A List of Names is Not Enough

Recently, I had a discussion with the Financial Resource Development (FRD) professional responsible for fundraising for an organization that provides special programing for autistic children. He was bemoaning the fact that he cannot get the directors of the centers run by the organization to provide him with a list of past and present clients so that he can solicit them for contributions.

A red light went off in my head when he told me of his frustration in dealing with the center directors. I immediately thought of several very important issues and possible dilemmas raised by this scenario. Although his request appears to be quite simple, it is actually very complicated and elicits a number of ethical and professional issues.

The first issue that comes to mind is his requesting a list of names from the centers’ directors. Each of the directors has developed a professional relationship with the parents of the children in the centers so handing over those names, even for purposes of supporting the centers, cannot be done without a thoughtful and thorough plan.

An essential part of appropriate name sharing is for the FRD professional to first meet with each center’s director in order to find out more about the parents of former and present clients. It would be skipping an important step for the FRD professional to reach out to the parents on his own without receiving more complete information about the people from the directors, who know each family personally. Only after this meeting has taken place is it appropriate for the FRD professional to receive a list of names and phone numbers of the parents.

There are a number of questions that would need to be answered prior to having any contact with the parents: Who are they? What do they do? Where do they live? What has been the nature of the contact between the center director and the parents? What was the parents’ level of satisfaction of the services they received? Have they expressed any interest in supporting the center’s activities beyond their tuition fees?

Once these questions have been answered, the FRD professional and the center director need to discuss who makes the first contact with the parents. If the center director has had a close relationship with the parents then he or she might be the one to reach out and either introduce the FRD professional and suggest a meeting or arrange for a meeting with the FRD professional, the director and the parents. The decision of who to involve in the meeting could make a big difference in its outcome.

As the main representative of the organization, it is the center director who knows how the parents have responded to the services they have received and the progress they feel has been been made with their child. This is why it is crucial that the center director, who already has a close relationship the parents, must be part of the process of furthering the relationship between the agency and the potential supporter.

No less important is the ethical issue of approaching a client for a contribution. When a client is in the process of receiving assistance from a nonprofit organization, the idea of simultaneously approaching them for financial support has to be considered seriously. That is why a number of questions must be considered before any overture is made to the parents.

If the parents have expressed an interest in making a contribution to the agency and supporting the work of the center then it is very appropriate to have the offer followed up by the FRD professional and the center director. If the desire to assist the center is coming from the client then there is no conflict of interest. However, if the interest in supporting the agency comes from the organization, and not come from the client receiving its services, the matter becomes more complicated. One important caveat when approaching parents for support is to make sure the request cannot in any way be interpreted to suggest that the child will receive better services if they contribute to the agency. Accordingly, there is a very fine line in how the approach will be received by the parents so it is best to be very cautious.

When approaching parents whose children were former clients of the center then there is no conflict of interest. In fact, it is appropriate during a final meeting with the parents when the child is leaving the center to discuss not only their feelings and thoughts about the services they received, but also to explore their interest in supporting the agency. The center director can begin the process of engaging with them and suggest that the parents meet with the FRD professional.

The FRD professional benefits from the relationship the agency has cultivated with the parents through the director and staff of the center. In this way, the process of solicitation is a coordinated effort and not a matter of simply receiving the list of names and then working independently. When the approach to someone who has received the services from the nonprofit is clearly thought out and builds upon existing relationships then there is a greater chance for success in engaging a donor.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.