Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Generating New Donors

There are essentially three ways of generating new donors:

  1. To nurture them from within through significant and sustained interaction with your institution. The student-to-alumni experience would be a classic example of this approach. This is the best way to build a solid, sustained base of support but it requires time and care. The largest gifts to higher learning generally come from long-term loyal donors or quintessential insiders such as long-serving board members. Many institutions fail to pay adequate attention to the long-term, loyal donors who give modest amounts annually. Yet these are the donors most likely to leave the largest estate gifts with the fewest restrictions. Parents and grateful patients are other examples of donors who are nurtured from within
  2. To draw them to your organization through the strength of your ideas or unique capabilities. In the “Imagine What’s Next” campaign I ran at UCSD, 98 percent of the support came from non-alumni and 91 percent came from .8 percent of the donor base. The ability of the faculty to generate cutting edge knowledge that was relevant to a burgeoning high tech economy made it possible to attract very significant gifts from foresightful philanthropists. They had no nostalgic or emotional connection to the institution but a great respect for its scientific and technological achievements and its still greater potential. Large gifts were given to realize emerging capabilities in engineering, oncology, pharmaceutical sciences, neuroscience, oceanography and business. Independent philanthropists, entrepreneurs and companies often give on the strength of an idea or unique capability.
  3. To convince them that your institution is a cost-efficient delivery system for their ideas, values or animating passions. Whether it is a determination to abate disease, alleviate suffering, expand opportunity, open scientific or technological frontiers, or overcome economic disparities, there are many philanthropists who have already decided where they intend to make a difference. There’s no point in putting other philanthropic concepts or proposals in front of them. There are not interested in what they can do for your institution but what your institution can do for them. And, yet, if your institution shares the same passion, a powerful philanthropic partnership can be formed. Independent philanthropists, entrepreneurs and foundations are among those who give to institutions who they believe will be the most productive purveyors of their ideas.

But here’s the larger point: without an institutional commitment to sustaining emotional connections over time, to producing bold concepts, or to collaborating with issue-driven philanthropists, fund raisers have little hope of generating legions of new donors. It’s not the presence or persistence of fund raising staff in the field alone, but the institutional commitments that they are allowed to broker. Institutions committed to all three will attract and retain the best fund raisers, and the combination of all those factors will lead to the best fund raising results. Period.

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