Choo! Choo! All aboard the philanthropy train

On Tuesday of this week, I climbed aboard a train and made my way to downtown Chicago for a meeting with a former co-worker and current marketing consultant. It was on that train trip that I was thunderstruck by a revelation . . . trains are an amazing metaphor for non-profit organizations when it comes to resource development.

It starts at the train station. If you look around at those waiting for the train, you’ll observe people from all walks of life. There is a lot of diversity standing on that train platform, which also holds true for the average non-profit agency’s pool of prospective donors. Those who are interested in supporting your agency are young and old, white-collar and blue-collar, and rich and poor.

Non-profits who are successful at resource development recognize their mission is something everyone wants to climb aboard, and those agencies are very good at offering seats to everyone on that train.

Once the train pulls up to the platform, the doors open and the conductors come down out of the train onto the platform. They greet commuters, provide valuable information, and assist those who need help getting up into the train. After everyone is seemingly aboard, they look around and make sure there are no stragglers.

Successful fundraising organizations use fundraising professionals and fundraising volunteers to identify, cultivate, educate, inform and help prospective donors.

On the train, conductors are punching pre-purchased tickets as well as selling tickets to those who need them. Everyone pays to ride and no one goes without a solicitation. This all occur while the train is chugging along to its destination. After the solicitation period is over, the conductor stops and chats with passengers. They answer questions and talk about the “expected outcome,” which of course is arriving safely at your destination. The focus isn’t on the solicitation, it is on the outcomes (e.g. talk about the journey, reminders about safety, and the final announcement at the end of the trip that the ultimate outcome has been achieved).

Non-profits who make fundraising look effortless understand that fundraising isn’t the focus. They work hard to keep their donors and supporters focused on the journey, the outcomes and the impact. The message is never “we need your money” . . . it is always “we’re making a difference because of everything you do to support us.”

As the train pulls into Union Station, the conductor makes the following announcements:

  • We’ve arrived on time (e.g. we delivered on our promise)
  • Thank you for riding Metra (e.g. appreciation and acknowledgement)
  • Have a great day, watch your step getting off the train, and be safe
  • Remember to buy your ticket at the station for your return trip because you’ll save money

Stewardship is more than just thanking donors for their money. In addition to thanks and appreciation, the effective non-profits share return on investment information with their donors and take a genuine interest in their lives.

If you’re reading today’s blog post and think I’m exaggerating to make a point, then I think you need to take a train trip. For me, the proof is in the pudding when I see how many commuters appear to personally know their conductors and look happy to see them.

Non-profit organizations who want to improve their resource development programs and make them more donor-centered should climb aboard the philanthropy train and enjoy the ride. None of us are ever too old to learn a thing or two.  😉

Who are the “conductors” for your resource development program? No everyone is cut out for that job . . . how do you identify and recruit those individuals? Are you strategic in your efforts or is it more organic? What does your agency do to keep the focus off of fundraising and on the outcomes and impact (while ensuring donors are still contributing)? Does your fundraising program feel like a fun journey or is it just a series of unconnected stops?

Please use the comment box below to weigh-in. I promise that it is a warm and nurturing place. It will not bite you.  😉

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on February 9, 2012, in Donor-centered fundraising, Fundraising, nonprofit, resource development and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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