DickersonBakker Blog

The AAA Way to Fundraising Success

Just a few weeks ago, a steering committee member sent me a list of prominent “business leaders.”  The list was featured in the city’s business magazine and with the implication that they would be prime prospects for fundraising. The challenge was nobody on the committee personally knew anyone on the list or why they would give to the capital campaign. 

This happens all the time. In my hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, most nonprofit leaders covet a gift from John Menard. Mr. Menard owns Menards, a prominent Midwest hardware store, and happens to be the wealthiest person in Wisconsin. Everyone seems to want Mr. Menard’s money, however, only a few savvy fundraisers seem to care about what Mr. Menard wants. 

There is a technical term for fundraising that solely concerns itself with the ability to give: icky.  You see, a disproportionate focus on ability communicates to the donor that, “all you are is a check to me.” Frankly, that’s just plain gross and contributes to the fundraising profession’s sometimes negative reputation.

In professional fundraising, we use three primary criteria to define and qualify an ideal donor: Affinity, Access, and Ability.

Affinity (also known as “Interest”) – Donors with high affinity for a nonprofit or ministry are naturally interested in aspects of its mission or vision. The interest could be direct as in a donor giving to a Christian school because he/she is passionate about Christian education. The interest could also be indirect as in a donor giving to a Christian school because he/she is passionate about the empowerment of women and girls.

Access (also known as “Linkage”) – Access is all about the relationship connections a nonprofit has with a donor.  For example, a board member may be next-door neighbors with a prospective donor. That board member’s relationship creates a more natural access point than a cold call would. Because people give to people, access to a prospective donor can develop a donor’s affinity. Access can be strategically constructed through careful network mapping as well as creating network opportunities.

Ability (also known as “Capacity”) – Ability is exactly what it sounds like: the donor’s projected or real ability to give to your organization. Ability is simply about the capacity to give, not the inclination. Thus, a donor may have the ability to give, but—without affinity for the mission and access to the organization—that donor’s performance will likely be minimal if any.

These three aspects are quite useful in prioritizing prospective donors (also known as portfolio development). The best donors are thus “Triple-A” donors who have a powerful passion for the mission, a deep connection with the nonprofit, and an ability give at the level and manner you are seeking.

I am excited to see that Mr. Menard is generously giving to causes within the Eau Claire area. With each gift, I can understand how he came to make that gift. While I don’t have firsthand knowledge of this, I suspect that those gifts were made because they were in a Triple-A sweet spot for Mr. Menard, and they brought him joy.

Missing a few A’s in your fundraising program? Reach out today to leverage DickersonBakker’s expertise in major giving, capital campaigns, and grants development to boost your fundraising revenue.

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