When we’re under pressure, it is normal to revert to what we’ve done successfully before. When a woman doesn’t respond as anticipated and, in fact, asks more questions, gives less than asked or doesn’t agree to be on a board, we turn and focus on those who do respond in the way we prefer. But we risk sub-optimizing what this woman might give us after she is satisfied with her due diligence.
Our best practices in American philanthropy were created with primarily one donor profile in mind: a white, straight man. It’s time to reexamine our approach and include more identities.
Regardless of scale of need, every organization will benefit from a thoughtful, inclusive consideration of the board’s collective leadership responsibility.
In your work as a fundraiser, you may use the term “donor life cycle.” This model charts the path of a donor through several sequential phases of engagement and giving to causes they care about: first gift, occasional gifts, consistent annual gifts, major or stretch gifts, leadership role and accompanying giving, and finally, a planned gift. But because of their personal life stages, women’s “donor life cycles” are often not as linear as the simple model would suggest.
Our profession talks a lot about creating a “culture of philanthropy,” usually disguised as part of a conversation about how certain groups are not giving to expectations. Whatever your circumstances, there is a way for these groups to build a stronger culture of philanthropy. The first step is to recognize that it’s not specifically about giving, but about setting the conditions for giving.
Women want to be engaged before they are asked for a gift. Although we cannot lead with an ask, the conversation about providing support when the time is right should not be ignored. There is a risk in focusing exclusively on engagement and never making the leap to an explicit ask for support.
We are seeing fewer Americans give because we are applying the same approaches we’ve used since the 1960s to today’s very diverse donors. Our fundraising may be too pale, male, and stale. It is time to look in the mirror at our fundraising practices and see what needs to change.
Do your President and Deans know how many days a year you have to fundraise? I bet they will be surprised by the answer. Recently a senior university advancement leader wanted to know how best to educate the deans about how limited the fundraisers time was to actually do the work of raising money. So how many days in a year do you actually have to meet prospects and raise money?
After 25 years serving in higher ed advancement leadership, my life’s work is now focused on coaching nonprofit leaders, finding great talent for an organization, and partnering to solve a myriad of organizational issues. I am launching Coach’s Corner to complement this work, share what I am learning, and present strategic questions from leaders in the field and insights about how to address them.
In the last three decades, many university advancement departments thoughtfully designed dedicated women’s “programs” or “initiatives.” These efforts responded to women’s preferences to connect and collaborate, as well as to be engaged before they are asked. Some resembled giving circles, while others focused on placing women in leadership positions or on connecting alumnae. However, a common thread united – and limited – these programs: they all were siloed, niche programs that artificially separated women’s giving from larger development efforts.