I started my fundraising career at a large, well-known, private research university. The donors and prospects I called were for the most part willing to talk and to meet with me, not because of my charming personality but because of the institution I represented. Fundraising was mostly staff-driven and I was able to bring in a number of quite large gifts.
At some point in my second year of fundraising, I asked a major donor to go with me to a prospect meeting, to talk about his involvement with our institution and—most importantly—the college for which I worked. The result was amazing. It wasn’t so much that it ended with a larger gift, though it did, but that there was a deepening of relationships that would not have otherwise happened.
- The existing donor because more engaged and involved because of his role in helping to cultivate and solicit another donor. He told me some months later that during the meeting with the prospect, he found that he was not moving the other person toward a gift, he was also moving himself to a greater commitment that did result in a larger follow on gift.
- For the prospect, there was the impetus of a peer asking him to “join with me.”
- For me—the development director—there was an enhanced insight into both as their conversation was far more intimate and personal than my conversations with either could ever be.
Not all volunteers, of course, are as easy to work with as this particular volunteer was. He was a sophisticated philanthropist in his own right and understood how the process works. But even with him, my role as the manager of the process was critical.
I had to make sure the appointment was set and confirmed. That my volunteer had all the necessary information. We needed to if not exactly rehearse, ensure that we were on the same page. And we had to agree who was responsible for what—before, during, and after the meetings.
So yes. I did the grunt work. I set up the appointment, made the reservations (in the prospects name!) at the restaurant where he wanted to meet and confirmed the meeting the day before. I picked up my volunteer and I drove. I made sure that the bill was taken care of (for my volunteer who wanted to pay but not in front of the prospect), and made sure that valet parking would bring the prospect’s car around the front as soon as the meeting was done.
After the meeting I followed up, making sure that the prospect got the materials he requested and a few more that we wanted him to have. I set up a second meeting to go over those—and made sure that my volunteer knew, every step of the way, what I was doing and that I followed the advice I continually asked him for.
My job, in other words, was to make sure that the volunteer’s fundraising efforts are successful—whether it results in a gift or not. That means different things at different times, from making the calls to actually making the ask—but always making sure that volunteer is seen as the prime mover and shaker. And that the job is getting done.
Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build stronger, more committed boards. Learn how she can help your organization at http://janetlevineconsulting.com or email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org