Thursday, April 30, 2015

ReDefining Success

  I often speak to people at conferences and have the great pleasure of telling them about the power of donor relations. I think for many of us, we KNOW donor relations is not just the right thing to do, it is at the heart of effective fundraising. We also know that donor relations also has a bottom line impact on our fundraising efforts. Then I must ask, Why isn't donor relations one of the hallmarks of success in a fundraising operation? Everyone knows how much they need to raise in a year or the percentage of alumni they want to participate. But very very few people can tell me what their donor retention goals are, nonetheless what their current retention rates are. Why is this? How do we define fundraising success and how should we redefine it?

What if success were defined by whether our donors thought we valued them. Companies base their success not just on profits and losses but the amazing companies define their success on whether or not their customers are happy. I'm thinking of Disney, Amazon, Costco, and the like. Customer happiness is everything to them, as is customers who are loyal. Have we done the same or do we only value donors when they give MORE? Do we value those donors who stay with us and form meaningful relationships and give us their time, talent and treasure or are concerned with the other "T", transaction. If we have transactional relationships with our donors, we're no better than a toll booth. 

In order to expect different results from our donors, we have to measure and expect different things from our fundraisers. Where is the metric for hand written notes and thoughtful gestures? We have tons of metrics for proposals delivered and gifts closed, for qualifying visits and increases in donations... Wouldn't it be great if we also had metrics for retention and loyalty... I'm not suggesting that everyone is doing it wrong, I'm suggesting that we may be placing too high of a value on getting the next new gift, not appreciating and valuing the ones we do have. 

What would redefining success look like? It would look like the covers of our newsletters and magazines featuring not the mega gifts but those who have given every year since our existence. It would be telling the journey of a gift and understanding that generosity is one of our core values. It would mean that the person that writes the gift agreement does the research for the initial visit is just as important as the one that closes the gift. It would mean much more impact and much less organization focused talk. It would mean doing the right thing by the donor each and every time, even if it didn't always mean we hit a KPI. 

What would redefining success look like in your organization? How can you help push your shop forward in understanding what is really important in relationship building? I would love to hear your thoughts...


  1. We are a university and recently held a donor event where those who had contributed to all endowed funds were invited. Everyone who responded were scholarship donors, so the focus of the event became scholarships. There was, however, one person who responded who had no connection to scholarships. Her parents (now deceased) had established an endowed library fund. How could we make her feel welcome, too? We arranged to have the director of the library give her a personal tour one hour before the event. The director also had a special display near the entrance of the books her parent's endowment had purchased through the years. The tour ended at the display. When the director opened the books to reveal the bookplates with her parent's names in them, their daughter's eyes filled with tears. She had never seen any of these books and asked if there was any more information on her parents that we might have. Our archives had a handwritten letter from them, written when they chose to establish their endowment. It was such an emotional experience for this woman that she went home and wrote a check (she had never donated before this) to put toward her parent's endowment and is contacting her siblings to add to it as well. It's all about touching the heart--even those of the next of kin who are years removed from the first generous gift.

  2. Thank you for your insight into a topic that is near and dear to many of us. As usual, I an forwarding this to others. Safe travels & see you soon!

  3. Every transformational gift that I have had the honor of participating in or know about has been the result of extended relationship building that involved many people over years. The most famous took 17 years but it was worth the wait. It would not have happened if we had pushed the donor to fund what we wanted when we wanted it.

  4. Loving your pictures and the authentic and unique way you have put your story across - you're an inspiration and I am following your journey - awesome work!