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Donor Relationships More Valuable Than Digital Fundraising

9 January 2017 at 4:40 pm
Ellie Cooper
When it comes to making big money, building donor relationships outweighs digital fundraising, even in the age of the internet, according to international fundraising expert Kingsley Aikins.

Ellie Cooper | 9 January 2017 at 4:40 pm


Donor Relationships More Valuable Than Digital Fundraising
9 January 2017 at 4:40 pm

When it comes to making big money, building donor relationships outweighs digital fundraising, even in the age of the internet, according to international fundraising expert Kingsley Aikins.

Aikins is the former head of the Ireland Funds. Over his 21 years of leadership, the organisation raised a quarter of a billion dollars.

He is also founder and CEO of Diaspora Matters, which provides consultancy services across networking, speaking and presenting, philanthropy and fundraising, and diaspora engagement.

During a recent visit to Australia, Aikins told Pro Bono News that technology was not a replacement for interpersonal relationships when it comes to major gifts.

“Great networkers; they’re high tech and they’re high touch,” Aikins said.

“And I think that it’s important to remember that second half because when it comes to giving a gift to a non-profit organisation, at the end of the day they are done person to person, eye to eye, heart to heart, and no technology is going to replace that.

“Technology is an interesting tool for identifying people, for learning a lot about people, for doing lots of mass campaigns where people make small amounts of money, and that’s very important.

“But when it comes to making major gifts and making major contributions, that is a face-to-face experience.”

In his consultancy work, he tells the story of one potential donor he was interested in, and the long process it took to secure a donation.

“His name was Roy Disney, he was part of the Disney family, and he lived part of the year in Ireland where he had a castle and he sailed a lot, and I managed to find through some sailing friends an opportunity to meet him, and I met for a cup of tea and that was lovely,” he said.

“Then one morning I met him again for breakfast and I asked him for $5 million. But that meeting was two-and-a-half years after I met him for a cup of tea, it was the 29th time I had met him and was the first time I asked him for money.

“So I guess what I’m saying is I put two-and-a-half years of my life into building a very, very close relationship with this guy who had capacity, he was a wealthy man. But he wasn’t necessarily inclined towards us, so it took quite a lot of time for me to build that relationship.

“And I think a lot of people in fundraising just think: ‘There’s a wealthy person over there, let’s knock them up for some money,’ but of course it doesn’t work like that. In fact wealth and generosity aren’t always related.”

While Disney initially told Aikins he would have to think about the donation, he returned with a figure of $3.1 million.

“It was still, from our point of view, a very successful solicitation,” Aikins said.

“It’s really, really important that people realise that people give to people at the end of the day.

“I say you always need three things to raise money: you need a strong case powerfully articulated, you need a constituency of support and you need leadership… at a staff level, at a board level and at a donor level.

“It’s like a stool with three legs, and if you knock one leg away you know what happens to the stool. So you need those three things to be able to raise money.”

Even in the face of the crowdfunding movement and campaigns run entirely online, Aikins advised not to favour technology over relationships.

“Campaigns excite organisations, they get them onto, if you like, a war footing, and campaigns is when you want to build and you’re building, or you want to do something dramatic, and donors get excited by that more so than just giving money to pay for the wages or keep the electricity on,” he said.

“I have this concept called B-HAGS, which is big, hairy, audacious, goals, and the fact that you need to have really inspiring and lofty and aspirational objectives, that gets people excited about what you’re doing.

“All the research shows the number one reason people give money to a non profit is to bring about change and to see the mission of the organisation carried out, whatever that mission is.

“And missions always involve change, either solving a societal ill or building a building or doing something to change somebody’s life, it’s all about change, so you need to focus on that.”

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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