How I Relearned 2 Fundraising Principles

Photograph by Howard Lake

Photograph by Howard Lake

Volunteering often provides insights for experienced fundraising and development professionals to be relearned. Many elements must be brought together to successfully execute annual fundraising campaigns. Sometimes important elements are overlooked or taken for granted.

While recently volunteering for a large annual campaign, two important lessons became apparent. The lessons were the result of a positive culture created and maintained by the organization’s top leadership. The culture influences behaviors and performance of staff members throughout the organization. Staff members emulate the culture by setting the tone and atmosphere witnessed and embraced by campaign workers and volunteers.

Lessons relearned:

Photograph by North West Air Ambulance

Photograph by North West Air Ambulance

1. Respect the dignity of the gift—and the donor. This principle can’t be taken for granted and must be emphasized at the beginning of every campaign. Some nonprofit organizations do not respect their donors. The disrespect is evident in their messaging, poor year-round communication, during solicitation of gifts and many other interactions.

During an appeal from another nonprofit in February, the person soliciting gifts told the group assembled, “We know our fundraising is down and if you don’t start giving again to the campaign and giving more, we’re just going to raise prices and you’ll be paying more for your child’s programs.”

The statement clearly showed no respect for the donors or their past gifts. It showed no gratitude in advance for any pledge or donation made that day. The message spoke louder than any brochure filled with colorful photographs or any other messages or accomplishments the organization attempted to communicate. That solicitation yielded fewer dollars than the previous year. The organization’s annual campaign continues to spiral downward.

The volunteer soliciting the donations didn’t write the script. The messaging was the result of a culture created by the organization’s leadership. Negative influences flowed through the campaign workers and spread to all of the organization’s stakeholders.

110311-N-EC642-052 SAN LORENZO, Honduras (March 11, 2011) Operations Specialist 1st Class Michael McMurry, assigned to High Speed Vessel Swift (HSV 2), participates in a Southern Partnership Station 2011 community service project painting a Southeast Asia hut at Escuela Eneas Alvarado. Southern Partnership Station is an annual deployment of U.S. ships to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility in the Caribbean and Latin America.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ricardo J. Reyes/Released)

SAN LORENZO, Honduras (March 11, 2011) Operations Specialist 1st Class Michael McMurry, assigned to High Speed Vessel Swift (HSV 2), participates in a Southern Partnership Station 2011 community service project painting a Southeast Asia hut at Escuela Eneas Alvarado. Southern Partnership Station is an annual deployment of U.S. ships to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility in the Caribbean and Latin America. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ricardo J. Reyes/Released)

2. Messages must reinforce the organization’s values. In addition to respect for the donor, leadership must tirelessly and repeatedly communicate the organization’s principles and values through stories.

Many campaigns struggle to show how their organization serves diverse populations. They give donors false impressions through messages and images not reflective of actual services delivered or program outcomes. Trust becomes an issue.

Poverty, justice, education and race relations are at the forefront of most people’s minds throughout the St. Louis region. During a kickoff dinner for campaign volunteers, a video chronicling community service by high school students in Ferguson was shown. Students from the high school—near Ferguson—produced the video. Funding from the campaign provides tuition assistance and operating funds for the school. A church choir from a parish located less than 10 minutes from Ferguson provided the closing performance. The church receives grants made possible by the annual campaign.

These messages reinforced an organizational culture that values all people, no matter where they live, their race, socioeconomic status or education.

Many people judge a campaign’s success on total dollars raised. Achieving the monetary goal is critical, but healthy and mission-oriented organizations communicate specific messages to donors, prospective donors, volunteers and the general public while raising money for general operating. These organizations create and maintain a positive culture. Its values are transparent and evident in all interactions with stakeholders, especially in its fundraising.

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