Written By: Michele
A nonprofit executive director (ED) has a complex role with myriad demands on their time. As a result, one of the concerns we often hear from them is that they struggle with having adequate time to develop relationships and cultivate donors. It isn’t that they don’t know how important donor cultivation is; it’s just difficult to make it a priority over other equally important responsibilities.
Of all the people in a nonprofit organization, the one prospective major donors (foundations, corporate and individual) most often want to know is the ED. After all, who else is the best person to speak to potential donors about the organization’s programs? To explain the need for contributed funds? To be able to describe how much of a difference their contribution would make?
Last month I participated in a roundtable discussion with a group of nonprofit EDs discussing this very topic. While the participants were sharing ideas about how they try to make donor relations a higher priority, one of them recalled how he had a boss early in his career who had a unique approach to it.
He explained that this former boss was known to be a particular good fundraiser who followed a strict practice of making donor relations a priority.
This particular nonprofit had a business casual dress code for its staff. It was rare that anyone wore formal business attire to work. However once a week, this ED showed up for work in a suit and a tie. And when he did that, everyone knew it was his “donor day”. It was also clearly understood they could only talk with him about donor-focused topics that day – either reporting about a donor conversation, identifying a new donor prospect, or some other related topic. All other issues were to be directed to another designated senior leadership staff member.
On “donor day” the ED spent most of his time out of the office meeting with donors and donor prospects. When he wasn’t out and about, he was writing personal thank you notes, making phone calls, setting up appointments and developing cultivation strategies.
By using the very clear symbol of wearing a coat and tie in a business casual work environment, as well as providing explicit information about what that meant for others on the team, he added a level of accountability and clarity to his discipline.
Of course the ED didn’t do it all by himself. The others on the staff team were responsible for identifying likely prospects, sharing great mission stories and recruiting fundraising volunteers. And somehow when the boss wore a coat and a tie, it also served to remind the rest of the staff that they needed to make time for donor development as well.
How have you created a discipline for making donor relationship building a priority? Please share practices that have worked for you in the comments below.