In countries with active and thriving cultures of philanthropy, conscientious fundraisers would take issue with the suggestion that they take donors for granted. After all, donors are the lifeblood of any organization, and it is a fundraiser’s responsibility to seek, cultivate, and steward people who care about the causes he or she represents. However, at a more basic level, fundraisers in such societies do take donors for granted because they have the luxury of assuming that there are donors out there to be found in the first place.
Fundraisers in the former Communist bloc countries of Eastern Europe don’t have that luxury, however. They operate in societies that for two generations actively discouraged both giving and trusting, both of which are prerequisites for any successful donor relationship.
“For them, success means building a philanthropic culture,” says Tony Myers, CFRE, Ph.D., MA, LL.B, principal and senior counsel at Myers & Associates in Edmonton, Alberta. “They are doing things that help build awareness and dialogue in countries that are still rebuilding civil society.”
In addition to helping young nongovernmental organizations develop sustainable giving programs, Myers also helps them learn effective techniques for developing relationships with individual donors. Critical to that, Myers says, is understanding the differences between how donors and fundraisers perceive their relationships. “The fundraiser begins a relationship when the donor is first identified, and often the relationship declines after the first gift,” Myers explains. “For the new donor, the relationship with the charity is more likely to begin at the point of the first gift. Success is the ability to close that gap.” (See figure.)
To help nonprofits better understand donor motivations and fine-tune their outreach accordingly, Ioana Traista of the PACT Foundation is in the process of interviewing donors in Romania, the Czech Republic, and Serbia about what influences them to give and to continue giving, and how the act of giving affects them. Using the most significant change (MSC) technique, a methodology widely used by development aid agencies, Traista will qualitatively analyze donors’ stories for patterns related to how they perceive the effects of their giving and how they want to be kept informed.
Although her research won’t be completed until late this year, patterns of donor behavior are already emerging. “They want to be treated as partners, not only as supporters of a certain program or community,” Traista explains. “Also, donors do not want to receive only stories of success. They are aware that the problems are complex, and do not expect the organization they are supporting to find the solutions alone. They want to be part of the solution-finding process.”
Traista says that this dovetails with her observations about donors to the PACT Foundation, which supports community development and social economy programs in rural and small-urban communities in southern Romania. PACT’s donors are more likely to be ambassadors when they understand the organization and are encouraged to provide advice and get involved with programs.
Traista’s findings help illustrate why definitions of success in emerging philanthropic cultures depends so heavily on relationship building. It may be a slow process, but it is a vitally necessary one. “In building a philanthropic society, you first have to build trust,” Myers explains. “You can only do that one person at a time.”
This post was adapted from “It’s All Relative: How Your Organization and Its Myriad Stakeholders Define and Measure Success,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Fall 2016 (reprinted with permission). You can read the whole article here.