Saturday, January 28, 2012

Where Credit Is Due

I’ve been fortunate enough to be in positions where I was able to help a number of organizations secure a large number of private gifts. Some of those gifts were remarkably large. Some were awe-inspiringly generous when contrasted to the donors’ means. All of them were a privilege to witness.

And, yes, I fell into the trap of saying, “I raised” those gifts. When others congratulated me for doing so, I was all too eager and happy to take credit for them. It was a trap because the more we, as fundraisers, take sole credit for private gifts, the more apt others are to assign us sole responsibility for securing them. The more that happens, the less effective we will become because the organizations we represent will fail to attend to the conditions that truly inspire, sustain and grow philanthropic support over time.

If, on the other hand, we think of ourselves not as fundraisers but as agents of philanthropy, we can help create a virtuous cycle that will promote the growth of a culture of gratitude and accountability, which will make our work more productive and rewarding.

When a gift commitment is made, we must give great credit to the donor. But we must also acknowledge and be grateful to live in a culture where so many donors feel an obligation to “give back” to society. Nowhere is that obligation felt more, or expressed more generously, than in North America. We must understand how that came to be and make sure that fundraising practice or institutional smugness do not chip away at an unparalleled human phenomenon.

Second, we must give public credit to all those who built value into our organization through their dedication and hard work over many years, if not generations. Their efforts greatly strengthened our organization’s relative societal worth and, in so doing, convinced others that it is worthy of significant and sustained philanthropic support.

Third, we must honor and acknowledge all those in our organization who contributed to the building and deepening the relationship with the donor. The giving of significant support is not an impulsive act; it evolves as a result of numerous positive impression and interactions with our institution’s representatives and beneficiaries. The alumnus who gives a million dollars to his or her alma mater, for instance, has been giving and interacting with various college representatives, on average, for 15 years previously. If we take credit for a big gift because we asked for it or cultivated that donor for months or years, we cause others to believe that the key to securing such gifts is to have a fundraiser ask for them, not commit themselves to building mutually productive and satisfying relationships over time.

If we choose to be agents of philanthropy, not just fundraisers, we take the least credit for the gifts we help secure, no matter how long or hard we work on them. We do so not to be falsely humble or self-sacrificing, but to educate our organization about the anatomy of private support. We do so to encourage others to continue to add value in the organization and to work with us to develop productive, multi-faceted relationships with those who have and might support us. We do so that we create a richer, deeper culture of accountability and gratitude so that our efforts might be more productive and our lives might be more full of joy and meaning.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Of Collections and Congregations

I am called in by organizations to answer what seems to be one question: “How can we raise a lot more money – and very soon.” It is, in fact, two different if not competing questions. The secret to raising a lot more money is to not let the need for the “soon” be the enemy of “a lot more.”

It is not what leaders of many organizations want to hear but the role of a consultant is to tell the truth as politely as possible. Rather than say, “that won’t work,” I look for a metaphor that will help a client understand why it won’t work and how it can be fixed. For instance, I might say, “If you want the collection basket to be fuller, you have to build a bigger, more fervent congregation.” The metaphor is an apt one for evaluating the health of any philanthropy-seeking organization.

In many cases, the cause of meager collections goes to the very core of the institution. They haven’t defined or articulated their deepest beliefs. They talk about what they do, but not why. They tell you about the functions they perform, not the higher purposes they serve. They fret about what needs to be done now, not the difference that can be made years and years from now. What kind of congregation can you expect to assemble and sustain, if you preach only about the management of the church, not the living of the faith?

In other cases, I find there is an inspiring faith but it is too rarely expressed or reduced to a form of conversational shorthand. The faith is alluded to as if everyone understands it and a word or two will suffice to remind us of its importance. Vibrant congregations remind themselves weekly of why they exist and why their faith matters.

In still other instances, I find a compelling calling to higher purposes and the faith convincingly articulated by the ministers but the congregation building has been left to those who pass the collection basket. Of the powers-that-be, I ask, “If you moved to a new town and were considering which church to attend, would you be most likely to join the one that sent the basket-passer to recruit you? Might not you be more inclined to join the one whose pastor first approached you or that you were introduced to by a neighbor? If you went to a church only to find the preacher asking for money and the basket passed incessantly, and each time shaken more assertively in front of you, would you be eager to go back? Would it matter if the basket passers were particularly nice looking, well-dressed, affable or well-spoken?” By this time, my points are taken or they’re looking for another consultant.

Whether you’re in the business of faith, education, science, technology, medicine or a host of other worthy causes, the success of your collections will be in direct proportion to your willingness to work assiduously at building a congregation of passion, purpose and determination to live out your faith in meaningful ways day after day, year after year.