As I write this, I’m returning from the 51st meeting of the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in San Antonio, Texas. With each passing year, I see the advancement of philanthropy domestically, and perhaps more importantly, internationally. This year we learned that interest in the fundraising profession is booming in unlikely places like Mongolia and South Korea. Later this year, In Brataslava (Slovak Republic), the first Central and Eastern European Fundraising Conference will be held. What a fascinating and rewarding time to be a fundraiser! My personal experience at the conference included hosting development professionals from South Africa, and meeting colleagues from places like Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Egypt.
These countries and many others are thirsting for fundraising knowledge. The introduction of a new master’s level program/certificate in international fundraising at the conference is evidence of this.
Such global interest in our profession provides great opportunities. During a signing for my book, “Opening the Door to Major Gifts: Mastering the Discovery Call,” I met two fundraisers from France were very eager to read about my experiences. My Mom would be proud (that side of the family is French Canadian)!
One reason for opportunities from my perspective is that so very few countries and cultures are familiar and/or comfortable with the idea of major gifts. In the international context, “face to face” fundraising typically refers to street solicitors approaching strangers for a monthly credit card gift (in some corners, these folks are crassly referred to as “chuggers,” or charity muggers). That’s very different of course from the American view of face to face identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship.
Consider also that at the typical AFP conference, typically half of the attendees are first-timers. For these people, major gifts are probably not an area that they have yet tackled. So, AFP must focus a lot of energy on annual giving, direct mail, social media and special events. All important techniques to be sure, but all on the “indirect” end of the fundraising scale. In and of themselves, they are not “transformational” methods of development.
To further illustrate, last fall I was fortunate to be invite to present at a great conference in South Africa. In one of my sessions, one young university fundraiser told the audience that his boss expected him to ask for a gift during the first visit with a new prospect. At least in some pockets around the world, there is certainly a lack of understanding about how important patience and relationship building in the role of obtaining major gifts.
Rather than being disheartened by instances like this, I see it as an opportunity to teach and aim for improvement. I believe that every worthwhile non-profit/NGO should focus at least part of their efforts on long-term relationship building. The annual fund will always be important, but that alone is unlikely to move the needle significantly in our philanthropic efforts. To truly transform our organizations, our communities and our world, there must be an emphasis on what I like to call the “long game.” Let’s not spend so much time trying to meet this year’s fundraising goal that we forget about the big picture. What are we doing to provide transformational change in our organizations 10 years from now, 20 years ahead, or even 50 years into the future? What seeds are we planting today to sustain and propel our causes well into the future?
In the end, I’m grateful to have an opportunity to address this challenge. As I say to anyone who will listen (and I attempt to tell many who won’t), so many organizations are not nearly ready to begin asking for major gifts. They need to first initiate meaningful and lasting relationship with current and prospective donors – the focus of Opening the Door. If they do that, the money will take care of itself. Once you have a comfortable relationship with your donor, it really isn’t that hard to ask. And, if you do it right, your supporters will even thank you for the opportunity!
Congratulations to my colleagues at AFP for another great conference, and regards also to the thousands of participants who added to the rich and diverse nature of the event. As you head back to your communities re-energized with new fundraising knowledge, I wish you the very best in your annual fundraising campaigns. At the same time, remember to keep your eye on the horizon. Never forget about the importance of the “long game.”