Donor Relations Management in the Development Process

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A Case for the Annual Giving Appeal
by Vicky Westover

Waldorf schools in the North America are mission-driven non-profits that exist in a greater culture of voluntary giving. According to a Giving USA survey by the AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy, charitable donations to non-profits in the Unites States in 2003 totaled $184 billion, yet it has been said that development is not about money, but about values. The values of our society are what drive development, and shared values are what motivate folks to give time and money. Understanding this means that developing relationships and partnering with others, individuals and organizations, is the key to successful development.

Recent research in development shows that giving is still mission-based and relationship-driven. It is the work of the development office in a Waldorf school to find individuals who share the school’s values and to ask them to make a gift to support the school’s mission. In more established schools,the development office serves as the bridge builder between the school and the community and the school and donors. However, it must be understood that many in the school, including board members, administrators, teachers, parents, advisors, and friends of the school, play a vital part in that bridge building.

It has been pointed out by social researchers that there are different types of donors who are motivated by different reasons to give to non-profits. In their 1994 book The Seven Faces of Philanthropy: A New Approach to Cultivate Major Donors, authors Prince and File analyzed the different types of people who give to charity based on the reason they do so and gave them descriptive names and explanations for what motivates them to give: The Communitarian-Doing Good Makes Sense; The Devout-Doing Good is God’s Will; The Investor-Doing Good Is Good Business; The Socialite-Doing Good Is Fun; The Altruist-Doing Good Feels Right; The Repayer-Doing Good In Return; and the Dynast-Doing Good Is a Family Tradition. In a Waldorf school and in the community in which the school is located, one will encounter some or all of these types of donors, and a different cultivation approach is required for each type.

In simple terms, fundraising follows a cyclical process: identification of potential donors, cultivation of potential donors, solicitation of donors, thanking of donors, further cultivation of donors (new and established)-and the process continues and repeats. The first step in the development process is commonly called friend-raising, and Waldorf schools can find various opportunities to establish and deepen relationships with parents, grandparents, alumni parents, neighbors, and like-minded members of the greater community including corporate and government representatives. The most effective way for a potential donor to connect to the school is to let them see children who are engaged in learning or to provide them with a personal story of a student or other member of the school community. In the parlance of fundraising, these opportunities, such as school or community events, are called point-of-entry events. Another objective is to move each donor into a higher level of giving, and that requires a separate cultivation program and timetable for each person.

Perhaps it is a cliché now to say that fundraising is about personal relationships, but when it comes to methods of fundraising such as the annual appeal, the backbone of nonprofit fundraising programs, the cliché is true. And it should be noted that the fear of asking for money exists within the organization-not the donor. It is through the development process that a development officer and members of a development committee have the privilege of becoming aware of the donor’s values, needs, aspirations, and history. (A discussion of the role of a development committee and other individuals and bodies in the school in the friend-raising and fundraising process is a topic for another article.)

When the school receives a gift, it has to be understood as a satisfying mutual exchange and experience between a donor and the school. The school certainly receives satisfaction from the gift; it is a message that says the mission of Waldorf education and all the hard work of those involved in running the school is valued. But the donor also receives satisfaction from knowing that she/he is helping a group of people who are serving an important part of our society: children, and in many cases, the teachers and the community in which the school is located. If fundraising is conducted with the donor’s needs in mind, as much as the needs of the organization, the bridge will be built and successful fundraising can continue. A major donor shared with me that she is motivated to give to her local Waldorf school because she wants to do something to impact education in the broad sense, is intrigued by the Waldorf approach, and wants to support a school and the school’s greater community.

Successful fundraising campaigns, annual, capital, or other, require a great case and strong leadership. Many successful fundraising campaigns also have this in common: major donors were personally solicited by someone with whom they had a relationship. (Success depends on the right person asking the right individual.) This works because people give to people in support of causes. Also, many donors invest in the leadership they come to know within the organization. Generally speaking, if there is no relationship, there is little chance of a donation. The effect of annual campaigns is that they establish long-term relationships between donors and the school. As donors become consistent participators in annul fund appeals, they become more invested in the school. Cultivation (also called stewardship) of these donors can bring significant support in the future.

An organization should never take for granted the loyalty of its donors. Once the school has gained donors, it must be willing to work to keep them as donors. That work includes letting donors know how truly appreciative the school is for the gift and how essential the gift is to achieving the school’s mission. Make that thank you prompt, personal, warm, and upbeat. Unfortunately, as a Waldorf school grows, personal relationships can diminish, so a growing school has to take steps to maintain genuine good relationships with all donors. But today’s donors are sophisticated. They want to see the impact of their gifts, and they want to be told of the expected outcomes prior to making a gift. As one Waldorf major donor said, “As a donor, I want to see the building I helped build or read about the things going on through the school’s annual report. I want proof of impact.”

Long-term relationship building is key to developing major gifts, but the critical work of donor relationship management is not easy:

  1. Donor relations management develops new and existing donors into partners in the school’s work who will ideally give at increasingly higher levels and more consistently.
  2. Donor relations management is crucial to enabling the growth in gift revenue to sustain the school.
  3. Donor relations management should help donors understand the critical need for Waldorf education so that they become stronger supporters of the mission/work.
  4. A donor relations management program communicates the successes, needs, and the ongoing efforts of the school.
  5. Through regular contact with a school’s donors, a donor management program provides the school input into improving communications with the community and the school’s donors. Ideally there is some feedback mechanism so that those receiving the information in the school’s development office can share this information with other bodies and individuals in the school.

This belief in donor-centeredness is not new in fundraising, and it doesn’t mean that donors get to set policy or the direction of the school. However, it does mean that if a donor’s gift is accepted, the role of the development director is to represent the donor’s interests in making sure the funds are efficiently and effectively spent, and that the results intended are the results achieved to the best of the school’s ability. This puts a tremendous ethical responsibility on the development director, and her colleagues must support this process, as it can be a daunting or impossible task to do alone.

It must be stated that development work is about the ability to take action. Whether paid staff or volunteers do it, success is dependent on good organization and management. Whether a Waldorf school is able to successfully raise money is often dependent on its organizational capability. The amount of money raised by a non-profit will correlate directly to the size of the development staff (paid and volunteer). If a fund-raising plan with set goals isn’t created, and it isn’t executed with the full cooperation and participation of a number of individuals involved in the leadership of the school, it cannot be successful. For the individuals involved in the work discussed above, it is time-consuming, demanding, and frustrating at times, but it is also meaningful and rewarding, and the genuine relationships that develop between the solicitors of gifts and the donors are beyond price.

A Waldorf School Major Donor Shares Her Thoughts on Donor Relations

Q. What was your “point of entry” to the school?
I first visited the school as a teacher who was curious about a new approach to education. I returned several years later as a parent of a three-year old.

Q. What were the circumstances of your first charitable contribution to the school?
My first gift to the school was through an Annual Giving Campaign.

Q. What aspects of the school’s cultivation of you, as a donor, made you give again and to makelarger gifts?
It was my involvement as a parent, and because of what I saw happening around me as I went to assemblies and parent meetings that made me want to give. I think I just came with a sense of responsibility that, as a parent in the school, I should be part of the effort to support and develop the school beyond the tuition that paid for my child’s every day experience.

I felt that my financial gifts were appreciated. The more involved I became in the school’s activities, in the Parents Association and eventually, the Board of Trustees, the more I came to realize how vitally important gifts were to the survival and growth of the school.

Q. What motivated you to make substantial charitable gifts to the school?
I think that as I came to feel that the school was my child’s community, and then my community, and, finally, my family’s primary community, the school naturally became a priority in my giving plans. Despite my particular school’s growing pains, I saw a potential that matched my values.

As I was closely involved in school governance, I saw the school’s blemishes, but I also witnessed the tenacity and dedication that carried it year to year. As the school became more mature in managing its finances, I also felt more and more secure that my investment would be well managed. Measured effort, growth, and progress-I think I was aware of all of these as I increased the level of my giving.

Q. What would it take to keep you as a major donor to the school?
I think that three basic things have to happen to keep me as a major donor: 1) I have to maintain a relationship with the school - part of that is up to me and part is up to the outreach efforts of the school; 2) I have to continue to be made aware of self-study, change, and progress; and 3) I have to be made aware of needs frequently and occasionally asked to give.

I think that often letting donors know what is needed can give them the space to spontaneously give - and that feels wonderful! But, in a way that is a bit hard to articulate, I also feel that a school demonstrates a certain level of maturity and responsibility when it can run a campaign. I supposed I expect it to solicit money, and I do sometimes wait to be asked.

Q. How important is it to you to know what other donors give?
It is not that important, but I think it is human nature to want to be part of a group, and I enjoy being part of a donor group. I like that feeling of group energy that comes from people coming together to accomplish something. I’ve been aware of a bit of competitiveness sometimes when people want to give more than I did, or as much as I did. I’ve also seen that people feel out what I have given so as to define a cap for themselves, and reassure themselves they don’t have to give more. It can work a lot of different ways. Myself, I think about what is needed and how much that resonates with me, rather than how much other donors have contributed.

Q. How important is recognition to you and how do you like to be recognized?
I’d have to say, what I like most is to see my name on a list with other donors, demonstrating that I have been part of a group effort to accomplish something. Sometimes, a personal note from someone at the school - the development director, a teacher, or whomever my gift might have touched - makes me feel good, too. But, it’s that sense of community and of being part of something of value that is larger than myself that is important to me. Feeling that takes a kind of inner recognition; so, although I appreciate them, I don’t really need a party, a gift, or a plaque.

Of course, I do want a gift to be acknowledged, but I don’t need the kind of permanent recognition one might see on a donor wall. I like the gesture of appreciation to be simpler-it allows a timeless sense of everyone being part of a movement, regardless of the date we might have participated. I want the school to help me feel that I am part of the foundation that supports the on-going life of the school.

Association of Waldorf Schools of North America
Effective Practices Research Project
Development Document DEV 4-8

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