Both Revolutionary and Evolutionary
Imagine your organization having a development plan that includes nothing but major donors and qualified prospects. No more special event fundraisers, no more sweating grant applications, no more “moves management” from sub-$100 donors to $500 to $5,000 to endowment givers, no more living hand-to-mouth and year-to-year. Terry Axelrod presents a compelling case for restructuring the development function using a combination of revolutionary and evolutionary thinking.
In reading this book, I was finding myself alternately saying, “Wow! What an innovative approach!” and “That's a different way of saying what everyone's doing now!” The key to understanding these (seemingly) conflicting reactions is that the author proposes to: 1) treat all donors and prospects as major donors and prospects; and 2) not solicit support at any lower level. She believes that a relatively small coterie of well-cultivated, passionate “friends” of a nonprofit bring far more stability and benefit to a nonprofit than the traditional “donor pyramid.”
One key to the success of her model is to AVOID asking for money until the prospect is ready to give. Many development directors would cringe at the donation opportunities the author encourages one to pass up in favor of cultivating a deeper, longer-lasting relationship. Facility tours, special events, and similar happenings are intended to be free, open, and low-pressure opportunities for the community to learn about the organization and its mission and for the organization to learn contact information on attendees and who is most likely to be interested in further contact on the donor's chosen terms.
One point made fairly early will unnerve many volunteer managers. Ms. Axelrod points out that relatively few nonprofit organizations are ready to listen to a prospective donor/volunteer and be prepared to accept what they are most willing to give. If the nonprofit makes it easy for the donor to identify a need and volunteer the time and/or resources to fill that need, then they will have made a friend as well as enhanced services. Ms. Axelrod places volunteer management squarely in the development arena and takes it out of its “unpaid employee/HR management” status. Volunteers are donors and donors are volunteers, and they need to be recognized, cultivated, and sustained in the organization for their blended, "customer-driven" status. This also means that the donor who "just writes the check" will also disappear, since the writers of the larger checks also tend to be involved in the nonprofit as volunteers.
In Ms. Axelrod's model, the lowest donor level is $1,000 per year ($83 per month), with a five-year commitment to give at that level. From there, donors may be requested to give additional gifts during the period, accelerate the fulfillment of their pledges, increase their pledges, and refer selected friends and acquaintances. Rather than the traditional “strong-arm the Rolodex®” fundraising model, donors invite friends to free, no obligation meet-and-greet/tour “point of entry” events as new entrants into the donor cycle.
The obvious advantages to this approach are that most giving is made by individuals, that most individuals are likely to give a gift, even when not properly cultivated, that properly cultivated donors will give more, more often, and longer than those not properly cultivated. The disadvantages in this approach are that it requires a fair amount of planning, absolute “buy-in” from all levels of staff, and some “front-end” investment of time and energy. However, the benefits in organizational financial stability, constituent loyalty, and independence from vagaries in grant funding cycles, political shifts, and economic trends are huge.
The book itself is structured somewhat like a donation cycle (in this case, the “Raising More Money Model” - since renamed the Benevon® model), with a few chapters dedicated to overview of the process, followed by chapters delving a little deeper into the specific steps, and ending with several chapters discussing specific strategies for specific steps in the cycle. There is a little repetition and reinforcement in using this structural technique, but that's a good thing and not at all overdone. Ms. Axelrod refers to her “Raising More Money” seminars, and it's easy to see the book's contents as components of two or three curricula, complete with the "tell 'em what they're going to hear, tell 'em, and then tell 'em what they heard" structure that works so effectively with adult learners in practical learning situations.
This book is far more than a traditional “how to” cookbook; it's both a theoretical challenge to traditional fundraising and a practical, step-by-step primer for implementation of Ms. Axelrod's new paradigm of fundraising. Even those who challenge her premise will be hard-pressed to challenge her implementation techniques.
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