The Washington Post, along with many other newspapers across the country, continues to use November as its annual opportunity to explore philanthropy and giving in the community. In today’s Business Section I read a great article that profiled 11 leaders from various fields here in the Greater Washington, DC region. (Yes, I actually read the paper; I still get the print edition!) It asked each of the leaders some frank questions about their giving, such as how much did they give, had the focus of their philanthropy changed recently, how they set their priorities and how they gauged impact. It was very enlightening, both in the thoughtfulness of their responses, but also in the general similarity of their responses.
Many of them either had kept or actually increased their giving during the economy. Most were focused on “safety net” issues, but not all. Some did remind readers that arts and culture organizations need funding as well. Many emphasized the importance of giving locally, of helping those in their own home communities or the communities in which their employees/customers worked. And the importance of demonstrated impact continued to crop up as an important factor in their decision to support various organizations. These are all themes we hear repeated again and again, but it was encouraging to see such a diverse range of community leaders reinforce them in such a way.
So what’s the lesson here?
Get into the habit of being in regular conversation with your donors, especially your major donors. Fundraisers should be able to link their ask to a donor’s passion. And the only way we’re going to know that is by listening. “Why do you feel so strongly about helping others in need?” “Why is it so important to you to help our local community stay vibrant and strong?” If you look at the questions posed in The Post article, you should have a general answer for each of those questions for each of your top-level donors. Imagine the tailored impact you could have, the truly meaningful conversations that could take place if you understood what was driving your donors!
Have a look. What lessons do you take away from this piece? Let us know what you think.