What Donors Want – Fundraising Advice Straight from the Donor’s Mouth – Guest Post by Rachel Stephenson Sheff
Major gift fundraising is an intuitive blend of art and science, with relationship-building at its core. In today’s global philanthropy landscape, the distance between donors and fundraisers is shrinking, with strategic partnerships on the rise and competition at its fiercest. What are the implications of this on the non-profit sector and how can fundraisers adapt to this shifting context?
In partnership with strategy consultancy, I.G. Advisors, I produce a podcast called What Donors Want where we ask donors questions just like these. The premise is simple: to have frank, engaging (and slightly irreverent) conversations about major gifts fundraising with donors themselves – giving fundraisers advice straight from the donor’s mouth. 10 interviews later, we’ve wrapped up Season 1, which features a broad range of guests – from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to Comic Relief, DLA Piper, NoVo Foundation, Rockefeller and several brilliant philanthropists. While, of course, each episode and ‘type’ of funder has a unique take on fundraising best practice, what shines through the season are strong threads of commonality defining what an excellent relationship means in practice.
For example, donors consistently expressed a desire to build ‘true, holistic’ partnerships, where challenging and bringing stimulus to new ideas is built into the dynamic from the beginning. As Jennifer Alcorn (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) so brilliantly noted, “fundraisers often look at us and think dollar signs – when what we want people to think is partner. Somebody who’s going to provide thinking and strategy.” This sentiment was echoed by all podcast guests – from programme officers through individuals – who said this is the only “healthy way to have a [funding] relationship” (Alfonsina Peñaloza, Hewlett Foundation) and they “get a buzz [from] the involvement” (Lynne Smitham, Kiawah Trust).
We’ve also spoken in detail with our guests about accountability on both sides of the table and if there’s one thing to take away from Season 1, it’s that you should never shy away from (diplomatically) speaking up if you think a donor should approach something differently. Many actually want their partners “to push back and say ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea’” (Zia Khan, Rockefeller Foundation) – and “want to be problem-solving alongside the grantee because [they’re] learning just as much” (Jennifer Alcorn, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).
Throughout the season, we deep dive into concepts like these to highlight tangible, donor-centric recommendations for fundraisers. With more insights than could ever fit into one blog post, you can listen to What Donors Want – and our recap of Season 1 – on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud. And stay tuned for Season 2, coming to your headphones shortly.
Rachel Stephenson Sheff is a London-based Philanthropy & Fundraising Advisor, and the producer of What Donors Want. Get in touch if you want to learn more.