Solicitation Stories: Featured Fundraiser Tom McLagan

The second part of an interview with the current Featured Fundraiser. Check out the previous post to learn more.

Do you have any memorable donor visits or solicitations that you’d like to share?

One time about eight years ago I got an emergency year-end call from a young couple that wanted to make a large gift. He was an ‘up and comer’ in his company and had been awarded some stock certificates, which I had to rush over to their home to physically pick up. They wanted to hear about the kinds of programs into which they could invest this sizeable gift. The thing that struck me was that this couple was so sincere and compassionate. This guy was doing really well at work, but he wasn’t one of those jerks climbing the ladder over everyone else’s back. You could just tell. He actually started crying as I was opening the materials for them, and explaining the kinds of things their gift could do. They ended up doubling the amount of the gift they were intending to make – which was already substantial. But that wasn’t the best part of it for me. It was knowing that I had made a connection between these donors and their desire to make a difference, out of their own abundance, for someone else in need.

What is the most frustrating or difficult thing about fund development?

The most difficult thing about fundraising has nothing to do with donors or asking for money. In my experience it has always been the coordination among the departments within the charity. Though organizations have different terms for them, every charity has three main functions: the fundraising function, the program function, and the administrative function. Think of them as the three legs of a stool. These departments each attract people who are of fundamentally different personality types, and more importantly, different orientations. The program people are oriented toward the end beneficiaries of the charity, the fundraising team is oriented toward the donors and the administrative team is oriented toward rules and infrastructure. At least, these things should be true and they usually are, because those jobs attract those kinds of people respectively.

I have worked in a very small charity, a very large charity, and one that is somewhere in between, and I am constantly frustrated by the lack of communication, but more fundamentally the lack of basic understanding or worldviews among the three departments. A charity can not capitulate to every donor demand or it risks going off mission. It can not be too administratively oriented or it will grind to a halt under a burden of unnecessary rules and paper. And if it is too indulgent of the needs of the program team then it can lead to proposals that are unmarketable to donors. Each of these scenarios represents an unbalanced approach. What frustrates me is the propensity of most of us to fight for the dominance of our own perspective over those of the others, rather than the realization that if one of the legs is longer than the others, it makes for an awkward stool!

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