Once upon a time, there was an executive director with great fundraising skills.
He cultivated grantmakers and individual donors with care – meeting often, honoring deadlines, keeping them updated on his nonprofit’s success. He explored mutual needs and interests, then crafted his requests accordingly.
Unfortunately, he wouldn’t share these relationships with his board members or co-workers. When meeting with donors, he went alone. He wrote all the thank you notes himself. He edited proposals and grant reports before they were submitted.
The executive director behaved this way for years, acquiring lots of power. This is the opposite of a “fundraising democracy” where everyone is empowered to participate.
His behavior raises a central question: Were the donors loyal to the organization, or to him?
Guess what? When he eventually left for another job, some of those supporters went with him.
A stewardship model that includes everyone
If you’ve read our blog, or if you joined me at a recent fundraising workshop, you may be familiar with the “cycle of fundraising” model.
The cycle is an intentional, step-by-step strategy for identifying, engaging, asking, and appreciating your donors. Many variations exist throughout the fundraising world, because this model demonstrates – with one simple graphic – how fundraising really works.
You can also use cycle to create more democratic, decentralized fundraising within your organization. Everyone – board, staff, volunteers, supporters – can participate in building stronger relationships with donors.
A different way to structure board engagement
Many years ago, I presented this model at a board training session. Halfway through, the board chair raised her hand.
“I propose that we kill the development committee,” she said.
“You don’t mean that literally?” I said, laughing.
“No, of course not. They’re lovely people, but the committee isn’t effective. Based on this cycle, I propose a different solution.”
Her suggestion: Ditch the development committee in favor of three work groups:
- Ambassadors who focus on identifying prospects and introducing them to the organization and its work.
- Askers to solicit gifts.
- Appreciators to make sure donors receive great customer service after they give.
“I suggest that each board member commit to one of these three functions,” she said. “and that’s how we’ll structure our board fundraising.”
Several years later, it’s working better than the traditional development committee they had before.
The value of multiple relationships
One challenge with this approach (which I like a lot) is discontinuity. Wouldn’t it make more sense for each donor to have a primary contact person to manage the relationship – to cultivate, to ask, to keep them informed after they give?
Yes, it makes sense – until that one person leaves your organization and you have to rebuild those relationships from scratch.
The three-team approach, described in the bullets above, solves this problem. It pretty much mandates that each significant donor gets to know (and is served by) multiple people within your organization.
Be transparent about your intentions
Furthermore, you can share the model with a current or potential donor. Imagine the following conversation, perhaps accompanied by the cycle graphic above.
“Juanita, my job is to tell you about our organization and see how it fits with your needs and interests. If you’d like to be involved, let’s explore that.
“When you’re ready to consider a gift, I’ll introduce you to Mavis, who’s excited to ask for your support. If you decide to give, she’ll make sure to connect you with Felix, who cares a lot about how to better thank and engage our donors.
“We want you to know multiple people within the organization. That way, if one of us leaves or steps off the board, you’ll still have other people you can approach with questions or concerns. Or compliments! We like compliments.”
Who’s at the center of the cycle?
If you’re handing off relationships in this way, you must have excellent logistics: data management, calendars, checklists, etc.
Imagine someone at the center of the cycle, coordinating all the pieces and ensuring continuity. Consider a new title for this person: Director of Fundraising Democracy.
From my perspective, that’s the optimal place for a development director or other lead fundraiser – right at the hub of the circle, supporting and engaging all board and staff.