When the folks @MKCREATIVE first asked me to contribute to the MKC Blog, I wondered what I might have to share that would be of value to the blog’s readers, many of whom are in the non-profit (charity) sector. After all, the University sector is, in so many ways, very different from the non-profit or charity sector. Or at least, many people seem to think this is the case.
Then, all of a sudden, and with increasing, visceral clarity, I remembered: I had started my fundraising career in the charity sector, and it was in the charity sector that I had really developed my deep, abiding passion for fundraising (Flashbacks to organizing runs and walks, door-to-door campaigns and sponsorship fundraising across a very rural, four-county geographic area, smack dab in the middle of Michigan, come rain, shine or, as was often the case, snow, sleet and hail. Driving a Ford Festiva, a car which, for those who are of the younger set, a mere 4-cylinders strong, and about the size of a mini-Cooper. The last feat being perhaps the most significant, given the fact that I am nearly 6 feet tall. And… don’t forget the sand for the tires, the boots and the snow shovel in the trunk!)Flash forward to the present, where if I were to write my biography, it might read something like this:
Susan possesses more than fifteen years’ senior-level fundraising experience. She began her career working for a large, volunteer-driven health care organization in the cities and the corn fields of Michigan, where she was responsible for board recruitment and development, supervision of a field staff of seven, recruitment and engagement of more than 150 volunteer leaders and more than 5,000 volunteers for special event and door-to-fundraising programs, producing annual income increases from 5 to 17%. In the higher education sector, currently at UMBC, she has launched first-time alumni and development programs, and she has worked with alumni volunteers, faculty members and staff to raise more than $21 million for universities in both the US and the UK.
Are the issues really that different now, as I raise funds in the higher-education sector?
My short answer: Not so much. Readers are urged to note the words, “launched,” and, “first-time,” in the description of my experience in the higher education sector, for they are important themes. While some might imagine that my experiences in the university sector would be full of alumni who were used to giving money to their university, well-financed development offices bursting with volumes of prospect research material and teeming with hordes of fellow-staff members, the entirety of which was complemented by well-oiled, internal and external machinery that, by its very nature, continuously and automatically churned out million-dollar gifts, I can assure you that this is, generally speaking, simply not the case. In fact, I would contend that my success in the higher education sector is almost entirely due to the experiences and expectations I originally formed while building fundraising programs in the charity sector.
While writing this first blog, I have decided that, regardless of sector, the burning question for all fundraisers (even corporate and foundation fundraisers, I would claim), is generally the same, and that the higher education and the charity sectors therefore have a lot to learn from each other.
The essential question is: “How do I respectfully and graciously progress from barely knowing someone to actually securing financial support for the cause that I believe in, and represent?”
Fifteen years later, I am increasingly convinced that a never-ending, daily quest to answer this question is the most important activity that any fundraiser, whether volunteer or staff, can possibly undertake. Why an “eternal quest” to answer this question? Because each donor-fundraiser relationship is as unique as the individuals who make up that relationship, and because how to build rapport, then trust, with each donor will depend on the donor as much as on the individual fundraiser. In short, rather than a single answer, there are a multitude of answers, and each of us has ideas that can assist the other in becoming successful fundraisers.
In this and future blog posts, I will encourage readers, and particularly fundraisers, to share their own stories as to how they created the sort of mutual rapport and trust that resulted in significant support of their organization.
CALLING ALL READERS:
Please write to me, and give your opinion about one or more of the questions below. In future blogs, I will publish some of your questions and some of your answers. I will share some of my own experiences that have shaped me as a fundraiser, and I will regale you with stories from my life as a community fundraiser while driving a Ford Festiva or otherwise getting around! In so doing, I will also attempt to provide my own answers to the following questions:
- How do you find the volunteers you need to help you fundraise in a town where you know absolutely no one?
- How do I request a first meeting with someone that doesn’t know me from Adam?
- How can I make my organization’s “case for support” compelling, when there are so many, more popular organizations out there?
- How do I identify someone as a potential major donor?
- What is a major gift, anyway?
- Are major gifts to an organization important?
- How can I start a major gifts program without any staff?
- What actually causes someone to give a major gift?
- What recognition should my organization give to a major donor?
- Why pursue major gifts from individuals, when we seem to be doing just fine with foundation grants and corporate gifts?
So what can I offer MKCREATIVE’s readers? The philosopher Thomas Hobbes said,”Experience is the memory of many things.” My hope is that, by sharing my own memories and experiences, and encouraging others to do the same, that my contributions to this blog will offer us all the opportunity to learn from each other, and to become better fundraisers and managers.
I look forward to hearing from you soon!
Susan Emfinger is currently Assistant Vice President, Alumni Relations and Development at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She can be reached at susanlar2 @ AOL dot com.