Skip to content

Tag: philanthropy

A Word to Fundraisers

As the college admissions scandal has played out over the past week, we’ve heard a refrain that hits close to home: that many other students have been admitted to elite universities through the “back door” of their parent’s philanthropy. Like many of you, I was first dismayed, then angry, and now sad.

It’s clear that higher education is facing a challenging conversation that will unfold at the highest levels – a conversation about how our educational institutions often reward privilege while at the same time providing the primary engine for social and scientific advancement.

But it’s also clear that this conversation will happen far beyond the individual advancement professionals who work day in and day out to support that latter, loftier, critical vision.

And it’s you who I want to address this to: the advancement professionals who will now face increased scrutiny of your cause, your motivations, and your professionalism. We know the good we do in partnership with our donors – the vast majority of whom are motivated by their passion to impact a cause – and now more than ever, we need to be vocal about that good.

We see first-generation college students on scholarships funded by donors who care deeply about access and social mobility. Life-saving research into the public health issues of our time made possible by donors who want to see fewer suffer from those crises. And outside of higher education, we see our organizations provide health care to low-income populations, save homeless animals, support families with critical childhood illness, and so much more – all because donors care deeply.

Our work has often been misunderstood. Too few people do not comprehend the skills, thoughtfulness, and passion on our part that fuels it. I worry that now, this misunderstanding will deepen.

Which is why I offer this: we are doing honorable work every day that makes the incredible possible and encourages individuals’ most generous instincts. And we must stand proud in that. Rather than allowing this scandal to taint that work, we must continue to educate about the power of philanthropy, talk loudly about the transformative impact that giving has, and speak proudly of how philanthropy brings about incredible change, innovation, and inspiration. 

7 Tips for Partnering with Your Leadership to Create Successful and Engaging Development Strategies

In our quest to create more – and more impactful – philanthropic relationships, there are few opportunities more impactful than engaging prospects and donors with our institutional leadership. Deans, physicians and others come to conversations with a career built upon a passion for the very area your prospect cares about. This passion lends the authenticity and credibility that is the hallmark of relationships that lead to meaningful giving.

As development professionals, our job is to staff leadership so they interact with prospects and donors not just to meet-and-greet upon occasion, but instead to be a part of a thoughtful – and effective – donor engagement/cultivation cycle.

Staffing leadership, however, can be a challenge. Your leader may be an expert in his or her area and comfortable speaking to hospital administration or academic research, yet clam up or run on when asked to speak about personal engagement, philanthropy or impact. To prepare your leader to talk about the organizational vision and truly connect with the donor, follow these seven tips.

  1. Use leadership to do more than making “the ask.” To create long-lasting relationships of depth between leadership and prospective donors, you need to get the president or dean involved in the process as early as possible. When asking yourself how to use your leader, identify the gaps in engagement that only the leader can fill – articulating transformative vision, signaling to a prospect that the institution takes him or her seriously, etc. Help your leader understand these interactions in the context of the larger relationship building process by sharing written strategies (and soliciting feedback) long before the “ask” so that your leader values his or her role in the process.
  2. Recognize the unique role leadership plays. Institutional leaders wear many hats. This is especially true in development and when interacting with donors and community members. Make sure you are clear with your leader what role you’re asking him or her to take on. Are you asking your leader to be a champion, an executive, a cheerleader, or an administrator? How does your own role in the meeting complement the leader’s role? Being clear on the role and coming up with a strategy – and talking points – to match the donor is key.
  3. Ask your president, physician, dean: “Why should the donor say ‘yes’?” One of the best ways to ensure leadership is on the same page as the organization’s mission is to ask why they believe our donors should fulfill the ask. That discussion is invaluable and will provide hints to get you ready for prime time. It will also help identify possible objections. Be prepared to coach and direct in this conversation.
  4. Ride with leadership to donor meetings. As a frontline fundraiser, one of your greatest opportunities is to keep your dean or physician engaged and focused in philanthropic discussions. Yes, they are busy – so busy they may not think about these discussions until they are on their way to the meeting – or walking through the door! Use this to your advantage; walk or drive with them to a meeting. This ensures your leader is focused on the donor, as opposed to the budget or policy discussion that just ended. And here’s a best practice tip: Commit to having a development professional at every meeting!
  5. Talking points are a road map. Always write a loose script of what you expect or want to happen at the meeting. This will ensure the meeting is focused, and that you move the donor along. Include transitions and possible objections. Be clear about who will respond to what type of inquiries (for example – if the prospect wants to talk pledge fulfillment or gift structure options, can your leader answer these, or should you step in as the development professional?) And don’t forget a scenario if the donor says, “yes” to your request!
  6. Recap the past to move to the future. Remind leadership of relationship highlights so they start every conversation with meaningful gratitude. Saying “thank you” is one of the best icebreakers, and it’s perfect for calming leadership nerves.
  7. Write SILENCE into all ask talking points. While they say silence is golden, it can sometimes make for uncomfortable pauses in conversations with donors. Make sure your leader is prepared for that by including silence into talking points – especially after making “the ask”!

Want more development and fundraising insight? Sign up today for blog posts delivered right to your inbox!

The “Secret” Skills to Being a High-Performing Fundraiser

I am often asked what skill or trait is most needed to be a high-performing fundraiser. I have been working in the field of philanthropy and fundraising for more than 21 years, for organizations that range from institutions of higher education to healthcare organizations. And over the years, my answer has stayed consistent.

The first skill development officers need to have is confidence. As front-line fundraisers, we are often the representatives of our respective institutions. Whether it’s intentional or not, donors and prospects see us as the face and voice of our organizations. This is why it’s so critical to maintain a confident nature and be the best outward face possible.

Developing a strong sense of confidence is also critical because – let’s face it – we receive a lot of rejection in our field. That is the nature of fundraising. We need to learn to not take this rejection personally.

My second answer to what trait is needed to be a high-performing development officer is polite persistence. Fundraising is not for the faint of heart. It takes an average of 11 outreaches for a prospect/donor to respond “yes” to a meeting. This translates to a balancing act between polite and persistence to get to a “yes.”

However as our industry continues to evolve, I’m finding there are two more critical skills that are becoming increasingly important to be a high-performing fundraiser. Those attributes are focus and discipline.

Many development officers I’ve worked with over the years did not know how to develop focus and discipline when it came to fundraising. They were hired into fundraising positions to build relationships that lead to meaningful solicitations. Yet when it came to developing a system to consistently do the work and make progressions, they lacked the skills to make this happen. Focus and discipline are often neglected at professional development conferences and I believe it is one key reason why our industry faces such high rates of turnover.

In order to become a high-performing fundraiser, you need to look at what’s holding you back from succeeding. Is it a fear of rejection? Is it failure to be persistent and follow through? Or perhaps it is, quite simply, that you need someone to help you grow your confidence and show you how to focus your development efforts.

This is where ongoing training and support is critical in our field. In order to survive and thrive in today’s development climate, organizations must ensure development professionals receive coaching and guidance on even the most basic fundraising skills. Investing in advancement training is not only a retention tool; it is critical to create long-term, high-performing front line fundraising teams.

Want more development and fundraising insight? Sign up today for blog posts delivered right to your inbox!