Fundraisers urged to communicate

By Jennifer Whytock

To be better fundraisers, nonprofits need to be better researchers and communicators.

That was the advice of individual donors and corporate and foundation officers at a fundraising conference in Raleigh that drew about 350 nonprofit representatives.

The challenges for nonprofits, funders said, include knowing how to approach donors, tailoring requests to donors’ interests and keeping them informed about the impact of grants.

Homework and research come first, several funders said at the Aug. 14 conference, sponsored by the Triangle chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

 “It’s not about you or the product, it’s about the customer, so you need to understand the motivations of the donor,” said Bob Young, founder and CEO of Durham-based Lulu Enterprises and co-founder of Linux software-maker Red Hat. “Don’t waste your time or the donor’s time by not knowing what the donor wants to give to.”

Finding a connection with a donor also can help, said Carol Sloan, trustee of the Carol C. and O. Temple Sloan Foundation in Raleigh.

“Before you ask for money, you need to find a way to get to know the potential donor, or find someone to help you open the door,” she said.

Funders said they often differ from one another in the form in which they prefer to get funding requests.

Sloan and Harold Lichtin, chairman of Raleigh-based Lichtin Corp. and a trustee of the Lichtin Family Foundation, both said fundraisers should meet with donors in person because it is easy to turn down requests submitted by email, telephone or letter.

But Young said he accepts funding solicitations only by email, and Steve Zaytoun, president and CEO of Zaytoun & Associates, said he accepts some letters.

“How personal is the letter, who wrote it, and does it have a first class stamp instead of bulk mail?” Zaytoun asked. “If not, I won’t open it.”

Nonprofits also need to follow up with potential donors after making the initial solicitation, said Smedes York, president of Raleigh-based York Properties.

Because he has a stack of proposal letters on his desk, he said, nonprofits should follow up to receive attention.

“We usually don’t reject a proposal, the time just runs out,” he said. “The nonprofit says in a letter that it will follow up, but it doesn’t.”

Fundraisers should tailor solicitations to each donor, from individuals to large foundations, by first finding out which causes interest the donor, funders said.

Before submitting proposals to big foundations, for example, nonprofits first should talk with foundation officials to learn about their grantmaking goals and priorities, said Dan Moore, program director at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich.

Nonprofits should report back to donors on how they spent the money and the impact it had, funders said.

“If you don’t keep the donor informed, don’t ask for more money the next year,” said Lichtin. “It’s insulting.”

Nonprofits should stay in contact with large and small donors alike because a donor giving only $5 today might give $500 when the economy improves, Young said.

And communicating with donors in bad times for a nonprofit is just as important as in good times, funders said.

Informing donors about potential problems and plans to fix them before they reach the media can build trust and lead to future support, funders said.

“We all know these rules, but we get so busy, said Young. “You mean to call someone, but then it’s the end of the day, and you run out of time. Every minute you’re at work talking with co-workers is not what you’re being paid for. You need to be talking with the customer, the donor.”

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