Today’s speed of change will require leaders to find new ways to navigate this pace. My recent conversations with 12 VPs uncovered a shift in how they’re thinking about our work and its rapid evolution. As you enter planning season with your advancement team, keep the following six shifts in mind.
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.
Four Key Takeaways from the DonorSearch Flash Class: “Gender Matters: A Practical Approach to Grow Women’s Philanthropy"by
Kathleen Loehr shares insights with 150 DonorSearch class attendees about engaging women donors, including why research is not enough to enact results, where new behaviors in how we approach women supporters are needed, and how to get started.
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.
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.
All donors need logical information about an organization to make giving decisions. Women need to hear facts and statistics in order to trust that their gift is in good hands. But adding communication that evokes empathy will deepen your conversations with women, leading to stronger relationships and an increased likelihood of giving.
Integrating women across your fundraising processes is not an all or nothing act; you can start from where you are today by taking small steps. Declaring a clear vision can be a powerful tool and first step.
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.