Why Standard Fundraising Practices Are Hurting Your Philanthropic Partnerships

So much of standard fundraising practice is inconsistent with philanthropic partnership building.

Would you enter into, feel comfortable with, or stay in a partnership if you learned:

  • You had been profiled
  • “Moves” were being planned without your knowledge
  • Records of meetings had been filed that you were not privy to
  • An agenda had been worked up beforehand that you were expected to go along with

Of course not. Why do we do such things in the name of fundraising when it is so obvious that they would not work and would be considered manipulative if done at an interpersonal level or in a business partnership? How did we fall into these habits and why do we continue with them when they would not pass the Golden Rule test?

When such techniques are used, donors are left feeling as if there is some agenda that is being worked on them, that they are somehow being kept in the dark, or just bewildered by the opaqueness of the process.

Given the rate of donor loss, we must convert to more transparent ways of building and preserving philanthropic partnerships. That can’t be done without building and preserving trust – and trust is best built and preserved when everything is kept out in the open.

The dominant modes of fundraising have been and continue to be tinged with what we should do to donors to get gifts. The erosion of donor interest and the suboptimization of their potential will continue if we don’t completely rethink the process and shift the focus on what we do with donors, with their knowledge and concurrence every step of the way.

Below are some suggestions on how we can begin the conversion to philanthropic partnership building.

Moving from “Gift Getting” to Philanthropic Partnership Building
  • Don’t use any words about the donor or about fundraising that you wouldn’t use with the donor (e.g., “moves management”)
  • Don’t put anything in a donor profile or a contact report that you would be embarrassed by if the donor were to see it
  • Change contact reports to progress reports that are shared with the donor
  • Ask permission at every step and preview the purpose of every meeting
  • If you want more information on donors, ask them directly and explain why it would be helpful
  • Encourage the donor to be direct with you and to put any qualms or issues on the table
  • Ask donors to describe what a meaningful partnership would look like
  • Don’t come to meetings with your agenda, use donor meetings to frame an agenda

Jim Langley is the president of Langley Innovations. Langley Innovations provides a range of services to its clients to help them understand the cultural underpinnings of philanthropy and the psychology of donors and, with that knowledge, to develop the most effective strategies and tactics to build broader and more lasting communities of support. Jim has authored numerous books including his most recent book, The Future of Fundraising: Adapting to New Philanthropic Realities, published by Academic Impressions in 2020. 


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