tunnelwood group


Article reproduced with permission from Canadian FundRaiser®, Volume 13, Number 11, June 15, 2003


Look at another dimension – bring in the stakeholders

Faced with a session titled "dating the decision-makers", theoretically priming them to offer tips and techniques on establishing profitable relationships with money moguls, two speakers at the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference chose to take the relationship concept further and insist on the importance of fostering a triad rather than a duo.

Relationships which develop – however strongly and constructively – into joint action and common behaviours between nonprofits and their supporters run the danger of succumbing to "donor dominance", warn Pat Hardy, President and CEO of the Tunnelwood Group, Dugald MB, and Leslie Weir, Director of Gift Planning, Health Sciences Centre Foundation, Winnipeg (formerly with Tunnelwood).

Citing as an authority William Clohesy, author of a recent article in the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, the pair suggest that consideration should be given to a "stakeholder model" of relationship fundraising, which would include a nonprofit’s beneficiaries in the equation. Under this model, say the speakers, "nonprofit organizations would establish a social space for staff, donors, clients, board members, and volunteers to enter into dynamic relations with one another for some agreed-upon mission."

No stakeholder is primary

To treat any one of these stakeholders (including donors) as primary, they say "reduces the others to mere means for others’ ends".

"Dating" decision-makers – grants officers, corporate directors/officers/donations officers, foundation officers and directors, and individual donors – should be undertaken under the umbrella of establishing an engagement strategy, say the speakers, a "process of relationship-building that acknowledges the power of two-way communications".

Rather than the one-way communications model involved in public relations strategies focussed on raising or managing a positive profile for an organization or marketing strategies which sell a concept or product, the pair recommend a "process of moving people from being recipients of information to being partners; a process of joint learning that blurs the distinctions between communicator and audience".

Three fundamentals to strategy

There are three fundamentals of engagement strategies, they say:

  • Relationships represent organizational capital; they are more leveragable assets than information in creating behaviour change toward investment or participation.
  • Relationships build the trust necessary to bridge the gap between knowledge and action.
  • Relationships, not information, are at the centre of all communications.

Under this approach to "dating" donors, they say, fundraisers abandon the "interruption marketing" model of communicating what the organization wants to say when it wants to say it, and opt for the "permission marketing" (with a nod to Seth Godin, author of the book by that name) model, in which "producer and consumer gradually establish a relationship and learn more about each other".

There are three stages of developing engagement strategies, say Hardy and Weir. Comparable to Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs, they are portrayed in a pyramid, with information provision at the bottom (first step), nurturing relationships in the centre, and joint action as the pinnacle. In the first stage, the organization provides information designed to educate increasing numbers of decision makers – it is basically a one-way flow.

Next – initiate conversations

Having established contact with some potentially involved decision-makers, the second step is to initiate "conversations" and/or respond to feelers from the decision-makers. Fast followup to any such feelers is vital, say the speakers, and involves initiating and responding to conversations, taking advantage of all opportunities for personal contact, and explorating possibilities of joint action.

At the third level, they say, "trust is established and decisions are made for joint action", whether that involves funding projects or advocacy. Engagement strategies and relationships are predicated on shared values and mutual trust.

Implementing the strategy

Implementing an engagement strategy, they say, involves setting goals with clear reference to who will do what with whom and when; identification of which decision-makers to "date"; identification of the appropriate tools to reach them (e.g. personal contact, print/electronic publications, workshops/seminars, or participation opportunities/tours), and ongoing evaluation and refinement.

Quoting Ken Burnett’s Relationship Fundraising, the speakers note that the "over-riding consideration is to care for and develop that bond and to do nothing that might damage or jeopardize it". Every activity, they say, "is therefore geared towards making sure donors know they are important, valued and considered, which has the effect of maximizing funds per donor in the long term." However, again, it is necessary to "connect the donor to the impact of his/her gift" by bringing recipients/beneficiaries into the relationship.

There are challenges to implementing an engagement strategy model, the speakers recognize: organizations resist change, officials may not understand the potential, it may be considered too complicated or too expensive, there may not seem to be enough time or return on investment, and the fundraisers may not know how to do it.

What fundraisers can do

Actions fundraisers can undertake to bring about the required change in operational modes in their own organizations, suggest the pair, include:

  • Learn more and make use of theories to build a case for investing in relationships
  • Foster multiple connections between donors and the charitable organizations they support
  • Maintain accurate and comprehensive records that protect organizational knowledge and facilitate transfer of relationships when staff changes occur
  • Strive for two-way communication
  • Find ways to link donors with the impact of their gifts
  • Promote and foster a philanthropic culture
  • Learn more about the theory of fund development and think about how to make it work in your organization; become a champion.

For further information:

Pat Hardy, President and CEO, The Tunnelwood Group pathardy@tunnelwood.com

Leslie Weir, Director of Gift Planning, Health Sciences Centre Foundation lweir@hsc.mb.ca

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