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The importance of slowness in the development office

Alvin Toffler’s 1970 mega-hit Future Shock described “too much change in too short a period of time.” 1970! Anyone remember how slow things were then?

Paul Jolly Paul Jolly

Many people I meet want results from their fundraising now. It’s great to accelerate your development operations. Get that thank you letter out the door as fast as possible. Thank the sponsors of an event as soon as the event is over. Enter gifts in the database quickly so board reports are complete.

But there is one thing you can’t accelerate: nurturing a donor’s connection to your organization. In that arena, focus on speed can get in your way. Here are the aspects of development that require slowness.

  • Build the relationship before asking for a big gift. The fundraising profession has many metaphors that point to the need for patience. No kissing on the first date. Squirting vinegar on a cucumber doesn’t make it a pickle. You have to plant before you can harvest. A donor is not an ATM. The truth in these analogies is not changed by the ice bucket challenge or any other innovation.
  • Refrain from asking for someone’s rolodex as soon as you meet them. For a donor to introduce a prospect to an organization requires trust. It also requires knowing the organization well enough to be confident that there is a good fit. If you really want your donors to be effective ambassadors for your organization, don’t be flippant about the “who do you know” question.
  • Cultivate potential board members before inviting them. It sends a signal of desperation if you prematurely ask someone to join your board. It’s a big commitment. Don’t rush it.
  • Don’t funnel all solicitations into your gala invitation mailing. No one – I guarantee it – is going to write the biggest check they are capable of because you invite them to an event. Events have an important role in cultivation and building excitement among donors. But they are not very good vehicles for requesting large gifts – and putting a $50,0000 sponsorship level on the invitation is not going to make it happen.
  • Don’t settle for corporate contributions when you can get love. Corporations are not people, whatever the supreme court says. They can’t fall in love with your organization. If you have a supporter with access to a corporate giving program, focus your cultivation on individual commitment. The corporate gift will follow. On the other hand, starting with the corporate commitment and moving into the individual realm is more difficult.

What it boils down it is: how fast can you listen to your donors? Silly question, isn’t it? Because listening gets you out of the fast lane. And the more you listen, the stronger your development program will be.

Addicted to speed? If your organization is stuck in a high gear, with a zillion things to finish by COB yesterday, you may find it hard to change. So start small. Choose a few donors that you are going to get to know. Carve out a few hours a week for listening. Gradually, the organization will be able to focus more on relationships and less on tasks. Now take a deep breath….

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