Listening is one of the most important life skills. It can also be one of the most pleasant: a baby’s first cry, the finale of Beethoven’s 5th, birds on a quiet walk. Think about it; how often do you truly listen, or just tune out background noise? I’ve certainly spent a lot of time walking down the streets of New York, trying to shut out the sounds of sirens. Unfortunately, more oftentimes than not, listening is one of our most underdeveloped skills. How much is missed, or is misunderstood, because we fail to truly engage, ask questions and listen! In philanthropy, this can be the kiss of death to developing authentic relationships and engaging our donors.
Now, that’s not to say that others are not. But, I’ve found that southerners who know how to tell a really good story have an almost innate ability to draw people in and move them. They weave a web with strong personal connection, oftentimes including family and community, and then add a touch of intrigue and suspense, and almost always inject a little, sometimes, wry humor. As someone who moved to the south as an adult, I marveled at the affects of storytelling. Of course, we’ve all known the great southern story-tellers from Faulkner to Tennessee Williams to Twain, Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell, to name just a few, along with the more recent writer-historian Jon Meacham and my neighbor, Ann Patchett. They are the giants.
But, we don’t have to be literary giants to tell a good, authentic story that connects people to our cause, our hopes and our visions.
I recently met a young woman in Greece who had started a successful activity and tourism business (Grecopaths) after the economic crises devastated Greece in 2008. I was fortunate to spend the day biking, hiking and kayaking with her and my husband. Like many young people, she was left with few resources after 2008 and virtually no work. Today, her business is thriving with several business partners. She had gone from a struggling desk job to riding bikes and hiking with guests through the breath-taking vistas of her homeland.
Her enthusiasm was contagious. It helped propel us and our bikes to countless hilltops. Midway through this exhilarating day, I asked Stavroula, what led her to create this thriving new business.
Do you believe deeply in your organization’s mission?
“What?”, you say. Whether a board member, CEO or development staff, of course, you believe deeply in your organization’s mission.
Now, how do you feel about fundraising for that organization?
Many years ago, when I was just getting started as a development officer, someone innocently asked me, “How do you do what you do? I could never ask anyone for money!” Over the years, I’ve become accustomed to this question. I even enjoy it! But, at the time, I was stunned. I felt like my chosen profession was, well, rude.
Who are your most important philanthropic partners, the most critical relationships outside the internal team? I’ve frequently heard development officers, and even CEO’s ask, “Where do I start?” Your board! They are among your most, if not the most, critical stakeholders. Yes, your patients, students, alumni, and community may well be stakeholders. But, the organization will undoubtedly stumble, at worst fail or certainly not reach its potential without a board that believes in the organization, is passionate about its mission and future, and understands and even embraces its important role in philanthropy.
A past blog (Design Partnerships: What do your philanthropic partnerships look like?) focused on the Chief Development Officers’ role in creating powerful internal partnerships to support philanthropy. In this article, I want to turn our focus to the CEO’s unique role in building effective philanthropic partnerships. Although this blog is written with healthcare institutions in mind, many of the concepts may creatively be applied to other nonprofit institutions.
The great late anthropologist, Margaret Meade, made the case for the power of partnerships and people working together years go in her famous statement, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Certainly, philanthropy is no exception.
I spend a lot of time in airports and on planes. They are interesting places to observe human behavior. Traveling is a pretty common activity for many development officers and certainly for consultants.
I try to use the time productively. One of the things I’ve begun doing is focusing on observing human behavior. Emotions run the gamut. Try it the next time you’re in an airport.
One of the things you’ll see is how peoples' faces light up when they see their family or friends walk through the security area. Or, when they connect at baggage claim, or at curbside pick up. People light up, no matter the time of day. And, they start telling stories.... stories about the flight, the challenge to park, or maybe about a special family event.
There are many factors that help create bonds between people: from deep friendships to shared dreams, experiences and values, to common hopes and visions, and sometimes a crises, or a crises averted. Relationships are critical. But, to nurture major donor relationships that truly endure, I prefer to focus on creating bonds; the bonds that undeniably tie us to one another. This is what I want to devote a little time to here.
The vaudeville actor, Jack Benny, is well known for wailing away on his violin while bantering with others on stage using this famous Carnegie Hall joke. Actually, it probably originated when a preeminent orchestra conductor, hurrying to the famed hall, was asked the innocent question by a stranger, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The harried maestro’s response: practice!
According to Matthew Lieberman, a social cognitive neuroscientist, we are wired to connect with others—family, friends, society. In fact, connecting socially is a really strong need that comes straight from our brains! Dr. Lieberman and his associates make a very convincing case that our human brains are wired to connect with other people.
Last year, I wrote a blog about the connections between “Happiness, Giving and Healthy Living”. That blog was in large part the result of one donor’s story to me, early in my career, about the joy she received from her giving. It was very personal. Her story significantly changed how I thought about fundraising and development.
Nearly all development managers have experienced that gut wrenching moment when a special event threatens to engulf and overwhelm their entire fundraising program. This moment usually comes a few weeks before the event date. Minor, to perhaps major, crises seem to be popping up everywhere in the office and the Director is hard pressed to keep everyone on track.
I’ll never forget the story a donor told me when I was just getting started as a young development professional. She loved giving! Loved it! I was amazed by how much joy it gave her. As a matter of fact, she loved it more than any other activities she was involved in. That story changed my career and the entire way I thought about fundraising and development.
We all know it costs more time, energy, and money to acquire new donors than to maintain existing relationships. But, how many times do we forget to pay special attention to our current donors? Maintaining thoughtful contact with major donors, and even our annual fund supporters, is important in the life-blood of any development program.
The recent release of the Giving USA 2014 Report  underscores the continued generosity of Americans and our commitment to the noble work of countless nonprofit organizations. As giving edges up towards being on par with pre-great recession contributions, one fact remains unchanged: support from individuals is where the real action is, whether personal gifts, gifts through family foundations or through bequests.
All development officers know how important it is to engage their Board members and other key volunteers in the fundraising process. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to get a solid rhythm going with Board members to energize the solicitation process. Here are six suggestions for ways to move solicitations to a faster track.
The traditional 8-10 minute campaign or institutional video is dead, and no one is mourning its passing. Video as a medium, however, has never been more alive. Thanks to digital technology, almost all communication devices are outfitted with cameras and basic video editing software comes standard on most computers.
Recently, several of my colleagues and I had the privilege of sitting down with old friends whom we have had the pleasure of working with, to talk about philanthropy and…. yes, asking! These friends have made magnanimous gifts over decades that have had an untold impact on society and the lives of individuals, whether that is young people completing an education they never thought possible, physicians and scientists who are able to deliver care or make pioneering discoveries, or young people exposed to the world of imagination and music.
As we are all painfully aware, philanthropic giving fell sharply during the recent recession and donations are still down about 8 percent from their 2007 peak of $344.5 billion. As we attempt to bounce back, it’s time to get creative in asking.Rightly so, many development managers focus primarily on major gifts and the top 5 to 10 percent of the existing donor pyramid.