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On fundraising

Every nonprofit CEO has the responsibility if not the duty to raise funds for his or her organization. Some of us love it but many of us dread it, particularly when it comes to asking individuals for money. We make excuses, find other work to do (which in any case can be unending and true) If you are like me, an introvert, more concerned about programs and operations, it doesn’t come naturally and one has to work that much harder.


There are many articles on the cycle of fundraising as a quick Google search will confirm. The typical steps are – identification, cultivation, solicitation, recognition and stewardship.


Beyond cultivation

Fundraisers know this and generally follow this cycle. These are the mechanics.


The deeper issues are:

  • building trust

  • strengthening relationships

  • invoking inspiration

  • following through

  • getting results


Building trust with a donor takes time. It means showing up, it requires face time and consistency. It requires you to listen, and listen closely. Most jobs I’ve loved, I’ve worked at for about four and a half years. That seems to be the length of time to learn the work, try new ideas and then when it is time to repeat the cycle, and I don’t think that I am learning anything new, I quit. However, it was quite clear to me that 4 years was not going to cut it when I joined Chicago Foundation for Women. While I had connections and relationships with other nonprofits (who were grantees of the foundation) my relationships with donors was virtually non-existent. It was going to take time to get to know our donors, those who had been supporting the foundation through thick and thin. It was going to take time to gain their trust.


This leads to building a strong relationship. Relationships are built on trust. Again, the keys are time and consistency. A strong donor relationship is delicate. It sometimes crosses into the personal. I’ve been invited to social occasions, dinners, weddings, funerals. The donors get to know you, you learn more about them. They are opportunities for building relationships. However, you cannot forget your role for a moment. You have to remain a professional while entering into the relationship. This is tricky, because you have to open up your personal self while also being circumspect.


This next point of being inspiring has been the hardest for me. I don’t think of myself as being particularly inspirational. But I see other leaders who do a great job at this. This is about sharing your vision for a new kind of society, one that is just and where change is possible. It can be a tall order. Having the confidence that your vision will come to pass is not enough.


Inspiration must be followed by action. Which means following through on your vision, taking action to achieve it. This means being persistence. It means not only taking the steps to achieve your vision but being willing to take and change direction if necessary. It is important that you communicate the path you take.


You have to act to achieve your vision which donors get behind. You must achieve results. This is perhaps the most critical of all the steps. It is one thing to be inspiring, but if you cannot achieve the results of the inspiration, it does not take long for disillusionment to set in. Once you achieve results, you have to share it with your donors, so that their confidence in you and your work is cemented.


Does this cycle mirror your experience? Does it resonate?

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