5 “Alternative Facts” for Advancement Professionals

Recently, a U.S. political figure who shall remain nameless (only because it would be too embarrassing for her to be named) used the phrase, “alternative facts,” during a heated exchange with a reporter.  And since a fact is, by definition, well, “a fact,” I have no idea what the phrase “alternative facts,” is intended to mean.  However, when I take the phrase at face value, my best approximation at a definition would be that “alternative facts,” are those facts that are not facts in our known world, but, instead, are facts that apply in some alternative universe.

So, then, I thought about that concept – facts that are not facts in our world, but perhaps, could be factual in some other alternative reality – and I came up with the following 5 “alternative facts” for advancement professionals.

Alternative Fact 1:  Donor fatigue.  In our world, donors don’t get tired of giving.  What we know is that giving is a scientifically-proven joyful, health-giving, disease-debilitating, life-extending activity.  People don’t typically get “tired” from being more healthy.  Instead, donors stop giving because they aren’t engaged and inspired to give, not because the proverbial well has run dry.  However, in some alternative universe, perhaps life-forms don’t enjoy healthy activities and giving, does, in fact, become tiresome.

Alternative Fact 2:  Asking for a planned gift should only occur after you know a donor well.  In our world, discussing a planned giving opportunity can happen easily and comfortably early on in a relationship with a donor – even during a first, discovery visit with a prospective donor.  For instance, you could be enjoying a wonderful first visit with an alumni couple, listening to them talk glowingly about what your institution means to them.  And as you get up to leave you could say something like:

“A thought just occurred to me.  You both are so complimentary of our institution and have so many fond memories of your time there.  I visit with donors all the time who share with me the same kind of fondness and care for our institution – and many of them have included our institution as a beneficiary in their will.  It occurs to me that you might have done something like that yourselves.  Is that something you’ve already done or have talked about doing?”

In some other version of reality, it could be an “alternative fact” that planned giving conversations are touchy, sensitive endeavors.  You might even have to wait for a long time before bringing up planned gifts.  But not in our reality.  In our reality, it’s actually kind of easy.

Alternative Fact 3:  The best development professionals raise money by themselves.  In our world, the research is clear, volunteers give more money themselves and, when engaged appropriately, help institutions raise more money from others.  I once had a very wealthy, generous major donor say to me, “The project is important.  Before I give, I have to believe it makes sense and is a good project.  But the asker – the asker is even more important.”  In other words, enlisting people he respected to solicit him was a key to receiving his best commitment.  People give to people.  And in many instances, the very best people in any given circumstance may be volunteers who we coach up.

Yet, in some parallel universe, it may be all about the development officer.  Engaging volunteers meaningfully for campaigns or in major gifts might be belittled or viewed as more trouble than they are worth. But in our world, we know that volunteers can extend a development officers results.

Alternative Fact 4:  Annual giving is not worth our time.   In our world, we understand the research that points to the fact that the largest single gift that a donor might make – a planned gift – is typically preceded by years and years of somewhat consistent modest, annual gifts.  Additionally, we read the research that connects the habit of making annual gifts to making larger, current major gifts.  Finally, we understand that a robust and growing donor base (who, by definition will be making smaller gifts), is a risk-reduction, diversification strategy for an institution’s annual revenue stream.

However, in some other, alternative world, there might be those individuals who are short-sighted enough to cut resources for annual giving.  Or, there may even be consulting firms who suggest that annual giving shouldn’t be an important part of the annual revenue mix for an institution.  Of course, this “alternative fact” could not possibly be accepted in our world. . . right?

Alternative Fact 5:  The “Working Board.”  –  In our world, giving by the members of your governing or foundation board matters.  In fact, it matters a lot.  Not only should 100% of your board members give annually, the total of your board’s collective giving should be substantial.  We know from our research at Gonser Gerber that campaigns are far more likely to end successfully and on time when members of the board give at least 20% of the total campaign goal.  Your board is your institution’s leadership body – and that means philanthropic leadership also.

However, in some “alternative world,” there may be a place for a “working board,” whatever that might mean.  My best guess at a definition for the concept of a “working board,” would be something like the following:  “Members of a working board like to remind others that they roll up their sleeves and volunteer for the institution – that is their ‘gift’ to the institution.  But in reality, they don’t do much meaningful volunteering and they certainly don’t embrace serious giving expectations.”

Yes, a “working board” might be all that is needed in an alternative reality.  But, in our world today, our institutions deserve much better.

My sincere hope is that none of us have to deal with any more “alternative facts” – at least not in this world.



  1. This is a great post but your characterization of “donor fatigue” is a “straw person”. I haven’t seen anyone say donors get tired of giving. Donor fatigue refers to a variety of different reasons why donors stopreduce giving….budget exhaustion, charities not paying attention to how (and even how often) donors want to be asked, fatigue with charities themselves because they don’t have (or communicate) their impact… … see http://m.wisegeek.com/what-is-donor-fatigue.htm

  2. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for the excellent blog this morning, which I’ve shared with my team as well as our board leadership.

    Best wishes for the new year in our old real world!


    • Great to hear from you Donna! And thanks for sharing the post. Let me know what, if any, feedback you receive. All is well here. I hope all is well in your “real world” and that you are having a productive beginning to the new year. Would love to chat with you sometime to catch up! With all best wishes. Jason

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