March 11, 2016 \ Rachel Jellinek
Nonprofit Fundraisers Share Perspectives on Philanthropy Landscape



At a recent Women in Development of Greater Boston event, nonprofit fundraisers in education and health shared stories as well as some trends they are seeing in the philanthropic landscape.   Moderated by Michael McNally, Deputy Vice Dean for External Relations at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the panel included:

Here are a few nuggets I wanted to share:

Nonprofit Fundraisers on Competition and ROI

  • Michael noted that philanthropy is getting more competitive and that within the past decade, it has become much more difficult to get unrestricted gifts.
  • Anne added that in her experience, donors in their 30s and 40s don’t see as much ROI in traditional support, like funding faculty research or scholarships.  It is getting tougher to convince people that giving to their alma mater has more value than giving to their local food bank.

Nonprofit Fundraisers on Qualifying Prospects

  • Cori stressed that her organization is very strategic about qualifying potential donors creatively and broadly.  They not only assess prospects for their ability to give financially but also for their ability to donate space or serve as mentors, for example.
  • Sarah said that doing group tours has not only been a more efficient way to qualify prospects but that the participants on the tour often share experiences and stories with each other, which makes for great connections, a stronger sense of community, and even more gratitude to the organization.

Nonprofit Fundraisers on the Importance of Teamwork

  • Anne mentioned that she knows a bit about a lot of different things, but she can’t do a deep dive on some specific initiatives, for example.  So she has learned to build relationships with colleagues who can step in as resources if a donor has a very particular interest in a program.
  • The panel agreed it is key to leave your ego at the door.  It doesn’t matter who closes the gift, so don’t focus on getting credit.  If a colleague has a better matched personality or knowledge base to fit with the potential donor, then let them take the lead.  It’s about the donor and about your mission.
  • Cori noted that often there is a wall between fundraisers and program folks that needs to be broken down.  She makes a practice of going to their offices, asking them about what they are working on, what they are excited about, what stories they are hearing about the organization’s impact.  She often will enter their offices with a grant application in hand to ask them to help her fill in the blanks. Because they feel valued for their contribution, her program colleagues now seek her out and say, “Hey, did you hear about one of our alum who did this?” The wall no longer exists.

Nonprofit Fundraisers on Maintaining Boundaries

  • Sarah shared that sometimes you have to be prepared to have difficult conversations with high-maintenance donors, where there is a risk of losing them.  She related a story where grateful patient clients were relying very heavily upon the hospital staff to help administer the clients’ own fundraising efforts.  The staff were feeling drained and were struggling to juggle the clients’ requests and expectations on top of their regular workload.  Once Sarah had the potentially awkward conversation with the clients to explain the unintended negative impact they were having on the staff, they understood and backed off on their requests, while continuing their philanthropy.
  • When asked how to handle alumni parents who are donors and whose child is currently applying to the school, Anne stressed that development and admissions are absolutely separate functions and that staff are not allowed to have gift conversations with a family while a student is applying.