Have you ever stopped whatever you doing, took a deep breath, and observed the world around you? (And I mean really take a deep look.) I did this just the other day, and what I saw kind of surprised me. Everywhere I looked I saw R-U-L-E-S. There were formal rules such as stop signs, registration forms and sales taxes. There were also informal rules such as people walking on the right side of the sidewalk.
As I pondered this revelation, it dawned on me how complex and layered this practice has become for humans. Consider the following:
- There are rules that govern our international interactions (e.g. diplomacy, war crimes, etc)
- In the United States, there are federal rules, state rules, and a myriad of local rules (e.g. municipal, county, township, etc)
- Every profession operates within a set of rules (e.g. ethics, accreditation, operational norms, etc)
- Individually speaking, there are informal rules many of us follow in public spaces (e.g. opening doors for others, smiling and shaking hands when introduced, not purposely passing gas, etc)
- Also, individually speaking, many of us create a set of rules for ourselves when we’re not in public (e.g. wake-up at 7 am THEN start the coffee THEN let out the dog THEN feed the pets; brush teeth before leaving the house; make the bed)
- I haven’t even mentioned . . . a) the rules of physics, b) the rules of biology, c) the rules of chemistry (all of which govern our ability to exist)
- And don’t even get me started about the rules of God and our world’s major religious institutions
My mind was completely blown! (yes, I was completely sober)
It almost became overwhelming to think about how many rules existed in my little life. Many of which I don’t even think as I go about living my day-to-day life.
Of course, every once in a while, we are reminded about this phenomenon by authors such as Robert Fulghum, who authored “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.”
Sometimes, we even enjoy a rebellious rock-n-roll song bemoaning all of the rules that exist in our world. One of my personal favorites is the Five Man Electric Band’s 1971 song “Signs.” I just love how the lyrics start off with “And the sign said, long hair freaky people need not apply.”
All of this deep thinking got me wondering about RULES that govern resource development and fundraising practices.
While there is obviously the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) Code of Ethical Standards, my curiosity goes deeper. I am wondering what policies and practices (e.g. rules) you’ve put in place in your local organizations. And more importantly, I’m wondering why you feel these rules are important.
I looked at some of the resource development practices I put in place at my last organization. The following are just a few examples:
- Gift acknowledgement letters must be in the mail within 24 hours of receiving a pledge/gift
- All pledges/contributions must be entered into the donor database even if it meant double entry from other sources (e.g. duck race software, financial management software, etc)
- All board volunteers were asked to hand write at least five thank you notes at the end of every board meeting to donors who made a pledge/gift in the last 30 days
- Annual reports were produced and distributed in time for the annual dinner fundraising event held at the end of January
- Every gift acknowledgement letter included IRS language in the footer of the letter indicating whether or not any goods/services were received by the donor in lieu of their contribution and the value of those goods/services
In addition to looking at my own experiences, I went back to an old training curriculum titled “Stewardship” to see if I could identify more “rules.” This was what I found on a PowerPoint slide titled “Stewardship Activities & Functions:”
- State Registration — Before you begin to solicit, be sure you are in compliance with all state laws (State registration is usually done through the Secretary of State)
- Acknowledgement — Official thank you letters or receipts that include information required by IRS
- Recognition — Giving clubs, named gift opportunities, special events, individual activities
- Communication — The information stream that reinforces appreciation of gift and tells about its impact
- Administration — Back office activities in resource development and finance ensure gifts are accounted for and invested properly
- Implementation — The work of executive director and program staff to see that gift is used according to stated purposes
Obviously, stewardship goes well-beyond simply thanking donors for their contribution.
As I bring this post to conclusion, I am first struck by how many formal and informal resource development and fundraising rules exist in the average non-profit. However, I’m also left wondering if all of these varied rules can be rolled up into more global truisms similar to the ones found in Fulghum’s book about the values we all learned in kindergarten.
Maybe one of those simple, comprehensive rules can be summed up as: “Treat your donors like your BFF.” (e.g. do unto others as you would have them do unto you).
What rules do you operate your resource development shop under? And why have you instituted those rules? Please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC