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Fundraising: handshake or hot potato?

hand shakeIf you boil it down to basics, fundraising is a solicitor asking a prospect for a gift. But usually there is a coordinator involved. The coordinator equips the solicitor to ask the prospect for a gift. This could be upward delegation, downward delegation, or sideways delegation. And there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.

The right way is what I call handshake delegation. The coordinator says to the solicitor: "This is a fabulous organization, and we have great plans. I am so grateful that you are harnessing your vision, your creativity, your network. How can I help you make the biggest impact?

The wrong way is what I call hot potato delegation. It sounds like any of these things (all actual quotes):

  • “Dear fundraiser, our costs are going up. Next year, we need $1 million. So that is your target.”
  • “Dear board members, one of our biggest foundation donors is going out of business. So we are increasing our ‘give or get’ to $10,000.”
  • “Dear executive director, we hired you because you know lots of foundations. So the rest of the board and I are counting on your to do the fundraising.”

Hot potato delegation is bad fundraising. It leads to hazy planning, failure, and resentment.

Getting big gifts requires powerful relationships with donors and prospects. And powerful relationships require handshake delegation.

If your organization practices hot potato delegation, here are some practical suggestions:

  • Root out any insinuations that fundraising is (necessary) evil, distasteful, or akin to begging. Generosity is one of the most wonderful experiences in human existence, and fundraising is facilitation of generosity.
  • Look for donors in your own network. You are probably more connected to prospective major donors than you think.
  • Build income projections based on your donors’ likely gifts, not on program costs. If your program costs are greater than your capacity, you have to change one number or the other. Or both. Need is not a fundraising strategy.
  • When you hire a fundraiser, make sure he or she knows that the whole team is committed to the financial health of the organization.
  • When you recruit a new board member, don’t be coy about fundraising. Make expectations explicit. And be flexible. Every solicitor feels differently about approaching his or her friends. And every prospect wants to be approached in a different way.
  • Any time you ask someone to get involved with fundraising, make sure they are well equipped. Give them the prospect’s contact information and organizational history, as well as any potential for awkwardness.

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