Show Me The Money!
In the movie “Jerry McGuire,” Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s character is all about the money, and his mantra has become an oft-quoted reference point for people who want to get what they believe they have coming to them. In the nonprofit world, statements like “show me the money” sound crass, and we would never think of approaching a donor with a demand like that . . . at least, I certainly hope not! However, far too often those in the fundraising profession responsible for cultivating and stewarding donor relationships – the development officers and fundraising staff - are left feeling that others within their organization are coming to them with that very requisite.
Sometimes those requests are well meaning. In one of my first nonprofit roles I was working on a capital fundraising project with multiple overlapping campaigns that stretched over almost seven years. I recall my boss coming to me on more than one occasion with something like this: “I just met with our contractors. The price of steel has increased, and the project is going to cost an additional $100,000… can you get a grant to cover that?” As a novice fundraiser, that question intimidated me, and I would find myself stammering to reply. Over time, I learned to respond with confidence, telling my boss, “No, I can’t. It doesn’t work that way.”
It doesn’t work that way. Whether requesting money from an institution, such as a foundation, or a philanthropic individual donor, those who are capable of giving in a meaningful way don’t care what an organization “needs” – they care that the organization is making a difference in a way that is meaningful to their values. Typically, those capable of giving significantly also want to know what an agency will do to move their mission forward if they don’t give anything. Why? Because they want to know that the organizations they support mean it. Are they sustainable? Are they thinking long-term, or just in the moment? Do they have a plan, a strategy, or are they flying by the seat of their pants?
I had another boss who would call the development team together and encourage us, saying (quite correctly) “Keep meeting with your prospects. It may take you eighteen or even twenty-four months to get to the place where you can ask.” Then, in individual meetings, she would challenge us: “What’s taking so long? You’ve met with that prospect three times now! Either close the donation or move on.”
Situations like that may be the exception, but they do exist.
Don’t get me wrong – funds need to be raised, asks need to be made, programs need to be supported. However, putting the transaction ahead of the relationship is a sure way to create a shrinking donor base and a discouraged fundraising staff that will jump ship to try and find an organization that values people above money.
Creating a fundraising plan that is realistic and invites the fundraising staff to be part of the process, and trusting development professionals to utilize their skills, experience, and relationships to build a sustainable, committed donor base will empower everyone involved. There are many, many great organizations out there with a mission to serve and vision to impact lives and create a better world for all. Leaders who are willing to partner with frontline staff in the fundraising process, instead of simply dictating goals and expectations that are sometimes unrealistic, create an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect, and feed a culture of philanthropy that truly reflects the mission and values of their organizations.