Fundraising Lessons from Philanthropy Lessons

I’ve always said that nonprofits could learn a lot about good fundraising just by reading some of the advice and guidance that’s being given to funders.  Whether it’s Charity Navigator’s “Tips for Donors” or “Giving Guidance and Tips” from the Wise Giving Alliance, there are plenty of excellent roadmaps showing donors how to give, how to choose a nonprofit partner, and how to spot organizations that are doing well, as well as those who are not making much of an impact.

Each of these tips and guiding principles can be easily turned around and shaped into sound advice for nonprofit leaders.  For example, when the Wise Giving Alliance tells donors to “resist being pressured,” nonprofits should take note of this advice and make sure that appeals – whether by phone or in person – respect the prospect’s right (and need) to make a thoughtful decision.  Or when Charity Navigator advises donors to “start a dialogue” regarding programmatic results, nonprofits should be prepared, and have on hand compelling (and understandable) information describing the impact their initiatives are having on the issue or cause they address.

I mentioned Exponent Philanthropy in my previous post.  They are currently in the midst of their annual conference in Chicago, and I’ve been getting daily highlights of the conference’s proceedings.  In today’s email, I was pointed toward their Philanthropy Lessons website.  Supported by the Fund for Shared Insight and released in partnership with The Chronicle, Philanthropy Lessons features real stories of giving in action from funders and grantees from all across the country.  The lessons are shared both as short videos as well as blog posts.

The videos contain fantastic advice that, while intended for donors and funders, provide extremely useful insight for nonprofit leaders.  A few things stood out as I listened:

  • Funders are being told to “get out of the office” and see their grantees in person. (Fundraisers are being told the same thing all the time!)  Reach out to your donors and invite them over to come and see you!
  • Many donors interviewed in the video spoke passionately about the “experiential” nature of interactions they have with nonprofits and the community being served.  Funders are looking for that authentic experience, not the perfect performance.  (So it’s alright if the kids are making lots of noise or the clinic is bit chaotic.  That’s your reality.)
  • While funders might enjoy site visits, some were clear that overly structured site visits, where the executive director pulls out a very formal agenda, are a bit of a turn-off.  So that well-rehearsed “dog and pony show” might not be the best approach.
  • Empathy goes a long way in any relationship, and relationship building is a critical component of both sides of the philanthropic equation.  Funders need to remind themselves that it’s hard for a nonprofit when funding has to be scaled back or eliminated for various reasons.  But nonprofits must realize that these are hard decisions for the funders too.  They don’t want turn away from a favorite nonprofit partner, but sometimes they have to make tough decisions, just like nonprofits do.

These are just a few of the insights I gained in reading through the posts and watching the videos.   I am sure more will come as I check out the remaining videos. 

Take a look at these and other advice being given to donors.  Think about how your nonprofit can help its current and potential donors to have the best possible experience.  Talk openly about the type of relationship you want to build with each other. Demonstrate that you are ready to (and are eager to) engage with them as an active partner.   As one of the funders said, “When they let us in, then the work begins.”  Share your visions for how each of you can have an impact on your community, issue or cause.