This weekend I took a little vacation of sorts. I ran a marathon. The Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. Running a marathon is exhausting, but also, reflective. For you see, you run for 26 miles. That is a long time on your feet – sometimes, three, four, five, six, or even more hours.
Over the course over the weekend, there were approximately 3,000 marines – some of our countries finest armed service men and women. And, as I reflected on my experience, I was reminded of how important it is to take care of our donors. You see, the Marines took care of me while I was running.
They were there to welcome me when I arrived – how often do we welcome donors for their first gifts to us or even their second or third?
They directed me through the maze of marathon logistics – how often do we try to make our experience of being a donor easy for our donors? Do we point them in the right direction? Do we connect them with aspects of the charity that they care deeply?
And, then when I was running, those Marines were out there cheering me on as if I were the hero – how often do we cheer on our donors in their act of giving? How often do we make them feel like the superheroes that they are?
When the going got tough, they were there for me, telling me that I could do – when things get tough for our donors, are we still behind them cheering for them? Perhaps they can’t give us as much, do we abandon them as people? Or do we still treat them the same, cultivating the relationship?
And, at the end of it all – they placed the medal on me and made me feel accomplished – “Congratulations, Maam” – do we treat our donors like they are the real heroes, even though we are doing the actual work?
Interesting questions. I was awed and inspired by this display of honor at the marathon. The Marine’s know how to put on a good race. And, they also know a lot more about how to treat people. There are lessons learned here on how we should go about treating our donors.
Giving is MORE like a marathon than a sprint. It is about cultivating relationships with our donors over weeks, months, years – just like a marathon is about training for days, weeks, months, and years.
So, go out and run the race. And, even though it is your organization that is doing the hard work, take some lessons from the Marines and treat your donors like the superheroes that they are. After all, the Marines are making this sacrifice for our country, just as our donors are making another kind of sacrifice for our organizations.
For many donors who hold great wealth, they sometimes want to do more than just give. In fact, they want to shape directly rather than just support a charitable cause. This term is often called, “hyperagency.”
In most cases, that is fine. In fact, it is very welcomed. Paul Shervish, Director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, noted that hyperagency is “a distinctive characteristic of major giving because such donors are capable of establishing the institutional framework in which they and others live.” They want to produce rather than support.
Not often, but in some cases, the donor upon giving an enormous gift expects the organization to do what he or she wishes, changing the whole agenda of the organization. They want to determine what happens and when programmatically.
To me, this can become dangerous territory. For you see, just because someone has extensive wealth and wants to give it us, does not mean that we have to entertain “mission creep.” Our organizations have been founded to serve a community through a particular mission. It is the obligation of the organization and its Board of Directors to ensure the organization’s programs, and mission continues to be relevant to the community that it serves.
We often see “mission drift” in cases where organizations “chase” foundation funding just because it is available and whether or not it meets the orgazation’s mission. As a result, programs develop that are not mission consistent, and the organization begins to take on areas that they do not have a specialty.
A case in point, in 1907, a $3 million bequest left to Swarthmore College met this description: It was made conditional on the school ceasing all participation in intercollegiate sports. (Though tempted by the much-needed funds, Swarthmore turned the gift down.)
So, are you tempted to keep the gift or would you turn it down?
Well, if the gift is going to subject your organization to terms it couldn’t possibly meet or that are not consistent with the core mission, then yes, I say it needs to be turned down. Turning down a gift is a rather difficult decision. But, you must realize that you are bound to the donors’ wishes once you accept it. If you can’t abide by the terms whether impractical, unethical, or for other reasons, then you just need to say “no!”
The dilemma mentioned above points to the importance of having a Gift Acceptance Policy in place. Yes, I know these policies are so mundane, and I know you don’t have the time to create them, but, when you start seeking major gifts, you just may come across a situation like this. Even the smallest organizations have found themselves with donors wishing to make contributions that have binding strings attached. And, when you are small, it becomes especially difficult to say no to a massive infusion of cash.
This situation is more of an ethical and moral question. But surely, the ethics involved in fundraising must be a topic that your organization discusses at a strategic level (meaning Board), and Gift Acceptance Policies provide a basis for that discussion.
So, you don’t always have to say “yes” to a donor who loves you too much. In fact, sometimes, it is best to say no, if it means you won’t hold true to your core mission and the community that you are bound to serve.
Oh no! We need a new building. The offer letter is on the table.
What now? We need money!
But wait, we haven’t done any fundraising in the past. We need millions tomorrow to move into our new facility and to make all the necessary upgrades. Time, we don’t have time!
Does this scenario sound familiar?
It very well may. It is an accurate one of many who forge ahead without contemplating the planning and preparation necessary for a successful capital campaign. And, let’s face it, there is a great deal of planning and preparation necessary. You can’t just flop campaigns of this magnitude together. They take strategic thinking and planning. Capital Campaigns are the science behind fund development.
For instance, one question that is always top of mind for me as a consultant, “Do you have any major donors?” or even, “Any major donor prospects?” “What relationship-building strategies have you been engaged in with your current donors and prospects?” “For those current donors and prospects, what cultivation activities have you been pursuing with them?” and “At what stage of cultivation are you at with each of your prospects?”
Fundraisers can’t be expected to swoop in and create money where it is not possible. And, surely they can’t do it in the time frame that a capital campaign demands. It is setting the fundraiser, and, ultimately, the organization and the organization’s mission up to fail.
Here are some things to think about up front to ensure the success of a campaign:
What is the expertise level of current development staff? Do you have ample development staff on board to handle a campaign?
Do you need campaign counsel to oversee the stages of a capital campaign effort (highly recommended, of course)?
Do you have a large enough major gift pool of loyal and personally significant givers?
Do you have a large enough major gift prospect pool?
At what stage of cultivation is each major gift prospect at within this pre-determined pool?
How comprehensive has your donor stewardship plan been in the past?
Do you have a long track record of raising funds within the community?
Does your organization have a long-standing reputation?
Are there other similar services or projects that exist in the community and, if so, how is yours different?
Do you have a clearly outlined case for support document that highlights a substantial community need?
Have you previously conducted a feasibility study for this campaign to determine the feasibility of a major fundraising effort to support the case for support.
Do you have the internal structures in place to mount a large-scale campaign such as up-to-date database software, cleaned-up and segmented database, acknowledge and pledge receipting process, finance and bookkeeping systems, and overall campaign management supports?
These are just a few questions that are top of my mind as I sit and think about an organization seeking to mount a significant capital campaign. This list of questions is not exhaustive but illustrates the types of systems and processes that need to be in place before a significant campaign is mounted.
The morale of this story? One can’t embark on a such a significant endeavor such as a capital campaign without planning. Failing to plan, is failing to succeed. And, failing to succeed, in most cases, falls on the backs of the fundraiser who is “put in charge” of the effort. Rarely is failure seen as a team-effort.