Turbo-charge your donor relationships

A client (who runs and organization that does social science research for non profits) told me he had met with the head of a major foundation.  The Foundation Guy suggested setting up an advisory committee.  Eyes rolled.  The last thing I need, my client thought, is to have an advisory committee telling me what to do.  But when Foundation Guy explained what he meant, it became clear how brilliant this idea was.

Several of the organizations that commission research from my client also get funding from this foundation.  So why not set up an advisory committee that will include Foundation Guy, researcher, and the organizations that are (a) asking my client to do research and then (b) asking Foundation Guy for funding to implement the strategy that arises from the research? That way, Foundation Guy is in on the discussions from the beginning, and everyone wins.

When my client told me this, I told him that he was moving from being a fundraiser to being a power broker.  That’s a way to turbo-charge your donor relationships!

Fundraiser’s motto: give me an inch, I will take an inch and a quarter

It is never a good idea to startle a donor by asking for something outrageous without warning him or her first.  But if you are asking for something incremental, the fundraiser’s motto above applies.  For instance, maybe the donor has offered to send a letter to 20 of his or her friends, asking them to donate to the organization.  You know that a letter is not going to accomplish much, but you are grateful for the donor’s willingness to help.  You might want to say, “That’s great.  I appreciate it.  And are there two or three names on that list that you might be willing to invite to come to an open house?”

It’s rude to take a mile when someone offers you an inch.  But if you ask for an inch and a quarter, you gradually expand the circle of the donor’s engagement.

Be kind to gatekeepers

Let’s celebrate the personal secretaries, family foundation staff, attorneys and bank London - Buckingham Palace guardofficers known collectively as “Gatekeepers.”  They play an important and under-appreciated role in the philanthropic ecosystem.  I have a great gatekeeper story from when I worked for The Wilderness Society.  Do you have a story about a successful relationship with a gatekeeper?

Every year. an entity called Canyon Investments sent a check for $5,000.  The return address was a post office box in Chicago. Responsibility was batted back and forth between the foundation team or the corporate sponsorship team.  Once, when I was planning a trip to Chicago, I sent a letter to “Dear sir or madam,” expressing appreciation and inquiring whether a visit would be welcome. I was delighted to get a phone call from an attorney representing Canyon, and inviting me to join him for coffee.  He explained to me that the donor preferred anonymity, and that he would be happy to pass on literature.  He also mentioned that there was some extra money in the account, and that a request for $10,000 would probably be granted.

The gifts grew to $35,000 a year. Every time to flew to Chicago, I visited the attorney.  Every time I saw him, I asked if I could arrange a visit between the donor and the Wilderness Society’s president.  He always smiled and shook his head, and offered to deliver any literature I wanted to leave with him.

When you are looking for a donor and, instead, find yourself face to face with a gatekeeper, take a deep breath, introduce yourself, and thank him or her for being an intermediary.

Please share your gatekeeper stories!