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Chapter Leadership Brief 1.31.2020

Chapter Leadership Brief 1.31.2020

I’ve been giving a great deal of thought lately to how development is branded—both at my institution and across the non-profit sector.  In this week’s article, I will focus on the development brand within institutions.  In a future article, I will share my perspective on the brand of development across the non-profit sector. 

Our ability to drive the needle and inspire meaningful philanthropic support depends on a positive image of our institution and its mission.  It also depends on a positive image of our development program.   When I think of brand-building in development, I focus on three areas:  Strategy, Positioning, and Trust.

Strategy. It is important to align our fund development strategies with the mission, values and strategic plan of our respective organizations.  Robust fund development planning that is informed by our respective organizations’ current state and fund development industry practices helps us design fundraising programs, staffing and other resources to achieve the greatest potential for our organizations. 

Positioning.  Demonstrating the importance and strategy behind development activities and how they impact the mission of my institution is critical. Sharing some metrics of fundraising performance—particularly growth—is helpful, but I find storytelling to be the best and most interesting way to engage people.  Earlier in my career, I focused on communicating impact to donors.  I have learned it is just as important to engage colleagues across the institution who are delivering the mission.  It is important they understand the impact.  Every person in the institution can be a champion for philanthropy and help amplify the efforts of the development team.  Colleagues who are particularly passionate about the mission often become the most loyal donors. 

Trust I believe the most critical ingredient to building a strong development brand is trust.  In my experience, trust is earned over time through:

  • A well-executed development program.  These include the basics of development operations such as prompt, accurate gift acknowledgement and correspondence, well-written proposals and appeals, and returning calls and emails promptly and appropriately.   
  • Transparency.  It is our duty to be honest and transparent about the successes of our programs and instances where we fall short. If a program is not meeting its goals, it is important we inform its donors.  It is the right thing to do, and it helps to build stronger relationships with the donors.
  • Loyalty.  It is important we are loyal to the institution we are serving and its mission while being respectful of the interests of our donors.  It sounds simple, but there will be instances that donors asks us to accept a gift not aligned with our mission or goals.  Most times the donor has worthy intentions and we may be able to re-direct them to another initiative that meets their goals. But sometimes we need to say no to gifts. And sometimes donors have questionable intentions. It is important the institution we are serving has trust that we as development professionals will handle these situations with integrity.
  • Ethical Fundraising Practice.  Trust also relies on ethical behavior and adhering to both the letter and spirit of the law.  AFP has a Code of Ethical Standards that outlines this and offers courses that help fundraisers learn how to navigate this. 

Building a strong, well-respected development brand is an ongoing exercise.  I believe it is work that is never finished and to be honest, there are some days I think we succeed at this more than others.  Its importance on our ability to engage donors to make a meaningful difference cannot be understated. 

Thank you for all you do to serve our sector and inspire this meaningful difference.

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