Relationships vs. Results

handshake2 This is a tough one.

Since I’ve been working in fundraising, and especially over the past year, I’ve been noticing the similarities and the differences between fundraisers that I really admire.

They all live by the principles of Relationship Fundraising, but some really take donor-love to the next level, while others simply use the building of donor relationships as another tool to achieving great results.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘But if you’re doing it properly, donor-focus does get the best results!’

Does it? I’m thinking of controversial topics like premium acquisition, thank you letters with asks, and list trading – things that can increase net income (yes, even in the long run), but really don’t sit well with our donor-focused gut feelings.

The more I observe, the more I wonder if you can truly focus on relationships and results. When it comes down to it, I think all of the fundraisers I admire have one or the other at the absolute core of what they do – it’s either about relationships or results.

For a long time, I was spending 100% of my time on Team Relationships. I even wrote about it a few years ago on this very blog when I expressed my deep desire to share the joy of philanthropy with the world – to change people into charity-loving donors, one cynical non-believer at a time.

And this past week, I read a wonderful example of this from Canadian fundraiser extraordinaire, Rory Green, guesting on the Agents of Good blog. Rory told the story of her young start as a fundraiser, bringing her high school together, not only to raise more money for a cancer charity, but to truly transform into a group of caring and compassionate young people, empowered to make a big difference. This is a huge part of the reason I love what I do – I want to nurture the natural desire people have to help others; to connect. I want to open them up to the joy of giving, and help create a world full of hopeful, loving people.

But as much as this beautiful story excited me, and made me feel like we have the greatest job in the world, the ending caught my eye.

“Maybe the call to action isn’t even money – maybe it’s writing cards to cancer patients, maybe it’s singing at a senior’s home, maybe it’s playing video games with kids in the hospital, maybe it’s planting a tree. It isn’t the money that matters – it’s the desire to help. The money will come later.”

Hmm. As fundraisers, shouldn’t it be the money that matters?

It immediately made me think back to the words written last year by my colleague, Jonathon Grapsas.

“You don’t exist for your supporters. They (and you) are the conduit to making amazing things happen. For your beneficiaries.”

Of course we should work hard to focus on both maximizing income and nurturing long-term relationships with donors. But truly being beneficiary focused means that maximizing net income comes first. Focus on getting the best possible results, every time. That’s our job, and it’s a damn important one.

I understand what Rory means, I really do. I know that she’s an incredible fundraiser that’s making charities a lot of money, and I love the ideas she brings up. It’s just the way she worded that sentiment that really got me thinking about my own motives. I can’t help but wonder if it’s almost selfish of me to spend time, money or energy trying to encourage people to care more, when I should be focused on raising more money for those who need it most. Am I wanting to focus on donor-love because it makes me feel good?

If the numbers are telling us that premium recruited donors are sticking around for second gifts, and even converting to regular gifts, don’t we owe it to our beneficiaries to keep pushing these packs as far as they’ll go? Don’t we owe it to our donors to make their donations as efficient and powerful as possible?

But then I still don’t think I could bring myself to put an ask in a thank you letter. I hear real donors so disheartened by the way they’re treated by some charities and I just wish I could give every single one of them a magical experience.

For the life of me, I can’t decide which one I think is right. Does anyone think they’ve found the perfect balance hidden somewhere in the grey area?

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