Time Waits for No Fundraiser…or Does It?

I’ve been thinking lately of the kinds of things that drive my fundraising colleagues crazy. I’m sure you can add to the list, but here are some of my favorites:

  1. Comment from an exhausted Board member near the end of a long meeting: “I have a great idea for a new fundraising event that will wipe out our $80,000 shortfall overnight.” (This is followed by “all in favor?” and unanimous acceptance.)
  2. “…and it won’t take any staff time” (often tacked onto #1 above for added effect)
  3. It isn’t rocket science, after all; anyone can raise money (used to shut down debate when Development is under pressure to absorb someone downsized from accounting)

But this one is the best, guaranteed to turn fundraisers green on the spot (but not with envy) — “We have to have the money now.” It is also the subject of my most popular webinar, scheduled for February 2nd at 2:00 EST.

No Board or CEO ever says this when things are going smoothly and revenue is coming in above expectation. “We have to have the money now” is a cry of frustration from decision-makers who are full of anxiety about how they will balance the budget. And, fundraisers know that the moment at which this is blurted out is the wrong time to try to explain why it is actually impossible to have the money now.

Time is the most important requirement for raising money and for doing so in a sustainable way; and time is the one thing that is missing when decision-makers’ backs are against the wall. But fundraisers can turn time from enemy to ally by helping CEOs and Boards understand the strategic advantage that it offers. These five steps, which I will explore in more detail in my webinar, will get you and your not-for-profit to a better place.

  1. Dealing with the issue of time means picking your time carefully to deal with it. Never try to correct misconceptions about critical fundraising issues when you are under heightened pressure to deliver. It will only be interpreted as obstruction on your part.
  2. Use concrete examples from your own organization’s history to demonstrate the importance of time in making fundraising successful. Examples from others or fundraising statistics alone are insufficient as tools to change entrenched opinions. Otherwise, “But we’re different” will be the response that closes down the discussion.
  3. Identify a living donor whose philanthropy has been critically important to you. Create a historical critical path that shows the evolution of his or her giving and the overall value that this donor has contributed over time.
  4. Bring this relationship vividly to life by talking to the donor and to the fundraiser (perhaps it was your predecessor or a former board member) who cultivated the initial relationship. Collect compelling information about early expectations versus current reality. Could your donor have ever realized at the outset that his/her philanthropy would grow to such an extent?
  5. Fall in love with your job again. Your example may be a teaching tool for decision-makers but it is also a reminder to yourself that taking the time to build great relationships with donors is stunningly lucrative. You’ll need that passion as well as the facts to win the battle.

Happy new year, my colleagues, and welcome to 2011. Good grief, the time is just slipping away, isn’t it?

Showing 6 comments
  • Norma Hawthorne

    We repeatedly tell the story at our Foundation Board meetings that it can take up to nine years to close a major gift. Cultivation takes time and the more we educate our volunteers and administrative leaders to that, the more we can manage expectations and create success stories.

  • Bonnie Jess Lopane

    I agree with your ‘favorites’ in that Board members, and other organizational leaders, often have no idea of what it takes to raise funds, from major gifts to special events. The more that we can do to educate these individuals about the time and careful planning that it takes for donor cultivation and stewardship to result in philanthropy, the better.

  • Sandra Devaney

    I agree. This lack of understanding on the part of our co-workers, sometimes stands in the way of our organizational attempts to develop a sense of ‘team’.

  • Gail Meltzer

    It’s so important to remember that the gift comes according to the DONOR’S timetable, not ours!! It’s amazing how often we forget this.

  • Carol Weisman

    I tell my clients that development takes time, which is why we call it development and not quickie!

  • Wendy Wareham

    It continues to amaze me that major research universities (not to mention the rest of us little guys) do not do research on the average length of time for their donors to make a major gift. Let’s face it folks, we’re not all Princeton and Yale with a significant halo effect and a well-cultivated database with a well-established tradition of major gifts!
    It’s time for the field of fundraising to get real, do some common sense analysis and develop their own profile based in reality.

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