The Eight Rules

Once upon a time, in a land far away, the fundraising community was in a tizzy.

“One of the steepest declines in giving on record!” screamed the headlines. “An even sharper drop from everyday donors.” “Trouble for nonprofits.”

At a midsize organization, a major gifts officer read this and was puzzled. “We don’t see these problems here,” he thought. “I wonder why?”

He got up, walked down the hall and knocked on the CEO’s door. She looked up from her work and smiled.

“Come in, Charlie! How can I help you?” The young staffer explained. The CEO nodded and smiled again. She’d been expecting this question for some time.

“First of all, Charlie, bravo! Your question tells me you are aware of the world around you. The answer is simple. We follow the Eight Rules.”

The next five minutes would be the most important in Charlie’s career.

“First, we live within our means. Just like our parents taught us. We create the income side of our annual budget first, with conservative expectations, and then allow expenses to match that. Of course we want to do everything we can to further our mission. But we don’t allow ‘we must do this or that’ to foster unrealistic goals.

“Two, we don’t ask for money 18 times a year. Did you know that asking donors too often is the number one reason they stop giving?

“In fact, when we do ask, we never ask for money. We invite our donors to help make something happen, which is exactly what they want to do.

“The second biggest reason donors stop giving is because they feel the organization doesn’t care about them. We never let that happen. Our donors know how their gifts are used and the impact their gifts make.

“And our donors, all our donors, know they are genuinely appreciated.

“Because we live within our means and because our donors know where their gifts go and feel genuinely appreciated, they stay with us. Most, for life. Research tells us that’s what happens. Many of our donors remember us in their estate plans. Often it is the gift they truly want to make.

“For these reasons we are less dependent each year on major gifts from our wealthiest donors. With them, most of the time we are simply building relationships. When we have a campaign, our lead donors aren’t worn out and they know it’s important and they respond.

“Charlie, let me ask you. When something comes up that would take you away from the job you were hired to do, the job you want to do, what happens?”

“I bring that to my manager and the roadblock goes away. That’s true for everyone. It’s our mantra here, ‘Knowing what NOT to do.’”

“And one last thing, Charlie. Do you feel appreciated here? Respected for what you bring to our organization?”

“Yes, I do. I know my colleagues do, too. I guess that’s why everyone stays here, right?”

Another smile crept onto the CEO’s face. Charlie knew he had a donor call soon, but he asked one last question.

“Margaret, what you’ve told me, the Eight Rules. They’re so simple. Why don’t all organizations follow them?”

Now the CEO sighed. “I honestly don’t know.

“Someday perhaps, to survive, they will.”