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Bloodcurdling Donor Relations 2.0

By Sarah Sims

Last year around this time, we talked about scary things we do to our donors – everything from inaccurate data and salutations to not fully expending their gifts. This year, in the spirit of true 2020 horror, let’s take a moment to look at a few ghastly and unnecessary things we do to ourselves to make our days full of tricks instead of treats:

  1. Become prey to a comfort mindset where we say “we’ve always done it this way” instead of “let’s think creatively about how we can rebuild or retool this program”. It can be very tempting to go with what you know, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the fact that we have to be flexible and open to change and challenge.

  2. Allow the opinion of a few override what’s best for your team or the organization. If your argument to not change something is because Mrs. Smith really likes it, than our priorities are skewed. No matter if Mrs. Smith likes to attend the event, or see her name on an honor role, if it’s not demonstrably showing fundraising ROI, it’s time that initiative moved on to the afterlife. There are ways to deal with one-off donor expectations without letting them drive or derail your strategy, time, or resources.

  3. Recreating the data wheel every year. In no place is this more prevalent than the annual endowment reporting process. Time and time again, we see clients and organization go about endowment reporting in the most manual, complex, and time-sucking ways possible. (Not to mention soul-sucking.) The heart of this? Inability to store data in the organization’s database of record, creating the need to repopulate, manually update, and repetitively change every year. Figuring out how to migrate and store all of the critical data points in your database will easily save you weeks if not months in your annual reporting process. There should be one source of data that is maintained centrally. If there are no preset locations for these data points, make the commitment this year to sit down with your data, IT, and finance partners and strategize a way to centralize this data and create efficiencies. You can’t do it alone – don’t be afraid to ask for help!

  4. Don’t advocate for ourselves and the impact of our teams. We too often take the back seat to frontline development in our shops. But if donor relations is to be strategically aligned, staffed, and funded, than we must toot our own horns (not devil horns though) from time to time. We must advocate for our seat at the table, demonstrate solid metrics, and continually reinforce the value of donor relations. Accepting the status quo gets you nowhere but in the same place year after year.

  5. When we become siloed and withdrawn from our advancement and fundraising partners, even unintentionally, our work loses its effect and impact. When we don’t invite in other opinions (even when hard to stomach), ask for feedback and suggestions, solicit help and ideas, incorporate outside voices, and generally collaborate across all boundaries, we are setting ourselves up for the miseries of the first four scenarios on this list.

It’s all tied together and circular in nature…we must identify and rewrite these horror stories so that we can enjoy the treats of our trade! Dedicate time and effort to righting these situations in your shops, or within yourself personally, and you will see and feel the results in no time. No more need to summon the spirits, get out your voodoo doll, or liken your database to a vampire.


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