Can the Dalai Lama Help You Raise More Money?

Last week, I saw a tweet from the Dalai Lama that is relevant for fundraising professionals.

Your first reaction to this post might be, “Gee, I didn’t know the Dalai Lama has a Twitter account.”

Well, he does, and he has 18.8 million Followers. For some context, I’ll point out that the Twitter account of Pope Francis has 17.8 million Followers. In a comparison that may explain some of what is going on in the world, let me just mention that Kim Kardashian has 59 million Twitter Followers. Oh well.

So, the tweet from the Dalai Lama that resonated with me as a fundraising professional is this:

“Even more important than the warmth and affection we receive, is the warmth and affection we give. It is by giving warmth and affection, by having a genuine sense of concern for others, in other words through compassion, that we gain the conditions for genuine happiness,” tweeted the Dalai Lama.

The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

This is the essence of donor-centered fundraising. Yes, I know you like it when people donate to your organization. But, if you want that support to be something more than a one-time and/or limited transaction, you need to show donors you care about them, their needs and philanthropic aspirations. When practicing donor-centered fundraising, you will be able to develop the conditions for genuine happiness. I’m talking about the happiness of your donors, your happiness, your boss’s happiness, and the happiness of those who benefit from the services of your organization.

By treating people the way they want to be treated, you’ll acquire more donors, renew more donors, upgrade more, and receive more major and planned gifts from donors. In short, you’ll increase the lifetime value of your organization’s supporters.

Penelope Burk, in her book Donor-Centered Fundraising, describes what she means by the term:

Donor-centered fundraising is an approach to raising money and interacting with donors that acknowledges what donors really need and puts those needs first. Donor-centered fundraising impacts fundraising success in three ways. First, it retains more donors longer, giving them time to develop their own philanthropic resiliency; second, it causes more donors to offer increasingly generous gifts; and third, it raises the performance of even the most active and loyal donors to a new standard. Donor-centered fundraising aims its sights at our two worst enemies in fundraising: attrition and stagnation.”

In my own book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, I contrast a donor-centered orientation with traditional fundraising:

By contrast, traditional, organization-focused fundraising has often concentrated on:

  • Tools including philanthropic instruments like wills, trusts, life insurance, and so on.
  • Techniques including direct mail, face-to-face visits, telephone appeals, and so on.
  • The needs of the charitable organization.
  • The community.
  • The cause.

While tools, techniques, organization need, community benefit, and the cause itself are all important, the fact is that it is donors and prospective donors that are most important in the philanthropic process.”

Adopting a truly donor-centered fundraising orientation will likely involve many changes at your nonprofit organization. To get you started, here are some simple questions you can begin considering now:

  1. Do you know what your donors need from you? For example, do they really want the thank-you blanket or would they prefer knowing what good their money is doing?
  2. Do your donors feel appreciated? For example, do you thank all donors promptly and appropriately?
  3. Do you offer donors opportunities to engage? For example, can they volunteer, do you seek their opinions through surveys, do you invite them to events, do you offer behind-the-scenes tours?
  4. Do you make donating to your organization easy? For example, can visitors to your website easily find your “donate” button? Will you have someone available to answer donor questions between Christmas and New Year’s?

The Dalai Lama’s tweet provided great advice for a happy life. It’s also terrific advice for a successful fundraising program. As he suggested, when you give warmth and affection, and have a genuine sense of concern for others, you’ll find them more willing to support your organization, now and well into the future with ever-increasing gifts that will allow your organization to fulfill its mission. That will make everyone happy.

Now, I want to leave you with one final thought. I jokingly compared Kim Kardashian’s massive Twitter account with those of the Dalai Lama and Pope. But, on a serious note, I just want to say that Kardashian attracted 59 million Followers by expertly delivering what her public wants and expects from her. There’s a valid lesson in there for all of us.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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