September 3, 2021

By Jonah Halper

Fundraising Should Not Be a One-Night Stand

I was a development/fundraising professional for more than a decade. I learned my fundraising chops by managing and soliciting segmented donor groups, like doctors and young adults, and also running community campaigns including telethons that brought out donors and community leaders to dial for dollars. While I did learn some fundraising best practices that I still use, and recommend to my clients, I do think there are some common fundraising practices that leave much to be desired. Ingrained worst-practices, you could say.

At the top of my list is the one-night-stand approach to solicitations that is pervasive in the fundraising world. The one night stand of fundraising is when you solicit a donor with no further engagement until you again ask them for money one year later. Why do I give it this risqué description? Because it’s pretty accurate.

A real solicitation is the cementing of a partnership. Your donor is partnering with you and the organization to take your mission, setting sights on a bigger vision. A shared vision. They are expecting the equivalent of a white picket fence, tire swing and children in the yard. That is what you sold them on. When you court a donor, and seal the deal with their gift, the donor has put skin in the game and now you have a responsibility to treat them like a real partner. If you fail to do so, they WILL feel used and recognize that you only wanted their money. It is now a superficial relationship where you are calling me a year later when you remember me.

Yes, we all shake our heads and say how we would love to have more time to deepen the relationship with our donors, beyond the few who hold coveted leadership positions, but alas we only have so many hours in the day. This is not acceptable because it is dismissive of the unhealthy relationship we have with our donors.

Not every donor can get an hour phone call a week, but you do need to find ways to mass engage your existing donors so they are kept apprised of their investment in you and your mission. Here are a few helpful suggestions to keep the fire alive!

  • Host quarterly conference calls, like stockholders have with their invested companies! It is a great opportunity for the organization to reinforce and deepen their relationship with existing donors, featuring your progress and impact! You can feature specific programs, have personal stories shared by program managers or those who benefit from your work.
  • Survey for their input. Professional sports teams are always asking their season ticket holders for feedback. They are the die-hard fans, and many have great ideas that give incredible value to the franchise. Your donors believe in you in much the same way, and if you are at a crossroads with a marketing campaign, or even a new program, why don’t you float it by your existing donors? There are great cheap or free online survey tools you can use to solicit their feedback.
  • Celebrate! When you have success, it’s not yours alone! You should be sharing it with all your donors and letting them know that they were integral to the outcome. Because you can’t call everyone, you should find a variety of ways to communicate. Some, of course by phone, but there is nothing wrong with a thank-you video. They can see your face, and feel the love just the same!

We know how expensive it is to get new donors, both in time and dollars. So, let’s not be cavalier with our existing donors. How do you think your solicitation would look a year later if you reinforced the connection throughout the year? If we do a better job treating our donors like real partners – it is not only the right thing to do, it will also lead to better donor retention and greater increases to their support.

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