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Donor Participation Project

The Secrets to Building a Robust Donor Base: Engagement, Stewardship and Taking Risks 

According to Matthew Lambert, Vice President for Advancement at William &, engagement and stewardship.” Lambert and his colleague Dan Frezza, Chief Advancement Officer at the College of Charleston, shared how they doubled William & Mary’s donor base and fundraising results over the past decade.  

First, start with students and recent grads.

Creating opportunities for students to give and engage with your organization’s mission instills a habit of giving that continues after they graduate. At William & Mary, a student philanthropy education program teaches freshmen about long-term giving and engagement. This approach pays off, with new alumni more easily retained as donors.

Second, focus on stewardship and donor donors alike.  

Third, leadership and a culture of risk-taking are essential. Lambert credits William & Mary’s presidents for advocating for broad-based participation and allowing the advancement team to experiment. “Take risks, try new things and if you fail, learn quickly and move on,” says Lambert. Significant gains are hard to achieve without trial-and-error.

Finally, understand that technology should enhance human relationships, not replace them.

While digital tools can help scale and improve fundraising, “people give to people, not to machines,” says Adam Martel, CEO of the nonprofit tech firm Givzie. The most strategic technologies are those built with extensive input from advancement professionals and designed to “inspire people to dream,” says Martel.   

The keys to major fundraising growth are simple but not easy. Success requires leadership, vision, and a willingness to push beyond the status quo using strategic partnerships, technology, and an unyielding focus on people – both donors and staff. But for organizations bold enough to take the risk, the rewards of broad-based participation and a robust donor base are well worth it.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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