What Good Is It If You Don’t Use It?

I’m that guy.  The impulse shopper who buys stuff on a whim, drawn in by the promise of greater productivity, organization, and efficiency. I'm a sucker for infomercials for things like the amazingly awesome NINJA blender.  And let's not forget those work and home electronics that the knowledgeable big box store salesman convinced me would transform my work life and home entertainment experience.  Think the iPad, and the "smart" TV.

There is nothing wrong with these products. If you own them and use them, good for you. Unfortunately for me, these and many other products like them offer me only a fraction of the benefit I could receive if I were more thoughtful and less impulsive in my buying habits, and if I were to take the time to learn how to use them effectively.

Great products designed to make life better, easier or more productive are worthless in the hands of someone unwilling or incapable of taking advantage of them.

The same can be said for some of the great stuff sitting on the desks, people sitting in the board rooms, and donors hiding in the giving rolls of nonprofits.  Think…

  • That expensive new donor management software that sits idle in the cloud or on our desktop computers because we refused to pay for the training or we neglected to create procedures and set expectations of staff for its use.  Result:  Your opportunity to deepen your donor information base, engage in strategic donor retention, and secure increasingly significant gifts is squandered with random information likely just sitting in multiple spreadsheets.
  • That major gift prospect's information just sitting in your database, but you have no idea because your organization has neglected to invest time and resources into effective peer screenings, wealth screenings, or targeted prospect research.  Result:  Your next donor interested in making a major current or deferred gift is sitting in your lap and you miss the chance to engage the individual or family beyond the generic thank you letter you send each year to all donors.  
  • The special event that misses the mark and fails to inspire new giving because you neglected to focus on that powerful mission moment that would inspire your would-be donors.  Even worse, no one extended an invitation to give or followed up with attendees afterwards.  Result: Those new donors are sitting right there in front of you, primed and ready to respond to your appeal, and you failed to take advantage of their attention and interest.
  • Gift acceptance policies that are never drafted or rarely reviewed because a development director or committee chair didn't think it was necessary.  Result:  Anger, frustration or tension between your organization and a special donor when that gift of their "priceless" piece of art was accepted without an appraisal.  Soon you have to call and tell them that it's not as valuable as they thought, leading their gift to your campaign not being significant enough to warrant that special naming opportunity that you already promised them.  
  • The highly respected, financially connected and philanthropically-minded new board member never receives a proper orientation to the agency and is never told what is expected of him or her out of some misguided assumption that they are too important and too busy to waste their time on such matters.  Result:  This board member never invests at the giving levels everyone assumes he or she should.  They never help with introductions to other potential supporters. They eventually stop attending board meetings and events because they are never reminded of the value of their time and talent. Finally, to make yourselves feel good about their "involvement," you name drop to convince yourself and others that you have a great board, when really you have a "do nothing" board and some pretty letterhead with a bunch of names on it.  

Don't let this be your fundraising reality.  Instead, be purposeful about fundraising tools you need - then use them.  Be dutiful in the policies you create - and follow them.  Be intentional about the donor identification, investigation, and engagement strategies you deploy - and learn from them.  Be intentional in your board identification, orientation and development - and hold members accountable.  Finally, be authentic in the relationships you build with donors and others who agree to help you - and nurture them.

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