Successful fund raising is an art, created by courtesy and common sense


September 13, 1993|By LESTER A PICKER

Speaking with a development officer colleague last week reminded me of why fund raising is an art, not a science. You can quote all the statistics you want about direct mail responses and teasing a quarter of a percent here or there, but in the end successful fund raising boils down to plain courtesy and common sense.

Over lunch, my colleague, the development director of a small nonprofit, reported on the results of a fund-raising mailing he had just completed to a list of prospects he had not solicited before. The list performed only marginally better than he had anticipated in terms of percentage of people sending in gifts. But, this man has a knack for teasing out the best in people by applying what I call common-sense marketing principles.

In this case, he has imposed an operating rule in his organization that forces him to acknowledge gifts within 24 hours. The way he figures it, that is the least an organization should do for a donor.

One donor had sent in a check for $500 in response to his direct-mail letter. The day it arrived, a personally written thank-you note was dropped in the mail. One week later, a check for $250 arrived from the same donor, along with a note saying how pleased he was to be acknowledged so quickly and personally.

This is a good illustration of the difference between gross marketing and finesse marketing, putting the finishing touches on fund-raising efforts that make the donor feel appreciated, honored and respected. These are efforts which go beyond the typical thank-you letters.

Here are some other examples:

I know a very experienced and successful executive director of an organization with $3 million in annual revenues who keeps a list of major donors in her DayTimer. She makes a point of visiting one or two donors every week, "when she's in the neighborhood," even if she has to make a special trip to just happen to be in the neighborhood.

She talks about programs that interest the donor, scrupulously avoiding asking for support at these informal meetings. She also asks for the donor's perceptions of the organization and its programs. Her track record is amazing. Donors stick with the organization for years. With few exceptions, every donor has upped his or her commitment year after year.

A takeoff on this last technique is one of my favorites. One well-known director of a large New York-based nonprofit assigns a staff member to track the business trip schedule of every one of his 50 board members, some of whom are the most prominent businesspeople in America. He asks each one to personally visit just one major donor a year while on a business trip, then write a brief report on the visit.

Think of what that says to potential donors.

First, we think enough of you to personally request a board representative to visit you. Even more, that board member believes strongly enough in what we do to take time out of his or her very busy schedule to keep open a dialogue with you.

What finishing touches have you applied to your fund-raising efforts? Do you regularly send an organizational newsletter to every donor? Do you add a personal note to regular or substantive donors?

Do you regularly invite donors to public relations events that kick off programs they have supported? Do you send them newspaper or magazine clippings that highlight the programs they have supported?

Do you have a strategy to contact donors when potentially damaging information is due to be released, explaining candidly what the issues are? This, and the preceding examples of finishing touches, are the result of careful planning.

Does your organization have examples of "finishing touches" it would be willing to share with readers? If so, please call or write to me.

(Lester A. Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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