Engagement. Stewardship. Relationship building. People give to people. Words and phrases heard frequently in Development circles. But, what does it all mean? And how important are these concepts actually to our major donors?
Dini Partners’ , a fundraising management and consulting firm, recently released a study on Giving in 2011. The survey reached out to more than 130 major donors (those whose annual gifts regularly range from $100,000 to $1 million) and fundraisers (working at institutions raising between $5 million and $100 million annually). The major donors were clear: more than 50% site a personal relationship to an organization or cause as the most important factor in choosing new programs to support.
So, how can we engage, steward and build relationships as effectively as possible? After all, there are only so many staff hours in any given day, week or year. Leverage your board and your volunteers! Your ‘lay leaders’ should be, and often are, your biggest advocates in your community at large. And, sometimes they can be even more effective in being your organization’s missionary than you can be as a paid staff member. They can tell their personal story.
Now, it is true that not all board members or volunteers will feel comfortable making “The Ask.” However, most are more than willing to lend their voice to the first three adages in my list: engagement, stewardship and relationship building.
How about people giving to people? Interestingly, the same Dini Partners’ study found that most fundraising professionals believe solicitation should be handled by the professionals – either the institutional CEO or a development staff person (68% combined list these as the most important people) – and not by board members or volunteers.
I posit that we need to add a new adage: Partnership. It is the Partnership between volunteers and professionals that can truly help guide our organizations’ forward. In Dini Partners’ own words:
…there is the expectation that more and more solicitations will include a development professional—a clear shift from the volunteer solicitor model that has held sway in much of the fundraising world for decades. This observation must be delicately balanced with the contributions made by so many volunteers and board members who consistently leverage their relationships and peerage to encourage the highest level of gift support from their friends and professional colleagues.
…Development staffs can no longer assume that there are cohorts of seasoned and deeply experienced volunteer fundraisers waiting for assignments for solicitation. Increasingly, institutions must rely on the CEO and the development staff to augment the “asking team.” While volunteers continue to bring words of passion and commitment, it is often the staff person or professional leader who is most at ease and confident in making the explicit request for a gift.
*Melissa Bank Stepno is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.