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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ken Burnett is my new favorite person

(Full disclosure: I usually have about one per week.)

I received as a Christmas present Burnett's pithy classic The Zen of Fundraising: 89 Timeless Ideas to Strengthen and Develop Your Donor Relationships (Jossey-Bass, 2006). Burnett has written some of the most revered relationship fundraising books in the field and this one is a nice overview of how relationship fundraising should work.

Every one of those 89 ideas would work as a standalone blog post, but I wanted to write about two of the over-arching ideas he puts forward, because the first is something I want to do every day and the second is, well, my whole raison d'etre.


The first idea is salient, smart communication. I add the adjectives because this is not broadcast communication, trying to reach the widest possible audience at any possible cost. This communication is targeted, well-written, inspires, educates, and deepens the relationship between the nonprofit and the donor. These extend from everything to the monthly newsletter to the formal ask to the thank you letter. This kind of communicating does what Client Attraction author Fabienne Fredrickson calls "Pull Marketing": by the time you're finished talking with the donor, they make the decision to pull out their checkbook. No hard asking needed.

The second idea is developing a personal relationship through service. Donors give us one of the resources we need to do our work. Why do we then neglect them but wonder why they don't give us more? We need to learn about them, make them our closest friends in reality, and help each other grow. At the very least, remember their names and the last time they donated!

Arts organizations, especially small ones without a lot of personal infrastructure, are very bad at both of these things. Directors of all art disciplines are (and rightfully should be) more concerned about the quality of their work and the audience reaction than building friendships with donors. That's fine, but if that is the mindset, an organization needs to do one of two things: either let go of your nonprofit status so you don't have to have donors and find other earned revenue or hire someone who loves donors and loves your art and can do it for you. Spend your payroll dollars on someone who will grow those relationships and make more money for your art. If you can only afford to hire one person to fill multiple roles in your organization, make sure they have a customer service mindset. The fundraising relationships will automatically flow from this.

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