In March 2020, no one could have foreseen the dramatic disruption our organizations, members, and donors have experienced. New variants, shifting guidelines, supply chain woes, disruptive technology, unusual climate events, geopolitical concerns, continue to rock our world. As we roll into this third year of the pandemic still fraught with uncertainty, are you doing your best to build and strengthen major gift donor relationships?

Guiding principles still apply. Fundraising works best when it is simple, practical, and joyful. Major gift philanthropy is about a belief in something bigger than yourself. And, most of all, major gift fundraising is about people, valued relationships, and impact.

Here comes the spoiler alert: The big takeaway is that, in this continued era of COVID, the environment in which we operate is in a state of constant change. Technology drives how we connect, communicate, and relate. No question about that. But the pillars and guiding principles of major gift work still apply as we will illustrate.

Although unwanted, unexpected, and seemingly without end, this disruption presents an opportunity to reassess and approach major gift relationships differently. Do you realize how much you and your team have learned to adapt “on the fly”? As the former mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel famously said, “you never let a serious crisis go to waste.” It is also an opportunity to re-commit to the tried and true, proven principles of major gift, donor-centered fundraising.

The Consultants in Association Philanthropy (CAP) team is reminding our clients that retaining donors and keeping giving stable makes investing in relationship-building even more crucial. If donors are engaged, know, trust, and love you and your organization, and see their support making a difference, odds are they will continue to give.

So, what’s the recipe for success?

#1. If you’re not already grounded in your mission, get grounded!

  • What are the societal benefits of your association and its foundation? Is your mission clear and distinct? Is your impact statement clear and distinct?
  • What are the consequences if you cannot fulfill your mission? Who loses and what suffers if you go away? Remember, no money, no mission.
  • Use stories to humanize the benefits and impact of giving. But don’t forget the other side of the equation–data (in context.)

#2. Your responsibility to secure philanthropic revenue for your association is balanced by your responsibility to identify, match, and fulfill each donor’s interests and passions.

  • Securing money is a result, not an objective. The path to landing that stretch gift is discerning and serving the passions and interests of the donor!
  • People still give to people. And people give major gifts to transform and/or save lives.
  • Think big! Strength attracts investment. Be worthy, not needy. Place a compelling vision, a list of priorities, and exciting, impactful proposals in front of your donors. If a donor is truly qualified, when you present her with a request that truly speaks to her interests and passions, you will have an excellent chance of closing a gift at the maximum level.

#3. In your relationships with donors, authenticity, integrity, and honesty count. Be sincere, open, trustworthy. No bullets for this one; it speaks for itself.

Now, it’s your turn to apply these pointers: 

  • Seek to grow revenue streams/programs that are more resistant to broad economic swings and whatever the next “COVID 19-like event” brings.
  • If you strengthen your association’s emotional ties with donors through a “relational” philosophy versus a “transactional” philosophy, philanthropic revenue becomes more resistant to economic downturns.
  • Be donor-centered! Give the donor the opportunity to do something she truly cares about! It’s not really about your association, society, or foundation; it’s about what donors can do to help people, make an impact, and satisfy their reasons to give.
  • Involve your team.  Leverage your colleagues in identifying new major gift prospects, creating messaging about program impact, assessing donors’ engagement history, and learning more about the passions of your best prospects. Make relationship-building a team sport!

If you follow the pointers above as well as the late General Colin Powell’s 13th Rule, “Perpetual Optimism (believing in yourself, believing in your purpose, believing you will prevail, and demonstrating confidence and passion) is a Force Multiplier” you and your association will enjoy sustained philanthropic success. 

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