How Annual Giving and Advancement Services Can Work Together to Make Digital Fundraising Successful

John Taylor is an Advancement Services expert, educator, speaker, and consultant. He formed one of the largest Advancement-related listserves in the world, FundSvcs, now with over 3,100 subscribers. He has spoken at hundreds of conferences across the country, receiving the CASE Crystal Apple Award for outstanding teaching. He is the founder and former President of the Association of Advancement Services Professionals and an Industry Advisor at Community Funded.

In the fall of 2016 I published a piece I called, “Day of Giving or Day of Pain?” Its premise was simple: if Annual Giving launches a Giving Day initiative without coordinating with their Advancement Services team, the effort is likely doomed to failure.

Not a financial failure necessarily – at least from the perspective of bringing new money in the door. But an institutional failure, a data failure, and, above all, a donor relations failure.

Giving Days are often responsible for bringing in as many new donors as dollars. If Annual Giving hasn’t worked with Advancement Services well in advance of their launch date, it creates a data bottleneck in getting new records created.

Any timely stewardship initiatives will be postponed — and sometimes completely dropped.

Just recently, on one of the listservs I monitor, a Director of Advancement Services had the gall to ask: “Given the nature of crowdfunding, we’re thinking we’ll receive many small gifts from new donors who don’t have an affinity to the college, but rather want to support a student/friend. Do we enter all these new donors into the database?”

SAY WHAT?
 

The mere thought that one of “my people” would even consider not creating a record for a new donor completely baffled me.

But then I figured it out.

Clearly, the Annual Giving and Advancement Services offices hadn’t worked together in advance of their crowdfunding launch. More to the point, they didn’t have the first discussion about the importance and value of this new, rich data and how to leverage its long-term benefit.

While I thought I beat this topic to death in my 2016 article, I failed to recognize one very important bit of information: lack of communication between Advancement Services and Annual Giving is not unique to Giving Days or Crowdfunding. It’s simply that these tactics are the newest victims of this disconnect.

This disregard for one another has been true since the beginning of time – or the advent of direct mail – whichever came first.

Advancement Services has typically been defined by the thinking, “If we build it, they will come.” They’ll go out on their own and develop a new technology or functionality in a vacuum, then try to cram it down the throat of Annual Giving. All when they could have simply asked “What do you need?”

Annual Giving, on the other hand, has always operated on, “If we can think it, they can do it.” They come up with a new segmentation strategy or fundraising platform and then try to push the data collection on Advancement Services. All when they only needed to ask, “Can you do this?”

Bottom line: independent thought is great! But not always effective in today’s highly competitive world of philanthropy.

Perhaps this chasm is the single biggest reason I so enjoy co-hosting the Meeting of the Minds Conference every year with Annual Giving consultant/guru/friend Bob Burdenski. The title for the conference is intentional: it’s truly a meeting of the leadership minds from both the Annual Giving and Advancement Services professions. It brings together two groups that inherently (genetically?) can barely stand being in the same room together.

We do this because, in today’s digital world, it’s imperative that we attempt what we’ve had trouble doing in the past: listening, learning, and communicating.

Trainers and counselors call this “active listening.” As part of my consulting practice, I have provided conflict resolution services for over 25 years, largely focused on teaching this practice. So, I’m offering some of those pointers here.

The successful programs and campaigns are going to be those that don’t think in a vacuum. Annual Giving and Advancement Services need to work together and move away from knee-jerk thinking and towards strategic planning.

And most important, on both sides of the fence, we must stop simply saying, “No.”

We have got to come to the table and be open to suggestion. Then, if what is suggested is not entirely possible, we must be willing and able to speak positively and proactively. We need to move forward by offering viable alternatives that serve both parties and involve input from both sides.

My preferred way of approaching the above begins with the joint development of an annual operating plan.

Often, these plans do not encumber nor require action on the part of another unit. However, they do inform and educate.

Advancement Services can see the strategic direction that Annual Giving wants to pursue and offer insights based on their expertise and what they’ve learned at conferences in the field. And the Annual Giving folks can begin to appreciate that the world actually doesn’t revolve around them! Kidding. Sorry. Annual Giving can get advanced notice about new technologies (prospect management subsystem, planned giving tracking system, new CRM, etc.) and plan accordingly.

It’s here, over a year in advance, that the notion of building a Crowdfunding platform or trying out a Giving Day can first be aired. The two teams, then, can work together to realign priorities or, if need be, decide to put a hold on one project (if the VP agrees!) to focus on this new initiative.

But active listening does not stop with the co-development of annual operating plans.

Both teams need to meet on a monthly basis to listen and learn what’s new on the horizon. They need to discuss any roadblocks encountered and agree upon priorities. The dialogue must be ongoing and routine – and I mean dialogue.

Forget the dreaded email threads that go on for 5,000 words. And AS/IT requests be damned. That’s not communication. If something urgent comes up or gets in the way, PICK UP THE PHONE!

Active listening. Planning. Communication. These are beautiful things. Try them.

Your new crowdfunding platform – as well as any new fundraising initiative – will then be on its way to success!