Catalyst, Leadership, Philanthropy, Vision

Maybe it’s me…

I’m occasionally asked to give some input to a charity on fundraising, especially on working with major donors. I’m happy to give my thoughts, but I’m not sure that my guidance is entirely helpful. I’m not confident that my perspective is representative of the majority of donors. My encouragement to charity leaders is to engage donors more deeply, to build relationships, develop mutual trust, and be about more than just the donation. I tell them a couple stories about times when I’ve been disappointed or frustrated when I feel like I’m being treated as little more than a representative cash machine. I want fundraisers to recognize that Catalyst’s sense of our mission and strategy is as developed and relevant as that of the nonprofits we work with. I want them to believe that the best way for them to serve their organization is by networking with those who may be interested in joining the cause, not hard selling their talking points. I work hard to be clear in advance of any meeting about whether there is any potential for funding to come from it; and I don’t mind if someone would rather not meet if there is little or no likelihood that it will result in any donation. I want charities to feel safe talking about struggles and failures, being truly honest about what’s going on. The thing is, I keep seeing people give significant donations with the opposite approach. I see fundraisers using twenty year old sales strategies and schmoozing their way to major gifts. I see donors who are moved by flattery and give with a paternalistic sense of superiority to charities skilled in leveraging those perceptions. So; maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the outlier who needs to accept that my paradigm is the minority, and encourage those who seek my advice to look elsewhere if they want the greatest returns. Maybe I should get used to the funding pitches that are crafted with short term results and surface level innovation because that’s what most donors will fund. Maybe it’s just true that adding a thin layer of desperation, spirituality, or guilt with  side order of slick charisma to a proposal is the way to success. Maybe. But I will continue to push against that. To honour the charities that step out of that mode and risk sincerity, vulnerability, and serving donors instead of manipulating them. To encourage fellow philanthropists to greater transparency and raising the bar on our side of the table as well. So, maybe my advice isn’t as broadly valuable as I wish in a field where there are organizations raising great sums of money year after year, and donors giving away fortunes in exactly the ways that annoy me. Instead of an advisor let me be an advocate for something that may be a smaller position; but one I truly believe is simply more right, more human, and more optimistic. Anyone want to join me?