One of the important things I have learned in being in fundraising is to never assume. It is very easy to make assumptions about donors, volunteers and staff. I am not speaking about not trusting your intuition or gut feeling but assuming that someone or a group of individuals knows something.
For instance when I began my career as a prospect researcher I assumed that when my boss asked for me to complete 50 in-depth profiles in one month that I should. Keep in mind this was 1996 and the word internet was new and not something we all used. I spent my days buried in books and articles at theLos AngelesorBeverly Hillslibrary reading and gathering information. I was also only in the field 6 weeks when this request was made. I was fortunate to attend an APRA International Conference at this time. I remember thinking I am about to ask a dumb question but what the heck so I asked if I should be expected to complete the 50 profiles. I was happily informed that this was not a reasonable request. If I went ahead and assumed and never asked that question my life might not be where it is today. When I am speaking at a conference or with a client invariably someone will say, I have a stupid question. I reply, “There are no stupid questions in fundraising. The only thing that is not brilliant is not asking the question.” Speak up and let your voice be heard because I guarantee you that someone else will be thanking you for asking that question. The world of fundraising is always evolving and growing and we need to be brave and say, “Tell me more.” Just because someone has been in the field 15-20 years does not mean they know everything. One of the reasons I love being a faculty member of APRA’s New Researchers Symposium is because I will learn from the students. What an extraordinary gift that is!
So we inform ourselves as fundraisers through professional development and our colleagues. We need to always be informing our donors as well. Should we assume that all donors know what planned giving is? I remember when I first heard the phrase planned giving it sounded expensive or something that I couldn’t do. So it is our duty to inform our donors or even prospective donors about things we take for granted. When I told someone that I know that I made a bequest to my alma mater they assumed that I was leaving my entire estate to the school. I was quick to reply that a bequest does not have to be large estate gift and was very easy to do. Where else do we assume? Do all major gift donors know that just because they made a sizable pledge that it doesn’t mean they should stop giving to the annual fund? As annual fund donors transition into the role of major gift donor they may assume that their pledge/gift is all they have to do. We need to communicate the importance of how unrestricted annual funds allow the institution to continue to do the remarkable work that they do. It may only be a few that don’t know this but now they know and may in turn tell others. Be creative and think of other ways we may be making some wrong assumptions and inform and along with this means we don’t inform just once but repeatedly.
Michael Quevli is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.