The Art of Fundraising: Love Your Donors
Love Your Donors
Love is a “radical” term in 2017. I was at Commonplace Books, a new independent bookstore in Oklahoma, last month. An artist had painted a giant sign that said, “Hey! LOVE THY NEIGHBOR! We’re all in this together.” It was almost a fist-in-the-air protest statement. It struck me that we need a lot more of this in the world. Months ago, I was at Antique Avenue. The owner is a character, your typical southern gentlemen who has had quite a life story. Fascinatingly, he spent more than two decades as a professional fundraiser for the Baptist Homes for Children in Missouri and other organizations. We got to talking shop, and he said matter-of-factly “You gotta love your donors. If you don’t, they know.” Love your donors – another radical concept, but it’s one worth discussing.
Leading with Love
My friend, Mark Ishaug, is the CEO of Thresholds, a mental health service provider in Chicago. His recent TED Talk tells nonprofit leaders to transform how they lead, run and work in a nonprofit with the most important four-letter word out there. I encourage you to watch it. Sometimes, we get bogged down and lead with policy, procedures, our strategic plans, our operational directives. We forget that we need to truly love our employees, our board members, and most importantly our consumers. By leading with love, your donors see the passion you have for the mission and the people you work with and serve. Passion builds upon itself, and donors see love in every corner of the organization. They want to be part of that. Psychologists say that humans – at their core – want to be loved. Spread love throughout the organization, because it’s contagious – especially with our donors.
Leading with love starts with leading with intent. You must lead with charisma. You must be evangelical about your mission. You must lead with honesty and integrity. I was recently interviewing candidates for a position and I asked them about integrity. All of them said integrity was the most important of virtues. We can better love our co-workers, our board members, our donors and our consumers when we lead with integrity, intent, charisma and love. Transform your way of thinking to lead with love.
Huggers and Hand-Shakers
I joke a lot with people who aren’t Oklahomans that a Development Director’s or CEO’s job is to also remember “Who are the huggers and who are the hand-shakers?” My dad was a hand-shaker with a strong grip and a big smile. I remember having to practice shaking hands with him daily as a child to learn why it’s so important. My mother, on the other hand, is a “hugger.” She’s the crazy mom who hugs everyone she sees whether she knows them or not. Of course, she was a counselor and therapist, but there was something else to this phenomenon.
Our donors are huggers or hand-shakers. It’s important to know who is who (and it prevents some awkward encounters – we’ve all had them … it’s okay!). Our natural tendency if we’re “huggers” ourselves is to gravitate to the other “huggers.” It’s the same for hand-shakers. It’s also important to “cross the aisle” on occasion and understand how to be both as a development professional. And it takes practice. Both are signs of love and mutual respect. We need more of that human contact.
The Right Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, quipped in a fiery sermon recently that “Loving God is easy, loving yourself is easier, but loving your neighbor is a bit more complicated.” Regardless of faith or belief system, loving one another has been a societal tenet for millennia, but it is also one of the hardest things to do. Loving our donors seems easy enough, but it, too, is complicated. I have told people that loving your donors means holding bags outside of a store for 45 minutes while they shop, taking someone whose car is in the shop on her errands for the day, picking up a donor for church on a Sunday when you might rather be having brunch with friends. A nonprofit executive said “what about boundaries?” With donors, your boundaries begin to shift. You’re no longer development director in an office. You become friend, confidante, counselor and so much more. We build loving relationships with donors – respectful and ethical of course – because they are giving selflessly.
But there are also donors who might be more “challenging,” and we have to love them, too. We learn to become handlers or we assign a handler to a challenging donor. Some are eccentric. Some have needs greater than we can imagine. And yet, at the end of the day, it is our responsibility to our consumers to match the donor to the programs they love, help them build passion in our work, and nurture that relationship.
I encourage everyone to be thinking about how we can use such a “radical” term like love in how we work with donors. We should love our donors for their gifts, but more so for their open hearts and minds to our missions. Their passion and their beliefs make our work possible.