Development professionals often encourage their colleagues who are subject matter experts—faculty, physicians, or researchers—to work alongside them as they strive to secure philanthropy that will strengthen their institution and its priorities. What actions can these subject-matter experts take that will elevate them to “philanthropy champion” status?
We recently interviewed one such philanthropy champion—a medical researcher. His reflections on his success in assisting his development colleagues raise funds for his institution and his program are informed by his own participation in philanthropy as a donor.
1. View everyone as a potential donor
When people inquire how they can help or get involved, that’s really an opening to engage them in the mission at your institution and the mission of your own work.
Philanthropy champions feel strongly that everyone they encounter can play a role in philanthropy—whether it is through making a contribution or working to raise awareness. They are eager to share their work with everyone, everywhere. When people ask how they can help or get involved, philanthropy champions connect potential donors with their development colleagues.
2. Be prepared to articulate your vision
As I’ve gotten to meet more potential donors, it’s allowed me to focus on exactly what our message is and really distilling it down to a level that anyone can understand.
Speaking clearly about the vision and describing work in simple terms has huge benefits—and not only in securing contributions from donors. Philanthropy champions admit that learning to clearly articulate their vision has also improved both their writing and their science because of that clear vision. They understand the value the foundation can provide in identifying potential donors and ensure that their development colleagues can also speak compellingly about their work.
3. Be specific regarding the potential impact
I’ve donated myself to various causes. Whenever I write those checks, no matter how big or small, I always ask myself, ‘Is this worth it? What else could I be spending my money on instead of this? Why is this the right thing for me?’ You have to be able to make the donor see what might come of that investment down the road. Try to keep it on a human level, a very personal level, and a very concrete level.
Informed by his own philanthropy, this researcher readily acknowledges that no one wants to give money to a “black hole.” Instead, they think of their philanthropy as an investment. When philanthropy champions speak about potential impact, they do so in concrete terms: the contribution will allow them to retain a scientist working on a certain critical lab project or enable a specific set of experiments related to a certain breakthrough procedure.
4. Provide tangible evidence that the donor’s contribution is making a difference
In some cases, we find that the investment in research has led us to a breakthrough. In other cases, we find that the research was not the right direction to go. It’s critically important to make sure those involved in philanthropy are aware of those outcomes—no matter what direction the project moves.
It is critically important to remain engaged with donors and provide updates on the impact their contributions are helping to make. Philanthropy champions keep donors in the loop with timely, tangible reports. For example, the researcher we interviewed publishes findings that a contribution helped support, he makes sure the donor receives a copy of the journal article. He cautions that even if the research has moved in the “wrong direction,” donors should be informed—even less-than-favorable results can inform future trials.
Who are the philanthropy champions at your organization? What attributes set them apart? Share your insights with us on social media.