The Generosity Network

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In recent years, almost every modern industry and profession has been disrupted by accelerating change and has had to take a measure of itself and recalibrate. Uber has upended the taxi business while Airbnb has done the same to the hotel industry; brick-and-mortar retail is having to reinvent itself to hold its own against exploding internet sales.

The development field is no exception. Entitlement fundraising – in which respected nonprofit professionals simply do good work and interface with donors (only reluctantly) through such tried-and-true methods as annual appeals and galas, expecting money to continue to stream in – is simply no longer sufficient to get the job done, much less to scale the work.

To adapt to changing times, development professionals are well advised to tap the insight of The Generosity Network: New Transformational Tools for Successful Fundraising, a recent book written by Jennifer McCrea and Jeffrey C. Walker, two Harvard University lecturers in nonprofit leadership. The book is chock-full of anecdotes, checklists and wisdom offering the path to success.

At heart, the duo makes that case that development officers need to evolve their thinking about donors from one of prey that are hunted in the wild, stuffed and put out for display to a relationship of equals “exploring how all of us can work together in pursuit of a common vision using the unique resources we have.” In the past, many in the field have viewed fundraising as a “necessary evil” with development officers playing the part of supplicants on bended knee. “True generosity is rooted in relatedness,” the authors write, and only when fundraisers shift from a transactional, sales mindset to a transformative one will they gain mastery of the field. Once development officers bring donors and potential donors into the fold of authentic relationship -- offering up financial participation as an opportunity for personal growth -- will they be aligned for large success. Once you have made this paradigm shift, fundraising can be seen, they write, as “sacred work, a beautiful practice characterized by compassion, joy, commitment and partnership."

The best way to build a bridge to a donor is not through facts and figures but through narrative, through the stories that ensure a heart-felt human connection. Stories, they write, “deal with the universal currency of experience.” Indeed, all fundraisers need to craft their own “public narrative” story through the use of specific, evocative images, digging into their own personal wells for material. This public narrative should convey three crucial elements: the story of self; the story of us; the story of now. It’s an elevator pitch – only deeper – and involves not only the “why” of the organization, but the “why” of the fundraiser him or herself.

Among the nuggets that the authors offer to build relationships with donors is the necessity of touching donors and prospective donors frequently. “Human connections are actually much more important than organizational goals,” they write. Given the choice between staying at the computer to polish the graphics for an annual report and attending a soccer game with a donor, choose the latter. Set aside a part of each day for personal communications, they advise, such as phone calls, emails, lunches out, hand-written notes and birthday cards.

The book is loaded with valuable tips, such as this one: After every donor meeting, professionals should include in their debrief “a SIM.” 

  • S: What surprised you?
  • I: What inspired you?
  • M: What moved you?

The Generosity Network ranges over every key aspect of a development officer’s experience from “The Ask” (a common mistake is spending too much time cultivating before the big moment) to board stewardship. Every board or advisory board member should contribute each of the four “W’s” to the nonprofit: 1. Work; 2. Wisdom; 3. Window Dressing (prestige); 4. Wealth. Nonprofit leaders need to set expectations, just as good teachers set benchmarks in the classroom. Once they know what is expected, board members who fail to perform need to step down.

The Generosity Network is a primer in the fundraising field, offering a powerful new way of approaching the profession. When taken to heart, this must-read book offers truly transformational tools for development professionals, equipping them to reach greater heights – for themselves and their constituents.