Fundraisers urged to be brokers

Todd Cohen

Andrew Watt
Andrew Watt

DURHAM, N.C. — Faced with economic upheaval, sweeping demographic shifts and rapid technological change, professional fundraisers need to be more innovative in brokering meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships between donors and charities, experts told 400 fundraising professionals at a conference in Durham.

“To solve the problems of tomorrow, we will have to be able to connect with people in the way that they want, at their level of philanthropic interest, in settings and issues that matter most to them,” Andrew Watt, president and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals told the opening session of the 7th Annual NC Philanthropy Conference sponsored by the group’s Triangle, Triad and Charlotte chapters.

Watt, who was named to AFP’s top job earlier this year, said philanthropy had “moved from something people do on occasion – writing that annual check – to a phenomenon that has become a critical part of people’s lives.”

Yet donors “don’t always know how best to get involved philanthropically,” said Watt, a native Scot who served as deputy chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising in Britain before joining AFP in 2006.

“As fundraisers, we have to be their gateway for philanthropy,” he told 400 people attending the conference. “We must help them open and get through the door.”

And that will require learning how to engage donors “on their level,” he said, while “making them understand the impact they have when they act.”

Tammy Zonker, senior director for corporate relations at United Way for Southeastern Michigan in Detroit, told a workshop at the conference that fundraisers need to serve as a “conduit” between people with resources and people with needs, “create a space in which people can be generous,” and help them find “shared values” with charities in making an impact on addressing community problems.

“Make it easy for them to do what their heart wants to do,” said Zonker, who last year secured a $27.1 million gift for United Way from General Motors to help overhaul seven of Detroit’s lowest performing high schools over five years.

The key to the gift, she said, was helping GM see that fixing the city’s schools would benefit both the company and the community by developing the city’s future workforce and helping employees of financially-troubled GM feel better about the company and themselves.

The “business case” that United Way made to GM, she said, was that fixing the schools would be a good investment for the company because it would help improve its retention of talent and engage employees as volunteer tutors and mentors.

“It solves a business problem for GM,” she said.

Jocelyn Harmon, director of nonprofit services at online community Care2, said charitable fundraisers need to adapt to changing demographics in the U.S., make more strategic use of technology, better tap into the increase in social giving, and “personalize” the way donors can give to their organizations by gearing it to the ways donors prefer to give.

While people of color will make up a majority of the U.S. population by 2042, she said, boards, senior leadership, national organizations and big institutions in the nonprofit sector still are not diverse.

Women and young people also have emerged as influential philanthropic groups, and nonprofits need to adapt to their needs and the ways they prefer to get involved and to give.

Nonprofits also should embrace technology, use it strategically and not simply “get caught up in the next big thing,” Harmon said.

They should make sure their website are easy to use and make it easy for visitors to give and reuse their content, should make sure their email messages give recipients a link to a web page on which they can make a donation, and participate in social networks their constituents are using.

She also urged nonprofits to personalize or customize opportunities for donors to give, a step she said likely would result in restricted giving.

“Donors want to see the fruits of their giving or investment,” she said. “So merchandize your charities” by offering donors choices in the projects and programs they can support.

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