One of the discussions I have had frequently with directors of organizations and resource development professionals is about the concept that “people give to people and not to organizations.” I want to share three examples with you: 1) The director of the Jewish Family Service tells me they provide the most incredible services to a very needy client population. 2) The staff of the Jewish Community Center has said the JCC is very unique and no other social services agency works on the same professional level. 3) The principal of the day school tells me, “No other Jewish day school has the facility or the faculty to meet the educational needs of their students.”
What links these three responses? They all make the case that the organization and the services are the basis of the request for a contribution. The solicitation is based on what the organization does and how it does it. Of course this is important and no one would be asked to support a non-profit organization that was not operating effectively and efficiently. However, there is something more important than selling the organization to potential supporters and donors.
“People Give to People” means a number of things. First and foremost it means the organization alone is not a sufficient cause when reaching out to donors for support. What can you tell the person you are soliciting or the foundation you are applying to about the human needs that the agency is meeting? Whether the fundraising effort is a one-to-one solicitation or a community wide campaign it has to focus on the people the organization is serving.
Who are they? Where do they live? What is their family situation? What are their special needs? What has brought them to need or request services? What is unique about the challenges they face? There should be a clear picture of what separates out the needs of these people from other groups in the community.
The needs of the clients, members or students have to be the focus of a conversation with a potential donor and when then the “ask” is placed on the table it will be based on the people who benefit from the services. When the request is made for a donation, allocation or a grant it will be seen with a direct connection to the picture that has been drawn as to how the funds will have an impact on recipients’ lives. The people who make decisions about how to use available funds in the voluntary sector want to know that they are having an impact on those in need. There is little interest in supporting the infrastructure or administrative arm of the non-profit agency.
Another aspect of people giving to people is focused on the role of the voluntary agency’s leadership in raising the funds. Active and involved leadership are of utmost importance when it comes to making the sale of the needed services and programs. The volunteer leaders who assume responsibility for raising funds for programs and for capital projects are able to represent the agency very effectively.
In addition to the Financial Resource Development Committee of the board, the officers of the organization, past presidents, the chair people of various committees, and other active leaders have a very crucial role to play in the success of fundraising efforts. All of these people have connections with people they know and their social and professional networks are representative of people who can give to people. As an annual campaign, targeted campaign for a project, or a capital campaign is planned there should be a mapping that is conducted to determine who knows who and how those connections can be used to determine a strategy in having the leadership reach out to the people in their network.
The involved and committed volunteer leaders can be the best representative in reaching out to others and using their connections to providing services to the clients, members and students. They are using their commitment and their investment as a personal example and appealing to people they know to join them in support of the services to the people in need. When a potential donor is approached by a colleague or peer, who donates to a specific cause, then they will be more inclined to also contribute to the agency.
These relationships are essential when we are focusing on local clients, services and donors, and when we discuss overseas organizations and donors it is even more important. Many Israeli non-profits stretch to reach for support overseas and either make phone calls or send someone to make a quick trip to raise funds in a week or two weeks in several cities. If there is no local leadership established to insure continuity in the organization’s presence a crucial component in financial resource development is missing.
People give to people is represented when there is a local leadership in overseas countries where there is an effort made to raise funds and friends. The purpose of friend-raising is to enable people to reach out to others when the organization is making an effort to reach out across thousands of miles and to encourage people to contribute. If there are local people who are identified with the agency then they can be a continual presence and not rely just on a once a year visit from a solicitor whether it be a volunteer leader or professional staff member.
In summary, it is important to review your organization’s people to people connections and to make sure your fundraising efforts are focused on people and not only on selling projects and programs. You will more successful by linking people to people and basing your efforts on the relationships between the clients’ needs and the volunteer leaderships’ networks. As the campaigns are built on these principles then the professional staff, the volunteer leadership and the clients, members, and students will all benefit from the agency’s financial sustainability.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy 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.