Cross-posted with permission from Further Together's website, written by Maria Rio. Further Together and Maria Rio are a values-aligned partner of SVA's. We're grateful for the collaboration and all the shared learning!
By: Maria Rio of Further Together
"We can't separate activism and organizing from fundraising. This is our call to action. Put your money on the table and let's change these issues that are harming people in our community” - Sarah Staiger
When push comes to shove what are your organization’s core values? Do you know? How do you know?
I believe fundraisers are responsible for so much more than raising funds; we're tasked with building a community rooted in shared values.
Over the past few months, I have been especially intrigued by SVA’s approach to major gift prospecting and solicitation. I’ve been so intrigued that I recently had Sarah Staiger on my podcast to talk about their Values-Based Major Giving approach. You can listen to that in-depth discussion on The Small Nonprofit podcast here.
Based on this conversation, I compiled 8 actionable tips for anyone looking to approach major gifts through an equitable lens. By focusing on these tips, your major gifts strategy will raise more funds, and better align with - and advance - your organization's core values and commitment to equity.
These tips are meant to help you put your money where your mouth is. They can be applied both to you individually as a fundraiser and to your broader organization.
Tip 1: Reflect on Commitments
Revisit past statements, like those following the murder of George Floyd, and critically evaluate any changes that resulted from that statement. This tip ensures your actions truly mirror your stated values. If there were no actions, it is important to reflect on if and how your organization is living its values. How do your actions in fundraising align with values you put out publicly?
Tip 2: Use a Values-Based Qualifier
Yes, major gift donors can give money, but what else do they bring to the table? Sarah suggests implementing a Values-Based Qualifier. This is a transformative concept that she dives into during the episode. Here is the breakdown: a Values-Based Qualifier is a criterion or set of criteria used to assess prospects based on their alignment with the organization's core values, beyond their financial capacity to give. This might include a donor’s participation in community events, advocacy activities, time spent volunteering, or even introductions to other community members.
Build your major gifts portfolio based on values-based and financial qualifiers. This ensures that your portfolio reflects donors who are not only capable of giving but are also deeply connected to your cause. It gets your calls answered and helps you focus on your champions.
Tip 3: Talk it out
Facilitate conversations about systemic change and organizational accountability. As fundraisers, we're at the forefront of our organization's external communications. Use this position to engage donors, partner organizations, staff, and board members in open discussions about the need for systemic change within the sector. Hold your organization accountable for its part in these systems. Our work should be about listening, understanding, and acting on our community’s needs. Remember, every conversation is an opportunity to advocate for change and reinforce your commitment to your values.
Tip 4: Find any misalignments with your values
Ensure your organization's values are crystal clear in all communications. Use these values as a foundation to build strong, lasting relationships with current and prospective donors. As Sarah emphasizes, "Surfacing those misalignments in values fast and frequently is one of the most important jobs we have as fundraisers." This helps find donors who align with your values and who will push your organization to live up to those values.
Tip 5: Innovate Without Permission
As fundraisers, we often feel bound by policies and procedures, but innovation doesn't always need a green light from the board. Start small if you need to. Alter storytelling methods to focus more on the impact and less on the donor hero narrative. Tweak how you report successes to include community voices and the real, unvarnished truth of the challenges your organization faces. Dare to try new approaches in your campaigns, even if they're outside the traditional fundraising playbook. Remember, every significant change starts with a single step.
Tip 6: Transparency
Share the real challenges your organization faces with your donors. This includes discussing financial struggles, program limitations, or any significant obstacles. Transparency isn't about showing weakness; it's about building trust by telling the truth about what our missions take. When donors understand the real challenges you face, they're more likely to provide meaningful support. This approach also sets the stage for more engaged and informed donors who feel like true partners in your mission.
Tip 7: Redefine Annual Reports
In the episode, Sarah shares an idea about reimagining annual reports. Instead of the traditional format that often highlights donor contributions and successes, create a "Report from the Community." This report should focus on the impact of your work from the community's perspective, including both successes and areas where you fell short. Include quotes and stories from those you serve and be honest about the challenges you've faced and the lessons learned. This approach not only fosters transparency but also shifts the narrative from donor heroism to community. Moreover, it invites donors to see themselves as part of a larger effort, working alongside you and the community you serve. Imagine calling a donor and saying “we surveyed the youth we are serving with help from donors like you and put together a report from the community. I’d love to meet with you and hear youth thoughts on what they have to share.” That’s hard to say no to.
This approach also builds urgency. Personally, I don’t feel like our organizations and supporters can take a break from addressing the issues we work on. We cannot celebrate incrementalism. We must push ahead. By shifting the framing of annual reports, they become tools to inspire action, instead of “oh, I’ll look at this later – maybe".
Tip 8: Involve the Board and your donors
Encourage your board members and donors to participate in Community-Centric Fundraising trainings or sessions led by experts. This is about getting everyone on the same page; it's about building a community of informed advocates for your cause. When your board and donors understand and embrace your values, they become powerful allies.
I know many fundraisers read the above and go – but Maria, what about the money raised? CCF cannot possibly raise more money than donor-centric fundraising!
Girl, I keep telling you – CCF works. My clients have all seen incredible growth in dollars raised and donor engagement. Sarah’s too. The small and medium-sized nonprofits SVA has worked with to implement Values-Base Major Giving have seen at least a 25% increase in major donations in year one and much more after the program is a little further along.
In case you are wondering, Sarah and her partner Laura have a free On-Demand Webinar that introduces folks to Values-Based Major Giving and expands on what she talks about in the podcast episode. Snag it for yourself right here: www.staigervitelli.com/intro. If you know you’re ready to go all in and build a major gifts program around your values with the experts who have made all the mistakes ahead of time, SVA’s full step-by-step guided online course has seats open now and BIPOC-led orgs always get the option of 40% off. More at www.staigervitelli.com/vbmajorgiving
Donors are much further ahead in their commitments to equity than many of our senior leaders and board members; that is just a fact. The philanthropic landscape is changing, and we need to change with it.
Anyway, those are the takeaways! Will you try them? Have you learned of other CCF-based transformative new approaches to a specific portfolio? If so, I would love to learn more!