Great fundraising programs are the result of great relationships. And, great relationships are developed and nurtured by people. Full stop. Period. End of story.
You are not one great event away from fundraising success. A slick and compelling appeal letter is not the silver bullet. Sending out endless grant applications will not save the day. Sure, guests will show up at your party (or at least they would have pre-COVID), donors will send checks as the result of your holiday appeal, and you may even find small success with a barrage of grant applications, but at the end of the day, people give to PEOPLE!
It’s a phase I heard very early in my career and one that I repeat over and over (and over and over again) to my clients. So I’ll say it again. People give to people.
As I’ve watched the COVID crisis unfold in a myriad of ways through our nonprofit community, the thing that worries me the most is that nonprofit leaders have not fully grasped that concept. And what worries me even more is that they are STILL not heeding that advice.
Let me explain…for years, perhaps even the entire time an organization has been in existence, Executive Directors, Boards, and, yes, even some Development Directors have built their fundraising programs around transactional, low-touch fundraising efforts like selling event tickets, launching Facebook giving campaigns, mailing out cold grant applications, sending every company in town a sponsorship request. And, because they are so busy with all those low-return initiatives, they haven’t built and nurtured actual relationships with their supporters. Relationships that are proven to be the biggest asset to a successful fundraising program. Why? You guessed it. Because ‘people give to people’ means that we give to those we have relationships with.
And building a fundraising program built on relationships instead of transactions takes resources – time, effort, and most importantly, people.
So, knowing how many nonprofits find themselves in this predicament with their fundraising efforts built around transactions instead of relationships, I’m already concerned about their ability to weather this storm. But the bigger concern lies with the fact that nonprofits are exacerbating the issue by further dis-investing in the fundraising program by cutting the most important resource – its people!
I know that when revenue is down organizations must make tough choices about what to cut. But I also know that cutting development staff – especially if you only have one person – is NOT the right choice. Every time I see a Development Director laid-off, I cringe. You think your numbers are bad now? What’s it going to be like in another 6 months when no one is focused on nurturing those vital donor relationships?
Keeping the people who have the established donor relationships will be critical to your organization’s financial health. Even while we all lack the ability to connect face-to-face, continuing personal contact can still be done via handwritten notes, phone and video calls, and virtual events.
Taking into account of course, that your first step may not have anything to do with your fundraising. People give to people, remember? Checking in on your donors, human-to-human, to see how they are doing during this challenging time could go a long way. Keeping personal and caring connections is an investment, because as Maya Angelou said,
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Is your organization personally connecting with donors? This article offers some great suggestions on how to check-in and show you genuinely care during COVID.
About Rachel M. Decker
Having spent nearly 20 years in the nonprofit sector as an effective and strategic fundraising and foundation executive, Detroit Philanthropy Founder and President, Rachel Decker is passionate about helping others, making meaningful connections, solving problems and, most importantly, creating impact in our community. With the founding of Detroit Philanthropy, she turned that passion into a commitment to champion philanthropy throughout metro Detroit as a philanthropic advisor, fundraising consultant and speaker.