Resources - The Philanthropic Quest: A Fund-Raising and Organizational Development Paradigm Shift By Mark Walker

Mark Walker is a senior representative at MAP International, a Christian relief and development organization headquartered in Brunswick, Ga. Its mission is to promote the total health of people living in the world's poorest communities by partnering in the provision of essential medicines, prevention and eradication of disease, and promotion of community health development.

Since 1994, I’ve been involved with a new paradigm for raising funds centered on a concept of philanthropy, which lifts up both the donor and the process of philanthropy and by so doing transforms the donor as well as the organization with which they’re involved. This experience is valuable as the growing competition for charitable giving is forcing many charities to revitalize and remake themselves from within.

The impact of the Philanthropic Quest has not only revitalized the importance of philanthropy within the organizations I’ve worked with but also has revitalized the organizations and increased the level of giving. After several years at Food for the Hungry, donations increased 20 percent in the area of major gifts over the previous year, and deferred gifts— donations made through people’s wills or trusts, totaled $420,000—double the previous year.

What Is the Philanthropic Quest?

I was introduced to this approach from one of my mentors, Jim Lord, whom many people know from his The Raising of Money (1983), in which he challenged the conventional wisdom of the field by asserting that “organizations have no needs,” i.e., a successful program of philanthropy is build on strengths, accomplishment and potentials of the organizations and its donors rather than problems and deficiencies.

In the Philanthropic Quest (1994), Jim proposed that the next step for the field was to move beyond marketing to donors and toward collaborating with donors and other stakeholders. The aim would not only advance the organization, but also create the kind of society we want to live in. Central to the Quest is a shared vision of the future, which the donor helps to articulate. This vision inspires people with what’s possible and gives them the confidence and energy to make it happen. At the core of this approach would be the donor’s quest to make a meaningful contribution to society, rather than the organization’s self-serving “need” for money.

At the heart of the Quest is “appreciative inquiry,” which is one of a powerful array of new strength- based approaches available to leaders of charitable organizations. Appreciative inquiry refers to a series of questions used to find out about the successes, about things at their best. We identify what works and find ways to infuse more of it into the organization. We try to develop and hold an image in our mind of things that we’ve done exceptionally well. We affirm the smallest successes and triumphs, which enable us to held a positive image of us and then envision even greater possibilities. The end result of this approach is to help us understand those “life-giving forces” which provide vitality and distinctive competence to an organization.

How Several Organizations Have Applied This Approach
When I joined Food for the Hungry, the focus was direct mail and “bottom-line” fund raising and what the needs of the organization were that would justify a donor’s giving.
But Jim Lord helped me introduce the Quest by initiating a series of workshops with the key players of the organization including donors, domestic and overseas staff. The criteria for choosing participants included:

Bring three basic attributes: wisdom, wealth and Christian commitment

Representative of the agency

Can afford to take the time and spend the money to attend such an event

We posed questions that elicited the most engaged moments of both staff and donors:

Discussed how the world is changing.

The worth of the organization: assets scan. Several “founding fathers” attended and provided the first chapters of the “book” about the organization’s founding and initial, key values.

Pose questions for each participant. Example: “Remember a time when you felt you were most engaged, most excited, most gratified in any dimension of Food for the Hungry. Or outside Food for the Hungry—in your volunteer life, in general?” Similar questions can be asked on their experience of giving.

What kind of world do you want?

How are you going to get there? Your earliest or fondest philanthropic experience.

Through this process I learned that one of the dreams of one of the organizations’ most substantial and long-term donors was to pass on their values on philanthropy to his children and grandchildren. When I had an opportunity to meet his son-in-law, we began a “quest” to do exactly that. We discussed the value of their entire family visiting a program in Guatemala. So the major donor’s daughter, her husband and three children headed off for Guatemala, where they were overwhelmed by both the beauty of the country as well as the considerable human suffering caused by Hurricane Mitch.

We visited the Food for the Hungry program as well as visited some of the historical and culturally important sites of the country. Each evening I’d use “appreciative inquiry” to evoke the inner meaning of what they experienced. We discussed why people were suffering and the challenges they faced. After a week, the father used a home video to finalize the appreciative inquiry process and asked each of the family members what they learned, what was the most fun and what was the saddest thing they saw and, most important, what impact would this experience have on their lives. In each case, the children expressed a new appreciation of how lucky they were and a commitment to return home and obtain support for some programs that were making a difference in the local population’s lives. They also established a very strong relationship with the Food for the Hungry field director and invited him and his family to their home and to speak to their church.

When they did return home, the parents made a sizable stock gift, recruited their parents for another similar gift while the children made presentations at their church and raised some additional income. So, everyone’s life was transformed, and their giving reflected the transformation. These $250-a-year donors gave a series of gifts that exceeded $32,000, which surpasses their previous largest gift of $200. The son-in-law would go on to join the board and would move into an important leadership role. I would go on to organize several visits for an inactive child sponsorship donor and his children to Guatemala and Nicaragua, which had a similar impact on the lives of his children. This donor would provide a $25,000 first-time gift at the behest of the organization’s CEO.

Another example of the use of appreciative inquiry was in regards to how organizations tend to overlook the importance of their “elder donors,” donors 75 year and older who give relatively small, cash gifts. In most cases these donors are overwhelmed and frustrated by the amount of appeals, which they’re not able to respond to because of a lack of cash. So, both at Food for the Hungry and MAP International, we went through a process of researching and holding up what was best about these organizations’ past. We interviewed the founders and asked them to share stories about the values and circumstances, which motivated them to establish these organizations. We also began to contact some of the elder donors to thank them for their long-term commitment and ask them to share their stories about their initial contact with the founder or their initial involvement with the organization. We asked them how their lives have been changed through their involvement with the organization and which values and events were most important to them. Basically, we began to celebrate the history, longevity of the organization and its donors.

Staff members went around the country presenting plaques of recognition. We designed a newsletter based on the needs and interests of elder donors with a focus on the founders, the early history of the organization, estate planning issues and most important of all, profiles of elder donors which held up their importance to the organization and the values they cared most about. Naturally, we also highlighted how their philanthropy through deferred and life will gifts had impacted their lives and the organization. The elder donors and founders became the heroes whose lives and values continue to impact those around them. As a result of this effort, several of these donors who had trusts were able to “accelerate” their gifts in the six-figure range, so they actually did help meet some immediate cash needs although the true value of this group is long-term value that will be realized 10 to 15 years down the line.

How the Quest Transforms the Organizations

Relationships in fund raising as well as the general attitude about fund raising and the importance of their donors was impacted at both organizations. At Food for the Hungry, I noticed a greater appreciation of the donors, which resulted in staff taking more initiative and responding quicker to donor requests for information. This change in attitude permeated basic donor administrative staff all the way to up the executive level.

The organizations also developed a series of events and materials, which focused on holding up the importance of their donors, philanthropy and the core values of the organization. Both agencies increased the level and quality of their donor recognition activities. A special donor event was designed that allowed for opportunities to hold up the most important values and history of the organization and for the donors to share their stories and transformation through their giving or a visit with the programs and staff abroad. The overseas staff became more accommodating when organizing donor field visits and providing specific information requested by a donor. The level of distrust between the fund-raising and overseas staff also began to decrease, especially as some of the special gifts and relationships developed between the donors and the overseas staff. I even learned that some of our overseas staff was found sending personal notes to donors from the field!

In the case of the elder donor program, the organizations spent less money on unnecessary and expensive appeals. They also began to develop materials and focus them on specific affinity groups within the donor base.

In the case of the resource development staff at Food for the Hungry, the “team” approach became very effective due to the focus on the key values of the organization and the importance placed being sensitive to the needs of the donors. So when a large donor called in who could have been the responsibility of several different staff such as the President’s office, planned giving and the foundation staff, everyone seemed to automatically work together to meet the need of the donors without getting in one another’s way. Once again, the focus was on the special needs and interests of the donor, which everyone was aware of ahead of time. I found staff members doing something I would suggest before I could ask!

How to Set up Your Own Quest

Recruit donors with wisdom, wealth and commitment.

Initiate your own sessions to determine the core values and important historic events of an organization.

Develop a protocol of questions for your staff and donors to use to stimulate their appreciation of what’s most important to them and the charitable groups in which they’re involved.

Apply the approach to office staff, field staff and key donors. Take donors to the field and invite staff to donor events and activities.

Help your staff and donors to define issues with motivate and stimulate everyone and a shared vision on how to develop programs.

Take the show to the field so that the staff and donors can strengthen their relationship and develop a shared vision for the future.

Increase the opportunities to celebrate what’s best about the organization.

Celebrate what’s best about your donors and recognize their importance to the organization.

Advantages of This Approach

Engages donors.

Avoids arm twisting approach to fund raising.

Identifies the interests, skills and needs of your donors.

Develops shared vision, energy that permeates all aspects of the organization.

Increases income, both immediate and deferred.

Takes advantage of the multiple talents, experiences and contacts represented by your donors.

Conclusion
The use of the Philanthropic Quest has allowed me to impact the lives of donors and the organizations with which I’ve worked at a level that goes far beyond what a “fund raiser” should aspire to. I’ve seen donors’ lives take on new meaning as they reflect on the impact their involvement and philanthropy has had on the lives and organizations they care the most about. Lives have been transformed and organizations have been changed as they begin to appreciate the true values and importance of their donors and staff, allowing them to develop a shared vision that will continue to drive them to new levels in the future.

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