Meaningfully engaging with donors, corporations & strategic plans

Engagement--WAY more than a sparkly ring!

Last week could’ve been called Meaningful Engagement Week. Early in the week, I facilitated a board and staff retreat that focused on how to meaningfully engage with each other and a new strategic plan.

Thursday, I was at AFP Washington’s Symposium on Major Gifts where Bernard Ross of the UK’s Management Center walked us through how to use psychology, language and humor to meaningfully engage major donors. (That guy is Funny with a capital ‘F’! Whew.)

Then Friday, I found myself hypnotized by Tammy Zonker’s explanation of how she–and her talented team at the United Way of Southeastern Michigan–meaningfully engaged GM in revitalizing Detroit’s “drop out factories’, otherwise known as high schools. (Ouch, right?)

You’d think it’d be different to engage with a major donor, a corporation and a strategic plan. But when you got right down to it, the similarities outweighed the differences by a long shot. It really boiled down to this:

  • Be prepared: Know your donor. Understand what motivates the corporation (and the people who work there). Know the intricacies and opportunity costs of each strategic direction.
  • Sell impact: What will be different in the world if the donor donates, the corporation invests or the strategic plan works?
  • Focus on what you believe: Start with what you believe and then seek out the partners and strategies for bringing it to life. Not the other way around.

Setting the inanimate strategic plan aside and focusing on animate (and sometimes animated) interactions between humans, it’s interesting to reflect on the what makes engagement meaningful. It’s tempting to think it implies that each and every interaction needs to be profound. But that’s not necessarily the case. The impact needs to be meaningful, not necessarily each and every interaction that leads to impact. The interactions leading up to that impact vary dramatically from light touch–think Twitter–to in-depth–think one-on-one conversation. The meaning becomes clear when you look at the impact of all these interactions as a whole.

Whether it’s a donor, a volunteer, an elected official or a strategic plan, are you engaged meaningfully or just meaning to engage?