November 6, 2013
One of the great lessons we have learned in the course of the economic downturn of the last few years and the current period of recovery, is that some fundamentals of major gifts fundraising have evolved – perhaps changed for the better. One of the truisms of philanthropy in the last half of the 20th century – in the days of bull markets and fast-paced ROI – was the importance of the person “doing the ask.” The solicitor was the key.
Our understanding changed with the publication of The Seven Faces of Philanthropy by Russ Prince and Karen File. We began to think in terms of donor motivations that fit the profiles of those identified by their communitarian, devout, investor or socialite interests, to name a few. This research preceded the economic downturn by more than a decade.
When the engine of our over-heated economy began to slow and sputter, something shifted in our understanding of donor motivations. The skepticism by which we evaluated business, industry and politics spilled over to nonprofit institutions as well. No longer was a prospect-solicitor relationship able to capitalize on seemingly easy money. The assumption of automatic and unquestioning trust in institutional mission, investment practices, outcomes and even institutional leaders was overturned.
During these economic hard times, donors – even the wealthiest – became students of institutions, their values, programs and leaders. Questioning and probing became the precursor to proposals. What we soon discovered was that it was not the solicitor, but donor confidence that was king.
Today, the single most important factor in major giving is donor confidence – confidence in the institutional mission, vision, plans, programs, outcomes and leadership. Where confidence lags, decisions are delayed or gifts are diminished. Where confidence is high, gifts soar. Certainly the solicitor is important, but today so much more than a solid personal relationship is taken into consideration. To be taken seriously in today’s world of major gift fundraising, ask yourself, “do we instill confidence by what we do, say and how we ask?” If not, you have work to do. If so, congratulations and keep asking.