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Ten Strategies for Fundraising Success: A Donor-Centered Approach to Development

Having been an adjunct professor for over ten years at a local university, I was awarded a month-long mini-sabbatical by the graduate school of business where I taught in the MBA program.

Using the funds to pay part of a trip to Boston, our family set out for a summer adventure: our teen-aged daughter enrolled in a summer program at Wellesley; my naturalist wife explored zoos and the flora and fauna of the area; and I sat with my laptop in our room for five to seven hours each day.

My project: write down ideas that summarize what I know after thirty years in development. Was I able to discern some truths about what we do? Is there some common knowledge that could get teased out of the millions of words we write and speak about the subject?

Based loosely on Covey’s seven habits methodology, my task was one, not of originality, but of abstracting out of my experience and the thoughts and words of others some basic ideas about what we do.

After almost a month, I came up with ten ideas- still intact today, with minor revisions. For lack of a better way to introduce them, I call the list “Ten Strategies for Fundraising Success: A Donor-Centered Approach to Development.”

That became the title of a very successful MBA course in non-profit management that I taught for the last seven years, so there is some empirical, albeit limited experience with these ideas.

At one level, the ten are pure cliches, similar to Covey’s, but perhaps not worth the paper they’re printed on. At another level, they are a somewhat decent orientation for those just starting out in the field.

Where the ten are most useful is with fellow professionals, as “door openers,” to imbue them with new meaning and new wisdom as part of the discussion, to incorporate the diversity of experience and intelligence of others, and to bring self-realization and self-meaning into the equation.

It is this third category that motivates me to share them with this forum.

The ten statements haven’t changed much over the years, but the examples and the elaborations constantly change as the ten evoke all sorts of ideas and instances, thus also serving as a springboard for creativity.

The idea of donor-centeredness is certainly not new, and is not meant to say that donors should determine the policy or direction of a non-profit. However, it does say that if a donor’s gift is accepted, we are honor bound, as development officers, to represent the donor’s interests in making sure the funds are efficiently and effectively spent, and that the results intended are the results achieved to the best of our ability. Moreover, and much more important, that we are aware of the donor’s values, needs, aspirations, and history, and that we frame our relationship with the donor in win-win ways.

At times the ten seem contradictory. Clearly they are optimistic. Obviously they assume a culture of voluntary giving, unpaid Boards, mission-driven non-profits.

The ten cover four distinct areas of understanding of the development process and function: values; constituency; organization; and execution or action.

From my way of thinking, development is not about money, but about values. Societal values are the engine of development and are prime in motivation for both volunteering and giving.

Constituency defines scope, potential and activity of the development program. Renewal and expansion of constituency involvement are significant input factors in any well-rounded development program. Research, communication and relationship are major components in understanding the constituency of any organization.

Whether it’s done by paid staff or volunteers, organization of the processes and functions insures success. Whether a non-profit is even able to successfully raise money is often dependent on its organizational competence.

Finally, if a fund-raising plan isn’t executed, it really doesn’t mean anything. If goals aren’t established, if fund-raising planning doesn’t happen, if volunteers don’t make calls, if letters don’t get sent, or if donors don’t give, we have a colossal waste of time.

Over the next eleven columns, we will explore each of the statements below in some depth, hopefully raising their status from the cliche to the creative insight of the reader, finishing with some summary statements, and, by then, reader insights to make them even more relevant.

Here are the ten strategies:

Values
1. Focus your Development Plan on the Values of the Organization and the Donor.
2. Understand that Fundraising is an Exchange of Values.
3. Base the Case Statement on Success or Promise of Success, Not Need.

Constituencies
4. Know your Constituencies
5. Communicate Continually with Constituencies
6. Continuously Renew and Expand Constituencies and Donors

Organization
7. Organize Thoroughly and Inclusively
8. Optimize Development Modalities/Methods

Action
9. Use Personal Interaction as the Basis for All Solicitation
10. Engage Enthusiastically, Energetically, and Ethically

That’s the 10. We’ll discuss each of them in depth, and with greater elaboration, in future columns.

Jim Toscano

About the Contributor: Jim Toscano

James V. Toscano

Jim Toscano is a principal in the consulting firm, Toscano Advisors, LLC, and an adjunct professor at the School of Business, Hamline University. Recently retired as president of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, the cardiovascular research and education center of Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, he is a past chair of the Minnesota Charities Review Council and board member of Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. Mr. Toscano served as chair and co-chair of the committees that produced the two editions of MCN’s Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence, and is serving in the same capacity for the third edition in 2014.
With 50 years experience in nonprofit management, Toscano has served as consultant to hundreds of nonprofit organizations and served on over 50 nonprofit boards and commissions, many as chair. He has served as Executive Director of the World Press Institute, President of the Minnesota Museum of American Art and as Executive Vice President of the Park Nicollet Foundation. See his essays on many nonprofit and philanthropy topics at www.toscanoadvisors.com He is a graduate of Rutgers College and Yale University.

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