Spend Time With Rich People

The day fund raising goals became a line item in college and university budgets a paradigm shifted, and development and alumni relations, which used to provide for " the margin of excellence," now was on the hook to raise dollars for existing programs and projects…in an environment of pressure to cap tuition and fees, post-2008 endowment investment returns and, in the case of public universities, ever dwindling state support. Add the seismic shift in the way education can be delivered and priced, the challenge of measuring the "value" of a traditional education, the rising percentage of non traditional students, and the inevitable decrease in boomer and silent generations, is it no wonder that DAR offices are stressed? Yet, expectations soar.

Mission oriented nonprofits share similar issues and challenges, and while the scale might be smaller, the pressure is proportional, perhaps felt even more acutely. With some notable exceptions, most nonprofits are totally dependent on charitable contributions. Few have sizable endowments, capital or operating reserves. Donor pools ebb and flow, but rarely dramatically in either direction. Yet, expectations soar.

The new paradigm has created a generation of development officers who are skilled in wealth screening, donor surveys, outcomes, productivity metrics, and prospect meetings. Smaller, or under-resourced development shops need fund raisers to produce newsletters, edit magazines, Facebook or Twitter. The more time spent on activities about donors, less time is spent with donors. Less time allocated for cultivation, and for building long term donor relationships and mutual trust.

Impatience, and the pressure to hit monthly targets, can result in asking too soon, and settling for a smaller gift, or even securing a gift. Less time is available to learn the craft, or to accompany a skilled fund raiser on a call. Intuition and the art of fund raising isn’t developed. CASE style training helps; experienced mentors are better. Development leaders and recruiters lament the dearth of candidates for major or principal gifts positions. Those fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to "learn the craft" and close large gifts are in high demand; there just are not enough of them. (And the closers are lured away, causing all manner of disruptions for people and organizations. But that’s a subject for another blog!) 

A former president of Harvard famously made 80 some visits to a potential donor before he secured a nine figure gift. Who these days has that kind of time, patience, or commitment?

The new generation of development officers has extraordinary smarts and talent. Leadership needs to free them from Excel, and teach them to excel. Heed the admonition of an old friend and superb fund raiser: "Spend time with rich people."  

Kenneth C. Blaisdell, PhD,  Principal and Senior Consultant