Hopefully some of you took the time to read a recent story in the New York Times about the upcoming shut-down of the Minitel System in France. The article related that this system, which was a pre-curser of the Internet, provided French families with connections to restaurants, doctors, movie timetables, and all sorts of information for which we now rely on the computer. Apparently, one of the last bastions of Minitel use has been the dairy farmers of Brittany, who have avoided moving to the computer, but now find themselves with little choice, since the Minitel system is about to be shut down for good. Some worry that the farmers are likely to go back to using hand-written registries to maintain records of their herds and to keep track of their business.
This story reminds me of the incredible technological advances that we have experienced in the area of fundraising. Though there are not many of us left, I know that there are a few who, like me, remember a day when the development office maintained a library of reference books like “Who’s Who,” “The Social Register,” and “The Foundation Directory,” when development officers kept the names of their prospects on 3 x 5 cards, when research meant doing a bit of digging prior to making a face-to-face call. Thanks to the amazing amount of knowledge and information that we now have at our fingertips, we can learn a great deal about any prospect before we go out to make the call.
I am a great believer in preparation, and I encourage my clients to fully utilize the various opportunities that are available to them to increase their knowledge and understanding of a major prospect. But I hate to see this information-collecting process get in the way of meeting with, and starting to establish a relationship with a major prospect.
Developing relationships is still the key step in major gift fundraising, and without getting out and meeting with your prospects, you will be ineffective in the relationship business. When I encounter a client that is underperforming in the area of face-to-face major gift calls, I am likely to find an organization that is underperforming in major gift acquisition. The two run hand in hand.
Unlike the farmers of Brittany, we should be embracing modern technology, celebrating the opportunities that it provides for us to be better at our jobs. We shouldn’t be returning to the 3×5 index card, but we also shouldn’t fall so in love with the technology that we fail to see it for what it is–a tool to help us be better prepared to make our major gift calls.