The Long Ask

September 26, 2011

It always baffles me how little time organizations will spend stewarding and cultivating their donors. The less time an organization spends acknowledging and cultivating its donors the fewer donors they will retain. In this kind of an organization their top donors are current board members because that is the only group with which they have spent significant time. Many of these organizations never ask for a gift they just cross their fingers and hope that the money will come in.

Take time throughout the entire year to connect with your donors. Know what season your donors would like to give and set up a schedule of reaching out. You do not need to talk with them every single month but you should at least touch base with them quarterly.

Depending on the level of gift your “touch” may be very different. If it is someone that likes to give $20 or $100, don’t spend all of your money cultivating them throughout the year. Find ways to send them electronic messages or newsletters so they know what’s going on. For your donors who are major donors take time to connect with them individually. These connection points should NOT be about asking for money. One of them should be immediately after they give and it should be a thank you.

If your donors see that you care enough to build a year-long relationship with them, then when it comes time for them to give it is a very different experience for you and for them. When you talk to someone once a year when they give it feels very transactional and impersonal. When a relationship has been built throughout the entire year a donor can give knowing it will go to continue the good work for which it was originally intended.

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Note to self: This is not a hat in hand.

September 19, 2011

I have a friend who has recently stepped into a new role as a fundraiser and is struggling. Lots of calls + lots of effort = no new money for his organization. It’s a tired and challenging equation that if we are not careful can erode our posture of passionate advocates for our respective organizations into anxious and worrisome cold callers, complete with signature white knuckles and high blood pressure. He told me the other day that it ‘feels like I’m going to have to start begging.’

Hopefully, none of us have been where he is at. More likely though, and if we’re honest, we all have.

The fruit of our labors are relationships that generate investments of treasure, time, and talent. In seasons of fiscal and donor management drought there are many dangers, but perhaps the greatest is our losing sight of and trust in the mission. Though giving may decrease at times, and relationships may dwindle, our passion and trust in the work must not waver. We must never resort to philosophical posture of begging, no matter what.

I’m totally guilty of the hat in hand mentality myself. After 7 years in this bizarro world of development and bearing witness to some amazing giving, I am still convicted all too often of how much I think about all the reasons someone has not to give. When I need to get out of this rut and recharge, re-focus, and re-dedicate I lean on guys like Henry Nouwen to give me the juice:

“Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer people an opportunity to participate with us in our mission and vision. Fundraising is precisely the opposite of begging. When we seek to raise funds we are not saying, ‘Please, could you help us out because lately it’s been hard.’ Rather, we are declaring ‘We have a vision that is amazing and exciting! We are inviting you to invest yourself!”

Let it be known that it is a privilege to participate in the organizations we represent! Let it be known that people have the need to give just as much as our organizations have the need to receive! Let it be known that even if giving has stunk for the last few months, our mission is still worth it! Lives are being changed, goals are being met, and we continue to invite you to join us! Phew, that’s better. Now back to work.

How do you stay excited about your organization when donors aren’t responding how you’d like them to? What are sources of encouragement that you lean into when you’re not seeing the results you hope for?

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Edward Sumner is currently serving as the Director of Development at Puget Sound Christian Clinic.  He is a Jesus guy, proud Papa, and an advocate for social justice deeply committed to loving and serving the least and the lost in our communities.


Getting An “A” In Nonprofit Board Fundraising

September 5, 2011

I saw this title to a blog recently and thought, “Wow, three words in one sentence that make most board members shudder: Nonprofit – Board – Fundraising.” For far to many board members they’d rather die than be asked to be on the fundraising committee. “Let me help out with program or communications or governance issues, but please don’t ask me to ask for money.”

And the number one complaint by Nonprofit CEO’s and Development Staff are board members who won’t fundraise. Why is this so hard? I had an acquaintance recently tell me of his experience on a board. He didn’t realize when he joined the board that he would be so uncomfortable with the prospect of fundraising and he resigned rather than try his hand at it.

The author of the blog went on to briefly list three things that help to effectively involve board members in fundraising. They deserved more discussion.

  1. Clearly define and communicate expectations. Sometimes people are recruited to a board without explicitly spelling out expectations. The organization is eager to fill board spots and doesn’t communicate the fundraising responsibility that goes along with the job for fear they will scare the person off, and then are disappointed when the new leader doesn’t clamor to help raise money. Board job descriptions need to be specific. Board members should be expected to give and the amount or the range should be stated. They also need to help draw resources to the nonprofit by actively participating in fundraising events.
  2. Appropriately equip them with the training and resources needed. As fundraising professionals we spend a lot of time learning the latest best practice for our profession. We attend conferences, hear presentations through our professional associations and take trainings. All designed to make us better fundraisers. But how much time do we spend training our board members for their fundraising responsibilities? It’s rare to find a natural fundraiser among your volunteers. Let your board know you’re there to help and provide all the support and training they need and then hold their hand through the process.
  3. Sufficiently empower them to execute those specific responsibilities. Board members should feel confident as they step outside their comfort zone to make that critical ask. Help them learn to express their own passion for the mission. Create board mentors who have been through the process before, who can provide advice and support as the volunteer new to fundraising makes that first foray into the unknown. As they gain confidence they will find that their own excitement and commitment to the cause will make asking easy and fun.

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Jane Kuechle is an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations and to individuals who want to make a difference. To read more of her work and connect with her visit her blog: http://www.kuechleconsulting.com/blog/