Build Relationships: The Foundation of Fundraising

By David King

Last week, I spoke with a development officer who had been tasked by his board to find a consulting firm that would do their fundraising for them. He wanted to hire our firm (or several firms) to solicit major gifts from donors, particularly from those whom we already have relationships they may not have.

This is a poor strategy. It costs a lot of money and you lose control of the messaging and techniques used to solicit. I wondered aloud about the reasons the board would send him on this wild goose chase. His response was, “I think they just don’t want to do it.”

And, there, is the problem.

In life, there are many things that you can outsource: Laundry, car washing, house cleaning, landscaping. You can outsource nearly every task you don’t want to do yourself.  However, you just can’t outsource relationship building. You can’t hire someone to make friends for you, start a relationship for you, or join social clubs for you. It’s the same in fundraising. Relationships (or, to use the professional nomenclature, development) are the key to all good and effective fundraising.

You may be able to buy different levels of commitment, but you certainly can’t buy personal passion or interest. Accountability can be bought, but genuine concern for the mission cannot. A good sales pitch is easy to come by, but it’s harder to find a commitment to your cause.

Good development work and relationships come naturally to volunteer leaders – they’re not being paid to do a job, they’re doing it because they have a passion, a concern, or a commitment to your organization and its cause. A friend’s passion can be the point in how a prospective donor chooses to support your organization. They see the passion and value in it, which makes them more inclined to listen to the message. This opens the doorway for them to support it themselves.

Our motto at Alexander Haas is that we “Transform Institutions That Transform Lives.” In our view, sometimes “transforming” does not mean raising a bucket full of money, but guiding an organization through a challenging growth process. Because of our passion for our own directive, I did not want to leave this man high and dry on his mission set forth by his board. So, my advice to the caller was:

  1. I don’t know a company who does this, and if I did, I’d advise you that it is a bad idea.
  2. We don’t do it, and won’t do it.
  3. You need to be investing in development staff and programs; you can’t outsource that.
  4. It sounds to me like you need some serious work rebuilding your board with people who care enough to put in the work necessary for the organization to be successful.
  5. If I were you, and they insist on this path, I’d look for a new job because they neither value nor understand good development work, which means you can never be successful there.

That last one may have been a little harsh, but you can’t outsource honesty either.