Several months ago I was sitting at a conference table, fruitlessly trying to convince the Director of Direct Response Marketing to continue the mid-level program we were working on together. We were conducting a pilot program with this particular organization, and we had successfully helped move dozens of mid-level donors into major gift portfolios and helped foster a $500,000 planned gift.
If you looked at it from the outside, you would think it was a no-brainer that they would continue to run and expand the program. But I heard this instead:
“Jeff, I’d love to keep going with this program, but my department doesn’t get any credit for the gifts being made and for the donors being ‘lost’ when they move to major gifts. Now, if the major gift team would pick up half the cost to run the program I would probably do it, but they are so mired in their own bureaucracy there is no way I can convince them to do that.”
He went on, “…so since my department is not getting credit for this and I’m bearing the cost, I just can’t keep it going. I’m sorry to say that at this organization we’re more concerned with our own turf than about the donor. I’d love for it NOT to be that way, but it is what it is.”
And so a successful program that helped donors through the pipeline is shut down, because of an organization’s unwillingness to work together across departments.
That was a frustrating situation… but they’re not alone.
A year ago I was at another conference table at a different client’s office. This client has a national office and affiliates all over the country. The national office has a development office, and most of the individual affiliates have their own development offices, too.
So we were discussing donors and different approaches to cultivating them, trying to match their passions and interests with their programs, and coming up with solicitation strategies. As we brought up donors, there seemed to be some sort of conflict with every one of them.
“Oh, no, we can’t solicit that donor. National has an MGO who has that donor. We’ll get into big trouble if they even get a whiff that we’re poking around.”
I said, “Wait – this is a donor that you [the affiliate CEO] know quite well, and you have a relationship with this donor; yet because the national office has ‘tagged’ this donor for themselves you cannot solicit the donor, even though this donor gives to projects in your own state?”
“Ah, yep, crazy isn’t it,” said the CEO. Then he went on to say, “Sometimes, I’ll go into the database and find out that National has ‘coded’ a donor that I’ve been working with and has assigned one of their MGOs to that donor. I’ve gotten calls from donors who say, ‘who is this person from your organization that is calling me?’ The national office never talks to us.”
Does any of this sound familiar to you? I hope not, but my fear is that it’s all too common. In fact, I know it’s too common.
What saddens Richard and me the most is that, in both of these cases, they lost complete sight of the donor. They have lost touch with what fundraising is all about. They have allowed their organizations to lose their fundraising purpose. That purpose is to match a donor’s interests and passions with the organization’s mission and programs. Instead, they have turned inward and territorial, playing political games, and they have seemed more concerned about their own standing and results rather than what is best for the donor.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, I am urging you to be the one who puts an end to it. Be the advocate for the donor. Be the one that says, “what is the best thing for our donor here?” Reach out across the hallway, the other floor of your building, or even across the country to work together as a team with the intent on doing the right thing for your donors.
You may talk a great game about being donor-centered and putting donors first, but are you actually putting that into practice and collaborating with your colleagues?
PS – If this sounds all-too-familiar to you, you might like to read our free White Paper, “We All Need Each Other.”