You may have read that the Brooklyn Museum recently ousted a women’s fundraising group, the Community Committee, that had been raising funds for the Museum since 1948. At their peak, the group was raising $850,000 through a single gala.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Executive Director announced the split and ordered the volunteers out of their Museum-based office. He gave them each a pin from the gift store (yup, you read that right) and encouraged them to volunteer in other ways.
As you can imagine, this didn’t go over well. One member of the Community Committee who feels particularly betrayed is a 92 year-old woman who has volunteered for the museum for 50 years. She has written the organization out of her will. Other women have withdrawn pledges of significant artwork. Many have canceled their Museum memberships.
“The world of fundraising has become much more complicated, much more sophisticated and much more competitive over the past couple of decades,” the Museum’s Director Arnold Lehman explained. He told the Community Committee’s leaders that from now on the Museum needed all its fundraising conducted by professionals.
There seem to have been some systems issues in managing the Committee…who should open the mail, how records should be kept, etc. These kinds of problems are not uncommon and certainly not insurmountable when dealing with volunteer groups. What is insurmountable and, frankly, unimaginable, is the seeming lack of understanding about some of fundraising’s most basic tenets on the part of the Museum’s leadership.
Fundraising is a numbers game. Fundraising professionals need volunteers in order to get their work done. The more people you can reach, the more money you’ll raise. The average dedicated major gift officer can only manage a portfolio of 125 prospects/donors. Volunteers can help you reach more people than your staff could possibly ever do alone.
Fundraising is a relationship game. Even if you’ve got lots of prospects in the pipeline, you always want to be introduced to the best candidates. Those with the capacity and propensity to make large gifts. Volunteers are the ones who’ll introduce you to those people. If fundraisers had the same level of resources and contacts that major gift donors had, let’s face it, they wouldn’t be spending their time as paid fundraisers.
Fundraising is a loyalty game. It’s not surprising that the immediate fall-out for the Brooklyn Museum has been the termination of bequests. The pinnacle of fundraising is the planned gift. The best planned giving prospects are loyal donors. I just can’t get past the Museum’s willingness to sever ties with 40+ of their most loyal donors. It stuns me.
There are two sides to every story, but it seems clear that in an attempt to “modernize” their fundraising program, the Brooklyn Museum has missed at least one point: relationships, loyalty and volunteer power are quite simply not outdated.