Recruiting fundraising champions
In fundraising, as in life, I have learned that different paths may often lead to unexpected and rewarding results. I once met a couple who represented a private foundation in a very surprising way. They were driving in the countryside thousands of miles from home. They got lost and ended up at the end of a forest road which was the entrance to a remote College campus. Instead of turning around and heading back to the main road, they decided to walk around the campus on a quiet summer day. They were intrigued with the College, picked up a brochure which included my contact information, and gave me a call the next week. This initial contact lead to a multi-year major gift from the foundation. I was very glad they took that path!
My career as a board member, consultant and fundraiser has taken many paths. During this journey, I have learned much from donors, staff and volunteers. In my recent work with clients, I have encountered a great desire for organizations to move their missions forward through new fundraising strategies, especially in the areas of major and planned gifts. At the same time, board chairs and executive directors are challenged to build internal support for this work and recruit fundraising champions among staff and volunteers. To assist on this issue, I developed a presentation on how to identify fundraising champions based on my own experience.
I started my fundraising career working at the provincial office of a well-established national charity. The organization had a long tradition of volunteer led fundraising with door-to-door campaigns and special events but wished to diversify its methods of revenue generation. The organization was enthusiastic about having me as a resource to develop a proactive gift planning and major gift program but very few staff or volunteers had a sense of what needed to be done or how they could assist.
My mandate was not only to secure major and planned gifts but to also open the minds of staff and volunteers to new approaches beyond their traditional fundraising. We developed an incredible team of grass-roots volunteers in over forty local communities aided by the support of regional staff and local community volunteers to assist with this work. This new focus on major gift fundraising and gift planning led to the first capital campaign for the organization.
Where to start?
One piece of advice I took to heart early in my fundraising career was to seek out and achieve early wins. This was important as I was new to fundraising but also critical for my organization that was in the early stages of understanding major gift fundraising and gift planning. One of the initial gifts I secured was a new life insurance policy from a long-term annual donor. In addition to my personal thanks to the donor, I asked the Chair of the local board if he would meet the donor to provide his thanks on behalf of the organization. His response was that he had never thanked a donor, but that he would love to do it! This was the start of a new path in fundraising for the Chair and a great beginning to our working relationship.
I had many motivations for the Chair to meet this donor. In addition to donor recognition, I wanted the Chair to understand why the donor had established this gift and how the gift would benefit both the donor and the charity. The meeting with the donor went very well for all concerned. The Chair gained a good understanding of the motivations of the donor and how this gift worked, the donor was thrilled to meet the Chair, and I was off to a great start in building a relationship with the Chair and the donor.
I now had my first fundraising champion in the organization and he was ready to do more!
The Chair discussed the donor meeting and the gift with his local board members and an examination began among volunteers of other possible individuals to thank for previous donations and discuss future ways to support the organization. At a provincial board meeting the initiative was discussed and other local communities began to follow the same model with success. Our team of fundraising champions grew from there.
As a staff resource, I provided support in the form of volunteer training and technical advice as needed. The key to success is the knowledge and passion of local volunteers who are the “eyes and ears” in their local communities.
My career in fundraising has demonstrated that there are many paths to success. I have also learned that sometimes paths less travelled may yield the best results. Recruiting fundraising champions among staff and volunteers of your organization means you will be taking others along for a rewarding and worthwhile journey. It is sure to make the trip more enjoyable and the destination a shared success.
Wishing you all the best in your fundraising work in 2017!