Dani Robbins

Wise Words from Influential Donors

In Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on August 14, 2015 at 12:51 pm

I had the opportunity to moderate the Working with Influential Volunteers forum for the Central Ohio Association of Fundraising Professionals this week. Three prominent Columbus philanthropists- Roger Sugarman, Cindy Hilsheimer and Mary Lazarus – agreed to share their experience. They were incredibly grateful and gracious to and about fund raisers and executive directors. In fact, each credited our field with helping them to contribute.

Their experience and advice was so powerful; I wanted to share what I perceived as the big take aways. I welcome your feedback and reaction to any and all:

“Be sensitive to the idea that yours is not the only organization that donor supports.”

The volunteer told a story about being solicited for a large gift and asking where the agency came up with that number. The asker responded by saying it was based on their home value. My take away (after I winced) was that a gift assessment is just one piece of information about a donor’s capacity. It still matters how engaged they are in your organization, who is asking and what else that donor supports.

“Have a plan.”

Donors like to see that a formal cultivation and stewardship process, a fund raising goal and a database management system is in place. They can tell when one (or more) is missing.

“There is a gentle balance between their relationship with the organization and their relationship with you.”

This was in reference to the 24 month tenure of development directors. If development staff are not going to stick around, it is imperative that a relationship is built with other leaders and with the organization. I also got the impression this was a gentle reminder that donors buy into missions not development directors.

“Ask what the donor is interested in.”

Development is about relationships; a good fund raiser starts with the donor, what they care about and want to impact. Once you learn each, you can offer suggestions as to what might be a match between their goals and your organization’s mission.

“Provide structured mentoring between new board members and tenured members specifically to teach fund raising.”

Brilliant! Asking others for money is an art more than a science and the art is best learned by watching others, being personally solicited, making your own gift and then doing it yourself. How do you train new board members to become fund raisers?

“People like being asked. They can always say no.” “It is empowering to be asked and to give.”

No one has to be afraid of fund raising. Inviting someone to invest in moving forward a mission and improving a community is empowering – for people on both sides of the table.

“Don’t just talk to donors when you want something.”

Relationships have to be built. Relationships with donors are just like other relationships, they require an investment of time and some version of reciprocity. In this case, the reciprocity is in information. The take away was share to the gift’s impact, the agency or program’s successes and, as necessary, your struggles. Relationships of all kinds require honesty, communication and cultivation. When was the last time you reached out to your donors?

“If you can’t write a check, you shouldn’t take up a seat at the (board) table.”

Yup, this was my favorite. I cheered when it was said. If you do not care enough about the mission of an organization to financially support it, giving of your time in not enough; you should not be at the table. The goal for any board is not usually huge gifts from every board member, though that would be lovely. The goal is a gift – of any amount- from every board member.

100% board giving is critical to any agency that is asking the community to invest in its mission.

“The CEO needs to be partners with the development director.”

Development directors cannot raise money alone. The CEO needs to be a partner with the development director. When they are not, not only does fund raising suffer, but your donors can tell.

What have you learned from influential donors? If you are an influential donors, what do you wish we knew? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

 

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