“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Your organization’s funding priorities are important; from the organization’s perspective, this goes without saying—but what about the donor perspective? When donors give meaningfully, it is because a personal philanthropic passion aligns with an organizational priority. The way a priority is described can make all the difference in helping a donor see how meaningful this opportunity can be.
Consider the quote above. This famous line proclaims that names are unimportant—but, as those familiar with Romeo and Juliet know, family names and meanings were more important than the titular characters realized, and ultimately led to their tragic fate. While the way you describe your funding priorities probably isn’t a matter of life and death, it is still critical to ensuring that you will be able to procure needed support and achieve the mission.
Recognizing that words carry immense power, all organizational stakeholders who interact with donors should be prepared to share funding priorities as Philanthropic Opportunities in a way that is compelling to potential donors. In particular, stakeholders must be able to share their own areas of expertise with those whose areas of expertise lie elsewhere. Often, a carefully chosen metaphor can help illuminate the essence of a project without getting mired in the details. Consider how this subject matter expert inspires donors:
Have you seen the movie Finding Nemo? Apparently, the way they did the computer programming to represent the way the light came through and filtered into the water in the ocean, the computer programming was particularly challenging. At the end of the movie when they rolled the credits, you see hundreds of people who contributed to that particular visual effect. I’ve never had a sense of that type of collaboration that must have occurred in the movie, with a hundred programmers working aggressively together on solving one particular challenge and doing it within the course of a year or two.
On the other hand, when we look at the way our universities are structured, we really have small little silos of research that occur in different areas, depending what each scientist is personally interested in doing. Imagine what we could you do if we were able to bring together even just five or 10 really aligned scientists with ideas that dovetailed into each other’s, working on one specific problem with enough financial support that anything they needed was there. We could move that particular field of inquiry forward light years in a really short period of time, compared to having all those five scientists picking away at the same problem individually.
Asking the potential donor to imagine what is possible and utilizing a well-known example, this researcher uses words to bridge the knowledge gap and create inspiration.
Consider your own conversations with donors. What can you do to present what your organization does so that it is accessible, familiar, and understandable? How can you coach stakeholders to simplify what is complex and illustrate what is abstract? And most importantly, how can you relate the mission to the potential donor’s experiences so that it resonates with him or her personally?
For a professional development experience that focuses on these and other skills, attend a public offering of The Art and Science of Donor Development. To help your dean craft a compelling Vision Story to inspire potential donors, consider attending a public offering of Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders.