It was one of my worst days ever as a fundraiser. Being young and ambitious, I was going to show my boss that I could bring in the money. Besides, the board member I was about to ambush that day had it coming. He hadn’t given in years and the guy was worth millions. Surely he could cough up a little for us.
I remember making small talk with this guy for about 30 minutes. He went on and on about his family, why he loved our organization, his golf game…but all I really heard was, “blah, blah, blah…”
You see all I wanted to do was find the right moment to ask him for $20,000. Long story short, I did ask him, he said yes and by the time I got back to the office he had called my boss and resigned from the board because he was offended by my brash behavior. He said to my boss, “All he cared about was asking for money.”
I was lucky I wasn’t fired that day. But, like most painful things in life, that awful experience woke me up and forever changed how I viewed the relationship of a donor to an organization.
You see, I believed at the time that donors were really just a means to an end. The role of a donor was to give you money so you could do the stuff that had real meaning. In a way, I believed the donor “owed” us. Yep, that was my attitude.
Boy, was I an idiot.
Now, today, in almost every fundraising conference or article you read, people are talking about being donor-centered or donor focused. Everyone is “donor-centered” these days. But, to be honest, it feels like window dressing.
Non-profit leaders talk a good game about being “donor-centered.” They try to thank donors promptly, figure out what donors are interested in and send out quarterly newsletters to show donors how their gifts have made a difference. But I’m not seeing how donors are actually part of the mission.
To be blunt, donors are still being treated as a means to an end.
Richard and I believe that if we are to create a true culture of philanthropy in our organizations, donors have to be part of our mission – not a way to get our mission accomplished, but PART of the mission.
I need you to reflect on this for just a bit. We believe this is a radical idea.
So, what does this mean? It means this:
- Your donors are actually included in your mission statement. Yes, you exist to also help transform your donors and to allow them to help transform the world.
- You understand that the role of your organization is really to become a bridge between the world’s greatest needs and your donor’s passion to meet those needs. The donor and the need cross over that bridge to meet each other. Your role is to knock down any barriers that could get in the way.
- Your organization isn’t interested in ratios, but rather results and impact. This is because you know that donors are interested in making a difference and investing in programs that actually work. To have programs that work you hire quality people and provide them with the tools they need.
- Half of your time, energy and resources are devoted to your donors. Because you believe donors are part of your mission, your organization is devoted to helping transform a donor by allowing him to know and feel the impact of his philanthropy.
- In all of your conversations with staff about programs, projects and need, these two questions are always asked: “Will our donors think this is a good idea?” and “Will our donors feel this is a good investment?”
- Donors have a seat at your table. You value their input, opinions and ideas on how to make your organization more effective. You provide opportunities for your staff to hear their voice.
- You ask. Your organization realizes that donors want to be asked to support you financially. They want to help you change the world and you are bold in your asking. You know that when donors give, they experience joy and, quite honestly, donors feel good when they give…and then you ask again.
- Everyone in the organization has a relationship with donors. Your organization realizes that donors are not just cared for by “development professionals” but that the entire staff is called into relationship with donors. You have respect for each others’ roles, yet you know that if your mission includes donors, everyone has a responsibility to the donor.
- Donors are celebrated. I’m not just talking about recognizing a donor at a banquet or a ribbon cutting, but in everyday small ways in your meetings, the little note from a program person, or a picture sent from an MGO. This is not a strategy, but just “the way you do it.”
Folks, this is what it looks like to have your donors as a part of your mission. If your organization can move in this direction it will thrive and do great things. If you feel resistant to anything you’ve read so far, I’d ask you why? Does it seem impossible?
Building a culture of philanthropy is hard. It sometimes means radical change, but Richard and I believe it’s necessary if you are truly going to be that bridge of transformation the world needs.