For nearly 3 decades, I have worked as a development professional with premier non-profits; which afforded me a front row seat to many of the highs – and lows – of fundraising. I was fascinated with donors who, for me, represented ‘quiet wealth.’ I often wondered who are donors and why would they give to an art museum? Were they fascinated by the grandeur of the building? Were they interested in art history? Or, where they committed to art preservation or public programs?
My Introduction to Fundraising
As a 25-year old trying to assemble the pieces of the fundraising puzzle, I quickly realized donors were coveted and most of our development conversations focused on them. Their opinions were given so much weight, their time was viewed as precious and they were made to feel special. I thought what an interesting exchange; money + time = largess. I immediately said, that’s how I want to be treated!
At the time, I didn’t understand how the needs of beneficiaries impacted philanthropy. In my naiveté, I created my own narrative around how fundraising worked and could sum it up in 3 easy steps – sharpen the mission + identify funders + make a compelling ask = money magically appears.
Shifting My Gaze
After 8 years, I left the art museum world to work with non-profits that advocated for access to education and equal rights on behalf of marginalized groups. In my new world, conversations seemed to focus on those who would benefit from the generosity of donors. Equally important, for the first time, fundraising seemed more challenging.
I watched exceptional nonprofit leaders struggle to raise money and awareness for their cause. Prospective donors were not always moved by the plight of marginalized groups advocating for access to: quality education, healthcare, affordable housing, competitive wages and an inclusive work environment. As time passed, I asked why aren’t the ‘3 easy steps’ working and where are their ‘coveted’ donors?
For the next 20+ years, I advanced the work of the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM), American Foundation for The University of the West Indies (AFUWI), Bedford-Stuyvesant Gateway Business Improvement District (BID), Brooklyn Metropolis Lions Club (BMLC), Brooklyn Museum, Central Park Conservancy, Go On Girl Book Club (GOG) and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF). With time, I learned fundraising is not linear and one size does not fit all.
As a dedicated community advocate, it has been my honor to support the Community Leadership Council of Kingsbrook Medical Center – a major teaching hospital in Brooklyn, NY recognized for its role in creating One Brooklyn Health, Crown Heights Service Center, a leading out-of-school provider for 40+ years and home of the Crown Heights Institute for Leadership Development (CHILD) and Brooklyn Metropolis Lions Club, which operates under the auspices of Lions Clubs International, a global service organization with more than 1.4 million members worldwide.
A Broader Understanding Leads to Critical Questions:
* Why do some organizations seem invisible to funders while others do not?
* How do executive directors, presidents and CEOs address gaps in their capacity?
* Who will help leaders strengthen their philanthropy for the future?
These questions were vital because few donors were responding to pleas for financial help from these organizations.
While I am a veteran of the non-profit world, I am also a perpetual student. In discovering answers to these questions, I have discovered in order to raise their profile and strengthen their philanthropy, organization leaders must collaborate with community so they can create meaningful strategic partnerships, capitalize on the prestige partnerships can afford and leverage these strategic relationships so all parities benefit.
I am honored to support you on this journey as you build your organization’s capacity and strengthen your philanthropy.
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