How Donor-Centered Are You Willing to Be? (Something You Can Learn From Miracle on 34th Street)

There is a lot of talk about being donor-centered in fundraising, but just how donor-centered are you really?  Do you really look to do what is best for the donor or what is best for you and your organization?

Let me offer a scenario that you may have encountered or you might run into in your fundraising career.

You have scheduled an appointment with someone that may produce a sizable gift for your organization.  During your research leading up to the presentation, you have found this individual has a high paying career as a Vice President of a local business, and is doing quite well for herself.  She is divorced and has no children, so she doesn’t have to worry about saving for a child’s college tuition.  She has attended a couple of your fundraising galas, and has, in fact, been the high bidder for several high end auction packages like vacation trips.  She has made a few nominal gifts to your organization at the end of the year and gets your newsletter.  She has also given a couple of prominent gifts to her Alma mater which she considers a factor for her successful career.  You are excited about this opportunity and the potential it has.

You arrive at her office on time and sit in front of her desk.  Before you start your presentation, you ask her about her interest and involvement with your organization.  You learn that she came to your events because her friend and co-worker, a board member, invited her.  She paid well for the auction items because she really wanted to go backstage and meet her favorite band, and she really wanted the vacation in Mexico.  When you ask her about the causes she is passionate about, she tells you about a cause that has absolutely nothing to do with your organization.

You start your presentation and tell her about all the wonderful things your organization does and what it has accomplished.  You describe how many lives your programs have changed for the better and why you think that her gift will help change even more lives, but while you are talking, you can tell that the conversation is leading nowhere fast because she really is not passionate about what you do.  She made it pretty clear before you started your presentation.

What do you do next?  Do you promise that your organization can start a program that has nothing to do with its mission to get that gift?  Do you walk away without the gift?

Here comes the lesson you can learn, folks.

If you live in North America, the odds are good that you have seen the holiday classic “Miracle on 34th Street” during the month of December.  The story is about Kris Kringle taking on the job of Santa Claus at Macey’s after the store Santa is drunk at the Thanksgiving parade.  As the story progresses, it is apparent that Kris believes he is Santa, and by the end of the movie, you believe it too.

While Mr. Kringle listens to children tell him about the toys and presents they want for Christmas, a child expresses desire for something the store does not carry, so Kris tells the mother that the gift can be obtained at Gimble’s, one of Macey’s competitors.  The department manager reports Kringle to his higher ups, trying to get him fired, but after Mr. Macey receives a letter of appreciation from the child’s mother with a promise of great loyalty, he encourages the entire store to follow suit.  Increased brand loyalty means more future business, and Mr. Macey knows it.  Soon every competitor of Macey’s follows suit in hopes of harnessing that loyalty.

http://viewerscommentary.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/miracle-on-34th-street-1947-kris-unites-macys-and-gimbels-for-the-holidays.jpg

Now back to our scenario.

If you really do want to put your donor’s needs first, you acknowledge that her interests are not really a good match for your programs and organization, but you can provide her with the names of some organizations that more closely match her passions.  You write down a few names for her to look up, graciously thank her again for her time and leave.  When you get back to your office, you hand write a thank you note and put it in the mail.

A couple weeks later, you receive a note with a check with a five digit amount on it.  Enclosed with the check is a note stating, “Thank you so much for introducing me to that organization that matches what I truly believe can do what I want.  I will remember this act of kindness, and I will continue to help you too.”

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About greatergoodfundraising

Richard Freedlund has been active in the nonprofit sector in a number of ways, both professionally and as a volunteer. He is the founder of Greater Good Fundraising, a business that helps schools and organizations raise money for their programs while accomplishing something positive for the community. After living in Oregon for 27 years, he has returned to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois and hopes to make his mark on the nonprofit sector there. He is the father of a talented jazz musician and the son of philanthropic parents that continue to support multiple causes. To contact Richard for consulting, fundraising, or speaking opportunities, email greatergoodfundraising@gmail.com or reach him on Twitter.com @ggfundraise
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3 Responses to How Donor-Centered Are You Willing to Be? (Something You Can Learn From Miracle on 34th Street)

  1. Some fundraising professionals think that “donor centered” is just a tactic to get the donor’s money. It’s not. It’s a culture. That culture sometimes recognizes that it’s ok to come away from a meeting with a donor without a gift.

    In the scenario you described, the development professional could have pressed the donor and ignored what she had to say about her philanthropic passions. Doing so would likely have alienated her and the organization would have lost her future gala support. By being donor centered, the organization is more likely to retain the donor’s gala and annual support even if that’s all she decides to do.

    As the author of “Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing,” I’m obviously biased when it comes to talking about donor centered fundraising. Nevertheless, I want to thank you for writing about this important topic.

  2. Beth says:

    Great post. The underlying “enemy” here is that feeling of scarcity – there is only so much money to go around. In truth, donors will respond to the inspiring efforts to change the world, as many as we offer. Because there is support there, as long as it touches the heart.

    I agree with Michael, in this scenario, your authentic interest in the donor will move you to talk about your nonprofit and to hear when the passion is not rising from their end. Talking about that passion is real… even if it feels a bit disappointing.

    Share and talk about the great organizations that share the desire to change your corner of the world!

  3. Lovely post (hearkening back to one of my favorite movies of all time). I’ve always believed a rising tide raises all boats. Our donor-centered goal should be to become philanthropy facilitators. When folks feel good about doing something, and you had a small part in enabling that feeling, they don’t forget it. These things take time. But the age old adage “what goes around, comes around” applies.

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