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[CUSTOMER SPOTLIGHT] How Joseph Maley Foundation Builds Donor Relationships

“Fundraising best practices” even as a commonly used term still tends to sound complex.

Full of academic definitions. Statistics. Headiness. Possibly even void of practical reality. The truth is they can be made highly practical with immediate outcomes.

I recently had the privilege of spending some time Maggie, the Development Director of the Joseph Maley Foundation, a small nonprofit in Indianapolis who is quickly becoming a local standard for doing fundraising the right way.

Over my hour and a half with her, she shared with me some of her best practices, many of which will likely sound familiar to you. Here’s a non-exhaustive list: 

  • Making sure every donor receives a thank-you call (whether it was their first gift ever or their 10th consecutive year of giving). 
  • Having a clear plan for how each gift will receive multiple touch points.  
  • Assigning a task to the right person when a major gift opportunity was revealed. 
  • Tracking every meaningful interaction in their donor database. 
  • Insisting that board members participate in fundraising and retention efforts, such as making calls to first time donors, calling lapsed donors they have had connections to in the past, and for some, meeting with major donor prospects to make asks.

These are widely considered core fundraising best practices. However, it’s not only a matter of what they are, but if you’re actually using them.

As this Development Director stated, “We had a lightbulb moment a few years back. We realized that fundraising best practices were really just common sense relationship practices. We had to stop thinking about fundraising from the organization’s perspective and start thinking about it from the donor’s perspective. How does the donor want to feel right after they give?…30 days after they give?…6 months, and so on.”  

This change in mindset led to a change in behavior. Instead of viewing donations as transactional, the best practices they employed saw donations as; investments in impact, relationship gestures, and evidence of engagement. 

When a donation was seen as an investment in impact, the organization had a critical responsibility to let the donor know what impact their gift provided. 

When a donation was seen as a relationship gesture, saying thank you (in multiple ways) wasn’t a strategy, it was just good manners.  

When a donation was seen as evidence of engagement, it made tracking that engagement overtime important so that the two previous steps could be done in the proper context.

The context, of course, is critical. 

She continued, “It was incredibly important for us to know if this first-time gift was from a program participant, a volunteer, or simply a visitor to our website.”  

Additionally, it was important for her to know if this gift was an upgrade or downgrade, a second gift in the same year, or met their criteria for a call from their Executive Director. When a donor relationship is seen as just that, a relationship, trust is the critical component. Without acknowledging giving trends, logging interactions and/or donor preferences when provided, trust can be damaged which can even put an end to the relationship.

Of course, this standard was nearly impossible to keep when Maggie was trying to do this before by herself in Excel.  

Now years later, they have made meaningful investments in a donor database and event management software so that, in Maggie’s words, “we can spend more time doing what we should — calling and visiting with major gift prospects and donors.” Maggie’s team has now grown from 1 to 4 people devoted to the fundraising and marketing efforts.  

They are not only passionate about their mission, but they’re also not risk-averse either. Emboldened by fundraising best practices they are freed up to take calculated risks.

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