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Donor-first fundraising, Shep Gordon, and an interactive future

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

Supermensch (2013) is a documentary which tells the story of Shep Gordon, a Hollywood insider and talent agent who managed legendary acts such as Pink Floyd and Alice Cooper. Mike Myers directs and it's a light-hearted watch.


Gordon himself contributes in parts and at one stage half-jokingly shares some words of wisdom on management. He explains:


"The three most important things a manager does: One is get the money. Two is always remember to get the money. Three is never forget to always remember to the get the money."

At times I think of the Supermensch's words when I see fundraising campaigns. Maybe some organisations or individuals keep this Shep Gordon quote pinned on their office wall. I'd hope not, because this isn't show-business.



Of course, fundraising does mean getting the money. Your mission needs it and without it, you're limited in what you can do. That said, what's even more important is how you get the money.


Putting the donor first in your fundraising efforts, to me at least, means asking yourself "how can I give this person the best possible donation experience?" I want to ensure they feel part of our team and will be with us next quarter, next year, and even beyond that. Conversely, as a donor, when I'm giving money to a fundraising initiative, I'm now looking for bang for my buck. Let me explain.


If it's an emergency campaign for something urgent, then here's my money. Take it and use it to repair that fire damage, get that surgery, or give that loved one a dignified service. I don't want anything in return other than peace of mind in knowing that my money is being used as outlined.


If however, it's a long-term mission that I'm being asked to support, then things are different. Maybe it's for a mental health service, a group working towards homelessness eradication, or a youth centre in a disadvantaged area.


In these cases, I know that this is not a one-off cause that will conclude soon. These services will always be needed and thus so will donors like me. This means, I don't just want to know where my money is going, I want to feel a part of this mission. I need to be made feel like something other than a tree that was shaken for its fruit.


Good fundraisers measure the right things. The success of an organisation's fundraising isn't measured by the total amount of euros, pounds, or dollars raised. To me, it's way more nuanced and should have metrics like;


  • how the donors were made feel

  • how many of them have a better understanding of the mission now than before donating

  • how many of them now have, as they say on Wall Street, "skin in the game"

I see a future in fundraising where the exchange is a lot more interactive.


ERSI reports that in Ireland at least, we don't spend money on things like we used to. We spend money on experiences rather than products and I think fundraisers need to react to these changes. People, I feel, don't want charities' branded pen, or button, or t-shirt, in exchange for their donation anymore. Maybe the reaction to this is to give them something more relevant like a keep cup or phone cover instead.


I think though, as these are also just products, a better reaction is to give donors an experience. Let's go back to the examples of a mental health service, a group working towards homelessness eradication, or a youth centre in a disadvantaged area.


A corporate donor may have gotten a newsletter from the charity they support. Maybe a Christmas card or calendar (product). Maybe someone from the charity even came to the office and gave a talk about what was happening on the ground (experience). I'm sure the office enjoyed that and were much more appreciative than they were of a calendar. Let's stay with that question from earlier though: "how can I give this person the best possible donation experience?"


When we ask this, what initiatives can we envisage? How about a half-day volunteering at the mental health service centre where an employee of the corporate donor can sit in on a volunteer induction. Similarly, why not arrange a viewing of a social house your organisation has secured or an invite to the youth centre's stage production. No one is cancelling their standing order donation after experiences like these.


These are experiences that'll probably cost your organisation a lot less than branded products and give your donor way more. Oh and leave the Shep Gordon's of the world to Hollywood.




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