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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
Whose job is it within your organization to raise money? Most who answer this question give the name of the Development Director – and they would be wrong. The right answer is every staff member, every board member, and every volunteer. Creating the right mindset among the entire team will lead to new opportunities for growth in your mission.
Asking whose job it is to raise the money is a little like asking whose job it is to keep the house clean at home. If my kids were asked this question, they would quickly and incorrectly respond that it is Mom’s job to keep our house clean. That is because Mom (my wife) is the one who manages our house and makes sure that everything gets done. So while it is true that their Mom is the force behind keeping the house clean, it is the entire family’s job to actually do the work.
This mindset is a common and recurring problem in non-profits stemming from the notion that raising funds is something most want no part of. Fundraising is the activity that is often excluded in statements from staff and volunteers when they say “I will do anything for this organization as long as I don’t have to ask people for money” or, “I am not good at fundraising.”
There is an inherent fear of fundraising in many people. It is this fear that leads to decisions that take the path of least resistance – to only conduct non-intrusive, non-confrontational fundraising events like auctions and golf tournaments. This is a widely-held and incorrect mindset that leaves a single person (the Development Director) left to raise all of the money.
So to all other staff and volunteer support in nonprofits, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that you are all part of the development team whether you like it or not! The good news is that you don’t have to ask other people for money to be part of the team. There are other functions to perform that do not involve asking for money. But for the sake of this article, I will focus on the majority of the team who can and should get involved in asking others to give.
We are all gifted in different ways. To think that we all must be able to perform in one specific way equally is a misconception and an assumption that will only lead to frustration. That being said, fear of asking others for money is not a great reason for not trying it. In most cases, people fear something because of two reasons:
- They don’t know how to do it.
- They don’t have the proper mindset.
So let’s attack each one of these. Knowing how to ask for money is academic and can be resolved by having a reliable and credible resource lead a training and orientation session with board and staff members. A thorough understanding of the entire invitation process, supportive tools and material, and role playing can ease the anxiety associated with asking and even help most get comfortable with something they never thought possible.
Adopting the proper mindset involves simply thinking through the logic and perspective of representing a nonprofit.
As a volunteer or staff member (non-Development Staff) of a nonprofit, you have chosen to associate yourself with a mission in which you believe and, therefore, are the best possible representative to extend the invitation to others. In a very real sense, you are better positioned to ask others than the Development Director, who is the only person paid to ask others.
When you invite others to give, you are doing so to fund a mission that you are passionate about and, presumably, that you have already supported personally. You are simply asking others to join in support of a worthy mission.
When you extend an invitation to give, you are passing on something that has enriched your life in some way and that you believe will enrich others lives in the same way if they choose to give. In this sense, it is no different than recommending a good book or movie.
So before you say “no” to getting involved or before you accept “no” too easily from others, give a second thought to adopting the proper mindset, and then getting the appropriate training to make it happen. The Development Director is not the only fundraiser in the house. Rather, the Development Director is the paid fundraiser and coordinator of a Development team that includes everyone in your organization.read more
There are a lot of resources on the topic of stewardship and accountability in the development office, and most of them are helpful for development professionals as they strive to be responsible. However, the problem with most of the material on this topic is that it only applies to relationships with donors. As development professionals, you are also faced with other relationships that demand your stewardship and accountability – and those relationships are your greatest responsibility.
Let’s consider the obvious perspective first. Yes, it is absolutely critical that you are a good steward of your donors and that you account for the gifts they give to fund the mission of your organization. But sending out a thank-you note isn’t cutting it – not even a handwritten note, especially for your most important donors.
The question to ask is, “What can I do for my most important donors that will result in their belief that giving in support of the mission was the best decision they could possibly have made?” The answer is different for every donor, but it is always more than a thank-you note.
Even when your donors tell you not to do anything for them, do something – the right thing. You should do this for the same reason that your mother was right when she taught you to always say thank you. Say you were invited to your friends’ home for dinner and, at the end of a lovely evening, you thank them. It is common for the hosts to say, “It was nothing – our pleasure – no thanks necessary – we are happy to do it.” Regardless, you still say thank you – and you probably reciprocate by inviting them to your home for dinner in the future. That is how you truly behave as a good steward of that relationship. To not say thank you or not reciprocate in some way takes the relationship for granted and, over time, the relationship suffers.
Okay, that one was pretty easy to grasp. How about a new perspective on stewardship and accountability? You are also accountable to and the steward of a great resource – your board. The accountability side of this is easy to grasp, but perhaps not the stewardship side. Both are critical to understand.
Accountability to the board includes quality and appropriate planning, frequent and accurate reporting, and delivering results that resemble the planning. It is critical to gain and keep the trust and confidence of the board. Your ability to do this directly impacts the board’s ability to sustain and grow the mission.
Another key reason to account to the board is to tap into it as a resource to strengthen your development office. If the board is informed and believes the development operation is working as it should, you are in a much stronger position to engage the board as a strategic resource – replicating your arms and legs in various aspects of your development plan. While engaging the board may still be a challenge, it is far more likely to happen if the board feels in touch and informed.
Another perspective on this topic is stewardship and accountability to the mission of your organization. Whether your mission is to feed the poor or educate children, it is the reason why your job exists. The way you act to engage donors and thank them must be influenced by the mission.
Take the relatively simple task of giving a thank-you gift to an important major donor. I was approached recently by an organization that was contemplating the right way to do this. The question posed to me was: “Is it appropriate to buy our biggest donor an iPad as a way of saying “thank you”? We know he could easily buy one himself, but he won’t. We think he would enjoy this.”
Let’s examine this case carefully. The iPad is certainly within the acceptable cost range of the large gift given by the donor (the cost of the iPad is less than one percent of the size of the gift). He probably would truly enjoy the gift. But my answer is “NO!” While the gift may meet certain criteria of good stewardship and accountability to the donor, it raises too many questions. And it does not meet the criteria for good stewardship and accountability to the board or to the mission. If your mission is to feed starving children in Africa, it is pretty hard to justify buying iPads for your best donors.
So, in this case, the compromise was that the organization above invested its “thank you” budget in a video depicting orphan children (the focus of the mission) singing to and thanking the donor by name. The result was an experience that the donor will never forget and an emotional connection he could not have experienced with a traditional gift.
The long and short of this conversation is this: as a development professional, your greatest responsibility is to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to you and to be accountable to all parties engaged in the mission. As you create and implement your development plan this year, use a quick litmus test:
- Will it honor our donors?
- Will it honor our board?
- Will it honor our mission?
If the answer is yes to all three, then you have managed your greatest responsibility with excellence and integrity.read more