An Honest Letter Challenging the President to Engage in Healthy Donor Care
Donor development is an exercise in patience and trust. And it’s neither quick nor easy. Let me illustrate with an actual case. To protect identities and to maintain privacy, I will omit specific details. Otherwise, what I’m about to share is real. My hope is that my tough-love message to “Mike,” will help other development professionals with a similar president or CEO.
Mike is the president of a faith-based organization, a natural networker, and a compelling advocate for his cause. He’s absolutely infectious. Unlike many non-profit leaders, he sincerely enjoys meeting with prospects and donors, freely shares his enthusiasm for the mission of the organization, and has absolutely no trouble asking for donations. He was eager to meet with anyone, anywhere, at any time . . . and it was undermining significant sustainable income.
Like many non-profit leaders, this president felt the pressures of financial needs, so he wasted no time getting to the “ask.” On the first or second visit with a potential donor, he presented the needs of the organization and asked for a gift. It was not his intention, but the focus of the conversation became the gift rather than the giver. As a result, many prospects either turned him down or gave a token gift to end the encounter. Afterward, most refused to take his calls.
To help Mike’s organization avoid financial disaster, I sent him the following tough-love message.
I hope you know that I love you, your team, the work you do, and the people you serve. My whole heart is invested in your success because I sincerely believe in your mission and vision. That’s why I’m very concerned about your current donor strategy. The methods I have encouraged are tried-and-true; organizations that follow them are invariably successful. If we hope to achieve the vision of your organization, we have to be effective in every aspect of non-profit management, not just what’s reflected in the mission statement.
The success of your mission depends greatly on inspiring donors—winning over their hearts to believe wholeheartedly in the work you do. Because genuine relationships are mutually beneficial, donor development begins with understanding the motivations and the needs of a prospective donor. And this takes time.
Here are some of the dangers I see by neglecting your major donors:
- You leave major donors with the impression that you care about their money and not about them as individuals.
- In the absence of personal connection, your long-term donors will simply drift away.
- Without renewed vision and regular updates, donors grow fatigued and stop giving.
- Acquiring new donors costs the organization nearly five times more than maintaining a connection with existing donors. You will have to divert precious resources away from your mission to keep pace with lost revenue.
Mike, I understand the pressures of time constraints; you cannot maintain a lot of donor relationships and keep the organization running smoothly. So, let’s think strategically about your caseload, slow your pace, and cultivate deeper relationships. Here is what I recommend:
- Identify a caseload of about twenty high net worth families that have not yet given to the organization, or have stopped giving, or continue to give but need connection with the top executive.
- Visit each family four to six times each year with multiple contacts between visits. This would include emails, handwritten notes, and brief telephone calls.
- Set a specific objective for each visit that would enhance the relationship and build trust.
- As the prospective donor’s motivations and interests become clearer, send reports (at least annually) that demonstrate the organization’s alignment with their values.
- Develop and maintain a moves management plan specifically tailored to the goals and interests of each current donor and for key prospects.
- As donors grow comfortable with you, encourage them to arrange introductions. This can be as simple as having lunch with a donor who brings an interested friend.
Admittedly, what I have outlined above calls for a serious commitment to donor care. Even so, donor care must become as high a priority as any other activity of the organization.
The good news is that when donors feel like they are part of the team, they generally increase their commitment to your cause. If past experience holds true, you should see a dramatic increase in giving in twelve months, and then steady increases thereafter.
With deep admiration and devotion,
Insights for Westfall Gold Clients
We want to see you connect deeply with your major donors in a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship. The Westfall Gold major donor event will be an extraordinary catalyst for new relationships, but that is just the beginning. Our Senior Consultants will help you develop an follow-up plan to engage with the guests at your event, and coach you in best practices for donor cultivation. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the President to set the right example for stewarding your relationships with your highest capacity supporters, and ensuring a culture of healthy donor care.