Since the womb it seems, I have been working in fund development. I regularly accompanied my father to deliver bags of food during Thanksgiving and Christmas for our church, to vestry meetings where the “board” of our church made program and funding decisions, and later as his right hand fundraiser for our joint alma mater, Davidson, or the arts project he co-founded. Along the way, I learned a lot about about fund raising.
First of all, giving to an organization about which you care, should never be a burden; it should be an opportunity to align your passion with the mission of that group. People aren’t giving because they like your fundraising program. People can give to people, and a top notch Development Director can build relationships that engender trust and therefore increase giving to your organization. But, ultimately, you want your donors or prospective donors, to develop a long term relationship with your mission.
When I first began formally handling development and fundraising, I had already worked in a variety of other areas. As a program director for a non-profit right out of college, I worked on a sports event specifically looking to raise awareness of people with disabilities. I had to build trust with our participants, many of whom had physical limitations (in the eyes of others) including blindness, loss of a limb or paralysis. Our entire premise was that these athletes can do more in a day than many of us do in a year. Donors connected with us because we reminded them what the human body is capable of, not of an emotional tale of hardship.
While at times this approach works, contrary to what you might believe from TV, the best donors, not the ones who are going to give you $5 one time, give because they relate or connect to the cause, not because they pity the recipients. Giving is a celebration, a connection, an opportunity to align yourself with a cause that reflects your moral values and your personal or professional interests. It feels really good – for both the donor, the organization, and the beneficiary – when all these “missions” align. And that allows for stronger relationships, more giving, and, ultimately, longer term partnerships that have impact on the issue the organization is working to alleviate.