It’s probably no surprise that not-for-profit organizations today struggle with maximizing donor development efforts. If you’re a board member of one those groups then you are well aware of the challenges that exist.

Larger organizations have difficulty retaining quality development staff while smaller ones struggle to get their boards to take a more active role. Too often the funding answer is to rely on special events, something I generally advise against. While events have their place and can provide some short term funding, they definitely should not be the long term substitute for a proactive development program. So how do you move from the event mentality to donor development? Think EDUCATE – it’s an acronym that can provide important direction.

E=Enlighten your Board – Often times volunteer board’s aren’t in touch with the latest trends and issues so it is important to provide some background relative to the current environment and long term trends. Share stats like 80 percent of the giving comes from individuals and their estates, that special events will often result in opportunity costs when compared to development efforts. There’s plenty of ammunition to build the case.

D=Develop a strong Case Statement – It’s amazing that many organizations only think of case statements at the time of their upcoming capital campaign.  They’re just as important for your development program. A great case statement will connect with your donors in defining the need, positioning your organization, promoting your capability, communicating the urgency, relaying the potential impact and sharing your plans.

U=Understand your donors and motivations – Relationships are key and recognizing the differences in your donors and their reasons for wanting to give is paramount. When it comes to understanding the prospects and motivations, board members in small organizations can bring valuable connections to the table.

C=Create a strategy – Understanding that time is of the essence, organizations simply must find the time to strategize development. There is no good substitute for research when it comes to learning about prospects and their motivations. Strategy builds on the research and provides an important element in pursuing further development of donor relationships.

A=Ask, then Ask again – Donor development is useless if it’s not followed up with a reasonable and well thought ask. Board members may be intimidated at first but teamwork can help alleviate fears and the stronger the development program the better prepared they’ll be. It’s important for them to understand that "People give to people they know," and this is where they bring the greatest value. Remember that a no for one ask doesn’t close the door for the future. Timing may not be right, the program may not carry the emotional appeal or the relationship may not have progressed enough. Don’t hesitate to ask again.

T=Thank donors promptly and creatively – One of the greatest donor development impacts is made at the time of the first gift. Remember, you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression. Surprise them with expediency and get creative. The computer generated thank you letter doesn’t cut it.  You want to stand out and let them know how much you appreciate their support. Actions WILL speak louder than words when it comes to recognizing their gift and make them more likely to give in the future.

E=Engage and steward donors regularly – A good development program engages donors after the gift instead of simply waiting for the next one. If you know your donor and motivations then you should have extensive indications as to proper engagement. Maybe you can offer a facility tour, special preview event, a wine and cheese gathering where you ask for their input and not a gift. The possibilities are really endless but the engagement has to be a good fit and genuine. If it is, it serves to advance the development effort further.

That’s it – you just have to EDUCATE. Large organizations with paid development staff may seem to have an advantage when one considers the aforementioned points. In reality, volunteer board members of smaller organizations can command a greater impression due to the fact their dedication and passion is uncompensated. Development efforts will take time and don’t offer the quick hits of special events, but in the end they promise to be more effective and efficient than their counterparts.

David J. Fry is the President/Owner of Effective Advancement Strategies in Greensburg and can be reached at

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