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I’ve always been surprised at how hard fundraisers will work to avoid making actual contact with donors. It’s human nature: we don’t want to bother people; we’re afraid to ask for help, much less money; we’re certain the donor will see right through our niceties. So we fill our time with administrative responsibilities. We plan events, attend retreats, construct appeals, sign up for conferences, speak with peers, read books and blogs. And we do very little to build authentic relationships with people who believe in our nonprofit – people who can truly advance the missions we support.

If you intend to be successful as a fundraiser, you must take the risk of doing individual outreach. There are donors who want to support you, who are mere steps away from making significant gifts to your organization. To land those gifts, to advance the mission of your organization, you must be willing to reach out to those donors, to engage them personally, and to work with them so that they can help you and your nonprofit achieve your goals.

I sometimes ask my fundraisers to do the inbox test. Are the majority of your emails internal or external? Are you responding to questions made by fellow staff members – writing a report, filling out a spreadsheet, finding a receipt? Or are you performing enough outreach that you have a steady flow of donor emails occupying your inbox? If it’s been several days – or worse, weeks – since you’ve received a single email from a donor, then it is an indication that you are not being aggressive enough in your outreach. Very seldom will a donor reach out unsolicited. However, if you are making phone calls, sending letters, requesting visits – if you are performing the expected outreach of a successful major gift officer – then you will see that your inbox will have a steady flow of responses, good wishes, questions, or feedback.

Keep your attention focused outward, and you will eventually see returns on your investment.

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