The worst thing that ever happened to development was that baseball movie– “If you build it, they will come.”

From my observation, every Executive Director in Christendom has taken this as gospel and now believes that the simple power of their marvelousness will lead donors inexorably to their door. No other effort needed. Further, there’s a prevailing attitude that if “they” don’t come either they can’t be convinced, or aren’t worth the trouble. Never a thought given to either the product or the communication.I’d love to be clever and turn that phrase on its head with a tricky rewrite, but it’s not that easy, because “they”, i.e. your patrons and donors, don’t behave in a conveniently monolithic, linear way. Here’s the more complicated rewrite:

If you thank them, they will come.
Thank your patrons for coming, and your donors for giving, and your staff for working, and your volunteers for contributing. Immediately, sincerely, and repeatedly. A day should not go by without you thanking someone.

If you praise them, they will come.
While you’re saying thank you, mention what it is you’re thanking them for. Praise their effort, their generosity, their skill, their connections, their smiling faces.

If you ask them, they will come
Not, ask them to buy tickets or to make a donation, although that’s important too. Fundraising 101– you don’t get what you don’t ask for. But that’s not all you should be asking. You should be asking them what they think, and how they can help, and what they’d like to see you do better, or more.

If you listen to them, they will come
So you asked– are you listening? Everyone in your organization–from the guy who always shows up for the freebies to the President of your board– has a stake in your success. And they all have ideas about how you can be successful. It costs you nothing to give them a forum where they can let you know how you can serve them better.

If you respond to them, they will come
Great– you asked, you listened! Don’t forget to respond. This can go from neutral and cursory, to enthusiastic and detailed. And while asking, listening and responding is easier than ever through social media, it’s important to respond in the same  manner that they communicated. If they sent you an email, respond via email. A hand written note gets the same in response. Every FB post and blog comment should have a response, and if you’ve got the staff, you want to be thanking every Twitter retweet. It goes without saying that you always respond to direct messages. You don’t have to give away the store (or, to maintain the metaphor, the cornfield). They just need to know that someone listened.

If you involve them, they will come
You want your patrons to get more and more involved with you– the greater the investment of time, money and emotion, the more likely they are to view you, and promote you, in a positive light.

In other words, if you treat them like human beings, they will come.