The non-government sector is full of organisations trying to do big things on small budgets. Here, Teresa Zolnierkiewicz and Robyn Charlwood provide their top five tips for NGOs.
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Teresa Zolnierkiewicz and Robyn Charlwood write:
As part of our work, we run a quarterly philanthropists’ network, and we regularly hear first-hand the concerns of emerging philanthropists.
In our view, philanthropists are struggling around engagement.
They are trying to find ways to sift through a lot of information as well as a lot of approaches, much of this not relevant to their true interests. Because they want to make good investments, and are keen to explore opportunities.
They are also trying to understand the world, the language, and the assumptions and mores of charitable organisations. They seek to connect with charities that are open, welcoming and appreciative of relationships with them. In these engagements, they are looking for both philanthropic and personal growth.
Based on our experience of both sides of the philanthropy dance, here are our top five tips to not for profits for successful philanthropic engagement.
1. Stop telling and start listening
We frequently observe the tendency for charities to unload their information to the listener.
When we are passionate and have a lot of information at our fingertips, we frequently default to one-way conversations to philanthropists and we tell, tell, tell. Are we guilty of confusing information with communication?
It’s smarter to keep your telling at a minimum and instead create opportunities to listen.
Listen to philanthropists who come to your events. Find out why they support you, what attracts them, what they would like to see more of, what they would like to see less of, and what more you can do for them. If these opportunities for listening do not exist, create them. Hold forums, hold focus groups, take coﬀee meetings. Find ways to listen to your supporters in order to find better ways to frame your investment opportunities to them and to define and ascertain their true ability to give.
Communication is not the content you transmit. Communication is the response you get.
2. Get your house in order
Your current philanthropists may not be your future philanthropists.
Holding on to your current philanthropists and giving them the opportunity to make larger donations is important and cost eﬀective.
At the same time, create profiles or personae of the ‘new’ donors you are interested in accessing, identify places where you can find them and find ways you can engage them. Build a ‘mood board’ or ‘vision board’ for philanthropic engagement. Did you know that 33% of not for profits in 2017 made no eﬀort to acquire new donors (OKP Research)? It’s easy to excuse inaction, but really it is poor strategy, poor resource allocation and poor decision making.
Learn and borrow whatever you can from other organisations succeeding in philanthropic engagement. Modify their good ideas so they are adaptable to your setting. Step outside your own organisation to do this.
3. Define your investment opportunity succinctly
Rebalance description of your activities and your organisation’s programs toward outlining your vision, your values, your aspirations, your progress and your impact. At times, the complexity of your organisation’s work can result in a pitch so complex that philanthropists get lost. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Define the problem, articulate your strengths, focus on your unique selling point and your achievements that demonstrate your future potential. Think of this as a pitch the philanthropist can repeat to their networks when someone asks them who they support and why. Could your donors readily repeat your compelling narrative to others?
4. Build an engaged community
The more opportunities you provide to engage with you, the more philanthropists will build their understanding of your work and results, and their connection to you. Here is what philanthropists like:
- hearing from you as thought leaders on your core issues, especially where controversy or themes relevant to the zeitgeist are involved
- hearing from you on problem solving strategies or innovations that you are designing
- hearing from you on ideas for system changes that you can demonstrate are needed
- hearing ways that you re-frame old problems and solve them in new ways.
Create community settings where you can gather the perspectives of philanthropists, generate intelligent discussion and demonstrate that you value their ideas. Community connection has appeal for philanthropists, particularly if you create spaces where they can meet people ‘just like them’.
It is often a neglected area, but beyond revenue, philanthropists also bring valuable networks, intellect, ideas and influence. If your organisation is not designing strategies to access such ancillary benefits, then you are missing opportunities.
5. Recognise your donor’s generosity
Thanking your donors never goes out of style. This is your duty, your responsibility and your obligation. You cannot delegate this to a bot, a cyborg, or a form letter. Make it personal, make it public, make it authentic.
* Teresa Zolnierkiewicz and Robyn Charlwood are co-founders of filantropia, an independent professional advisory firm specialising in philanthropy. Teresa and Robyn have a combined philanthropy experience of 30 years, and the experience of giving more than $800 million in grants for a broad range of charitable purposes