Rethinking Major Gift Fundraising

In reviewing some 30 years of work in the nonprofit sector, I look back and say to myself, “well, everyone knows that.” But in truth, no one has walked in my shoes and experienced the world in the exact same way as I have. That is why I often say, “context matters.” I can suggest ideas for nonprofit fundraising and communicating with donors all day long, but in the end, the context in which you are operating influences new concepts and how they should be applied.

Clint_Eastwood
Some have said I am the nonprofit version of characters portrayed by “tough guy” Clint Eastwood. Click to read more. (Wikimedia Commons, Franco Pagliarulo, 2011)

But from the world of, “just tell me I can’t do it, and I will,” I wanted to point out that I have continued to update several key major gifts pages on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. Foremost among them is, “Are You Ready for a Capital Campaign.” There I quote a solid, traditional professional in our field. Alongside his suggestions, I make comments based upon my experiences. In tandem, some of my most important fundraising experiences are discussed in, “Are You Ready | Is It Feasible?” Feasibility studies have long been the bread-and-butter of the standard nonprofit consulting business, but I have a different take on them.

“Taking a Step Back Will Lead You Forward” is an article on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog that I fine-tuned and gave as a webinar for ADRP: Association of Donor Relations Professionals in 2018. Yes, there are things nonprofits can do to instill donor confidence as they chart a course forward for major giving. A consultant does not need to be hired and paid a handily to tell you to do these things. #JustDoIt

Since Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog was launched in 2011, I have noticed many innovative social good entrepreneurs are rejecting traditional approaches to major gift fundraising. If you read, “Nonprofits and Startups | Birds of a Feather,” you will discover how similar major gift campaign preparation is with launching a for-profit business startup. In fact, I have suggested that 3 Day Startup, which I reference in the article, re-engineer their course with nonprofit social good enterprises in mind, and with an eye to major gift “investments.” Times are changing! I would love to see NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network and AFP: Association of Fundraising Professionals team-up with 3DS for “power” sessions along these lines.

Crowdfunding

As I say on my nonprofit resources page, which includes quite a few articles by other experts on crowdfunding, many of the same principles apply to major gift fundraising as they do to launching a startup or crowdfunding. To think the latter two efforts are easier than traditional major gift fundraising is incorrect. The same attention to planning, research, communication and the like apply to all of them. They are just different ways of reaching the same result: securing major gifts. Keep in mind, each nonprofit is unique. A traditional major gift campaign may not be the best option for your organization today.

Something I would like to see – having pulled major gift fundraising campaigns out of the gutter on more than one occasion (without support of any kind) – is a reduction in the condescending attitude of many in the “big box” consulting community. “You couldn’t possibly know how to work with major gift donors! We’ll do that for you.” Even the most well-meaning among them can bill you heavily, and sometimes they will walk off with your nonprofit’s contacts.

From the other side of the table, I have also found some donors and potential donors like the hooplah they perceive as being involved in major gift campaigns. The hiring of expensive “consultants” is part of what they believe to be essential. #Resist

Real major gift donors do not need expensive consultants to help the nonprofit organizations they care about. Be careful.

If you have questions at any time, use the secure contact form on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog to reach me. I am in the process of merging my professional work and volunteering website with my blog, so you will see some new information added to my blog the next few weeks!

As always, best wishes for your fundraising success.

Carolyn M. Appleton

February 27, 2019

 

Have Courage, Speak Up

Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog is focused on nonprofit fundraising and communications. It does not address political issues often if all all, but I feel compelled to do so now.

I am an Independent voter, and I have found friends on both sides of the aisle over the years. I respect the opinions of others, and I hope they respect mine.

Oops! Road Sign

Our nation finds itself at a ethical crossroads. Even as our nation’s economy has begun to improve – a process that began before the current Administration took office – I find it perplexing that we struggle with even greater fervor over equal rights and treatment for all citizens, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. Nature – as it does for all species on Earth – makes us diverse. Why do we ignorantly cling to the idea that one human being is less equal than another because of their physical traits or beliefs (within the bounds of law, of course). Why do we fear diversity?

I am chagrined by the relentless attacks on the last remnants of our shared natural resources and wildlife, and by the allocation of immense sums of money on an archaic concept, a wall to keep people from crossing our nation’s shared border with Mexico. I am saddened it is being suggested that the modest 1% of our nation’s massive federal budget normally allocated to critically needed international aid, be cut. I am curious why our nation’s leaders have renewed a commitment to “trickle down economics,” when more than half of all jobs in the United States today are being generated by small businesses (from the ground up).

Last but not least, I am saddened that a speech by our nation’s chief executive before thousands of young Boy Scouts at a national event should include political jabs at prior opponents. Harkening back to my comments about our shared natural resources, the Boy Scout “outdoor code” reads as follows:

“As an American, I will do my best to –

Be clean in my outdoor manners
Be careful with fire
Be considerate in the outdoors, and
Be conservation minded.”

Many have criticized the Boy Scouts of America over the years, and indeed the organization has evolved (that’s a good thing). But keep in mind, many of our nation’s finest leaders were trained within its ranks. The Boy Scout Law requires Scouts to be:

Trustworthy,
Loyal,
Helpful,
Friendly,
Courteous,
Kind,
Obedient,
Cheerful,
Thrifty,
Brave,
Clean,
and Reverent.

We could do more with all of the above.

Let us ask ourselves, do our current national leaders demonstrate these qualities? If they do not, should we make changes? Should we demand more from them? Voter turnout in the United States is lower today than other developed countries. Voter apathy is not the answer to making positive, ethical change.

Villanova University provides an excellent overview of what ethical leadership entails.

“By practicing and demonstrating the use of ethical, honest and unselfish behavior … ethical leaders may begin to earn the respect of their peers. People may be more likely to follow a leader who respects others and shows integrity.”

Stand up and hold our leaders at every level accountable, including our chief executive. We must expect higher standards, and smarter thinking. Be courageous. Do not stand back and just, “take it.” Speak up.

Keep Calm Speak Up

Click to read an article about speaking up in the workplace, by fellow nonprofit executive Jayne Craven. 

 

Being a Bridge

Pennybacker Bridge, Austin, Texas

Bridges make connections possible. Bridges facilitate the crossing of people, “from one side to the other.” Shown is the breathtaking Pennybacker Bridge, a “through-arch bridge” located on the west side of Austin in the scenic hill country. Click on the photograph to learn more about it.

I have always thought of nonprofit fundraisers as “bridges” between their organizations and donors. Development professionals must constantly make connections and translate their nonprofit’s mission and needs to individuals, families, foundations, corporations and governments in such a way that funding is provided.

Nonprofit programmatic staff and some board members sometimes lack the skills (or the inclination) to speak with potential donors, and often they do not enjoy asking for financial support. This is where development staff shine, of course.

When I lived in Dallas in the 1990s, I worked on a variety of nonprofit fundraising campaigns, some in their entirety (from start to finish), others for more limited engagements (only for grant research, writing, solicitation, publications and the like). Once, I came across a nonprofit board chairman who was highly regarded in the community, but he had an abiding fear of asking anyone for a donation. A fundraising consulting firm his nonprofit had hired felt the board, including this noteworthy volunteer, were generally useless. Everyone involved had become frustrated. But, I knew there was a way to turn this situation around.

I assured the volunteer that during our forthcoming meeting – which happened to be with one of the leading bank trust departments in Dallas – that he only needed to speak about his passion for the nonprofit and the good it was accomplishing in the community. I promised to pick up the conversation once he was finished, to handle the request for funding and how best to follow-up. Luckily he trusted me and our meeting went very well. Together, we lined the nonprofit up for a six figure donation, which was ultimately received.

In this way, I acted as a bridge between the nonprofit and the prospective donor, but also between my distinguished volunteer and the trust department staff. I understood intuitively that in order to get this critical job done, we had to build a few bridges before arriving at the desired destination.

There is another factor I have discovered in working with major gift donors and nonprofit organizations seeking support, one that reminds me of being a “bridge.” This concerns the donors themselves.

Nonprofit staff (and the general public) sometimes assume that sophisticated, affluent donors are experts in every topic under the sun. But the truth is, they are experts in the fields where they have excelled and thrived. This may or may not include understanding how your nonprofit works and what it is accomplishing (or what it hopes to accomplish).

Nonprofit development staff can be of invaluable help by translating organizational information to donors and prospective donors in an easy-to-understand fashion, and vice versa. Yes, sometimes translating the donor’s needs and perceptions to fellow staff is required. This enables you to continue forward with a successful partnership negotiation, for example.

Development professionals are indispensable links between their organizations and funding partners. This often takes both verbal and written forms, as the case may be. Development staff must be able to translate in an understandable fashion critical information, and in both directions: internally and externally. This is truly an essential role that should not be taken for granted!

Understanding Prospective Donors

  • Lila MacLellen wrote for Quartz, “Science Confirms Rich People Don’t Really Notice You – Or Your Problems” (October 23, 2016). “No one can pay attention to everything they encounter. We simply do not have enough time or mental capacity for it. Most of us, though, do make an effort to acknowledge our fellow humans. Wealth, it seems, might change that.”
  • For me, Taylor Shea’s article for Reader’s Digest nails my experiences with affluent donors, “How Rich People Think: 25+ Things They Won’t Tell You” (N.D.). “Anytime the newspaper lists my name among the 100 top-paid executives in the area, I get a ton of requests from people asking for money. It happened so much that I had to come up with a strategy to deal with it. Now I say, ‘I’m happy to give. I’ll match however much you raise yourself.’”
  • From The Wealthy Accountant, “5 Things Rich People Do That You Don’t” (August 3, 2016). “Wealthy people have vision. They know where they are, where they are going, and how they will get there.”

Some of you might also enjoy my article, “Ph.D.s and Fundraising.” There I discuss the pitfalls of working with very bright programmatic staff who are hopeless when it comes to explaining what they are accomplishing to the public and/or to donors. I’ve been a “bridge” for many years; I find Ph.D.s to be among the most difficult to work with in a development context (although I find their research and discoveries fascinating).