It isn’t an unusual occurrence. A not-for-profit organization decides it needs to undertake a major building project, and the board approves a capital campaign – on the condition that they first conduct a feasibility study. That’s when the phone rings, or an RFP is sent, or someone reaches out to us at Rainmaker. That’s our opportunity to discourage you from wasting precious resources. It’s time to have the conversation about traditional feasibility studies versus Donor Engagement Interviews:
In a traditional feasibility study, a consultant is hired by the organization to meet with its top donors. S/he interviews them and gets a sense of what they think about the organization. Do they still feel good about the mission? Do they have faith in the leadership? Do they feel well cared for by the organization? What do they think about this proposed campaign? Would they support it? To what extent? Ultimately, the job of the consultant is to find out how much money the donor would likely give to the campaign.
At Rainmaker, we liken this to dating in junior high school. Imagine the scenario…I like a boy, but I’m too “chicken” to tell him that I like him. So, I go to my best friend and ask her to ask him. She casually walks over to him and says…. ‘Hey, my friend Laurie really likes you….do you like her?’ It’s hardly a mature approach to getting to know someone! And it’s unlikely to produce results.
On a more serious level, that’s the lesson that organizations need to learn: An outside voice on my behalf does not enhance but rather detracts from my chances of a building a relationship or making my case. My dependence on an outsider makes me look immature, less confident, or possibly too lazy to get to know someone myself!
That is our message to your organization. If you don’t have mature relationships with your donors and you are afraid to ask how you’ve done in stewarding their gifts, let me save you a bundle of money; you aren’t ready for a capital campaign! Instead, you should begin by building the relationships. To make that point even clearer; a capital campaign is for an established development program. It isn’t a starter project for a new development program. However, a capital campaign can enhance your intermediate to mature development program if you change the conventional approach:
Donors would much rather get to know you better than get to know an outside consultant (even though we are pretty nice folks)! What if, instead of conducting a traditional feasibility study, you used your capital campaign to improve your donor relations and build a Culture of Philanthropy? What if, instead of hiring an outside consultant to interview your donors, you received coaching to meet with donors, deepen your relationships, and engage them to become partners and deeper stakeholders in your mission? As you meet with donors yourselves, you are building trust, you are asking them directly how you can be a better steward of their gifts, and, most important, you are building a stronger organization.
When we train your organization’s leaders how to conduct Donor Engagement Interviews, we are helping to build a sustainable model that will lead to deeper and stronger connections to your top donors. We are teaching your leaders to step up and build a Culture of Philanthropy. Board members and staff will grasp and come to embrace the idea that they have a responsible role in donor relations.
How does Rainmaker do this? First, we get to know you better. We learn what assets you have in place and what things need to improve. We then conduct training in how to build a Culture of Philanthropy. This is where the board and staff leaders own the strengths and weakness of the development program and start to see their role in enhancing it. We address, on one hand, the fears that might exist about fundraising, and, on the other, the amazing possibilities that fundraising affords. We match up the skills and desires of board members. We help them identify the best ways to support the campaign. Then we teach the group how to conduct Donor Engagement Interviews. We would help your team experience the meaningful joy and satisfaction that comes with building an expansive circle of individuals who support your agency.
In preparation for these interviews, we help you create a strategy for each of your top donors. What do you know about that person? What would you like to know? What are the questions you can ask in an interview? Through this process, you build on what you have already achieved with your supporters. If you have done quite a bit, we help you with the next steps. If you have done very little, we show you how to build a more authentic and meaningful connection. We work on the micro (particulars of the individual donor) and the macro (your communication strategy). Ultimately, we get you cued up for a successful campaign.
After conducting your Donor Engagement Interviews, you will have accomplished a great deal: You will have a clear sense of what each donor might give to your campaign. You will have created their deeper connection to you, your cause, and your mission. You will have essentially conducted your own feasibility study. With our support and coaching, you will have built strong and long-lasting relationships. Even better, those relationships will not end with the consulting engagement, but will remain for the long term.
So, the next time you consider undertaking a capital campaign, scratch the traditional feasibility study. Instead, articulate your goals. Do you want to get to know your donors better? Do you want your board trained? Do you want to build a stronger infrastructure? Do you want to create a Culture of Philanthropy that will long outlive a series of interviews? Ultimately, do you want save money and build a leaner fundraising machine?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions or have other questions to ask, this is the perfect time for you to reach out to us at Rainmaker!
Photo Credit: Dan Gold, Upsplash