Could everybody repeat after me: Fundraising is about relationships. And relationships not only take time, they take nurturing. You can’t walk up to a virtual stranger and say “gimme,” and, on the off chance they do, walk away with nary a thank you and expect that the next time they will give to you again.
Yet, this is what so many nonprofit organizations try to do.
I sometimes speak on how to make wise charitable choices. One of things I urge potential donors to do is to look at the stewardship practices of the organization in which they have an interest.
Does that organization provide timely tax receipt with the appropriate substantiation or quid pro quo statements? Six month or a year after a gift was made, do they follow up and let you know how your generosity made a difference? In fact, do they connect with their donors at any time other than when they are asking for another gift?
At first I was surprised, then I got to expect it, when more than one-quarter of every single group I talk to feels that they have made a charitable gift and never received a thank you! My mother, who insisted I write a thank you note for any kindness I received let alone anything concrete, would twirl in her grave.
”If you don’t take care of your friends,” she would tell me, “don’t expect them to take care of you.”
And of course, they don’t. Donors get tired of always being asked for money and getting little if anything in return. Corporate reps get leery every time a nonprofit approaches with hands held out to receive but offering not a whole lot in return.
I know, I know. This is about gifts. We’re talking charity here. People should give without thinking about receiving.
Thinking that way is just naïve. There are so many good organizations out there—so many important, needed missions—that donors have many choices to meet their philanthropic goals. So why would—should—a donor chose yours?
That’s not a rhetorical question. And yes, it does circle back to relationships.
The important relationship is between the prospect or donor and your organization. More importantly is the understanding that it doesn’t start with you. Your needs are not the guide star here. The donor’s needs are.
Make no mistake—donors have very specific needs that must be fulfilled if you are to have a happy and consistent donor. It starts at the beginning—understanding why they may support you.
While your mission plays a role, it actually goes back further than you. Studies point out the very real fact that the most likely donor to any organization is a donor to any other organization. Philanthropic people (or organizations for that matter) are philanthropic. Before you look for wealthy folks, look for those who share whatever their wealth is.
Once you know they are philanthropic, find out what kinds of programs appeal to them. In an ideal world, you’d first always find out what matters to them, and then you’d tell them what you have that matches that interest. But the world isn’t perfect, and sometimes you have a need that must be met, which means that all prospects must first be approached to support that need.
But don’t just jump in with your hands out held. Talk to your prospects. Find out what matters to them. Then tell them of your need but speak from their perspective. Tell them how their gift will do what it is they want done. If your donor wants recognition, talk about naming rights, publicity, whatever you have that will tout their goodness and support to the world.
If they want to do something specific for your clients, make that match your focal point. Don’t make things up—but do connect the dots that show your donor that his or her needs are being met along with yours. And if what you need doesn’t match what they have told you they want, tell them—and then see if there is something else at your organization that they can support.
Above all, remember that isn’t about you and what you think you need. It is about your donors and what they think they need and most of all, it is about your clients and what they really need in order for your organization to meet its mission.
Janet Levine is a consultant who focuses on increasing productivity for nonprofit organizations, their staff and volunteers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her online classes will soon be available at <a href=