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Building community: another term for fundraising


mage courtesy of Stuart Miles at Image c/o Stuart Miles

“This organization serves our tribe. I am giving. I invite you to join me.” That three-part statement is the basis of many effective solicitations. We talk a lot about the second statement (endorsement) and the third (solicitation), but we don’t often discuss the first (community). If we can become more conscious and articulate about what that means, we will be better fundraisers.

I grew up in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and my first decade of employment was fundraising for Quakers institutions. My work essentially consisted of talking to other Quakers about how to strengthen our tribe.

Moving to a secular organization, the Wilderness Society, was not as big a change as I thought it would be. People supported wilderness conservation for deeply rooted reasons. My goal was to help them become more articulate about those convictions and how to manifest them. Same language, different vocabulary.

Of course, community means different things for different organizations. For global organizations, community is humankind. For local organizations, it’s a particular place. For schools, it is the families who share the values the school exemplifies. For arts organizations, it is people passionate about the importance of creativity and expression. For new organizations, it is people who are inspired by the founder’s vision.

If your organization serves people who are excluded from the affluence that America can offer, then that “we are all in this together” sentiment is all the more important. The most impressive service organizations I have seen are very protective of the dignity of their clients. Emphasizing the gulf between those who can help and those who need help does not serve anyone. And it does not lead to a sustainable commitment from donors.

Here are some of the ways the community dynamic is articulated in powerful fundraising:

  • It is empowering for solicitors to think of themselves as members of the same community as the donors they approach.
  • Donors are more likely to be compelled by the needs of the community than the needs of the organization.
  • “We are growing because the community needs more from us” is very persuasive. It is a validation of the organization’s successes. It is also an assurance that the plans are on-target.

So, what does a community-focused fundraising strategy look like?

  • Think about giving circles The message to donors about giving circles is tribal language. Have a look at the Guidestar post I did about giving circles.
  • Give donors a “backstage pass”. A tribal connection means your donors are allowed to know about the organization’s warts. Show them early drafts of growth plans. Ask their advice. Admit you are human.
  • Scrap your one-size-fits-all “give or get” policy. Do you want a diverse cross-section of the community on your board? Do you want to allow each board member’s strengths to shine? You may find it more energizing for each board member to have their own individual goals for how they will help with fundraising.

Good luck to each of you harnessing the energy of community to help your organization thrive.

Paul Jolly Paul Jolly

The preceding is a guest post by our regular contributor Paul Jolly, founder of Jump Start Growth, Inc. Paul worked as a fund raising professional for over 20 years before starting the consulting firm Jump Start Growth. He began his career serving various Quaker institutions, then moved to The Wilderness Society, and then the American Civil Liberties Union. In every instance, he has zeroed in on gifts from individuals at the top of the giving pyramid. The focus of Paul’s consulting work is bringing sophisticated major gifts fund raising practices to organizations that are outside of the philanthropic mainstream. His successes include leading three capital campaigns for organizations new to major gifts fund raising, securing millions of dollars in bequest and planned gift commitments, and bringing new life and laser-sharp focus to disheartened development departments.

Topics: Fundraising