% in 2018, according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP), with philanthropic gains being driven exclusively by donors who gave $1,000 or more. The FEP also reports that the number of donors is decreasing.
This reflects what we hear from many nonprofits. Since the great recession in 2008, many donors have reduced the number of nonprofits they support and are focusing on the organizations that mean the most to them.
In 1963, Avis, the rental car company, launched the "We try harder" campaign against its rival Hertz. Avis was the number two company to sector leader Hertz.
For nonprofits, being number one is important in the eyes of donors and volunteers, but not essential. Being second — and perhaps trying harder — is still a winning proposition, and being third still puts you on the awards platform.
As you can see from the FEP, donors who make larger gifts are often making the difference in a nonprofit’s ability to meet goals and budgets.
Being third is still good. But you don’t want to be too far below when it comes to a donor’s philanthropic priorities (unless you are talking about a very, very generous high-net-worth donor). You want to be in the minds — and hearts — of your donors and in the minds and hearts of your volunteers and, especially, your board members.
Not everyone will give to your cause. Accept that. And it doesn’t matter. Your job is to find those who are passionate about your mission and will give.
There has been a little talk lately about “quid pro quo,” which means a favor given or expected in return for something. Too many organizations — and their boards — operate their philanthropy at that level. People make, what is for them, a token gift so that they can then ask their friends for the same.
Instead, they should be implementing a strategy to find those who are truly passionate about their organization’s mission.
The same principles apply for board memberships. A few years ago, I served on four boards and was chair of one and an executive committee member of another. I worked hard to be engaged, but, frankly, it was a strain. And I had high goals for the board that I chaired.
To make a bigger impact, I resigned from two of the boards so that I could truly be engaged at the level needed for the board that I chair.
If you have board members who are not engaged, they are not helping you. And they can’t feel good about their engagement. Figure out where your organization ranks in each board member’s list of philanthropic priorities. I suggest it should fall in the top three — at least, the top five. Consider their other commitments, not only to general nonprofit organizations, but also to a house of worship, their alma maters or where their children or grandchildren might be enrolled.
I recently spoke with a friend who serves on several boards. She explained that she gives far more to some organizations and far less to others. For example, she makes a five-figure annual gift to one of the organizations where she sits on the board. She has considered making a seven-figure gift, but the organization has yet to prove themselves. This is an example of an organization that needs to work on raising their “rating” in terms of board service and philanthropy.
As you might imagine, the magic number is different for varying nonprofits and for varying donors and board members. But be sure that your board members have you as one of their priorities — for time and for giving.
Making these priorities happen is hard work. They take time. Work so that your phone call is among the ones that are returned within a day, and that your emails are the ones that are thoroughly read.
Develop relationships that help donors see you as one of their top philanthropic priorities. This is noble work we do. Challenging, rewarding and noble. Don’t only try harder; try smarter. Concentrate your work so that the people essential to your success consider you a priority.
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.