DO YOU AGREE that fundraising is about building relationships—not about money? Great! But what sort of relationships are we talking about? In what ways will these relationships be expressed? Isn’t money, after all, at least one of those ways?
Well, obviously. But, broadly speaking, donors have the capacity to contribute six gifts:
Money, certainly, is the most obvious of those. Time quickly comes to mind, too—volunteer time, of course. In-kind gifts are also an obvious possibility.
These are each tangible gifts that donors can bring to the table, and we normally tell ourselves that all this is more than enough to worry about. But there are several intangible gifts as well, sometimes far more consequential ones:
Information in the form of market insight is part of the picture—the sort of information we can gleam from market research and day- to- day contact with our donors. However, some donors possess specialized information and skills and can serve as advisers, either formal or informal—sometimes even taking technically demanding jobs on staff on a volunteer basis.
Voice permits any donor to become your organization’s “ambassador”—a fundraiser, recruiter, or public relations representative whose active involvement can lower your fundraising costs, supplement your marketing efforts, and help build your donorfile.
Influence is within reach of every donor— presumably, every one of us has some degree of influence over others—but it can become of strategic importance when particular donors are well connected with key individuals at corporations, foundations, or government agencies.
Intuitively, this all makes perfect sense. We nod our heads upon hearing it. But engineering our fundraising programs to make use of this broader definition of what donors bring to the table is quite another matter for most of us.
As a practical matter, what can we do to capitalize on an understanding of the Six Gifts donors can contribute? The fundamental requirement is that you establish a dialogue with your donors.
In the case of major donors or declared legacy prospects, dialogue often comes easily. It’s our job as fundraisers to talk to them, if we possibly can. Not so with the overwhelming majority of contributors, especially in the context of large files of direct mail or online supporters. Here, establishing and maintaining dialogue with donors requires the artful and ongoing use of surveys, questionnaires, and other involvement devices—not the sort of involvement device favored by so many mailers (bogus “surveys” that are discarded upon receipt, phony “petitions” or “declarations of support”), but real questionnaires that solicit serious answers to serious questions.
If you’re prepared to strike out in the direction of genuine, two-way communication, then the possibilities will come quickly to mind— questions such as the following:
- Do you serve on the board of any charitable foundation?
- If so, which one?
- Are you well acquainted with trustees of any charitable foundation(s)?
- If so, which one(s)?
- Do you have a will or living trust?
- If so, have you made provisions for philanthropic gifts in your will or living trust?
- Have you provided for a legacy gift to [our organization]?
- Are you interested in receiving more information about legacy gifts to [our organization]?
You get the point. And this is only the beginning of where your imagination might take you.
Don’t be shy with your donors! You’ll find that large numbers of them will gladly, even enthusiastically, answer any questions you may care to ask.
This article was reprinted with permission from Mal Warwick of Mal Warwick and Associates located in both Berkeley, CA and Washington D.C.. Consultant, author, and public speaker Mal Warwick has been involved in the not-for-profit sector for more than 40 years. He has written or edited seventeen books of interest to nonprofit managers. He has taught fundraising on six continents to nonprofit executives from more than 100 countries. Copyright (c) 2005 by Mal Warwick. All rights reserved. You can learn more about him at www.malwarwick.com.