by Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant, HUB Philanthropic Solutions
Back in the early 90’s when I first began my career in fundraising, I had some terrific mentors. I worked with a wonderful team — some of us were as green as we could be and others were seasoned and willing to share their knowledge and expertise. One of my mentors, Jim, had been in development for more than 30 years. He had joined our team when our organization merged with another. He was in charge of major gifts and he spent the majority of his time out of the office meeting with donors.
When Jim arrived on the scene, he changed things up. All of us were charged with our own major gift portfolio. Jim had weekly meetings with some of the newbies like me, and each week, we talked about “moves” with our major donors and what we were doing to build relationships with them.
Jim would share stories about taking someone to lunch, or visiting a donor at home, or providing a tour of a new unit of one of the hospitals that was in the healthcare system in which we worked. In the beginning, my report every week was geared toward letters I’d drafted, or notes I’d written or birthday cards I’d mailed off, or a few phone calls I’d placed. Jim got a bit frustrated with me at one meeting and told me to “get out of the office and meet some of your folks!”
I’d realized that all of the “moves” I was making were “safe” moves. I was intimidated and hesitant to take my major gift work to the next level. After my “chat” with Jim, I started picking up the phone and making appointments and sitting down with folks and learning so much about why they gave to the organization and what they were passionate about. They shared their opinions with me about the services the organization provided and also told personal stories of why they were important. I learned A LOT from Jim.
As you’ve heard so many times, development is a relationship business. We can’t develop relationships with our donors when we are sitting in our office. While many of us wear many hats, make it your priority every week to call a determined number of donors and set appointments to meet with them. Talk with your donors and engage them further with your mission.
I ran into Jim a few years back and as he shared news of his retirement years, I told him how much he helped me learn and grow as a development professional. I also shared with him that major gift and campaign work has been a focus of my career for quite some time. In old school fashion, he shot me a big grin and gave me the best “atta girl” I’ve ever received! So, whether you’ve been in the field for quite some time and need a nudge, or you’re a newbie like I was back then, make 2016 the year to get out of the office and make weekly donor visits a top priority.