I wish I’d told my younger self “you’re right! Stick with it; don’t get distracted. Stay the course.”
Here’s what I’m talking about: Philanthropy, not fundraising.
This has been the tagline for my business and blog since I began Clairification in 2011. It grew naturally out of my experiences working as a frontline development director for 30 years. I’ve always insisted that no single person could possibly receive credit for a donation. “Donors don’t give because of development staff,” I’d tell program staff. “They give because of the great work you do!”
Sustainable fundraising takes a village.
In fact, in my practice I went so far as to develop a point system for major gifts moves management (you can learn about it here) that ascribed many more points for a donor meeting with a program director than one with a development staffer. I wanted to show program staff how much they counted!
Now, seeming like a bolt from the blue – due to the release of a new report commissioned by the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, “Beyond Fundraising: What Does it Mean to Build a Culture of Philanthropy?” – the paramount importance of building an organization-wide philanthropy culture seems to have become the paradigm for the 21st century.
It’s about time.
Before we take a look at some of the report’s take-aways, it’s important to understand that Haas Fund, Jr. isn’t the first to see things this way. In 2003 Penelope Burk wrote a book that became my bible, “Donor-Centered Fundraising.” In 2005 Kay Sprinkel Grace wrote a book that became my supplementary bible, “Beyond Fundraising- New Strategies for Innovation and Investment in Nonprofits.” And there were others before them.
The heart of the matter is love and values – all oriented for the public good.
Both Penelope and Kay come at fundraising from the perspective of the donor. What’s in it for them? What do they cherish? Why do they care? What floats their personal boats? And, of course, it all boils down to feelings and values that are passionately held. In other words, love (philanthropy, after all, literally means “love of humankind”).
The great Hank Rosso, founder of The Fundraising School (now part of the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University), wrote about how fundraising is based on an exchange of values. Some folks love the arts. Others love the environment. Others… science, health care, human services, animals, justice, and so forth. Different nonprofits enact different values.
This is the philanthropic universe.
Those who passionately share the values your nonprofit enacts become your major donors. Once you have clarity on these values (philanthropy), and you’ve uncovered folks who share those values (development), then all you have to do is make the match (fundraising)!
And you better believe it that fundraising is everyone’s job!
When Daniel Pink’s book, “To Sell Is Human,” came out I was grateful. Because it said so eloquently what I’d been trying to say for years. Selling, he writes, is the process of persuading someone (whether prospective donors, buyers, employees, bosses, children, parents or friends) to part with something of value (e.g., time, attention, point of view or resources). We spend a majority of our time trying to move others. So we may as well embrace this, and begin to understand the key principles of persuasion [as brilliantly outlined in Influence, by Robert Cialdini; also see Psychology of Giving: Influence Your Affluence by Using the Science of Persuasion].
When you persuade someone who passionately shares the values your organization enacts to join with you in enacting those values, you’re persuading them to do something they’re already inclined to do! How can this possibly be a bad thing?
We erroneously think “selling” is bad.
In fact, it’s probably even more of a taboo word in nonprofits than the word “fundraising.” People just don’t like it. Pink did an experiment where he asked people to give him the first word that came to their minds when they thought of “sales/selling.” They answered with such words as:
Nonprofits, similarly, think fundraising is evil.
I was blown away by Pink’s results because, remarkably, when I’d done a similar experiment in October 2012 with a number of nonprofit boards of directors, I’d uncovered almost identical answers! [See How to Overcome the Money Taboo and Succeed with Fundraising]. “Fundraising” met with universal negatives; “philanthropy,” however, met with universal positives. The former was perceived as organization-centric and taking away; the latter as constituent-centric and giving.
Interestingly, although many folks including Kay Grace, Penelope Burk and yours truly have seen this writing on the wall for years, the time was not ripe until now – the 21st century – for philanthropy, not fundraising to become prime time material. What made the difference?
The digital revolution has fundamentally changed the rules, and people’s perceptions.
This, at least, is my humble opinion. Again, I’m not the only one. As Brian Solis tells us in The End of Business As Usual, the game has changed and the playing field has been leveled. Leveled how, you ask?
Before the digital revolution, information was in the hands of the few. And since information is power, those who didn’t have enough of it had to be wary. This created the mindset of caveat emptor, where the buyer – and prospective donor – must beware of those who might trick them to part with their hard-earned money.
How could such trickery occur? From an information imbalance that no longer exists. Now information is readily available to everyone. That’s why the digital revolution has so fundamentally changed business. All business, including nonprofit’s.
Our view of sales and fundraising as sleazy and manipulative is a relic.
It comes from this outdated mindset. It’s now a buyer’s market. A new breed of consumer is emerging, and they’re changing the very foundation of business. In the world where the seller had the information advantage, the salesperson’s mantra was ABC – Always Be Closing. Pink tells us that today ABC stands for Attunement (perspective taking), Buoyancy (staying afloat in an ocean of rejection) and Clarity (synthesizing and curating information that helps folks identify and resolve their problems).
Attunement, buoyancy and clarity are requisite skills for today’s world.
- How attuned are you to your constituents’ values, needs and desires?
- How buoyant and adaptive can you be in responding to constituent demands?
- How do you get clarity on constituent challenges and ways you can help folks find the meaning they seek in their lives?
“Always be closing” hasn’t worked out well for nonprofits for years. It’s a transaction-based paradigm that focuses on one sale, rather than a life-long relationship. And it’s led to horrific rates of donor retention. The latest Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report shows nonprofits losing, on average, 81% of first-time donors and 57% of all donors. The nonprofit sector can’t survive this way. Your organization can’t survive this way.
How centered is your organization – that means everyone — on your donor?
Have you substituted “attunement, buoyancy and clarity” – the path to transformational relationships – for “always be closing?” Do you embrace the fact that you can’t survive without your donors? Do you make them feel like the essential heroes they are?
Do you include your donors in your core mission?
This is something that Richard Perry and Jeff Schreifels write about in “It’s Not Just About the Money.” Everyone in your organization – staff and volunteers – must embrace the fact that philanthropic giving is an exchange of work and value.
- It’s more about outcomes than dollars.
- It’s an expression of love.
- It’s a way to live out one’s values.
- It cares for others and transforms lives.
If you take care of your donor, they’ll take care of you.
This, of course, requires a plan. And that’s where too often nonprofits fall down on the job. They think “culture of philanthropy” simply means that you’re a “good guy.” That by virtue of being a nonprofit, staffed by caring people doing good work, folks will naturally reach out and give. And keep on giving.
“We often think of culture as something ‘squishy’ or qualitative, when in fact it is achieved through highly quantitative tasks. To build and sustain a culture of philanthropy takes a lot of planning, and the implementation of specific policies and practices.”
— Troy Arnold, Director of Development for the Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco
Creating a culture of philanthropy is not just a nicety.
In fact, it’s one of the “Dive the Five” essentials I’m covering this year on my blog – things you simply must master to survive in the 21st century. Recently I’ve written about the other key aspects of 1. donor retention, 2. online social fundraising, 3. integrating fundraising with robust content marketing (and using your blog as the central hub of this strategy) and developing your board as a pre-condition to 4. attracting major gifts. Today it was time to give culture of philanthropy its due.
In my next post I’ll continue with Part 2, discussing how the new Haas, Jr. Fund’s report lays out specific ways for nonprofits to consistently take care of their donors — showing the way to becoming attuned, buoyant and clear by treating all people, donors and non-donors, as your partners in philanthropy.
I’d love to know what your take is. Please share in the “comments” below.
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Photo I took last month at Glen Ellen California Botanical Garden