This is blog number 3 in a five-part series. As a refresher, we are examining each of the 5 Points of Possibility and how you can implement them in your organization. The third point is about intentionally cultivating and maintaining deep donor relationships and partnerships. When carried out well, Point of Possibility 3 leads to more authentic, satisfying interactions between your organization and your donors.
Distinguishing Healthy Donor Relationships and Partnerships
Let’s first distinguish what deep donor relationships and partnerships are—and what they are not. A partnership implies a type of equality between two or more people who embark on something together. This is a healthy approach. The term “donor-centric” has been used quite a bit in the development field. For some it means donor partnerships as I have just described, but for others it means we should put the donor on a pedestal. This is not a healthy approach and is not a true partnership because it lacks equity. With this Point of Possibility, it is imperative that you keep your personal and organizational values top of mind. If you approach your donors as if they are all-knowing and all-powerful, and you are less than, you relinquish your power, which diminishes the partnership. In addition, you may take actions that the donor sees as important, but your agency does not. This is known as “mission drift” or following the money versus the mission.
Remember, You Are the Content and Program Expert
As a staff person (and especially if you are the CEO), you are the content and program expert for your organization. While it is good to learn from others, don’t be swayed by someone who is holding you captive with their money. This type of relationship places too much value on money, and often lacks authenticity. As an organizational leader, you have assets—your knowledge about your agency, wisdom, dedication and past experience in the field. Your donors have other assets—their commitment to do good, their connections, their money and their wisdom. When you get to know your donors and see them as investors in a shared vision, you will achieve a powerful synergy.
You Have an Opportunity to Change the World and Shift the Power Dynamic by Educating Your Donors
As many of us work to create a more just and equitable world, we may struggle with this dynamic, because often our wealthiest donors are also the most privileged. This is where your leadership comes in, by standing in authentic partnership with your donors, including those with financial wealth. You have an opportunity to change the world and shift the power dynamic by helping donors to see the value of investing in a more just community. Historically, some privileged people were important allies of the right for women to vote and for slavery to be abolished. Those breakthroughs occurred, in part, due to the education and participation of members of the privileged class. They believed in, and took the risks needed, to advance these important causes. Part of your job is to enroll people of privilege to invest in positive change.
Authentic Partnerships Involve Community Engagement and Diversity
In addition, building deep and authentic partnerships is about community engagement and inviting a diverse group of people to invest in your cause. Who should you include in your community so that they can weigh in with their unique perspectives? Once your Hearts & Minds are in alignment, you can consider how best to integrate the concepts into your agency:
- What strategies will deepen donor partnerships?
- Are there Structures needed, in order to track donor conversations and history with your organization?
- Would board members or other key individuals help with stewardship and show donors that their investment in your agency made a difference?
- Who could you imagine doing what?
- How often would donors be showing up at your location?
- What resources would they want to share with you? Would you have detailed individualized donor relations plans for your top 10 percent of donors? (Read chapter 17 in Choose Abundance to learn more.)
- Would the Executive Director, development staff, and key board members feel comfortable calling and connecting with donors?
- Would funders come to expect that?
One of the beautiful things about a Culture of Philanthropy is that it is inclusive. It offers opportunities to connect, build partnerships, and share in the joys of success. In this model, everyone has something to contribute. Stay tuned for the next blog with details on Point of Possibility 4: Community Engagement is What We Do.