leadershipcompass 2014-May14
An executive director of a small non-profit receives a $500 check in the mail and doesn’t pick up the phone to call the donor and thank them. His reason: “I was dealing with an issue with one of our directors and I just forgot to do it.”
A development director was out to lunch with one of her colleagues. When she got back to her office there was a voice mail waiting for her from one of her major donors who had a question and asked her to call her back. Because it was late in the day on a Friday before her vacation, she decided it could wait and didn’t call her back until two weeks later.
The CEO of a large non-profit was in D.C. trying to lobby some members of Congress to appropriate some funds for development in Africa. He got a call on his cell phone from one of the organization’s wealthiest and best donors… he ignored the call and didn’t get back to the donor until two days later.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? Did any of them make you cringe? I hope so, because this is happening every day with non-profits all over the world. Whenever I hear one of these stories I ask the person why this happened. Nine times out of ten I hear, “Well, we are just too busy” or “there is just so much going on I didn’t have the time to get back to the donor.”
You didn’t have time? Do you remember what you do?
And therein lies the problem. Richard and I believe there are too many non-profit executives and development professionals who have lost touch with what their job really is.
So, let’s be clear what your role is. As a non-profit executive, your job is to help create the very best program (whatever your mission is) and inspire donors to support it over an extended period of time until your mission is no longer needed.
This means creating a culture of philanthropy in your organization that puts the donor first… not waiting around for two weeks to get back to them.
There are many, many non-profit leaders who do an excellent job at strengthening their mission. They know how to put great programs together, rally their employees around it and put processes and procedures together that make them effective at what they do.
Yet when it comes to cultivating and nurturing relationships with donors, many of these same leaders fall flat. Many times it’s because they fear talking to donors. They don’t understand fundraising, or they look at it as a necessary evil. So when they come from that place, donors are not top of mind. In fact, these leaders will do everything they can NOT to come in contact with donors. They become “too busy” to thank, to report back, to just call to say hello… all because they do not value or do not understand that this is half of their job.
Are you one of these executives?
You cannot allow this type of behavior to continue. Here are a few questions to consider:

  1. Are donors mentioned in your mission? If not, why not? You have to build a culture of philanthropy that honors donors and makes them part of your mission as much as what you do to make the world a better place.
  2. As a leader, do you schedule half of your time during the day or week to cultivate your major donors? If you are not doing this, you don’t understand your job. Your organization will not sustain itself without your commitment to it.
  3. Are you talking to your staff weekly about donors and their importance to your organization? If donors are going to be honored and put first, you will need to drive the message home over and over with your staff.
  4. At board meetings, are you taking time to discuss donors and the role philanthropy is playing on a daily basis? If not, this is a missed opportunity. Board members too need to be inspired by donors and understand their role in the mission of the organization.
  5. Are you investing in your donors? This means are you spending resources on creating a good infrastructure to support donors. It means you are investing in midlevel and major donor programs. Investing in your donors means you know that the money that you spend now will take a few years to see a healthy return, but you have the foresight to do it.
  6. Do YOU believe fundraising is a high calling? With over 60 years of combined experience, Richard and I have seen that the best and most successful organizations have leaders who view fundraising as an integral part of their job – and they do it with passion. This passion then pervades the entire organization. It’s incredible when we see this type of leadership. But it only happens when the leader believes in philanthropy.

As a leader, these are questions you need to consider as your organization develops. When a leader fails to grapple with these questions and they don’t come out with a donor-first mindset, the organization falters.
Don’t be that type of leader. Inspire your staff. Inspire your donors. Always make time for them, and great things will happen when you do.
Remember, you’re never too busy for your donors.