By Bobbi Bosch, Executive Director, Corporate and Foundation Relations at Indiana University Foundation
As a professional fundraiser, it’s my job to raise money. Daily. Weekly. Monthly. Annually. You get the picture. To some, asking for money is an overwhelming and frightening thought. To me, it’s fun and extremely rewarding. When done properly, fundraising is matchmaking. What you want is a long, happy and mutually satisfying relationship. Yet, too many times, fundraising conversations are more like bad blind dates where one side talks too much about themselves and then wonders why their calls go unreturned.
The normal model we use in fundraising is straightforward. Establish the scope and focus of your project, do your research to determine potential funders, and convince the donor to make an investment in your organization (well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but for the sake of argument, go with me here). But before you head out the door with talking points that tell your potential donor how great your organization/program/project is, I suggest you stop. Take a deep breath, and … throw your list of talking points away. Change your thinking, and approach potential funders with a list of “question points.”
Below are a few of my favorites:
- What is the impact the donor wants to make with their giving?
- What previous gifts have been the most successful in their mind? Why?
- Which of their program areas do they feel are strongest? Are there any they wish were stronger?
- Are there things in the community that they would like to accomplish, but have not yet found the right partner?
- What organizations do they admire?
What organizations that they already work with provide the best stewardship? What about that particular organization’s efforts are most appealing?
These questions offer you insight into the prospective funder’s goals, perceptions and preferences. Is your organization/program truly a good fit philosophically with what the donor wants to achieve? Is there potential for a long-term relationship?
The questions above aren’t just for your courting/cultivation phase, either. It makes great sense to periodically check in with your donors – no matter how well you think you know them and they know you. A donor recently told me that for all the hardship that the recent economic downturn brought to his organization, he appreciated how the economy made his organization focus — on their strategy and their priorities. They had to cut funding to a lot of good organizations, simply because there was no longer strategic alignment. He noted that in many cases, this came as a “surprise” to those organizations, even though the funder had tried diligently to be transparent.
We all want to find long-term, committed donors. And while lasting relationships take time, I believe we set the tone for the relationship from the very beginning. In order to succeed, we need to stop thinking of our donors merely as funders and start thinking of them as true partners.