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DEAR KIM KLEIN FUNDRAISING Q & A
This column is published once a month by the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training. For previous posts go to their website.
We are being advised by a consultant to stop trying to build a broad base of donors and instead to focus on high net worth individuals and seek six figure gifts from them. The consultant says it will be faster and more lucrative which makes sense to me. Why do you advise focusing on small gifts?
Seeking Efficiency and a High ROI
My focus (and the focus of all good fundraisers) is on asking people you know for money, and then asking the people you know who they know who might also help you. If you hang out with high net worth individuals who are also generous donors, then I would agree with your consultant that you should ask them. But why would you only ask them? Why not ask everyone you have access to who cares about your cause? I have the feeling, though, that you don’t know these people which is why you are writing to me. Your consultant will probably advise a number of ways of meeting these people and that will keep you busy. In the meantime, you will not have small or big gifts. Whatever strategy you choose, keep these things in mind:
- Wealth has little relationship to generosity. Many wealthy people give very generously, and many more give relatively little compared to their ability. The same can be said for middle class, working class and poor people. Don’t confuse having with giving.
- You are not the first person to think of asking high net worth individuals for money. These people are offered endless opportunities to give away their money and, like all people, are more likely to give to an organization where they know someone than an organization where they don’t.
- A person’s ability to give changes over time. People get better jobs or inherit money or make good investments. Someone who starts out at $35 may, ten years from now, be your biggest donor. But I can tell you that this person won’t be your biggest donor if you don’t respect the gift he or she gives now. The same is true for your biggest donors: the market crashes, their house goes underwater, they are a victim of a Ponzi scheme, and they have to stop giving.
You want your fundraising to be efficient, and that is not a bad thing. But fundraising is about building relationships, and relationships are based on respect, affection, shared interests, and so on. Relationships are not built on efficiency. Nor do donors love to be thought of as part of your ROI. They want to be part of accomplishing your mission, and you may want to return to that in order to determine what fundraising strategies make the most sense for your organization.
I am the sole staff for a small literacy program in a suburb of Chicago. We have a wonderful board except for one member who is new and is proving to be quite difficult. We invited her on at the suggestion of our biggest donor. She is very critical, bossy, and constantly saying, “I don’t think Ellen (our big donor) will like this.” Some of the board members have just stopped coming to meetings and the last meeting we didn’t have a quorum! She has now volunteered to head up our year-end fundraising efforts. She does give generously and seems to know a lot of people, who seem to like her. What is it about us that brings out this side of her? We don’t want to offend our big donor, but we can’t go on like this and no one is going to want to work with her on fundraising, which is going to set off a new round of criticism.
Feeling hopeless, but otherwise fine
I have been in several conferences recently where a keynote speaker begins by saying, “XYZ issue is the biggest challenge facing our world.” It could be climate change, unemployment, rising income inequality, racism, human trafficking, etc. So even though I am not a fan of saying, “The biggest thing…” since there are so many big things, I would certainly say that a major reason why organizations get into the situation you are in is our inability to have honest conversations. Here is what I would do: Start with the Quaker adage, “Assume good intent.” Assume she wants to be a good board member and she wants to be well thought of by you and the other board members. She may be nervous and showing off. The board chair and you can ask her to lunch and tell her that you know she means well, and has good ideas, but her way of expressing herself is driving people away. Name specific examples, particularly of when she had a good idea that she expressed in such a difficult way that no one could hear it. I know it will be hard, and she may not be at all receptive. If she is not, then you can say, “The way you are reacting is making it hard to have this conversation.” Stick to focusing on her process of communicating. She may not act like she has heard you at all, but wait one more board meeting. If she continues to act out, the chair will have to ask her to leave. If you are close to your biggest donor, you could consider asking her how well she knows this woman and if she has ever found her to be a little critical. No matter how hard this conversation is, keep in mind it will be harder to let her stay on the board with no feedback.
In a few months, when this is resolved one way or another, please invest in conflict resolution training. That goes for all of you who are reading this who have difficult people in your organizations!