If your aim is to enhance the visibility of your institution, engage more advocates for your cause, and raise more money by making your work more orderly, organized, and programmed, you will have limited success.
If your aim is to increase the number of donors who give at the $1,000+ level, have more people attend your events, and create more authentic and meaningful donor experiences by making your appeals and invitations more glossy, polished, and professional, you will have limited success.
Great advancement work is never about order, control, gloss, and polish. It’s never about how well we produce.
Great advancement work is far messier and stickier than that. It’s about how well we relate to and engage others.
I once interviewed a multi-million dollar donor and asked why he had made a recent gift. “The asker matters,” he knowingly responded. In his case, the asker was a volunteer who had helped him get into the financial services business decades earlier.
When I asked the vice president for advancement about that volunteer asker, who also was a Foundation Board member, she said, “I have to tell you, he’s tough to handle sometimes, but, he was the only one who could have made that happen.” Messy.
Similarly, some years ago, my alma mater, Salisbury University, was looking for sponsors for their Student Entrepreneurship Competition, which is produced by their Perdue School of Business. I never paid any attention to this event because I was a history major in college.
But one day I received a call from one of my still-close college friends who was a business major. He was excited to share with me what he had learned about the competition. And he was reaching out to me and a handful of our other friends to see if we could jointly come together and provide a sponsorship. That was at least 5 years ago. And every spring, I still hear from my friend, and I still support the competition.
Salisbury could have sent me all glossy, sleek, and professionally-produced brochures about the competition they wanted, but it wouldn’t have mattered. It was the now life-long relationship with my college friend that engaged and still engages me. Sticky.
The more we shift our efforts away from our own “to-do” lists and focus, instead, on working through others – volunteers, colleagues, and other natural partners – the more we exponentially broaden our spheres of influence and invitation. And the more our advancement results soar.
Yes, working through volunteers and others makes our work messier. They can be difficult. They have ideas that may not work. They take your time. They have to be cared for and fed. But, the right volunteers can also make our work far stickier.
And, the messier and stickier, the better.