Non-Profit Cooperation: Conflicted Interest or Transformational Collaboration?

You have no doubt heard of the competition for the philanthropic dollar.

Many of us feel inclined to hide our donors and are nervous about sharing our data. I am frequently asked about the conflict of interests that could result from working with two organizations with similar audiences, focus areas, or regions.

Sound familiar?

Have you ever noticed that if you give to one animal rights organization, you receive 10 other requests for donations from similar organizations? Prospect and donor lists have the potential to be shared among like-minded nonprofits. But in my experience, donors continue to give to the one that inspired them originally. This applies to all types of supporters – from annual donors to major gift philanthropists.

Of course, I am not suggesting that you open up your donor database to all and sundry; that would be neither productive nor profitable for anyone.

Instead, I encourage you to be confident in your donors and trust that they are giving to you because you inspire their passion. Should a prospect make it clear to you that your mission does not align with his or her passion, orienting them toward something that does (once you have their permission to do so) makes all of us stronger and enforces the goodwill that we can all benefit from. We are not competing but rather working together as an extended team for the betterment of humankind.

The key here is to align your mission with those donors who are truly committed to it, enabling those potential donors to identify the cause that ignites their passion and unlocks that support. That cause might be yours, but they might equally be inspired by a different mission.

In one independent school that I worked in many years ago, we had a donor who gave regularly to our annual fund. I knew that this donor had much greater capacity, but that they were struggling with a child with major special needs. After getting their permission, I put them in touch with a colleague working in that field. In due course, they made a substantial donation to that organization. I felt very invested in this donation and was highly delighted to have been involved. The goodwill generated by this benefited everyone involved (and even led to a slightly higher annual fund gift the following year!).

Now, let’s go back to our roots and look at what we as fundraisers are doing.

We work for nonprofits with inspiring missions – whether they be housing the homeless, feeding the poor, enabling great works of art, providing outstanding education, or ensuring social equality. We are all united in working to make the world a better place.

Each one of our missions is unique, responding to a distinct and specific need. Our role is to capture that need, to identify what makes it so special, and to articulate it in a way that will inspire passion, commitment, and action.

I would venture to say that passion is the driving force behind all real philanthropy. It is that mix of enthusiasm and conviction that takes donors beyond a mere passing flirtation with an issue or a cause to a long-term, sustained engagement.

Motivations might be varied. For example, some are motivated by a desire to give back. Others are moved by a major tragedy or a personal experience. Yet, without enduring passion, these motivations will be fleeting.

A passionate conviction inspired by taking on an issue of vital importance leads to intense engagement and personal growth. It is this experience that motivates true philanthropy and creates true philanthropists.

And passion at this level goes hand in hand with single-mindedness.

With endless demands both on people’s time and wallets, only the causes most deeply felt inspire significant action. The donor who is truly passionate and committed to your cause will probably not have the same capacity for commitment to another.

What we do is inspire others for the goodwill toward humankind. Sometimes that means that appropriately sharing the knowledge of your donors’ passions and receiving information in return will only make your efforts stronger. Sharing leads to stronger relationships, stronger and more loyal donors, and larger donations.

And what of the competition for the philanthropic dollar and fear of conflicting interests? Even if your nonprofit has similarities with another institution, it is safe to say that what inspires and motivates your donor to give to you will not necessarily motivate them to give to others. And if it does, that’s okay too. Consider yourself an important part of that donor’s personal journey.

Jane Narich is a Senior Vice President with Graham-Pelton. Contact her directly via e-mail or by calling 800-608-7955.

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