The Chihuahua Factor

Raising funds from individuals is a hard slog. Let’s face it. An organization needs to take into consideration many other factors that would not need to be considered with a foundation, corporation or government funder. Many organizations, however, think that increasing donations from individuals can come just as quickly as a new grant from XYZ Foundation.

But developing relationships with individuals, particularly major donors, is its own beast and many organizations don’t sufficiently differentiate the core aspects of fundraising with individuals from their other fundraising activity. We know all the trade lingo associated with raising funds from individuals: “stewardship strategies, donor-relations-communications and strategic cultivation,” but we forget that individuals are, yes, people and would want to be treated as well, you and I would want to be -- trade jargon aside.

Preston working away......

Preston working away......

An individual major donor’s philanthropic choices are highly personal and unlike an operating foundation or government entity, they are making a gift from their own bank account. They take their time to consider big decisions and little decisions alike. Often they discuss their philanthropic decisions as a family. Most of the time, the size of a donation is in direct correlation with the depth of their relationship to the recipient organization. Yes, there are instances of first-time, one million gifts to an organization, but as we all know this is a rare exception.

A recent New York Times article even points out that prominent political donors are not necessarily giving at the same levels as they did in years past. The primary thrust of the article is the candidates that the donors supported ultimately lost and they are creating their own organizations to further their political and policy goals. A further nuanced reading of the article, however, reveals that the donors didn't feel like they had been listened to, including in key strategy discussions, and did not feel that they were communicated with regularly. Basically, the relationship might not have been built as strongly as one may have thought.

William Sturtevant has probably penned the most influential book (The Artful Journey) about how to build strong relationships with individual donors focused on “Moves Management.” One vital theme is the consistency of interactions towards a goal.

Enter my dog:  Preston. Yes, my dog. He is a four pound Chihuahua, but loves big toys. He was recently given a bone. Despite the questions that practice might beg, the dog tenaciously works on eating this thing to nothing. He loves this bone, and chomps at it, every day, not obsessively, but continuously and consistently. As only a dog can, he loves and nurtures his bone, taking it with him whenever and wherever he can.

Is this a trite and over simplistic metaphor? Possibly. But it is the most simple analogies that are most easily forgotten or overlooked.

And often overlooked are the small, consistent and sincere actions needed to building strong relationships with donors and increasing their donations and respect to your organization. And I guess if a small chihuahua can understand the consistency and accumulation of small actions, I guess we all as fundraisers can as well.  

Jeffrey Gannon