Donors want joy.The other day I received an email from an exasperated major gift fundraiser who asked me this question:

“Our organization has set a new goal to become a donor-centric philanthropic organization. However, my organization currently holds a “walk/race” event that is very successful. They have a database of thousands of participants/donors (of which some are potential major gift donors) from this “walk/race” event but they don’t want to allow us to qualify any of them because they fear if we start forming relationships with them they will no longer participate in the event and they will lose money. Jeff, what do you think about this?”

Wow, there is so much wrong with this kind of thinking. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. Here was my answer to her:

Why would your organization deny a donor an opportunity to further engage with the good work that you are doing? This is classic Organization-Centered vs. Donor-Centered thinking. Donor-Centered thinking would provide donors with every opportunity you have to engage with your organization.
Now, just to set expectations, those “walk/race” participants/donors may not have a high rate of engagement with you. But you definitely should have the opportunity to qualify them. There should be no FEAR that you will lose these donors as a “walk/Race participant/donor.” And if the “walk/race” team did lose them, but they actually started giving much more because they are engaged with you on a deeper level… GREAT!
The whole purpose of your development strategy should be to make it as easy as possible for anyone coming into your organization to give larger and larger gifts. In other words, create a seamless, smooth pipeline into major gifts and planned giving – don’t create barriers.

This is where organizations lose their brains. A strategy (walk/race) event is used to acquire new donors. But over time, this event becomes a department, not a strategy. The department creates their own revenue goals and loses sight of the fact that they are actually part of a larger strategy used by the organization to move those donors up the major and planned gift pipeline.
Now, a silo has formed. “You can’t talk to our race-event donors because we don’t want to jeopardize our revenue,” said the director of the race-event.
Sounds crazy, right? But this kind of thinking (and ultimately policy) continues at many non-profits. The worst part about this is that it’s the donors who are being denied a deeper relationship with the organization.
This organizational-centered ideology is ultimately denying donors more joy. You’re denying them the ability to engage in a deeper level, and to give more.
Even if your organization doesn’t have a race-event, just substitute your direct-mail program, mid-level program, sustainer program, etc. They’re all great strategies, but they cannot become a department. By making them a department and isolating yourself from other strategies, you will clog the pipeline into major and planned gifts faster than I would by dumping a vat of grease down my kitchen sink!
Believe me, we see these clogs in databases all the time.
Major gifts will only succeed if the pipeline running to it is clear. Anything YOU can do to keep that pipeline open and free of clogs will ultimately allow your donors the most joy.
PS – Concerned about your own events strategy? We have a really popular (free) White Paper all about it.