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Carolyn's Nonprofit Blog Menu, Fundraising, Nonprofit, Sales, stewardship

Fundraising and Sales

I was visiting with some of my nonprofit colleagues recently about what nonprofit leaders expect from fundraising professionals.

You would think fundraisers with years of hands-on experience, contacts (including donors whose trust they have earned), strong work ethics, deeply-held commitments to the nonprofits for which they work – and to the nonprofit sector as a whole – would be respected and greatly valued.

And often, they are respected and valued, thank heaven!

But some nonprofit organizations – particularly younger organizations that are still learning – want charitable donations and grants, but they do not want to bother with the stewardship that is traditionally involved in nurturing and stewarding the gifts their fundraisers secure for them. They do not yet understand the more they steward and nurture their donors, the greater likelihood they have of receiving additional donations, again and again.

As the Association of Donor Relations Professionals notes,

“Donor relations is the comprehensive effort of any nonprofit that seeks philanthropic support to ensure that donors experience high-quality interactions with the organization that foster long term engagement and investment.”

Nonprofits sometimes fear their nonprofit fundraisers are not making enough “calls,” or closing enough “deals.” Of course, fundraisers do need to track and document their research and ongoing solicitations closely, they must continually seek out potential donors, and they must be sure to keep their fellow employees informed of their progress. “Data” can be kept using simple Excel spreadsheets or more elaborate software constituent management systems, as you please. I have run multi million dollar campaigns using Excel spreadsheets, for instance.

But still, patience is a virtue. Development as a comprehensive endeavor cannot always be measured by the immediate bottom line. The payoff sometimes comes later. Developing relationships and trust leading to charitable donations being made often requires time.

I once worked with a nonprofit whose Board President was a broker with a prominent national firm. In brief, the broker felt one should “sell” nonprofits just like you sell stock, along the lines of the movie, The Wolf of Wall Street.

I hope Leonardo DiCaprio – one of my favorite actors and philanthropists – will not mind my sharing his rousing speech from the movie. But it sums up my former Board President’s mindset, albeit in a bit exaggerated fashion.

As mentioned earlier, fundraisers must seek out funding constantly, document progress, cultivate, solicit, follow-up, steward and more. The challenge comes in gauging the short- and long-term value of these kinds of activities. More than once I have finished a relatively brief project, and the results of my labors did not come to fruition until months later.

Sasha Dichter writes,

“So is fundraising selling? It’s tempting to say it’s not, because selling can appear to be about transactions, about pulling a fast one, about a sucker being born every minute. Selling is the guy with the big fake smile as you walk into a car dealership, it’s the manufacturers’ coupon that you can’t really redeem, it’s the spam that’s cluttering your Inbox, right?”

Certainly, selling can be done thoughtfully and tastefully. More from Sasha,

“The point is, when you sell something in the right way, you are helping someone get more value from something (a product, an experience, a donation) than what she is paying. You are solving a problem for her. You are meeting a need that she has.”

And this is not terribly different from what nonprofit fundraisers seek to accomplish.

Yes, fundraisers can learn from those who sell products. But caution is advised.

Those nonprofits wanting quick money, to “close the deal,” and to simply get on with their missions would be wise to invest in development and long-term, meaningful relationships with donors. If they do so, they will raise even more funding, and that will enable them to accomplish even more for their good causes.

I am a fan of Wall Street, unlike some of my nonprofit colleagues. In fact, for a brief time I worked on Wall Street (early in my career). I know many trustworthy, thoughtful brokers! But some can be harsh, and nonprofits are urged to be wary.

By the way, if you do come across aggressive brokers such as I have discussed, consider putting them to work on tasks where “sales” make sense, where one receives tangible benefits in return for contributing: selling tables and tickets at galas, raffles and the like. But be sure they understand the IRS guidelines regarding the difference between an outright charitable donation, and a contribution where something has been received in return. They are not the same.

You might also enjoy reading my article, “Art We Listening Only to Ourselves” for more about prospect research and Wall Street.


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