Back in the day I had an executive director who did not like me to publicly announce large gifts to the organization. She felt that if the community and/or donors perceived that we had too much money, it would impact our fund raising negatively and we would encounter financial distress. She believed that donors want to give to organizations that are “in need.”
By contrast, I met with a major donor about 6 months ago to discuss a new annual gift. We talked about the recent accomplishments of our organization and what outcomes we could bring about with his renewed support. After he finished peppering me with questions about our financial position and fund raising, he marveled at the fact that we raise as much as we do each year despite his relatively small (his words, not mine) contribution. He noted that other small organizations that he supports depend on his donation being a larger percentage of their budget.
Recently we received a $35,000 investment from the Daniels Fund, and it was mentioned in last Sunday’s Greeley Tribune. On Monday, I ran into one of our top donors while at lunch with a co-worker. The donor had seen the article and he congratulated us on this award, understanding that it would help feed more people here in Weld County.
All of us have rooted for the underdog. Whether it is a sports movie or some other scenario, we like to see unlikely winners. It makes us feel as though we have a chance. It gives the world a sense that “anything is possible.” It provides hope, and allows us to give our children something to which they can aspire. In the world of fund raising, however, I think it is a little different.
Why do donors make gifts to your organization? I’ll give you a hint – it is not to save money on their taxes. It is not because they want their name on your building. They do not give just because your 4-color glossy outreach materials are so compelling. The reason that donors give to your organization is that they want to make a difference. They want to bring about a community that reflects the ideals that they hold as important. Whether you are saving cats or curing disease or housing the homeless, people give to make a difference and accomplish the mission. The tax savings and public acknowledgement are secondary, and they follow the donative intent – they don’t replace it.
When donors give to your organization, they want to know that you are going to be around long enough to bring about the kind of change in which they are investing. Simply put, they want to know that you are a well-managed, visionary, accountable, transparent, and ethical nonprofit agency. Or, in a word, they want you to be a “winner.”
As a consultant years ago I worked with an organization who had an idea for a project but they did not have the funding to execute it. Their proposed solution to this funding gap was to approach the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the agency was in Washington State) and get them to underwrite the project. After all, the foundation has no shortage of money, and of course they would want their name to be associated with such a great and innovative project. I had to counsel them that this approach was probably not going to work. In most cases, no funder (foundation, business, individual) wants to be the sole source of funds for your program or project. They want to see that other people believe in your organization, as collaboration is an important piece. If your project is not diverse in its funding, what happens when the angel investor’s money is gone? Does the project fold? Again, most funders want you to be a winner. And being a winner means, in part, that other people are willing to invest in you (By the way, the organization mentioned above did not secure funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).
During the recession, how many times did we see the plea in our local community newspaper that “XYZ charity is going to close unless it can raise $150,000 by next Tuesday?” I usually shake my head when I read stories like this because I believe it to be the wrong approach. Instead of using your organization’s need as the focus in the case for support, it is much more effective to communicate what can be accomplished by partnering with XYZ charity. No one wants to throw money down a rat hole. If the donor believes that you may not be around 2 weeks from now, they are far less likely to give you a $50,000 gift.
So, be a winner and tell people about it. Having other supporters who give to you is likely to endear your organization to a new prospect or donor rather than cause them to shun you. The key is having good relationships with donors so that you can speak to them in a meaningful way and highlight things that are going to be impactful for them. If they are interested in numbers, give them your statistics. If they are interested in community collaboration, share with them your work with partners. This requires some work, but the pay off will be huge as you help more people accomplish their philanthropic goals while you ensure that your organization has the funds needed to provide your valuable service to your constituents.
Until next time,