Giving Through People…Not to People!

25 07 2011

In my more than twenty years working in development, I have heard a lot of discussion about the importance of good development staff, the sales model, or a strong CEO/Executive Director type.  Those are all great and all are important, but sometimes we have misunderstood the importance of our missions and the role that people play in fulfilling or communicating those missions.

People are an important portion of the development process, but we are not irreplaceable.   To this day I will see a donor I worked with and see them having lunch with another development officer and feel bad about it. Was I important to the relationship?  Sure, but the institution was and should be the most important element!

There is real danger when we allow an individual to “own” a relationship.  There are physicians, faculty members, coaches, volunteers, or CEOs, who are our donor’s only link to the organization.  What happens when this main donor contact leaves?  Retires? Or possibly disagrees with institutional priorities?

We need to keep the mission at the center of the relationship. People are a vehicle through which we connect donors and prospects to our mission – having personal relationships with our prospects is not the goal.  So how do we always make sure that we are clarifying our relationships with our donors?

1)      Focus of Conversation – Ensure that the organization, its mission, and its people account for a minimum of 25% of the conversation with a prospect.

2)      Clarifying Connections – When development/organizational staff have a personal experience with a donor (anniversary party, night at a play, golf) – always follow up with a formal note that clarifies roles, such as utilizing letterhead and thanking for their commitment to your organization.

3)       Touch Points – Top prospects should have 3 touch points with the organization (potentially a lead administrator/CEO, volunteer, and a development officer). Lower prospects might have at least 2 contacts.

With significant turnover with both development staff (averaging less than 3 years) and organizational leadership (medical school and law school deans averaging about 3 years) or board limitations – we must anchor our donor relationships to our missions! Ultimately, we give through people, not to people!

–          Mark Marshall




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