Thursday, February 13, 2014

Reactive Donor Relations (Checkers) vs. Proactive Donor Relations (Chess)

As donor relations evolves as a profession, one of the questions I field most often is how to transform a reactive checkers playing donor relations shop into a proactive chess playing donor relations shop.  As horrible weather befalls most of the Eastern and Southern US and I sit in my Vancouver hotel room pondering how I’m either going to get home or get to my next conference, I am always playing a chess game with the weather and the airlines.  How do I plan and thing two steps ahead so I don’t end up stuck somewhere without options.  And therein lies the great divide.  Just like education allows people to have more choice and option in their life, being a proactive donor relations professional allows so many more choices than being reactive which only allows for one path.  If you always have your head down producing results as you have done them in the past, you have no options to look ahead to the future and become strategic about your work.  If you’re always doing the same work over and over how can you be innovative?  It requires huge discipline and planning to truly become proactive and strategic but there is no better time than now to start. 

For me it begins with an assessment of the program, a good cold hard look at where the donor relations shop spends its time and how donors benefit from time used.  Are there particular processes that are laborious and tedious? Is there waste happening? Have you surveyed or obtained feedback from you donors to ensure you are building a program they will appreciate and desire or are you operating off of assumptions?  You see, it’s a lot like checkers and chess. Checkers is a short term limited game with predictable outcomes. This would be your reactive donor relations shop. Chess is a strategic long game, with unpredictable twists and turns that can have long term results and a vision that is multiple steps ahead. The two are not interchangeable. Our donors deserve chess champions.

The second step after assessing your current program is to obtain feedback from your donors on your current activities and evaluate what is successful and what is losing the game.  After that it’s time to look to other programs you admire or those that are proactive and strategic to find out what they do in order to become successful. It boils down to choice, they will tell you.  Like in checkers if you only have one type of playing piece you are limited. In chess, you have a wide variety, which gives you great choice. Deft moves can be made and game plans switched throughout the game of chess that opens up new paths to victory. Can you say this about your donor relations program? If you can’t now is the time for change. After you find new ideas and a new direction for your game plan it’s time to bring it to your leadership to gain their buy in and support.  This step is crucial. Once you have their buy in, your field of play opens greatly to the possibilities of strategy. Then it’s all about the implementation from there. Check. Mate.

How are you learning to become more proactive and less reactive? What tips do you have for others? Are you playing checkers or chess?


1 comment:

  1. One of the great things about donor relations is that your target audiences tend to be within easy reach and well-known...or at least better known than all the folks who might buy your toothpaste or another commercial product. Part of the strategy, as you suggest, has to be to pull on your grown-up pants and start asking questions. Conversation does not equal conflict.