March 4, 2009 / Issue VII

Think About It... Break-away Moments©
Your organization can create all the WOW-moments and Mission-moments it wants.   You can talk about how you impact people when you send stewardship reports.  It's all good stuff.  Tom Peters calls them moments to truth.  It's a time when your customer truly connects with the purpose of your work, and commits to support your mission.

But does it really hit the target?  Is it transformational?

Do these moments cause your donors to sit up straight and look at your organization in a different light?  And then act upon it?

What are your real goals?  Has your organizational stock risen or are you merely hoping to hold onto the donor relationship for one more year?

Have you moved your organization from #5 favorite organization to the #1 or #2 spot in the hearts of your donors?

Have you moved the relationship to the next level?  This is your Break-away Moment©.

Indeed, stories are great.  That's the essence of how we communicate to our stakeholder.  It's our stock in trade.  But our stories are merely an OUTGOING part of the total cultivation process...and a limited one at that.  It's like fly fishing-it's a lure.

When your stakeholder counters with his or her own personal story of how your organization has touched his or her life, then BINGO-you've closed the loop!  You now have dialogue.  A circle.  Significant meaning!  You have arrived at an important moment that you must seize.

Your donor  relationship has become transformed.  Now the dance begins...and it's up to you not to drop the ball.  (This is a pivotal time when you bring the prospect closer to the organization.)

We tend to be inherently conservative when it comes to our donor relationships.  We too often limit the scope of our donor partnerships by not proactively inviting these types of discussions, these transformations.  Maybe we don't look for them?  Maybe we don't ask the right questions.  Maybe we are not looking at the right things.  Or, perhaps we don't focus on the horizon and are too engrossed in a caretaking role with our donors (limiting ourselves by not thinking that they want more from the relationship.)

It's helpful to picture our mega-gift investors-those big donors.  What makes our relationships with them unique?  I've boiled it down to three things:  Something is at stake.  They're involved.  And, we have mutual expectations.

  • Something's at stake.  They have a personal story that connects them to the mission (maybe not the organization, but the mission!)  It's not hidden.  Our mega-donors talk often about their own stories, and wear the story as a badge of honor. 
  • They're involved.  The mega-donors ask critical questions, seeking to understand more about our work.  They become invested investors.  They care about our programs and seek to understand the nuances of our funding opportunities.  It's a hallmark of the involved benefactor. 
  • We have mutual expectations.  We create these mega-donor relationships based on a set of mutual expectations-unique to the relationship.  Sometimes these expectations are in writing, and often not.  But it's clearly understood and respected.  It's a social contract. 

QUESTION: What stands in the way of us creating similar types of relationships with donors who do not give us mega-gifts? 
ANSWER:  Our willingness to engage, to do the necessary work.

In reality, there's very little prohibiting us from building this sort of relationship with more donors.  The dollars won't be as big, but we have access to technology that allows us to maintain information and knowledge.  We can analyze trends.  We know how to engage in dialogue.  We have the ability to strategize donor relationships.  So, why don't we?  

We can build these same types of relationships with our annual giving donors.  We need to use our databases more intelligently, develop ways to solicit comments and personal stories, spend more time in face-to-face settings, and create clusters of like-minded stakeholders so that we are more efficient in developing these relationships. 

Of course, some donors are content to have an arms-length relationship with our organization.  But if we create more opportunities for more break-away moments-where more donors can break away from the pack and become more engaged in our work-then we ultimately invite more people to come closer to our organizations.  In classic fundraising circles, we call this the "moves management" process. 

Perhaps it is time that we consciously and proactively create more break-away moments!


Mario Capozzoli