A wise boss once told me: “A community is defined by caring for its members. Otherwise, it’s just a zip code.”
I never forgot this.
One of the things you are responsible for as a development professional is building and nurturing community.
Let’s Define Your Community
Since your mission is to facilitate philanthropy in order to move your mission forward, let’s talk about your philanthropic community – the donors, volunteers, advocates and ambassadors who fuel your work, making your impact the greatest it can be.
Let’s not stop with the impact you have on the beneficiaries of your charity’s work.
Let’s focus, head-on, on the impact you have on the philanthropists who choose to commune with you.
Why do people choose to give their hard-earned money to your cause? Why do they choose to associate with you, rather than another charity? What cements their individual and communal affiliation — their sense of belonging to all you do and aspire to?
It’s the Value You Offer
The opportunity to make the world a better place is the promise all social benefit organizations offer to deliver.
People have different values (some want to help children; others animals; others education, the environment, the arts… and so on). Within the values universe, it’s your job to convey where you sit/what you do/why what you do is necessary/and that you’re effective doing it. Your next job is to uncover folks who share the values your organization enacts. This is what is commonly called “development.” Finally, once a good common ground is found, you make the match! You ask for the investment that will assure the values are enacted and the donor’s passions are fulfilled.
Fundamentally, all of philanthropy is a value-for-value exchange.
Mostly, the donor gives money or volunteers time; the charity gives back an intangible “feel good.” Yes, this means a prompt, personal, powerful thank you. But it’s much more than that. If you stop there, you’ll short change the donor. They, in turn, may “return the favor” (which is a huge reason donor retention, per the Fundraising Effectiveness Project reports, remains at under 20% for new donors and just 46% for all donors).
What other opportunity and value might you deliver?
An Under-Appreciated Part of the Philanthropic Value Exchange is the Relational One
It’s the friend-raising and ongoing nurturing part of the fundraising equation. Friend-raising is about crafting a donor-centered journey that predisposes folks to want to give, and keep on giving. But it’s more than individual “cultivation” or “stewardship.” Where else might this predisposition to give come from?
A sense of belonging to something larger than oneself.
Endeavor to repay your donors by lifting them up and connecting them to the broader picture. Most people want to join your community, make their mark, leave a legacy, or see their values in action. They want to do this together, with you and with others, working toward a common purpose to achieve social change.
Fundraisers are in the “Happiness Delivery Business”
Let’s begin on the individual donor level. I write a lot about the “warm glow” people experience when they contemplate giving. And how you should never feel bad about asking someone for a philanthropic gift, because it delivers a shot of dopamine that lights up the pleasure center of their brains.
Alas, this feeling is short-lived. So, you need to do more. Which is where building donor love and loyalty plans comes in. Again, so far so good. Maybe you can “nurture” people into continuing to give.
But there’s another strategy, or perhaps it’s a cultural shift, that gets overlooked.
Value is Enhanced Through Community-Building
People join a religious congregation, PTA, sorority, book group, political or social movement, any number of meet-ups and, yes, your philanthropic community, because it brings them something they seek. On an individual level, this can be any number of different things, which is why it pays to get to know your donors as much as you can. The more you know people, the more you can help facilitate the journey that gives them the most meaning.
But, individual identity and values aside, there’s one thing most human beings have in common: People are searching for meaning, purpose and a sense of belonging. Organizations working in the social benefit sector are steeped in all these things people are looking for. So, it’s a match made in heaven, or should be. But it won’t happen unless you facilitate it.
One of the most powerful ways people find meaning is through community affiliation and association. They care about the outcomes of your work, sure. But what really brings the meaning home, and makes it personal, is when it’s shared with others.
Belonging, and Giving, are Bonding, Joyful Experiences
Part of what makes people feel they belong to your community is the joining with others to pursue common values.
The THNK School of Creative Leadership states:
“The magic of the community is in the shared act. Community members find each other, work together, support each other, and achieve success together. This is the joy of doing meaningful work together with like-minded people, with your friends.”
When values are shared, they gain power and traction, leading to:
- Sharing with others – extending your network
- Influencing others – extending your fundraising
- Collective engagement – extending the scope of your impact
But all good magic requires a magician – you. If you neglect this part of your job as a philanthropy facilitator, your community will evaporate.
Care for Your Community and all its Members
This is where you must put on both your donor-centered and community building hats. Perhaps survey your supporters to find out what types of communal events they might enjoy. What might feed their souls, build social capital, enable people to connect and help them stay in contact?
Know that “out of sight is out of mind,” so your job is to develop strategies to bring people together. This will solidify and amplify the knowledge, beliefs, values and traditions you all share. [Note: All of these community-builders can be hosted on-site or online.]
- Town halls
- Panels with Q & A’s
- Behind the scenes tours
- Open houses
- Office hours to solicit member input
- Brown bag lunches
- Free, social and/or volunteer events
What are you doing, specifically, to bring people with common values together?
People Want to Be With You, Not For You
Too often nonprofits treat donors like gumballs; chew ‘em up, spit ‘em out. As if they exist to do you a service, nothing more. This transactional approach to philanthropy facilitation won’t move the needle on solving your overarching problem or achieving your ultimate vision.
When you include supporters as part and parcel of your transformational work, then something magical can truly occur. You just need to offer the opportunities, and the tools.
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