Have you ever had a friend who worked as a professional fundraiser who approached you about a (major) gift for an organization that you don't normally support? 

Since this hasn't happened to me yet, I'm not sure how it feels - was it uncomfortable? completely welcome?

What I have seen before are charities who ask about a fundraiser's personal connections in the donor community. "Did you work with donor X in previous role and would you be able to approach them and others on behalf of new charity?" To me, that question is a huge red-flag for me as a professional.

To be honest, I'm not sure what others have experienced and whether my position is the correct one, but I want to share my own thoughts on this - with the strong caveat that what I'm talking about here is a very small number of charities and fundraisers/consultants and I'm mainly focused on significant donations.


It's not easy to find the right fundraiser or consultant. You are looking to hire someone who is not only professionally competent (in a profession that is not always well-understood by the general public) but who can represent a cause-based brand in a compelling way. 

I would suggest to organizations that they should be looking for a fundraiser who is extremely well-connected. BUT, the key here is in which circle.

Fundraisers with lots of personal friends are not as valuable for your organization as fundraisers with lots of professional connections in the non-profit sector. LinkedIn is a good place to glimpse at this network, but don't forget to dig deeper and look at relevance of contacts vs. sheer number. My development contacts on the site are more important in this case than my mortgage broker.

A strong professional network means that the person can grab legal information, a second opinion on a strategy or a form/template/document in minutes. This helps me to do my work better, faster and cheaper and to understand how I can keep the organization I represent operating within the standards set by the non-profit industry nationally.

Personal friends, and even powerful or wealthy ones, might give for a time to causes I ask them to support, but ultimately, they are giving to support me rather than the organization. How many times have we seen organizations that were 'on a roll' with their programs until that 'great fundraiser who knew everyone' moved on along with his/her rolodex?

Charities should be looking for individuals who will take a look at the donors, volunteers and advocates that they already have and the new friends they might want to make and be able to identify, sort, initiate, build and manage those friendships. When I see a list of existing donors that have not been engaged at a high level, what I offer the organization is the ability to prioritize and develop those relationships. My practice is to act as a matchmaker and build long-term connections in the community that don't rely on my personal relationships.


Let's face it, we're more likely to be interested in learning about something because a friend approaches us about it and tells us why it's important to them. 

But, there's a boundary here that needs to be drawn.

When a board member or volunteer who you know makes an intro to you about a charity or campaign and then passes you into the hands of the fundraiser to make the case and ask for support, there is a chance to step away from your personal relationship with the board member. It allows the decision to become donor-centered and based on the fit with the cause. You can say "no" and not lose face. You can hold the fundraiser accountable and not your friend for the use of your gift.

Evaluating "friendraising" as a donor is another good indicator of whether you should be investing in a particular cause. Has the charity hired your friend to drum up business from his/her personal contacts as their main activity? If so, then consider carefully whether this is a sign for you that this organization's mission can stand on its own or whether it rests on your friend's reputation? What happens when you're friend moves on? Will you continue to receive donor reports and contacts? What are they doing to invest themselves in building direct relationships that will be lasting and sustainable? How does that reflect on how the rest of the organization is being built and managed?

What do you think? How do you draw the lines between friendships and fundraising/giving (especially when it comes to major gifts)?
While I realize that sometimes there's no choice but to send out blanket fundraising appeals in hopes of reaching new supporters, this wasn't one of those instances...

You see, this letter is from a charity that my family has supported on a monthly basis for over eight years. No, it's not a huge contribution, but I do send cheques for larger amounts from time to time and it is an important cause to me. 

So why the "Dear Friend"? 

Our name is printed on the bottom of the letter on an attached pledge card, so I know that this organization has the capacity to electronically personalize the salutation of the letter. Is it laziness? 

If you read a little further down, you will see that the sender is asking for a small increase in our monthly contribution - not much more than the cost of a fancy coffee - so not a big deal, right? It's just that the letter started out in an impersonal tone and the way it ends is with an opt-out - ie. "we will begin withdrawing the increased amount from your account unless you are in touch with us to decline."

OK? But aren't donations usually an opt-in transaction? Frankly, I probably would have happily upped the ante at least $10-$15 / month if you'd asked rather than simply informed...

In addition, the timing of this letter was somewhat off too. It came in early January. Right about the time that I would normally expect to receive my annual thank you letter and tax receipt for the previous year's support. But that hasn't come yet.

The whole thing felt a lot more like a bill and a lot less like an "ask" by the time I got to the bottom of the letter. Could I at least have had a new picture of the kid I sponsor? We kinda joke that he must be a teenager now, he was about eight when we started all those years ago, surely he's grown since then?

So what keeps me on the roster despite the bad taste that this left in my mouth? I really don't feel like I could let Rafael in Peru down by moving on to another similar charity. I guess I just care too much about the mission. I guess that's why I felt so sad that the only news of the impact we've been making for our particular sponsored child was in the first paragraph of the letter and frankly, pretty shallow.

Ask Better?

To me, this charity has assumed that I won't be leaving them any time soon and though they're probably right, I think I'd have more positive comments about this letter if it had been personal and provided a genuine connection to what we're partnering in together rather than leaving me feeling like an ATM.

Give Smarter?

I think the experience goes to show that we do give from the heart and that sometimes passion does rule our choices. Though I didn't think this organization did a great job here, I'd feel like a horrible person to abandon Rafael, so there's little chance that I'll be canceling the gift or opting out of their increase. However, I'll probably be looking to spend more of my giving budget elsewhere rather than increasing my contribution to this charity.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Would you opt-out?

*Update* (April 2012)
There is a full discussion of this fundraising campaign happening at a national level following a CBC Marketplace report: http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/2012/busted/

You can check in over at the Agents of Good blog for more commentary and a response from the charity that sent this letter.
Is it nice and hot and sunny where you are? Chances are pretty good that your donors are also enjoying the summer weather and not giving too much thought to charitable bequest planning right now.

As with many things, I found that gift planning had high and low seasons through the year with mid-July to the end of August and mid-November to January being the two times when bequests just weren't top of mind for people.

This being said, two of the best times of the year to talk about bequest planning are September and January. Making a will can often fall into that category of "New Year's Resolution" and both of these times are a "new" time of year when people are feeling re-energized and interested in tackling administrative projects.

If you are a development professional, this is a great time to organize some strategies that will put your charity top-of-mind when the high-season returns in the fall. This is also a good time to start thinking about program strategies for January as well.

Why not try:
  • Gathering your list of individuals who have expressed an interest in some way from the past 12 months. Put the list by your phone and resolve to spend at least one hour per day in September on the phone. By providing a reminder and forwarding any further information that they may require right at the start of September, there will be lots of time for them to get in touch with the rest of their advisory team and complete their gift before the hectic holiday season gets started
  • Writing a short direct mail piece about bequest giving to arrive around the first week of September. No need to send it to your full mailing list, you can limit it to a small handful of loyal donors. Mention in the letter that you will be following up by phone and be sure to make the calls
  • Choose a date toward the end of September and set aside a block of time to meet face-to-face with donors to discuss gift planning - can be either local, travel or an event. By planning this now, you will have a chance to send out a letter or invitation card early in the season. After a busy summer of travel and with kids returning to school, people tend to stay closer to home around this time of year and often aren't as tied up with social events as they will be come November and December
  • Design and send out a small note sheet with a to-do list for the new year. Include consulting with your estate planner and leave the rest of the lines blank for the person to fill in themselves. Print some information about your charity and estate planning tips including charitable giving on the back
What if you don't have a dedicated gift planning person on your team? Any of these strategies can be sized up or sized down to fit into a work flow. If you wear all of the "hats" in your organization, you might limit yourself to focusing on your top 5 most interested potential donors. If your time is 100% dedicated to gift planning, you might want to think of creating a larger appeal for January based on the "New Year's Resolution" theme.

Anything else that you would suggest? Any estate planners out there willing to share when their high and low seasons fall?

© 2011-2012 Christina Attard. All Rights Reserved