One of my favorite things to do as a fundraising consultant is to help those who are not comfortable with fundraising get comfortable, learn how to be conversational and, in some cases, find our work … enjoyable! The leaders, physicians, faculty members and others who are least likely to be seen as partners early on often become exceptional partners with whom advancement loves to work.

Often times, when we have institutional partners that advancement professionals are eager to work with, that can be perceived as playing favorites. And while earlier in my career I would have shied away from such a description, over time I’ve become much more comfortable owning this idea … and even sharing that other partners and individuals can become “favorites” too!

That’s why it’s so important that we, as advancement professionals, become comfortable coaching our partners on what it takes to become a “favorite.” Our partners are not experts in fundraising. So it’s our role to have the open, clear coaching conversations that help them get there, and to tell them what it takes to make your work together worthwhile.

What if you said to your colleague: “I’m excited to talk about how we might work together! I’d like to learn more about your project, and also share some patterns I’ve seen in what can make our partnership as effective as possible.”

By doing some table-setting first, you’re then able to share what we all wish every partner knew:

  • Ongoing, sustainable initiatives are more productive for the donor and the institution than one-off, one-time-only needs.
  • They will need to be committed to providing time and energy to this effort in an ongoing way, making time for both the behind-the-scenes work and donor engagement. While some will never be comfortable talking about philanthropy, we can help them learn how to talk about impact. And, they can make our work more meaningful by being accessible and engaged, and serving as a champion and a conduit of information.
  • There must be a viable audience for a fundraising initiative — an identifiable group of individuals (or foundation funders) who find the effort compelling and worthy of philanthropic investment.
  • The better they are at connecting with their colleagues and championing their initiative internally — with deans, presidents, etc. — the greater the opportunities for success, as this will open the door for collaboration with donors who may overlap into other areas.
  • The portion of your time that you can allot to this effort, so that you can align your partners’ expectations.

Use this opportunity to ask questions as well, inviting your partner to reflect on how their project would overlap with these issues.

  • Who do you think the donor audience would be for this?
  • Are there any alumni/grateful patient/community members who are supportive of this work? Have they been engaged to this point?
  • Would this project be an immediate need, or is there a longer-term horizon for this? Would multi-year or endowment support be a fit?
  • How would donations make a difference for this project?
  • In order to take this initiative forward, we would want to develop a case for support and giving opportunities, and then we’ll have ongoing work of identifying and engaging prospective supporters. How much time would you be able to dedicate to this effort?

Very few of the colleagues who we partner with will come to the table with a fine-tuned approach to fundraising. Most will either be new to it, or worked with someone else in their past who had a different style. But this newness gives us every opportunity to help create a path forward that leads to success in fundraising and the identifying of another “favorite.”

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