Authentic Fundraising: A love story

I fell in love for the first time in grade four. David was in grade five. My house was on 4th avenue at the top of the hill on the edge of a town called Cranbrook. My parents bought it for the spectacular view of the Rocky mountain range. There were floor to ceiling windows in every room. Wherever you looked the vista of the mountains was breathtaking. I didn’t care about the mountains though, because David’s house was at the bottom of the hill. About six times a day I walked past David’s house with my best friend Lisa. Lisa lived on the same street as David. Everyday – even in the middle of a rocky mountain winter – I would walk past David’s house to Lisa’s house. Pick Lisa up. Walk back past David’s house. Go to the convenience store. Buy a hot chocolate. Walk back past David’s house again. Drop of Lisa. Finally, walk back past David’s house, one last time. Then home, back up the hill to my house. During the walks we could often catch a glimpse of David watching TV. On a really good day he might be in his front yard and we would get to say hello. In grade six I got a new pair of rainbow jeans and I wore them everyday. David told me that they made my “butt” look good. By grade ten Lisa and I were walking four miles to the hockey games on Friday night. David was the captain of the hockey team. Everything I did, I did for him. I thought about him when I got ready for school. I thought about him all day at school. At the end of the day when I walked home I was constantly looking over my shoulder to see if he was walking home too. In evenings when I did the dishes, I could sometimes catch a glimpse of David hanging his hockey equipment in the backyard. When no one was home I bounced around the house singing to Air Supply’s“All out of love”, which I hoped he could hear down the hill.  I was so lost without him! My love affair with David lasted all through grade school and into high school. Thirty years later I tried to find him on Facebook because I wanted his permission to share this story at a fundraising conference. Sadly, I found his obituary. David had died at a very young age due to ALS. Yes – I cried. I still love him. It makes me sad to think that he is gone. He never knew how I felt. I still think about what it would have been like to kiss...

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Authentic Fundraising: Legacies (Part One)

In 2010 I worked as Director of Development for an environmental charity called Ontario Nature. We had just finished a revitalization of our legacy program. This involved some renewed marketing materials, a few financial planning events and a wildly successful survey to our most loyal donors. We now had almost 70 confirmed legators. These are people who had told us that they intended to leave a bequest to our organization in their will. I knew that just three of those pledges totalled an expected 2.5 million dollars – so we anticipated the entire value of all of these relationships would be significantly more than that. We all know that most donors update or change their will before they go on vacation and within just a year or two of their death. Now that we had secured millions of dollars in expectancies, my job was to figure out how to keep them. So I started to do what many of us in smaller organizations do. I added our legators to the major donor stewardship program. That major donor program was ROCKING. We had just finished a capital campaign to purchase some land and people were excited. We were having parties, going on hikes and having more parties and going on more hikes. Each time we had an event I would phone our legators and make sure they knew that we would love to see them there. The realization that I had made a mistake happened during a phone call a donor who was incredibly candid. She loved nature, went on many outings with the organization when she was younger. She told me she was now at an age where she hardly ever left her house.  She couldn’t drive, she needed to be near a toilet, she found stairs difficult to manage and regrettably she wanted to stop receiving invitations to events she could not attend. It was during that phone call that I realized, every time I was inviting her to come to an event or go on a hike, she felt sad. She loved us so much, and we were – I was making her feel sad and old and isolated. Exactly the opposite of my intention. It became clear that our legators, needed to be treated differently than our major donors. I just wasn’t sure how to do it. Later that summer, all of the staff were siting down together outside in a big tent. It was a warm night with the sound of crickets and really loud bull frogs in the background. We had just hosted about 100 people in nature workshops and a dinner. Sitting there, I started to feel a little melancholy. I was sad...

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Introducing: The Authentic Fundraiser

In a world where we talk A LOT about building relationships with and loving our donors, very few charities are actually putting donors above their own organizational needs. I believe that is because we are paying lip service to buzz words but still using traditional sales techniques in the trenches. Our sector needs more authentic fundraisers, more authentic fundraising and more authentic people. Our sector needs more authentic fundraisers, more authentic fundraising and more authentic people. Before we start throwing around yet another new buzzword, it is prudent to stop and ask ourselves: What does authenticity mean? What does it mean to be a truly authentic fundraiser? And what does authentic fundraising look like? The problem with the traditional approach When I first started raising money for charity sixteen years ago, there were a few books that formed the basis of my education. They were: “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie.. “The seven habits of highly effective people” by Stephen Covey and “The art of persuasion” by Robert Ciaidini. – far be it for me to go up against Covey, Carnegie and Ciaidini! These are still best selling business books. You should read them; I just encourage you to read them critically. Not all of their techniques apply to our sector. Time for a new approach to “sales” After considerable thought I now believe that how we are applying these principles in the espoused books is dead wrong. Let’s take a closer look at the language being used: Influence: the power to change or affect someone or something : the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen[1] Persuasion: the act of causing people to do or believe something: the act or activity of persuading people[2] Reciprocity:  a mutual exchange of privileges; specifically:  a recognition by one of two countries or institutions of the validity of licenses or privileges granted by the other[3] I would like to banish the words persuasion, reciprocity and influence from the fundraising lexicon. Donors are more cynical, educated and are expecting us to do better. They want to be more engaged, are thinking more critically and are giving differently than they were twenty years ago. The fact of the matter is our sector is falling behind and our profession is grossly misunderstood. According to some work that I participated in as part of the advisory panel for Rogare, many fundraisers are paying lip service to the idea of building relationships and being donor centred. It is easy to stand up and cheer for our donors when we are at meet ups – but how do we operationalize that in the trenches? Many organizations in our sector simply are not...

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