How many times in your career as a development professional have you heard a colleague, board member or friend say something like, “I could never ask people for money,” like there’s something ill-mannered or unimaginably difficult about it? Similarly, have you ever been called a “professional beggar” or maybe, and this is my personal favorite, has anyone ever referred to you as a “shakedown artist”? There’s actually a terrific individual at one of my current clients who, whenever he see me calls me that–usually followed by something along the lines of, “Have you been out twisting arms and picking pockets today?”
The fact of the matter is people who make these comments, or who disparagingly label the act of seeking financial investments for the missions we all work to advance, do so without any malice or disrespect. Mostly they are just trying to poke fun, or possibly, they are indirectly revealing their own personal anxieties about fundraising.
While there are certainly different strategies associated with how we engage our prospective donors (a potential subject for a future post), the simple question for today is, “How do you view yourself in your role as a development professional?” Are you out there separating people from their money to reach your budget goals or are you building the bridges between the organization/mission and the people who are predisposed to invest in them? Given that we know it is harder/more costly to acquire new donors than it is to retain them, this important question is one that must first be asked of you–the chief development professional.
Why does this matter though – and who really cares how we think of ourselves? Self-perspective matters. Our frame of mind will influence the way we interact with people we are engaging for support through their time, treasure or talent. A key point to remember here is that people will invest in the work of your organization because you are meeting needs, not because you have them.
When our ultimate goal is the money associated with a gift, sponsorship or pledge, then we are facilitating a transactional encounter. With a good story and a reasonably compelling pitch, you should be able to target enough people to achieve this year’s budget. If, however, we focus on the prospective donor’s needs – with a sincere desire to build a bridge between a problem they care about solving and the Organization’s mission/program that offers a solution to that problem – then we’re creating the platform for a lasting relationship that will ultimately lead to greater and more sustainable funding.
It is an even exchange… something for something.
If we do this correctly, it will never be about the money. It will be about the impact the donor can have when they travel across that bridge to a new or deeper engagement with the Organization. If we honor the relationship over the money there will be future opportunities to accept support from the people who already value the difference their investments can and do make in the lives of real people.
What’s the best way to know when you have built a bridge and forged a real connection based on the donor’s needs? When, in the midst of one of your conversations they ask you, “How can I help?”
This feature was written by David Gee. David has been a non-profit professional for nine years with particular expertise in capital campaigns, major gifts and donor stewardship. David joined the Laurus Strategies team as a Senior Consultant after serving as The Chicago Bar Foundation’s Director of Development for over seven years. Prior to that, he spent 18 years working as a professional actor in Chicago. Among his volunteer activities, David currently serves on the Donors Forum’s Resource Development Committee and the Cara Program’s Major Gift Committee.
Headquartered in Chicago, Laurus Strategies has a passion for helping nonprofits advance their mission. Laurus Strategies’ Non Profit and Public Affairs Consulting Group provides a wide range of fundraising, strategic planning, training and leadership services with a proven track record of success. Together, the team has over 80 years of experience and has helped clients raise over $650,000,000.