Every March folks all over the US, myself included get basketball fever. We obsess over brackets and spend whole days rooting for the underdog. March madness is a lot like Donor Relations. The whole theme there is win, survive and advance. It's much the same when you're making memorable experiences for your donors and building a program. I always tell people that are starting a program or rebuilding one to do one good thing, do it to the point of excellence then move on. Get proof of concept, make the key stakeholders happy and then advance.
Donor relations in some shops is a lot like the Cinderella team, a little underdog in all of our nature because we don't "close the gift" we almost have an inferiority complex. If you watch the games, you quickly realize though that defense wins championships (can you say gift agreements and naming policies anyone?). I say it's time to shake that off and go dancing people! Just like in the tournament the field is becoming more and more equitable and there's not that much difference between a 13 seed and a 4 seed anymore. It's all about how you use your lineup (or your skill set) to advance. So what are some quick wins you can score to further move you deeper into fundraising? Fixing your receipts, something that is the first impression for every donor is a good place to start. When prioritizing your work, I help my clients pick among their numerous projects. I ask them to look at two factors: what project will influence the most amount of donors or the most amount of money? Tackle that play first. It could be a great first time donor program or it could be your funds and making sure you've done a fund audit. Either way you can't lose!
What you can't do is the same thing you've always done year after year. That will cause a bracket meltdown. Teams change, donors change and your program has to change along with it. Stop thinking in tasks and to do lists (I know it feels good to draw a line through something you've completed) and start thinking in terms of winning the whole thing, the long game. You can knock me down one at a time, behavior by behavior:planned giving, loyal donors, corps and founds, and on you go. But each one of those victories leads to another round of fun and excitement, a new challenge to tackle.
The good news is that every donor deserves our attention, every project and strategy can advance and grow. But you can't win all the games at once, you have to have laser like focus and win one at a time. Do one thing, do it really well then advance. Pretty soon you'll be sporting glass slippers and cutting down the nets!
What are some of the things you've tackled one by one? Where have you started? I'd love to hear your stories...