Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Moral to Our Fundraising Story

Too many leaders of philanthropy-seeking organizations seem stuck in a pre-recession mindset. They treat the economic contraction like an unwanted guest in their once-comfy home, grousing about how long its been lounging about, lapping up the contents of the liquor cabinet and running up the grocery bill. They never actually confront it but hope and pray it will go away.

But even when this lead-footed economy finally trundles off, new realities will remain, realities that have been creeping in on little cat feet for some time, their claw prints barely noticeable on over-stuffed, mortgage-backed recliners.

Consider, if you will, the wise counsel of Bruce McClintock, former chair of Marts and Lundy, one of the most highly-regarded voices in institutional advancement, and one who has thoughtfully and consistently guided scores of institutions, over several decades, to higher philanthropic ground.

McClintock provides real insight into why fund raising performance across institutions remains so uneven. “While the sluggish economy and the re-distribution of wealth are certainly key factors in what we are seeing, “ he says, “I believe a third factor is also impacting results - institutional perspectives and allocation of resources within the advancement program.”

“I am concerned that donor attitudes have shifted dramatically over the past decade and that institutional messaging and engagement has been slow to adapt to new realities,” McClintock observes. “Some non-profits act as though they are simply victims of circumstances beyond their control. Conversely, other institutions are seemingly defying all odds and are enjoying record years. I suspect the distinguishing characteristic between these two groups is the quality of enlightened leadership (within advancement and within the institution).”

“I am also concerned that too many institutions are measuring success in their fund-raising programs on short-term results only – raising the most money in the shortest period of time for the least cost. A few of the unintended consequences of this approach seem obvious to me:

1. The drop in alumni participation (among educational institutions) over the past 15-20 years;

2. A “cash is king” mentality that relegates planned giving to a lower-priority status;

3. An under-investment in identifying, developing and achieving mid-range gifts (six-figure gifts) as an important first step in building long-term principal gift capacity;

4. Fast-tracking (or short-cutting) the relationship-building process with prospective donors (one client refers to this as “speed-dating”); and,

5. Positioning annual giving as the development office’s jayvee program for modest donors and inexperienced gift officers (thereby underestimating and/or undervaluing the potential impact of current support).

Not every institution is a victim. There are non-profit organizations that are way out in front of the others in building strong and effective advancement programs.”

Hmmm. Do I not hear this modern, avuncular Aesop telling us the tortoise of long, broad deep and authentic advancement is running in front of the hare of expediency yet again? The realities may be new but the moral to the story goes way back.

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