June 20, 2023
Nonprofit Technology & Fundraising Blog
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I don’t know about you, but I think the language we use in our personal and professional lives is very powerful. We debate and deliberate the language for mission, vision, values, cases for support, appeals – absolutely EVERYTHING!
Community usually centers around shared attitudes, interests, and goals. We have unity when we are united or joined as a whole. Our sector has common themes and priorities – but certainly isn’t a monolith. We have communities within our community.
Maybe it is an occupational bias, but the friends and colleagues I know who have careers in the nonprofit world, think of the meaning and power of community perhaps more often and more deeply than folks on different career journeys. This isn’t to say it is good or bad, but a professional perspective based on how we spend our days and nights!
Opportunities and inspiration are here for us when we pause long enough to see them. For many, DonorPerfect’s CommUNITY Conference provided that pause.
Just a year ago we thought COVID challenges could be behind us by now, but they aren’t. We are continuously evolving, knowing that we can whine, or we can shine. This is our opportunity to learn, share, and get inspired about the extraordinary work that philanthropy makes possible – and examine and perfect your roles in making it happen.
External messages can be so noisy. Everything is bad, it is getting worse, there are so many huge problems, we can’t compete, blah, blah, blah! Each of us needs to decide if we approach our work from a philosophy of abundance or a philosophy of scarcity. We can focus on how bad the situation is and how giving is changing, or we can focus on how much wealth and how many opportunities for giving continue to be created every single day. We can moan and whine and say “if only we were bigger” or “if only we were this or that organization, if we had a better board or better boss,” or we can honor and affirm our own organizational strengths and maximize ways to leverage our strengths – and SHINE.
If you are in the right organization for you, you know and believe your cause is important. We believe in our organizations and the differences they make every day. If you and your colleagues, board members, and volunteers feel that way, then there are undoubtedly many supporters who feel the same way.
If the past 18 months have taught us anything – philanthropy is more firmly rooted in our global culture than ever before, but it is not the global culture of Y2K. It is the culture of today and the evolving culture of tomorrow. That may be where much of the challenge lies. Every organization is affected differently and many organizations are not only meeting their goals but exceeding them. The ones rocking it, are living in today and planning for tomorrow – on tomorrow’s terms.
Abundance remains in our communities. Resources may have changed. Priorities may have changed. But there is still much abundance and much generosity. People still aspire to give and volunteer and make a real difference.
To do that, we have to be innovative, while not losing focus on our mission. Years ago I heard Craig Barrett, then president of Intel, say this, “we have to think outside the box but we have to remember there IS a box.” We have to think differently and work collaboratively while keeping our eye on the box: that is, our mission and our role in connecting donors to mission their way, not our way!
That said, we have a unique and growing opportunity to seize the moment and talk candidly with our donors about their aspirations and priorities – and at the same time introduce them to needs in the community about which they may not be fully aware.
Depending on their unique values and perspectives, some donors will be more open to that conversation than others. But have the courage to have the conversation. Donors may want to think about giving to new and urgent community needs when our conversations underscore our sensitivity to their individual aspirations and priorities. We can help them become better philanthropists.
In work, and in life, we know change is the only constant. Things that we had come to expect and even take for granted in our professional practices two years ago may be changing temporarily – or permanently. Some of the changes could be very good, some more challenging to embrace and enjoy.
When we engage with donors, we know we need to think about the differences between transactions and relationships. We know building strong and lasting relationships to build stronger CommUNITY is the key to long-term success – not just for our organizations, but for a strong civil society.
Getting that job done in donor cultivation and stewardship may depend upon expanding your plan and practice to allow time for meaningful relationship-building. It can be very hard to find the time – you may need to take the lead to inspire these kinds of changes within your organization. Each one of us is part of the future of fundraising.
We are still in the midst of challenges. Not everyone is affected in the same way. But the recovery, such as it is, has been much more unpredictable than we had hoped, even 6 months ago.
The donor who was down in the dumps about his or her or their economic position a year ago may have recovered a lot more strongly than anyone imagined possible. At the same time, the donor who felt that he or she or they had weathered the storm, could be feeling overwhelmed at this point.
It’s human nature to want to generalize. But I think we’ll find in 2022 generalizing will be difficult – and very unwise. And I am not sure generalizing ever served us well. We’ll have to use all our skills to find the opportunities and to see individuals as they truly are. We can’t and shouldn’t generalize about how they want to learn and engage with urgent, longstanding, and new community needs.
Stewardship will be more important than ever before, but we need to flip the script and think about stewardship of community needs as much – if not more than – stewardship of donors. People are still generous. They still have wealth. They still believe in causes. Many are being much more selective in how and who they support. You may be able to help them evolve their thinking.
I challenge you to think about your ROI. No—not return on investment. I’m talking about Results – Outcome – Impact. Not financial impact but human impact. Donors have always wanted to move the needle for community needs they treasured, but many are looking for new definitions of need, and powerful new ways to engage and be involved. Some of them may not know where to start and may want to accept our help! In order to do that, we have to know them and tell rich stories about our ROI. It is using cultivation and stewardship, the time-honored essence of fundraising, in new and creative ways to connect people who care to causes that matter to them. We can inspire them to shine in new and powerful ways as advocates, confidantes, and champions.
There are plenty of reasons for optimism, but it won’t happen without a sense of realism and a lot of hard work. Let’s use these conference sessions to ensure a successful foundation for tomorrow’s success. The DonorPerfect CommUNITY Conference was designed to embrace the changing fundraising environment, ensure you have the skills to succeed, understand trends, and see both the forest and the trees of opportunity.
Robbe Healey, MBA, NHA, ACFRE, Founding Member of Aurora Philanthropic Consulting, has practiced philanthropic fundraising and nonprofit organization management for more than 40 years.
She is an accomplished fundraising generalist with a successful track record of establishing and strengthening development offices and boards. More than 150 organizations have benefitted from her fundraising, strategic planning, board development, and training services.
The Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) named her the 2001 Fundraising Executive of the Year and AFP Global awarded her the 2013 Barbara Marion Award for Outstanding Leadership. She was also named a 2021 AFP Global Distinguished Fellow.