“How Do You Know. . .?”

When it comes right down to it, you are, at heart and in practice, an educator.

You educate donors regarding the needs of those you serve and how your institution can better fulfill those needs with the help of their support.  You educate new donors or “not yet” donor prospects on why their consistent, year-in-year-out giving is key to enhancing your institution’s capacity to serve over the long-term.  You educate older donors about planned giving options and how those gifts may provide benefits to them and their families.  There are any number of ways that you educate each day.

However, when we embrace and accept the concept of “development professional as educator,” we sometimes fail to grasp the full scope of that educating work.  Specifically, we tend to think of our role as educating donors or other external constituencies.  And while those populations represent the bulk of our educating work, those audiences do not represent the complete picture.  Nor, are those external constituents necessarily the most important audiences for our educating work.

Especially in our current climate of financial and budget concerns, are you educating your internal constituents – your institution’s leadership team for instance – on why cutting your advancement budget is short-sighted and unhelpful to the institution as a whole?  I’m not talking about making a philosophical case about the “impact of giving.” While true, such an argument may not be persuasive when real dollars are going to be cut. Instead, I mean a quantifiable justification for why cutting your budget will result in fewer resources for the institution to use.

Are you educating them on what happens to your gift income without that gift officer position being filled?  That you will have X fewer major gift donors included in your prospect management system which will likely lead to a decline in X dollars being given each year?  Or, how cutting X dollars from the constituent relations program budget will decrease the number of constituents who report that your institution is one of their top charitable giving priorities?  The “out of sight, out of mind” concept.

And what about the education that needs to occur when well-meaning Board members and other key volunteers suggest that you can reach your multi-million dollar goal by asking everyone to make a gift of $1,000?  We only need 2,500 of those donors, right?

When we use our data to consistently educate those closest to us – our colleagues and our volunteer “insiders” – we answer the most pressing question they can ask when budgets get tight or when they float their opinion of good strategy:

“But, how do you know we will lose donors or that it won’t work?”

In the process, we also help shape the thinking of influential people who make the educating of our external constituents that much easier.


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