bureaucracywindow 2014-Mar28
Last week I wrote about breaking down silos within your organization. Creating silos is caused by our human need to “own” something, and it can become out of hand. It will ultimately become destructive for your organization and your donors.
Today, I want to go deeper, and it can actually get pretty dark the deeper I go. I’m not quite sure how this happens, but in many large non-profit institutions, as well as smaller ones, a fundraising strategy somehow becomes an independent department at the institution that can, at times, morph into its own quasi non-profit entity.
Let me explain. At some point, a non-profit decides that having a gala or event is a great way to bring in revenue by acquiring and cultivating donors. Okay, fine. You know our opinions on events, but nonetheless, you have an event. However, over time, this gala or event becomes larger. It requires more staff, resources, etc. Then, someone says, “Hey, let’s create more of these events and we’ll hire more people to make them happen. Now, “Events” becomes its own department.
Then the real tragedy begins.
Someone gets it into his head that now there are only “gala” or “event” donors and “other” or “major donors.” So now, the “Events Department” has its own donors with their own revenue goals that are solely dependent on “their” donors attending. And, over the course of time, the strategy of events to cultivate a donor and obtain a gift has now almost turned into its own non-profit entity.
This is a dark, dark place…
So when Veritus Group starts working with the major gift team, the conversation goes something like this: I ask, “Who are all these donors who have given these massive gifts that are not on a caseload?” The Director of Major Gifts looks at me with anger saying, “I know. These are ‘Gala donors’ who we’d love to sit down with to discuss their giving to our mission, but we can’t touch them because they are the Events Department donors.”
Do you see what has happened? We’ve just lost sight of the one thing fundraising is all about… the DONOR!
Somewhere down the road, non-profit institutions have lost their focus on donors and have become obsessed with themselves. Whenever you hear the words, “No, that’s my donor,” or “They’re our donors, you can’t touch them” in the halls of your non-profit, your non-profit has gone down into that deep dark, nasty place of losing focus on the donor.
And I’m not just picking on the Events Department. I see Planned Giving Departments do this, along with Direct-Response Departments. Any strategy that was once developed to cultivate the donor, but has now turned into its own Department, can go down this dark path.
What may have been a great idea to help cultivate, steward and lift donor giving has, over time (for many non-profits) turned into a navel gazing, circle the wagons, “damned be the donor” department.
And it’s not just happening in large non-profit institutions either. I see it in small non-profits with only one or two people working in development. It happens when someone decides she can’t mail an appeal letter to a donor because “she is just an auction donor and we don’t want to mess with that revenue.” Or you won’t visit “John’s donor, the board chair, because he would be embarrassed to have you talk to his friend.”
You see how this mentality can creep in anywhere, at any time? The “my donors” or “their donors” type of language is a sure sign that something wrong is happening.
The key to changing or combating this problem is creating a top down and bottom up Culture of Philanthropy – one where all you think about is this:

  • “What do our donors want?”
  • “What are their passions and desires and how do they match up to our mission?”
  • “What type of programs of ours do they want to invest in?”
  • “How can we best serve our donors?”

That is what should be on everyone’s mind… direct-response, events, planned giving, major gifts… everyone should be focused on that.
By turning your focus on donors instead of departments, revenue, engagement and trust from your donors will exceed your imagination. Focus inward on your own “department” and you will fall into that deep, dark place where donors are no longer thought of.
PS – On April 10th, I’ll be speaking at the Engage Conference in Philadelphia. If you’re a non-profit employee, you can join us and save $75 off the admission price by using the code VERITUS75. Come hear the great speakers and introduce yourself to me!