A couple of weeks ago our team was wrapping up the second day of The Art and Science of Donor Development in Atlanta. As alums of ASDD recall, this includes the team consulting activity. While working in small groups, one team member at each table volunteered to describe a real-life donor situation to four fellow “consultants.” The teams then debriefed, asking questions and developing a collective strategy on how to move the donor toward deeper engagement on the donor commitment continuum. As a facilitator, it was absolutely amazing to see the teams light up as the new plans emerged.

As we all know, it’s all too easy to get into a pattern of taking the same approach to the way we work with donors—a single way of thinking. It may be that our original approach is the most effective. Other times, however, it can lead to roadblocks—those frustrating times when we’re stuck. It’s those times when a new perspective can make all the difference in the world.

As with the blind men and the elephant, when we only think in terms of our own view of the world, we miss much of the bigger picture. A different perspective often leads to breakthroughs in thinking about engaging with our donors.

Once we can see a donor situation with “new eyes,” the appropriate strategy frequently reveals itself.

If you are going to setup an effective strategy session at your institution, here are a few best practices that we have encountered:

  1. Establish “rules” to respect the process—this includes establishing confidentiality of information shared, setting timelines, and agreeing to a brainstorming construct that allows everyone to participate.
  2. Meet in a strategy room that is outfitted with tools, such as wall posters of the Donor Development Chart, Priority Grid, and Process for Facilitating Donor Development.
  3. Involve development professionals from various departments or units in order to get different perspectives. (Organizations that employ this method report an added benefit: it has helped facilitate contributions that reach across traditional boundaries.)
  4. Bring non-development professionals into the strategy room to increase the diversity of perspective.


When you find yourself stuck in a single way of thinking, try seeing through a new set of eyes. You may just get a clearer picture—and different results.


Click here for upcoming offerings of the Art and Science of Donor Development workshop