5 Must-Do Tips for Fundraisers from a Major Philanthropist

In my previous blog post, I focused on the advice donors themselves provided for how nonprofit organizations can enhance their planned gift marketing efforts. The seven tips they provided covered things that organizations should embrace. For this post, I want to share some wisdom from Peter Benoliel, Chairman-Emeritus of Quaker Chemical, who is a generous philanthropist and recipient of the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning of Greater Philadelphia’s Legacy Award for Planned Giving Philanthropist. Benoliel offers five development tips for every development officer, as an individual:

Development professionals, senior staff, and volunteer leadership should be passionate about the organization and its mission.

If you’re not able to be passionate about the organization you represent, how can you be effective? You can’t. So, either get passionate or get out. Prospective donors will take their cue from you. If you’re not genuinely passionate about the organization, they won’t be either. Be passionate, and share your passion. When you do, just be sure to be sincere since prospective donors can smell pretense a mile away.

Staff and volunteer fundraisers should be morally armed by making their own donation first.

Yes, I know. Your organization is probably not paying you enough. But, you’ve still decided to work there. And, donors, like Benoliel, expect you to support the organization with a donation. They feel that since you have a vested interest in its well-being, you should support the organization before asking them to do so. If you don’t care enough, why should they?

Development professionals should send personal, handwritten notes.

In this electronic age, few people send handwritten notes. Therefore, one simple, inexpensive thing you can do to stand-out in the crowd is to write handwritten notes to prospective contributors and donors. They’ll appreciate the content, and they’ll appreciate the personal touch. Fortunately, I know from personal experience, you don’t even need to have pretty handwriting to score big points with this tip.

Development professionals should recognize gifts in unexpected ways.

Surprising donors with special recognition can have a massive impact. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. Just make it sincere and personal. The little extra can be something as simple as recognizing the donor at an event when they weren’t expecting the shout-out. If you want them to care, show them you care.

Development professionals should avoid silly mistakes like sending multiple copies of the same appeal, sending a form appeal to a donor who has just made a gift, or ignoring a donor who is in the middle of a multiyear gift commitment.

What more can I say? Try to avoid the silly mistakes. When you make them, and you eventually will make one, own up to it and apologize. Never argue, never be officious, never pass the buck. Apologize and do what you can to make things right.

Embracing these five simple tips from a major philanthropist can help you achieve greater fundraising success. That’s what Michael Rosen Says… It’s also what Peter Benoliel says. What do you say?

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Note: The information in this blog post is derived from: Peter Benoliel, “Donor Roundtable,” Philadelphia: Partnership for Philanthropic Planning of Greater Philadelphia Planned Giving Day, October 2009. as described in the book Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

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11 Responses to “5 Must-Do Tips for Fundraisers from a Major Philanthropist”

  1. I feel very strongly about individuals making personal donations to organizations that they fundraise on behalf of! Whether a staff member, board member, or campaign volunteer – leaders never ask someone to do something that they themselves haven’t already done!

    And, absolutely, positively, most definitely about handwritten notes! It’s one of my favorite parts of my job as a fundraiser, and it tells the donor that I took time to care! We can’t forget the critical tasks of stewardship and cultivation.

    • Jessica, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have heard the argument, particularly from those at small organizations, that feel their “contribution” is their acceptance of a below-market salary. However, I tend to agree with you. We should make our own real donation before asking for one. The problem of below-market salaries at nonprofit organizations is another issue.

  2. My youngest son has Autism. One of the symptoms of Autism is the tendency to treat people like “objects”. Although he’s never spoken a word to me, I’ve learned a great deal from my son in terms of how I relate to benefactors and prospective benefactors.

    Sad to say, but over the last 15 years, I run into an awful lot of development personnel that behave as though they have Autism.

    The other thing I’ve learned and practice is empathy. It’s really quite simple. Put yourself in the position of the donor, and ask yourself, “How would I feel if someone teated me (or mistreated me…) this way?

    My son knows a lot.

    • Michael, thank you for sharing your comments about the unique insights into interpersonal relationships you learned from your son. I once had one of my seminar participants say to me, “I guess what you’re saying is pretty much just common sense, right?” I responded, “Yes it is common sense. And, when it becomes common practice, I’ll stop talking about it.” Thank you for being one of the folks who gets it.

  3. Hi Michael – some very useful insights; thanks. However, I’m just wondering about the point about fundraisers needing to make a financial commitment to the charity they work for. Maybe this is more of an American mindset, where people tend to be more open about – and proud of – their giving? Am interested in other countries’ viewpoints. In the UK, in 18+ years of fundraising and consultancy, I’ve not been asked directly by a donor whether I financially support the charity I’m raising funds for. But maybe that’s just English reserve! What are other people’s experiences?

    • Andrew, thank you for your comment and question. I hope others from around the world will share their insights. Meantime, I can tell you that most donors in America will not ask the fundraiser whether they have given, though some might. Instead, giving allows the fundraiser to be proactive and say something like, “I hope you will join me in supporting…” Or, “The reason I support…” You get the idea. And, to Peter Benoliel’s point, even if the issue is not raised by the donor or the fundraiser, the fundraiser becomes morally armed when they make their own gift first thereby giving them a bit more confidence to go out and ask others to make a gift as well.

  4. 5 Must do tips -Absolutely relevant and we should be doing these as a matter of course but the busier we get, the easier it is to send a standard typed reply. As a donor to one or two national charities I know I don’t appreciate being contacted constantly asking to increase my donation or prompting for more when I have just donated – or their departments not talking to one another. As a Fundraiser of many years standing, I try not to mind because I know the pressures we are all under and consequently I do try to treat each donor as I would wish to be treated but I apprepreciate I am not perfect either. With so many charities with a similar cause we just have to remember that donors give their money or their time of their own free will – and they don’t have to give it to US. Quite often all they want is to be appreciated.

    • Carol, thank you for taking the time to write. I feel your pain. I, too, don’t send as many handwritten notes as I should. And, I share your dislike of constant upgrade appeals. I particularly don’t like when a thank you letter asks for more money. Solicitation and thank you letters should be two different pieces of correspondence. I think I’ll rant about that in a future post. Thanks for the idea!

  5. Michael,
    I agree fully that fundraisers and volunteers are better advocates for supporting the organization if they themselves give. It works for any campaign or even for legacy. At a planned giving seminar offered at a VA fundraising conference a few years ago, a former development officer who is now a wealth management officer with BOA asked attendees who among us had included their organization in a planned gift? Only one hand rose in a packed room – his! The point was well made. You make a stronger case and it’s so easy to include your org in an insurance policy or IRA. Then you can easily invite donors to join you as a member of your legacy society. At least it works for me!

    • Debbie, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. The issue of fundraisers making their own gift before asking, particularly a planned gift, is the one point that has generated the most mixed feelings on the part of readers. While many donors and advisers will not care, we know many who do.

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