Fundraising goes by many names, and the practice assumes many forms. Historically fundraising—in whatever form—has been practiced more as art than science.
People give money to people—to people, they know, they like and they trust.
That fundamental truth led to the school of thought that “relationship building” is the primary art of the major gift fundraiser. But the art of fundraising is more than that. We are like therapists. We don’t tell people what to do. We don’t manipulate. We don’t sell. We do facilitate. We offer opportunities for people to act on their core values.
Marc Pitman, author of “Ask Without Fear!” and director of The Nonprofit Academy, says it well: “It’s wonderful to see people reconnect with their core values! But we do even more. We get to connect them with something wired even deeper into us as human beings. We get to reconnect them with generosity. We show them areas where their core values line up with our
Science enters the picture when social science and human performance knowledge begin to be applied to the art of fundraising. The concept of applying “science” can be a bit jarring to development professionals. This is particularly true for those who have developed their own instincts and ways of working through years of experience.
Fundraising certainly is seen (and taught) more as an art than a science. Despite the increasing use of “moves management” in the field, the application of structure and measurement to working with potential donors and repeat donors can feel wrong to people who believe that the essence of philanthropy is relationships. But process is neither manipulative nor injurious to the soul of philanthropy. In fact, by providing a solid, straightforward platform to channel the development officer’s work, process allows him or her to focus full attention on donors and exercise creativity in working with those for whom opportunities for philanthropy are important.
Knowingly or unknowingly, we create processes when we undertake purposeful work. What does not happen naturally is process consistency or optimization. The lack of these two essential elements leads to waste (at a minimum wasted time and energy) and poor performance, missed opportunities or outright failure. In addition, many recognized (and even many documented) processes, as well as all naturally occurring processes, lack measures and metrics — the process control levers that are the secret sauce of performance improvement.
Becoming a process-based organization requires documenting and then improving all existing processes (both recognized and naturally occurring). To avoid reinventing the wheel, certain key processes may be imported as best practices based on proven experience in other organizations. Whether you start from scratch or import best practices or combine a bit of both methods, you will be applying science to the art of fundraising.
Do We Need More Art or More Science?
The “art” of fundraising embodies purposeful human interactions that build relationships and engender philanthropy. The “science” of fundraising uses knowledge acquired through disciplined empirical investigations in other settings and codified in systems such as Toyota’s Lean to create more productive processes and flows.
By these definitions, both art and science are needed to effectively elevate performance in healthcare fundraising. Applied together, the art and science of fundraising will help you forge stronger donor relationships for your organization. But while relationships are important, major gift fundraising is not about making friends. Major donors for the most part are busy people. They are not looking for new friends with whom to spend lots of time. What they are looking for are opportunities to make a difference. A time-efficient and purposeful approach, combined with thoughtful relationship management, will be appreciated by sophisticated major gift donors.
Implementing a Performance Improvement Initiative
The process of starting a performance improvement initiative n fundraising is a process in itself. Here is a quick look at the approach.
First, gain an understanding of the potential ROI from power of philanthropy for your organization. Create comfort with PI concepts and tools with your board and within your organization. Then, create a strategic performance improvement plan.
Engage the entire fundraising organization. Provide “basic training” to the entire staff and at least an orientation presentation to your board and other partner bodies. Begin mapping all existing processes.
The next step is to create an integrated major gifts process to leverage staff capabilities. Introduce a best-practices major gifts model and custom-fit it into your organization. Collaboratively create a breakthrough case for support with an ambitious multi-year fundraising goal.
As you put the processes in place, carefully choose the measures and metrics you will use to achieve high performance levels throughout the fundraising operation. Build the necessary information technology and support services infrastructure. Rebalance your resource mix to optimize results.