Every Donor Is An Exception

Over the last few years, I’ve taken to explaining the purpose of donor and prospect management as the “management of exceptions.”  By that phrase, I simply mean that all major donors and major donor prospects are “exceptions” to any conceivable universal rule one might use to engage them as a group.  Each of these identified best prospects is unique.  The relationship each has with your institution is unique.  Their history, personality, life events, perspectives, values, beliefs – all different and unique to each of them.

Prospect management, then, simply helps us bring some semblance of structure to the scale and messiness of all of these exceptions.  There is no “rule,” no “formula,” which will adequately assist the development officer with the personalized engagement of each of these prospects and donors.  It is driven, at least in part, by the uniqueness of the donor herself.

The reason I have taken to referring to prospect management as the “management of exceptions,” is to remind us all that there simply is not a magic, singular rule, strategy, or tactic, which, when implemented, will open wallets wide.  Although perhaps appealing in its simplicity, we should resist any temptation to seek or adopt any approach that purports to effectively engage donors and prospects using a template, a formula, or a pitch.

Here is the reality:  There is no such formula, rule, strategy, tactic, or pitch.  There is no single word choice, no special activity, which, when applied consistently, will helpfully engage all – or even a substantial number – of major donors and major donor prospects.

However, it can become confusing when one reads or listens to so many so-called development “experts” who, with great conviction, describe how certain strategies or pitches will work with women donors, or men donors, or business owners, or artists, or. . . well, you name it.  As if development and advancement work were so easy.

Our work, when done authentically, honorably, and effectively, isn’t to come up with the perfect pitch to sell donors based on their demographics or characteristics.  Instead, it’s to captivate each prospect as a full and complex human being and discover with each the bridges that connect their unique values, interests, and beliefs to your institution’s mission and vision.  When you consistently engage individuals as “exceptions” through planful prospect and donor management techniques, you will realize far more success than any single, canned cultivation strategy can provide.


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