When raising money for a bricks and mortar project getting buy in from the bottom up may be the fastest approach to success. While employees traditionally make up a rather small percentage of a capital campaign’s total revenue, their support is priceless. It’s this group of people that have the biggest word of mouth impact on a project. They are also the people that external donors will be talking to before they give. Having the buy in of employees is essential to a successful campaign.
Capital campaigns are a bird all their own in the world of fundraising. There’s little to no time to cultivate new relationships and more times than not, you are charged with raising 10 times your annual budget in the same timeframe. Employees have the ability to help find new donors, promote the project throughout the community and ultimately position the campaign to be very successful.
But how do you get employees to believe in the project? One sure way to boost employee support is to allow them to have input. Company leaders who engage their employees from the beginning of a project are likely to see a much larger level of involvement and support by employees than those who don’t. A sense of ownership is the tipping point for employees to feel connected to a project and for them to want it to be successful.
Company leaders must work to actively involve employees at a high level in capital projects. The fastest way to get employees to feel ownership is to keep them informed and give them some say so from the beginning of the project. Employee groups who are strictly given progress reports rather than exposed to open conversation about decision being made are less likely to get excited and support that project.
Allowing employees to design their work spaces from the ground up is one way to achieve a very high level of buy in from employees. That fact is that nobody can build a more functional work space than the people who work in that space every day. Asking employees where outlets should be placed, what kind of flooring they prefer to walk on and what color of paint inspires them to be productive not only produces a cleaner, better work space but also ensures employee buy in.
With the time crunch of capital campaigns, finding new donors and cultivating them in the standard, fundraising manner isn’t possible. Campaigners need all the help they can get with campaign promotion and donor leads. Employees are a natural place to start. If employees don’t believe in a campaign they aren’t going to ask someone else to believe in it. The money for a campaign may be located at the top of the donor pyramid, but the door to get there is firmly rooted at the bottom.
Fundraisers all share one thing in common: We love to score the big ask! It’s what gets our hearts pumping and adrenaline flowing. Making the BIG ask is a rush. But sometimes not making the ask is what makes us better fundraisers.
Fundraising is so much more than the ask. It’s about donor cultivation, stewardship and building lasting relationships. If an organization has a donor pyramid that is full at the bottom but empty at the top, then they’re going to work twice as hard (if not more) than a nonprofit that has spent time moving donors up the pyramid. It takes much more time and effort to find new donors than it does to cultivate current donors. For more info on donor pyramids, read Blackbaud’s “Transitional Giving for Building Strong Fundraising Pyramids.” The more engaged a donor becomes, the more likely it is that you will get the big gift. But do you (or your fundraising staff) know when a donor is ready for the big ask?
One of the hardest things for some fundraisers is knowing when NOT to make a solicitation. When a donor with great capacity has been identified and the makings of a relationship have been established, most people want to rush in and make the ask before someone else does. But that’s not always the best way to build a lasting relationship. Sometimes not making the ask will get you a lot farther, even if it does take a little longer.
Major donors know when they’re being cultivated. They know why you want to meet them for lunch and give them tickets to your event. They know an ask is coming. Many philanthropists have probably already decided how much they’re going to give you before you even make your pitch. The best thing a nonprofit can do is prove them wrong by being less interested in their money and more interested in what else they bring to the table.
By not making the ask, a person can learn to trust an organization and become more engaged in its mission and goals. The more engaged a donor becomes the more they are willing to invest time, energy, and yes, money. Once you’ve taken a potential donor and made them an interested constituent and then made them an active volunteer, then it’s time to make the ask. The likelihood is that it will pay off much more than had you done it at the front end.
When fundraising and development professionals are asked why they choose to work in the nonprofit sector for a living, many say it’s because of the feel good effect they get from helping others. Many volunteers and donors echo that sentiment when asked why they give time and money to those same nonprofit organizations (NPOs). The feel good effect is in essence what makes the nonprofit world go round and NPOs need to pay more attention to it.
Symbiotic Collaboration is the term I find most appropriate for how NPOs should approach relationships with donors and volunteers. It’s a philosophy that embraces the notion that our donors and volunteers should get as much from us as we ask them to give. We all have our staple group of givers who have their own reasons for wanting to help us, but if we don’t properly acknowledge their importance and their own needs we can’t retain them. Michael Rosen recently wrote a wonderful post about why stewardship is more than just a thank you. It’s definitely worth the read.
As NPO professionals we often wear many hats and are short on time and resources. Needless to say, we are all watching our bottom line and the only way for it to grow is to make sure money is coming in the door. Our focus can become linear very quickly and when that happens we can overlook the second piece of the puzzle needed for success – meeting the donors’ needs. Omitting this piece can be catastrophic for your NPO and will make sustained growth impossible. Symbiotic Collaboration is how NPOs can assure that donors remain happy and not only give more but more often, as well.
So how do you achieve Symbiotic Collaboration? There are four easy steps to creating a reciprocal relationship with donors: 1) Ask 2) Listen 3) Act 4) Thank.
Before Symbiotic Collaboration can be achieved you have to know what it is that a particular donor or volunteer wants from your relationship. The feel good effect means different things for different people. Find out what kind of legacy your board members want to leave when their term is up. Ask donors what motivates them to give. Explore how volunteers got started with your organization. Asking the questions is the first step to discovery.
Once you’ve asked the question stop talking and open your ears. It’s a natural tendency in our business to want to tell people why they should want to be involved with our organization and why they should care about our mission. After all, we sell our NPOs all day every day. But this is the time for us to stop selling and start listening. These are the people who are already on our team. They don’t need to be convinced. We need to stop and listen to what they need from us.
Now that you know what it is that your volunteers and donors need from your relationship, give it to them. Obviously we can’t meet every request and wish of every volunteer but there are many we can. Making sure that these folks feel like they are appreciated and important to the process of what we do every day is the most important piece of the relationship.
I know it sounds simple but thanking donors is overlooked so often it has to be a step in the process. Thank your donors and volunteers. Even when you are the one giving them something, make sure you say the words and thank them. Showing our gratitude and appreciation is where the feel good effect starts and end. Thanking someone can do more for your bottom line than a day of chasing leads.