It’s Not Who You Know

“There’s a lot of wealth in the area, but a lot of it is with younger people who have not come into the giving mode. They need education, and persuasion.”

This quote from H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest appeared in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday by Peter Dobrin, the Inquirer’s Culture Writer.  In the same article, fundraiser Eileen Heisman, president of the National Philanthropic Trust, comments, “We always have new generations of wealth, but you have to know where it is and figure out strategies to cultivate it, and that takes a lot of very creative work.”

The article has a lot to say about the new generation of donors, what they care about, whether they feel a sense of obligation to give, and what they may or may not be looking for in terms of involvement with the nonprofit organizations they choose to support.  These are all important things to consider.  But what really interests me is the article’s subtle emphasis on the important role of fundraisers. Not just professional fundraisers, but also volunteer fundraisers, i.e., board members.

Too often, board members assume that fundraising is about “who you know.”  If they don’t already have a relationship with someone who makes six figure gifts, they are inclined to think, and to say at board meetings, “I don’t know anyone with money.”  In reality, potential donors are all around us.  And fundraising is not a phone call.  It is a process – one that takes education, cultivation, creativity, and persuasion.

Fundraisers need to educate potential donors (everyone) about the mission and importance of the organization. We cannot assume they know about our good works.  We must talk about them.

Fundraisers need to cultivate relationships with potential donors. When I think of cultivation I think of gardening. You plant the seeds, fertilize, pull the weeds, protect the seedlings, stake up the young plants, and eventually, you get to enjoy the fruit of your labor. Similarly, the fundraising process takes time, care, and dedication.

Fundraisers need to be creative. They need to think about what kind of invitation will make a potential donor say yes, making that first connection to the organization. And once that connection has been made, they need to create a path along which that potential donor is likely to move toward greater engagement with and more giving to the nonprofit.

And fundraisers need to be persuasive. Fundraising is convincing and persuading for a cause.  How will the gift enhance the mission, leverage other donors, and bring value to the community?  What will convince this donor to make this gift on this day?

Fundraising is not mysterious. It is hard work that takes time, thought, and creativity. Everyone can do it.  And if you believe in the mission of your organization, it is well worth the effort.

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