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Fundraising: Beyond the Numbers to Meaningful Connections

donors fundraisers fundraising major gifts philanthropy success transformational gifts Jul 10, 2023

As a fundraiser, I've come to realize that I'm more than a connector to charitable gifts. I'm a catalyst for change.

As fundraisers, we take the hopes and aspirations of supporters and prospects - their desire for a better world - and connect them to the life-changing missions we serve. I firmly believe that our roles - this capacity to empower individuals to effect change - is one of our greatest gifts and also a privilege.

Have you seen the light of realization dawn on a donor's face in the moment they understand their potential make a lasting difference? I have. The comprehension that their giving will powerfully transform from an idea to a tangible reality, capable of shaping some part of our world for the better.

I know that in these moments, when the donor’s passion intertwines with the goals of our mission, we truly see the power of philanthropy. 

Now, not every every interaction with a donor becomes a successfully closed major gift (much as leadership may wish).

However, there are times when you have the opportunity to guide the donor(s) to the metaphorical mountain's peak, a vista point from which we can glimpse the further change that lies beyond the horizon. From this vantage point, we can talk about how the giving partnership will continue to impact communities from beyond the right now. How their support can reveal the potential for lasting and significant change.

I vividly recall an encounter from my early fundraising career when I had an epiphany. I had walked into a meeting with a donor, anticipating a $25,000 donation. Yet, after deeply engaging with the donor, understanding their values, their ambitions, and their eagerness to make a difference, I walked away with a $1 million commitment. That encounter was nothing short of transformative – a stark realization of what genuine connections could achieve.

A talk with my younger self

If I could share a nugget of wisdom with my younger self, I would sit down and tell her that fundraising is not just about securing gifts and meeting goals. It's about building authentic relationships. Connection and trust is the cornerstone of every successful partnership. You see it many steps along the journey:

  • When a donor can see the link between their values and our mission, they feel alignment and wish to become active participants.
  • When they see progress on the work we undertake, they're able to trust the integrity of our mission.
  • When they trust the people and leadership of our nonprofit, we move to a true partnership.
  • When they can see today's gift commitment building toward a future transformation, their generosity knows no bounds. 

This remains absolutely true in periods of economic downturn and during times of prosperity. I've experienced that several times, too.

The most profound moments come when a donor acknowledges their capacity to support a cause or a program they hold dear. Their realization, "I could fund this project! I would love to be part of this work, and I can," is a powerful testament to the potential of philanthropy.

Here's a key insight that's guided me through my career: Don't chase the gift. Instead, attract authentic conversations. Seek to uncover and understand your donor's values. As soon as I prioritized listening more deeply, understanding what truly mattered to them, I saw the shift. Meaningful conversations lead to meaningful gifts, a strong partnership naturally followed.

Why I'm so passionate about fundraising 

It's the fulfillment I find in being a catalyst for giving and how I can make the world a better place. As a coach and fundraising strategies supporting fundraisers and executive directors, I found my purpose in empowering others become catalysts, too.

When we, as fundraisers, understand the true essence of philanthropy as a tool for transformation, we start witnessing a paradigm shift in donor relationships and a surge in fundraising success.

Nonprofit leaders and fundraising teams - let's commit to building bridges of change, one meaningful connection at a time.

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