The AFP International Fundraising Conference

Uncategorized | 0 comments | by Jennifer Lehman


MAP Founder and CEO, Schuyler Lehman, is presenting at The Association of Fundraising Professional’s (AFP) International Fundraising Conference on Tuesday, May 2nd from 9:15- 10:30 am in room 2022, Moscone West Convention Center. This is the 54th Annual International Fundraising Conference. The conference ‘brings together a community of leading funders and fundraisers exploring new strategies for social innovation and community impact.’ More information for the conference is located on the Conference Website . Schuyler will present on the topic of Crafting the Donor Story with Donnita Travis, Founder and Executive Director of By the Hand Club for Kids. By the Hand Club for Kids is a Christ-centered, after-school program that takes kids by the hand and walks with them through college, helping them have abundant life—mind, body and soul. More information about By the Hand Club for Kids can be found at http://bythehand.org/ Can’t make it to the International AFP Conference? A webinar on the topic of Crafting the Donor Story is available at MAP Resources

read more

Finding and Keeping a Development RockStar

Development office | 0 comments | by Sheri Hodde

Losing a development officer can have serious implications on a nonprofit’s mission. And finding the right replacement is a process that is rarely done well. There are many opinions on what the ideal characteristics are for a good development officer. Unfortunately, most of them miss the mark and bring little value to the search and hiring process. Here is another take on how to find and keep a Development RockStar and help bring an end to the revolving door of the development office.

There are some in our industry who believe they are protecting the development profession by denying the truth of the following statistic: the average tenure in the development field is only 18-24 months. When you consider what is entrusted to development professionals and the hassle involved with rehiring, it is a wonder we don’t give that alarming statistic more time and attention. The reasons for high turnover are numerous and warrant another article of its own. The simple answer is that most nonprofits spend too much time and effort looking for someone who looks qualified on paper, but not enough time finding people with the right innate skills.

The idea that a development officer should have all of the “technical know-how” before being hired is a flawed perspective. Unless you are in the market for a special events coordinator, the traits you are looking for in a “RockStar Development Officer” are not learned or academic. Rather, they are God-given.

The development profession is not brain surgery. And while it sounds cliché to say it, development really is about relationships. So consider the following characteristics as you seek to expand or replace members of your development team:

A kind face – I am not talking about beauty here, but rather a quality that we all recognize when we see it. When someone appears to be kind, we are far more open to engaging him or her in conversation, or taking the next step in starting a relationship. This is the first impression, and it really does make a difference in how effectively someone is able to gain access to your donors.

A pleasant demeanor – In other words, someone who actually is Is he or she easy to engage in a conversation? If someone is awkward or clumsy with casual conversation with you, then it is likely a donor will have the same experience. Conversation is foundational to building a relationship.

Assertiveness – Not aggressiveness, but a pleasant assertiveness. This is critical because your Development Officer must be capable of guiding and influencing the relationships he/she builds. To be clear, I am not referring to a comfort with asking for large amounts of money from a donor. In fact, if someone didn’t express some anxiety with “asking,” then that might count against him or her. It is normal to feel anxiety with challenging donors to move out of their comfort zones. The art of asking is something that can and should be taught within the culture of your mission.

Sold on your mission – One of the most common reasons for high turnover in the development world is a lack of loyalty to a mission. You must find someone who will represent your mission with passion and conviction. For a private school, I would strongly consider an alumnus or parent of an alumnus for this reason. If you are a social service mission, then consider reviewing your donor base or volunteer force for serious candidates. While your intent should always be to offer a competitive salary, you want to hire someone who is not only looking for money, but also has a true desire to further your mission.

Communication skills – The one academic characteristic that I believe is vital. Any serious candidate must have excellent written and verbal communication skills. I would even suggest building a writing test into the interview process to ensure your prospective hire can write a good letter.

So there you have it: my recipe for success. Find the person with the qualities you can’t teach. All the other skills can and should be taught in the context of your tradition and culture.

There are many quality sources for the academic aspects of the job, including books, workshops, conferences, and development consultants who serve as mentors. Some nonprofits actually utilize a development consultant to conduct the search, help with the hire, and then train the new Development Officer. If this is your path, make sure the consultant accurately represents your culture and values to avoid short tenure.

With some simple adjustments to your ideal profile, you, too, can avoid the pain and hassle associated with hiring a new Development Officer every 18 months – because Development RockStars are not hired; they are grown with education and care.

read more

Time to Plan

Fundraising | 0 comments | by Sheri Hodde

It’s a busy time of year for us at MAP. I know it’s a busy time for you, as well.

It’s always right around this time of year when I fail to remember to do some really important things. Perhaps, most importantly, setting aside time in the coming months to do some serious strategic planning for the year ahead. I know that many of you forget this, too.

Let me acknowledge here that not all nonprofit organizations operate on the same fiscal year. But most schools, and many other types of nonprofits, share the same fiscal year of July 1 through June 30. This article is meant for you. If your organization has a different fiscal year, simply adjust my timeline to fit yours.

So, why worry now about next year’s fundraising plan when we still have so much to do in order to achieve this year’s budget? The answer is simple – because planning never gets the priority or attention that it deserves. Time gets away from us quickly as we sail through the late winter and early spring. There are a large number of events conducted in this timeframe that consume our time, effort and energy. We have to navigate Spring Break and Easter. Next thing we know, it is early June, and we are only a few weeks away from starting over.

So, my message this month is short and sweet:

Today – set aside time on your calendar in April to create your plan for next year

Tomorrow – send out meeting requests to those whom you want to be part of the planning process (staff members, development committee members, etc.)

Later this week – take 15 minutes to draft your ideal planning agenda for the few days you will focus on this task

Invite an outside source (mentor, colleague, or consultant) to join the planning process.

Doing these tasks now will free you from worrying about them for the next four months. You may just impress your boss as well. But most importantly, you will find that the planning process yields great results.

The goal of every nonprofit is to grow the mission. Growing the mission requires growth in the budget. Growth in the budget requires more operational fundraising from the development office. Significant growth in operational funding requires sound strategic planning. Sound strategic planning results from giving it attention and priority. Take the four easy steps above and you won’t be sorry later this year.

read more

So, what is a major gift, anyway?

Uncategorized | 0 comments | by Sheri Hodde

This is a seemingly innocent question that elicits responses all over the charts. Nearly every nonprofit uses the term ‘major gift’ and has a quick definition of its meaning, but no two definitions are the same.

The surface-level definition of a major gift in most nonprofits is a specific size gift. A large nonprofit might define a major gift as $25,000 or more from a single source within a single fiscal year. A smaller nonprofit may define a major gift as $1,000 (and sometimes less), depending on the size and maturity of the donor base.

To many nonprofit boards, a major-gifts effort is simply about asking a segment of the donor base to consider a larger gift. Some slightly more creative boards, still believing the process is transactional, might include giving societies to recognize these larger donors. “Donors will just give more because we are asking and we need it, right?” My personal favorite oxymoron is the term ‘major donor marketing,’ implying that major gifts are the result of this impersonal promotion strategy.

Now that I have put myself out there and taken a bit of an arrogant and self-righteous stance on major-gifts fundraising, let me walk it back a little. I recognize that all nonprofits want to have donors who give large gifts annually in support of their noble missions. Development professionals and board members are continually thinking of new ideas that will produce such donors. It stands to reason that any approach utilized must, at some point, involve deliberately asking prospective donors to consider larger gifts. I agree with and support this train of thought. But let’s dig a little deeper into what major-gifts fundraising should truly be about.

The most common misunderstanding of major-gifts fundraising is that it’s about simply asking for larger gifts from prospective donors who have a lot of money. Don’t get me wrong, larger gifts are clearly an objective of major-gifts fundraising and often the result, but large gifts cannot be our entire focus. Defining major-gifts fundraising as securing large gifts is like defining dating as getting married. Yes, people often date to find the right spouse and, ultimately, get married, but if the focus of every date is to propose marriage, most first dates will not yield a second date.

What you invest in something is almost always proportionate to what you get out of it. This life rule is true for most anything worthwhile. As kids, most of us wanted a quick fix to our challenges and rarely wanted to put in all of the hours practicing the piano (or the like) that would produce the best result. We know in our personal lives today that our most precious relationships (God, family and friends) require great effort to build and maintain.

This rule applies as much to fundraising as it does to any other aspect of our lives. There is no quick fix if we are to experience the success of engaging donors in support of the mission we represent. Although it sounds cliché to say it, development truly is about relationships. Each donor connects with your mission in a unique way.

Our goal as development professionals is to create a path for each donor to grow in relationship with the mission and, ultimately, to enrich that donor’s life in some meaningful way.

One symptom of a deep and healthy donor relationship is a large gift. Contrary to popular belief, large gifts are not simply given for the asking – at least if the gift is to be sustained. Large gifts represent investment from a donor into a mission with an expectation of some return. The return might be seeing the direct impact of his/her giving, or any other result that brings the donor satisfaction and joy.

If we believe that the large gift was given just because we asked, then we are destined to be disappointed when the donor chooses to direct his/her giving to another mission in the future.
The bottom line: major-gifts fundraising should really be called relationship-based fundraising, because that is the most fundamental definition. If large donors are not engaged in some reciprocal and meaningful relationship with the nonprofit’s mission and its ambassador, then the funding will likely be short lived.  Sustainable major gifts fundraising requires a strategy and a deliberate effort to develop, deepen and maintain relationships.

The next time you are asked the question: “what is a major gift?,” consider the following answer: “A major gift in our organization is one that represents a meaningful and personal commitment from a donor who is in relationship with both our mission and with us.” If this becomes the focus of your efforts, the size of the gifts will not only grow, but also be sustainable.

read more

Apples or Oranges

Fundraising | 0 comments | by Sheri Hodde

All too often, the term “major gifts fundraising” is misused, misrepresented, and misunderstood. Nearly every nonprofit professes to do some version of major gifts fundraising, and all consulting firms claim to be major gift experts. However, I believe that few nonprofit organizations have a true major gifts program and even fewer consulting firms grasp the philosophy behind a quality relationship-based funding strategy. In fact, major gifts fundraising often becomes a game of confusing oranges for apples.

We all know that painting an orange red doesn’t really change it into an apple. At first glance, we might think we see an apple, but we quickly realize the difference. Our ability to discern an apple-colored orange from a real apple comes from our knowledge of how a real apple looks, feels, smells and tastes. However, if we did not possess that knowledge, it would be more challenging to perceive the difference.

So what does that have to do with major gifts fundraising?

First, it’s important to agree on a definition of major gift fundraising. It is not simply about asking people for more money, although that is the essence of how it is commonly defined (and constitutes the metaphorical red paint on the orange). Major gifts, or transformational gifts, the term I will usefor the remainder of this article to make a distinction, must represent a philosophy and approach that permeates all aspects of a nonprofit organization.

Transformational giving is the result of creating a unique experience for a single donor, crafted around his or her passions and interests, and built on a solid and trusting relationship nurtured over time. The term “transformational” describes the effect on every part of the relationship and decision-making process – nonprofit leaders, mission and donor.

It is challenging, indeed, for most nonprofit leaders to discern the difference between something called “major gifts fundraising” and what constitutes a true quality, relationship-based, transformational gift strategy. Most have not experienced or witnessed such an approach.

Transformational giving represents the greatest growth potential for every nonprofit, regardless of size and type – no exceptions. From the largest universities to smallest social service agencies, there is always untapped capacity in giving waiting to be realized. Whether you are a part-time development director or part of a 50-member development staff, there is potential for you to reach a fundraising level far beyond your current one.

However, in order for transformational giving to happen, the nonprofit must be willing to reframe the way it thinks about relational fundraising. It cannot come as a result of simply getting the development director some training; he or she must also have the support, participation and complete buy-in of senior staff, the board, communications team, and finance department. If not, the change will be superficial – like painting an orange red.

Let’s consider another analogy: most of us attempt to lose a few pounds at one time or another. We buy diet books or try fad diets or weight loss systems. The result – we lose a few pounds, but find that it is difficult to maintain the weight loss. That is because we rarely allow our lifestyle to be changed. We go back to eating, exercising and living the way we always have, and then are disappointed that the weight loss was temporary.

This is a perfect analogy for the challenges a development office faces as it attempts to build a major or transformational gifts program. Permanent change in a development philosophy is as difficult to achieve as permanent weight loss – but it is possible. Here is some advice as you plan the year ahead and seek to implement true transformational gifts fundraising:

Make sure you have buy-in and support from your boss

Partner with a board member or two to ensure the entire organization understands the philosophy and vision of the strategy

Beware of the consultants who, like diet books and fads, bring only superficial change

Find a consultant who is a trusted advisor and who will function more like a personal trainer to guide, support, and help you through all aspects of institutional change

You represent a mission that wants to grow and requires funding to do so. Believe that there is enormous potential within your existing donor base that can be realized with a quality, transformational gift strategy. Getting the right guidance and support will help you to avoid the frustration of misfires and temporary gain.

read more

Mid-Level Strategy

Donors | 0 comments | by Sheri Hodde

As a career consultant who has worked with countless nonprofits, I spend most of my time focusing on the top of each client’s donor portfolio – the largest gifts. Helping a development staff, Board and executive leadership establish a sound, relationship-based principal gifts strategy provides the greatest short-term gain, as well as long-term revenue retention. But where does long-term growth come from? The answer or “secret sauce” to a thriving and growing development operation is a strategic mid-level donor strategy.

For most small- to medium-sized nonprofits, the monthly (sometimes daily) challenge is to raise enough money to keep the door open and the mission alive. It is truly a discipline to take the time to plan strategically for the future and have the patience to wait for the results of your efforts. Investing today when we may not see the return for a few years goes against our fast-paced “I want it now” culture. For those of you who are parents, this probably sounds familiar.  Nowhere does this principle apply more than in parenting. As a father of four kids, I consistently attempt to impart my wisdom to them about the foreign concept of delayed gratification.

For a nonprofit, the real questions that must be answered are:

Where will our next 25 to 50 major donors come from?

How does a smaller donor grow into a major donor?

How can we prepare for the day when our current top donors are gone or unable to continue funding the mission by themselves?

The answer: build a solid mid-level donor strategy!

So let’s start by defining what a mid-level donor strategy is. My definition will surprise you because it has little to do with the amount donors give and everything to do with the manner in which they are engaged by the organization. A solid mid-level strategy is about transitioning the donor from a transactional means of giving (typically events and direct mail) to a relationship-based form of giving. In short, a mid-level donor strategy should be about transitioning a donor’s relationship from the mailbox to a person.

A vital resource necessary to establish a good mid-level donor strategy is the person who will be the champion and ambassador for a mid-level donor portfolio. Ideally, this is a full-time member of the development staff. In a small nonprofit, this person may be a part-timer, board member or volunteer. Regardless, it is the role and responsibility of this person to personally relate to the mid-level segment of donors.

Relating to the mid-level donors can take many forms, as long as it involves personal interaction. Personal interaction means phone conversations or small group meetings. It does not include emails, tweets, or voice messages. Remember, the aim is to establish a personal relationship – not simply raise money. The primary goal is to engage donors who have given through mass-marketing efforts and, over time, promote those donors to the major and principal gifts portfolio. This implies that the donor is now ready for a face-to-face, personal relationship plan.

For those of you who have attended our workshops or webinars, you have probably heard me walk through the relationship pyramid as an illustration of a sound development strategy. But the relationship pyramid is also an accurate picture of relationships in our personal lives. At the bottom of the pyramid are all of the people we know – perhaps our Facebook friends or holiday card list. At the top of the pyramid are our best friends in the world – the two or three people in whom we invest the most.

We meet new people every day and add them to our personal portfolio of friends and acquaintances. Some of those we meet move into deeper relationship with us. A few make it to the top. The point of the illustration is that there is a path for some of the people we meet to move into deeper relationship with us. So, too, should be the case for a new donor who gives through your mass marketing efforts. It is the mid-level donor strategy (the secret sauce in the middle) that connects the more impersonal transactional fundraising to the personal, transformational fundraising.

So, take some time to think about the broader long-term strategy of your development efforts. Invest today in a mid-level strategy and watch how your major gifts efforts benefit in the years ahead.

read more

Managing a Major Gifts Portfolio: It’s About People, Not Process!

Donors | 0 comments | by Sheri Hodde

The very term “major gifts” is intimidating to many. What does it mean? Who are these so-called major donors? These are the questions asked every day by organizations that haven’t yet ventured into a relational model of fundraising.

In some regard, the fundraising world has changed dramatically since I started consulting with non-profits over 30 years ago. Technology has put a new face on much of what happens in a development office, from the way it communicates to the way it records results and measures progress. However, one area that technology has not replaced, and I personally believe never will, is the manner and means of communicating with the large donor.

If I asked you to describe your social life outside of work, you would likely talk about a group of friends associated with things like your church, neighborhood or sports teams. These are all friends that we make through social activities and maintain in a variety of ways – most certainly including face time. This hasn’t really changed much in my lifetime, either.

The amount of time we choose to invest in some personal relationships is significantly more than in other relationships. So, what are the criteria for choosing the specific relationships in which we invest our time? Simple – we invest significantly in relationships that provide us with the greatest return on that investment. If you lock yourself in your home and choose to live life as a recluse, the relationships in which you have invested would soon suffer. If the only means of communication with the people you know is an annual holiday card, then a card is probably all that you will get in return.

Back to major gifts fundraising……

The same logic applies to your donor base. The degree to which you invest in specific donor relationships is directly proportional to the return on that investment. If the only means you use to communicate is a piece of direct mail or an e-blast, don’t be surprised if your return is proportional to that investment.

So how does this relate to managing a major gifts portfolio? It begs the question: how do you spend your time? If it is behind a desk most of the time managing technology, then you are probably living life more closely to the recluse. If you are out having coffee and muffins with donors every day (something technology can’t do for you), then you are probably building some important relationships. And this is the foundational component to successful major gifts fundraising.

Many of you right now are replying, “I am already doing this.” Great! Now let’s talk about how to manage your work more efficiently. The most common error made in major gifts fundraising is with portfolio size. How many donor relationships can you realistically develop and maintain? Not that many.

Let’s go back to your social life for a minute. How many best friends can you have? Not that many. It takes time to build and maintain a close friendship. If our friend portfolio gets too big, we find ourselves with scheduling conflicts and inevitably irritating some friends for choosing others over them. If we believe that key friendships don’t require time and attention, then we are sadly mistaken. We too often take relationships for granted and then are surprised and disappointed when they come to an end.

The same is true with major donors. These relationships are too often taken for granted when we say things like, “We don’t need to do anything special for our donors – they give because they love our mission” or “Our donors don’t want recognition – they give for the right reasons.” Then, one day, a major donor stops giving to your organization, and instead, gives to the organization that better meets his/her passions and interests.

Now, to the close of this speech…

Invest in a few key relationships that are vital to funding your mission.

Make your major gifts portfolio look like your friend portfolio – some friends are more important than others.

If you are a full-time major gifts officer, start with 50 or so donors, initially – it’s best to err on the side of too few. If you have half your time allocated to this kind of work, focus on 25 or so.

And don’t get too hung up on process. Remember, these are people giving for a reason. Try to discover that reason and act on it. A greater investment in these key donor relationships will pay off in dividends.

read more

When is the right time to engage a professional fundraising firm?

Fundraising | 0 comments | by Sheri Hodde

This is a question that all nonprofit organizations ask as they prepare for a capital campaign. And many nonprofits choose the wrong answer for reasons that seem responsible and sound in that moment. The correct – and short – answer is this: a nonprofit organization should engage professional counsel as soon as the need for capital is determined – long before the campaign begins.

Now, let me acknowledge up front that my answer is self-serving – but it is also correct. It is correct because the most consequential errors in campaigns are almost always made before counsel is engaged. When this occurs, the professional firm eventually retained has all it can do to salvage the remaining fundraising potential.

So let me follow the logic that leads so many nonprofits to the incorrect answer. Suppose we are a school that needs to raise $5 million for a new building of some sort. There will be some board members who view the campaign ahead of them and make the following statements:

“This is only fundraising – how hard can it really be?”

“We have so many board members who are successful businessmen and women who can figure this out.”

“We can already see where the first million or two will come from. We should at least get that far and then hire professionals to help us get the money we can’t see today.”

Makes perfect sense, right? WRONG! WRONG! and WRONG!!! Let’s take a time out here and look at the bigger picture (one of my favorite things to say).

Campaigns succeed or fail in the initial months during planning and early solicitation. This is when precedent is set and expectations are established. Yes, it is possible to gather some low-hanging fruit and falsely leap to the conclusion that this fundraising thing is easy. But most campaigns that are managed internally (without professional counsel) hit the wall after those first fruits are gathered. Further, the few gifts that were gathered were not done with the broader vision in mind and the greatest potential is almost never achieved.

This is not like trying to fix your kitchen sink by yourself and then calling in the plumber later to fix it. Once you accept gifts for your campaign, you can’t go back to those donors with the message “that wasn’t good enough.” Once the campaign is announced and gifts are given, the damage is done, the horses are out of the barn, etc.

So, let me offer some advice to you that is only partially self-serving. If you are looking to cut costs in conducting your campaign, don’t choose the beginning of the campaign to do it. Hire professional counsel early in the process and build your effort right from the start. Then, consider conducting the second half of the campaign on your own after the plan, leadership, systems, processes are all in place.

Finally, pick your counsel early and lean on them for advice through the planning process. Most firms will offer that advice for dramatically discounted rates and, sometimes, pro-bono.

When is the right time to engage professional fundraising counsel? Today – if you are planning on launching a campaign in the next 12 months.

read more

So who is our customer, anyway?

Fundraising | 0 comments | by Sheri Hodde

For Mission Advancement, it’s nearly all nonprofit organizations … pretty easy answer, right? Think about your mission and vision statements: who the target of your mission is, who the staff and volunteers focus their efforts on. You come up with answers like the students who sit in the classrooms, or the person who is hungry or in need of what it is your mission provides. Well, in one sense you’re right. But in the fundraising sense, you are wrong!

All nonprofit organizations have two customers. The first customers are easy to identify; they are the ones on whom the most effort and energy is focused. They are the reason that your mission and organization exists. The second customers are almost always overlooked and, to some degree, taken for granted, even in the largest and most mature nonprofit organizations. The overlooked customers are the donors who fund your mission.

Now, first I want to ask the forgiveness of the reader for the terminology I am using in this article. Many nonprofits, appropriately so, go to great lengths to use a term more proper than “customers” to describe the beneficiaries of their missions and their generous donors. But for the sake of this article, please bear with me.

Who in your organization wakes up every morning, comes to work, and thinks about the needs of the second type of customer – the donor base? You may be quick to answer, “The development staff.” Again, you’d be right.

Sadly, in most nonprofits, the development staff is the only group that is thinking about the needs of the donor base.

The purpose of this article is not to wag my finger at you. When one considers how nonprofit missions come into being, it is only logical that this phenomenon is so prevalent. Put simply, the idea for a homeless shelter doesn’t start with a desire to raise money. It starts with a desire to help those most in need. Those involved in opening a homeless shelter are focused on how they can impact lives for good and give people a hand up to more productive and rewarding lives. It all begins with a vision for the mission. Somewhere along the way, it dawns on that visionary leader that this mission will require a lot of money.

One very important concept that all who are involved in nonprofit missions need to grasp is that it
always takes two customers
to make it
 work. Both
 customers
 must have
priority, attention and consideration from all who are involved in leading the mission. It is easy, and even intuitive, for a nonprofit organization to understand the needs of its first customer – but much more difficult to understand the needs of the second customer (the donor base). What do your donors need from you?

The quick answer is: more than a thank-you note or a call. Each donor gives for a reason. Donors all have needs and expectations. It is a relationship or their passions and interests that brought them to your mission. What do you do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to communicate that each decision to give is a good decision?

The answer to that question will take us far beyond what I can include in this brief article. But it is the right question for the leadership of all nonprofit organizations to ponder. As you begin to plan for growth in your mission, consider taking some time at an all-staff and Board meeting to help everyone understand:

Your nonprofit organization has two different sets of customers.

Both sets of customers are vital to the success of your mission.

Each set has their own needs, and it is critical to understand those needs in order to appropriately address them.

The two customers need each other. The extent to which you can bring them together determines the extent to which you can transform both customers’ lives.

read more

Donor Fatigue – Fact or Fiction?

Fundraising | 0 comments | by Sheri Hodde

Most of us in the field of development are familiar with the term “donor fatigue.” While specific definitions will vary, most of us would agree that donor fatigue occurs when we go to the same well too many times for financial support. We have this image of donors responding to our request for support by saying, “Really? Again? Am I the only one who gives to this mission?”

So, let’s start with the truth. Yes, it is true that most nonprofits go to the same donors too many times each year. In fact, our (Mission Advancement Professionals) work with development offices throughout the country tells us that independent schools ask their core donor base for money an average of 18 times each year. Social and human service agencies ask an average of 12 times each year. In other words, every time these organizations interact with key donors, their hands are out.

Now, multiply the number of annual “asks” by five. That is approximately the number of nonprofits that the average donor supports. Triple that number to account for the requests that are declined by the average donor. I have already lost count, but we are way beyond reasonable. You can easily see how donors could become fatigued with this extraordinary number of solicitations.

To be fair, there are marketing professionals who will tell you that the more you ask, the more donors will give. Since I am not a mass marketing expert, I am not well versed on the exact statistics, but I have experience with professionals in mass marketing who suggest that nonprofits dramatically increase the number of times they ask, believing the axiom – ask more often, get more often.

So, at the risk of alienating some of my good friends in the mass marketing world, I say BALONEY! Enough already! Just because you can ask more often and get a little more doesn’t mean you should!

If I ask my good friend Stuart for $50 today, he would give it to me without hesitation. If I asked him for $50 tomorrow, he would give it to me again. If I asked a third time, he would probably ask me what is going on, and then give it to me a third time. But now I am stressing our relationship. If this went on, he would eventually say “no,” and our relationship would be damaged.

Isn’t development really about building and deepening relationships? Most would offer that answer when asked, but then behave in a way that says otherwise.

News flash: development really is about relationships! And these relationships must be kept in balance – meaning that donors should receive something they personally value in return for their giving. If this basic principle were followed, then there would be no donor fatigue. Fatigue comes from donors who are unfulfilled in their giving and whose relationships are out of balance with the nonprofits they support.

Okay, so I admit I am a bit worked up over this, but I am done with my rant. Here is some practical advice for all development offices:

Remember that you are establishing and deepening relationships with real people

Try to step into your donors’ shoes and gather a sense for how they experience your organization.

Consider consolidating the number of requests to one or two for your most important donor relationships. Then, make a point of interacting with them two or three times a year without asking them for money. In other words, treat them as something more than a checkbook.

Put creative energy into how you help your most important donors feel fulfilled in their giving. If someone gives $25,000 to the annual fund, help them understand how your organization spent the gift and how it changed people’s lives.

Just my two cents: If you try the suggestions above, you will see some exciting results. And donor fatigue? It will be replaced with donor passion.

 

read more
 

Subscribe to our blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.