Relationships Relationships Relationships!

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If you have ever had a conversation with a real estate agent, you are undoubtedly aware of the three rules of purchasing real estate—location, location, location. Well, what is a truism in real estate investment could be modified slightly to identify the three rules of major gift fundraising — relationships, relationships, relationships. Let me explain.

Fundraising at the major gift level is a relationship-driven business. This was obviously true in the “old days” of fundraising, when Larry Ter Molen, Clyde Watkins and I were chief development officers (and dinosaurs roamed the earth). In those days, we kept our prospects on index cards, and we made notes each time a contact was made. There was no internet, no wealth screening, no Facebook. There was a telephone and there were airplanes (I feel I should point this out to those of you out there who think we are even older), and effective fundraisers spent lots of time talking on one and riding on the other, particularly if one was responsible for out of town prospects, as I was when I was vice president for development at Lake Forest College. It was entirely a relationship-driven business.

Today, with all of the technology that we have available, I fear that we sometimes lose sight of this important fact…that fundraising is STILL all about relationships. How often do we hear from a client that the chief development officer, or the major gift officer or the CEO is just too busy to get out and meet with prospects? Unfortunately, way too often.  When was the last time that you received a personal acknowledgement for a charitable contribution? My guess is that it has been a long time. When I hear, as I did recently, that personal calls are being made by a client to thank their donors, I stand up and cheer!  Thanking someone for their generosity is, after all, one way to enhance a relationship with that individual.

I often suggest to clients that they cut down on the internal meetings and other distractions, and carve out times or days when they can go out and meet with prospects.  Take a potential donor to lunch. Have drinks with a prospect or two after work. It’s all part of the relationship building that is so fundamental to major gift fundraising.

If you find yourself wondering how to enhance your major gift fundraising effort, might I suggest that you think of those three fundraising rules, and find ways to put them into practice in your development office.