Giving Voice to Values – Action Research on Donor Relationships

Executive Summary

Over a six-week period beginning late May 2017, a pilot participatory action research project took place looking at donor relationships in arts and culture organizations. The study was conducted with Winnipeg, Manitoba arts organizations using Barrett Values Centre (BVC) methodologies[1]

The project, funded by ArtSupport Manitoba (Artspace Inc.), tested BVC tools and used an approach to demonstrate that a shared exploration of donor core values plays a significant role in donor relationships and gift giving.

BVC methodology and values tools including (customized) worksheets developed by the researchers were tested in a three cafés with donors and a large arts organization. The café methodology is a progressive deliberate dialogue that provides a reflective process through which we can collectively identify and address organizational challenges, and then provide solutions to improve performance.

Café 1 involved a general group of arts donors who gave major gifts (over $1,000 over a three-year period to an arts organization). Café 2 and 3 involved one large arts organization. Café 2 was the organization’s donor group and Café 3 involved organizational staff responsible for fund development functions including the CEO.

It is widely recognized that values based decision-making[2] is one of the better ways to demonstrate organizational awareness of the espoused values of the organization. Our primary assumption in this project is that when donors understand and explore their core values, their culture, and how organizations provide relevant information to them about living and aligning its espoused values, we will understand how donor relationships may be strengthened. For our purposes “culture” is values, beliefs, assumptions, ways of thinking, traditions, and routines and structure (organizational processes), systems, and practices).

Research in this area using Barrett’s Value Centre tools is still very new and unexplored in any depth both with donors and charitable organizations. From our limited pilot study, it was evident that more values action research was required to more fully understand how a discussion of values could strengthen donor-organizational relationships.

Lessons Learned through the Donor Culture Action Research Project  

1. A values lens used as a basis for engagement and connection between donors and the organization can strengthen the organization’s practice of donor stewardship.

2. Donors may become more attached and aligned with the organization, if and when their core values (identified and defined based on being lived) are understood and validated by the organization.

3. A successful donor engagement formula is as follows:•    By being mindful of your donor’s core values, you can strengthen the emotional and intellectual connection to the organization and its mission;•    When you strengthen the connection between the donor and the organization, the donor has a deeper sense of belonging.•    This deeper sense of belonging encourages a donor to release their “differential positive” energy, which contributes more than the usual amount of energy needed to support the organization’s endeavours.

4. Donors may continue to sustain and or increase their financial support to the organization, if and when the organization pays attention to donor core values and intentions, both positive and potentially limiting.

5. Being mindful of a donor’s core values is important as it brings forward increased emotional, intellectual capacity, and connection of the donor to the organization supported, which in turn may provide a deeper sense of belonging and attachment of the donor to the organization, both short and long-term.

6. The use of donor value engagement may act as a strong connection to the organization and community it serves by allowing access for the donor to contribute in more ways, including to improve organizational innovation and performance.

7. Organizations must be willing to invest and support a consistent donor engagement/stewardship process (using values identification and organizational alignment tools and methods) to achieve results that strengthen, and sustain the attachment of donors to the organization, its mission and desired long-term results.

8. The Barrett Values Centre Organizational Assessment Tools, in particular Cultural Transformation tools such as the Organizational Cultural Values Assessment tool can be useful applications for the measurement and transformation of an organization’s relationship with its donors.

9. An important approach to ensuring the transformation of the organization’s relationship with donors is to make its culture visible and measurable. Mapping the underlying causal factors that promote or inhibit its overall donor relationship performance, efficiency and quality, and ultimately its health is a critical step in the transformation of the donor-organization relationship.

10. In order to motivate and focus attention on the donor culture, it will be important to assign the role of donor/organizational culture “Champion” to a senior leader of the organization who would be skilled and motivated to apply the values approach to engaging and measuring the cultural health of the donor relationship with the organization.

[1] The Barrett Values Centre is an global organization headquartered in London, U.K. with the following statement of purpose: The Barrett Values Centre developed methodology and a range of cultural transformation tools which assist their consultants to map the consciousness (level of awareness) of leaders, organizations and communities all over the world. “We believe that organisations work better when their leaders are focused on building values-driven cultures that benefit their people, their customers and all sectors of society. We believe that when you measure your culture you can manage it.” www.valuescentre.com

[2] Barrett, Richard, The Values Driven Organization, Cultural Health and Employee Well- Being as a Pathway to Sustainable Performance (2017)

What is art?

Art in all its forms is both an intimate and accessible tool
We can be the judge, the appreciator or sometimes fool
Visual, music, vocal, literature and dance transformations
Forces minds to sharpen and changes attitudes of nations

Art transforms longing souls and contemplative faces
Enlivens hearts and transports you to other places
It washes over your mind, body and soul as an illusion
And provokes heated debate and the need for conclusion

Artists create, they do not kill with their technique
Each masterpiece adds spirit and gives thrills unique
Necessary for civilized life, creativity, and magnificence
Art deserves more financial support to maintain its significance

what is artWhat is art? If you are an arts organization and are struggling to raise funds. These elements are crucial in your fundraising.

Examine your board of directors
Are they the most qualified members of your community interested in your work? Do they believe you should have an adequate budget to achieve your goals? Are they willing to learn more about the role of the board in fundraising to help further the goals of your organization? Do they understand there are hundreds of ways they can move the organizations’ fundraising initiatives forward? Are they able to commit their most generous donation to your organization?

Staff resources
Do you have enough people to carry out the work of your organization? Have you involved volunteers beyond board volunteers in conducting the mandate? Is your key staff leader paid sufficiently to stay involved long enough to make a difference or is it a stop gap measure?

Communication withe donors
How often do you communicate with your donors? Do you know all the potential supporters of your organization? When was the last time when you asked for money? Do you have a cultivation plan for new or prospective supporters? A stewardship plan for those that support you? How many ways have you communicated with your key donors? What have been your key messages to date?

Your mission and values
Does every member of the board of directors understand your mission? What are your organization’s values? Is it a passionate mission? Does it excite you? Does it sound like it was carved by someone who does not have the passion of your best supporter? What is your most emotive mission?

Board Development Committee
Oh, you don’t have one? Create one. You can start small but recruit board members who want to help with fundraising and non-board volunteers who are interested. Set out terms of reference, an organizational chart and expectations. Create subcommittees such as Events, Planned Giving, Endowment, Major Gifts, Annual Appeal, Sponsorships, etc.

Organizational Case for Support
Writing the Case for Support is where we lose most people as fundraiser’s/consultants. Most people do not know how to tell their story – WHY someone should support them. They get caught up in talking about themselves – as if – they have to sell the organization. You do not need to do that as a priority. Donors/Supporters want to know how you will keep their interest and how you have been meeting their needs. Best not to use “I” in your communications but rather speak in the third person – in the voice of your “best donor”. The case for support is the main document with all your arguments for everything you do. It’s a background paper. You pull information from it for your fundraising initiatives. It will be your best investment of time, staff and volunteers.

My best advice comes from NIKE© – Just do it!

There are many more elements you should be doing such as regular strategic planning and revisiting it several times during the year rather than annually. I hope you get my points. If you need any help with this – I am available.

Until the next blog,

Pam Simmons
[email protected]

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