Fundraising Principles For The New Universe: The Practice of Immersion

So far I’ve identified four principles which I believe are keys to fundraising success as a result of the 2008 recession.  The principles (Income Stream Diversity, Database Depth, Bench Depth, and Big Value Communication) highlight new thinking based on the economic realities in which institutions (and their donors) now find themselves.

The final principle is the Practice of Immersion.

The Practice of Immersion is a principle that applies to the institution’s operations and, ultimately, impacts the ways in which the institution engages donors.  Simply put, when institutions practice immersion, the formal role of every advancement team member contains elements of donor engagement with a goal to deeply and personally engage as many donors as possible.  Let’s look more closely at this principle.

Historically, advancement teams were comprised of individuals who served in one of four functions:

  1. Constituency relations – alumni, parent, patient, client, etc.
  2. Development – annual, major, or planned giving;
  3. Communications – public relations, marketing, membership;
  4. Advancement services – research, reports, and database management.

Advancement as a field has grown more and more specialized.  I refer to this specialization as the “Model T Assembly Line” structure of Advancement.  Each member of the team has their specific job.   Researchers research and  major gift officers solicit major donors.  As the donor moves down the “assembly line” of giving,  each advancement team member has their own bolt to turn.

We have built our advancement programs to scale up – to expand the numbers of donors, not necessarily to serve donors more uniquely and personally.

Today, though, institutional budgetary pressures as a result of the 2008 economic downturn are re-shaping the advancement team.  The most effective advancement teams are Practicing Immersion – they are hiring multi-skilled individuals all of whom are involved directly in the engagement of donors and prospects.

Additionally, effective advancement teams are Practicing Immersion because their donors are demanding more care, more involvement, and more transparency. Donors are unwilling to interact with the “donor assembly line” we have created.   Instead, they are demanding a different experience – one in which they communicate with advancement professionals who know them, understand them, care about them, and care about their giving in support of good work.

Researchers are doing front-line major gift work.  Communications professionals are leading constituency relations initiatives.  Planned giving directors are engaging annual fund donors.  If you think I’m talking about smaller shops whose team members have worn multiple hats for years, you are mistaken.  There are a number of larger advancement teams at nationally-known institutions who are Practicing Immersion.

A key finding in the 2010 Bank of America High Net Worth Philanthropy Study highlights the point.  The number one reason why high net worth donors in the study stopped giving to a non-profit was because “they were too frequently solicited or asked an inappropriate amount.”  In other words, the advancement “assembly line” solicited them like every other donor – treating them in common fashion instead of as a unique donor with specific interests and desires.  These donors walked away from institutions because they were not Practicing Immersion.

It’s time to start disassembling the assembly line we’ve created.


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