The Word for 2009: Authenticity

by Amy Etheridge

Be thankful - a new year offers an opportunity for a fresh start. 2009 follows a year overshadowed by corporate scams and excesses and political shenanigans and scandals. From Edwards to Madoff to Blagojevich and many others in between, less than acceptable behavior, even by the lowest moral standards, has been on display.

So, where does this leave respected professional advancement offices? What is the public's view of your institution?

At this moment in history, the values and principles of an institution are critical to clearly defining what the institution is, and perhaps more importantly, what the institution is not.

Through authenticity an institution builds trust and trust opens the door for transformational gifts and volunteers. Conversations, presentations, direct mail, case statements, websites, tours and all output from your advancement office needs to be guided by authenticity.

Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking about how your office can model being the real deal in 2009:

  • Achieve understanding of the needs of students, faculty or patients being served by your institution and compile a wish list for support around gifts that would benefit those being served and are aligned with the institution's goals.
  • Instill trust by sharing the practical and relevant needs of your institute. Steer clear of being overly theoretical and get to the heart of the matter. Be honest and be factual.
  • Gain respect by determining where a prospect's or donor's passion is and focus your case for support on the programs that match their goals and interests. Appreciate, at a visceral level, why their engagement with your institute is built on personal beliefs or history.
  • Never compromise authenticity just to get a donation. A well-researched donor may offer a gift for an idea that doesn't match your mission or goals. Openly discuss with your donor how the idea could be shaped to meet the institute's needs or - gasp - politely decline the gift.

My hope for the New Year is that nonprofit and philanthropic institutions will be the shining example to corporations and politicians in how to lead a genuine and honest business and to garner community trust and investment.


Amy Etheridge is president of Giving Leadership Opportunity (GLO), a professional resource for personal, customized nonprofit and business consulting services. GLO is committed to creating growth opportunities for organizations as they seek to achieve their missions and fulfill their community promise. Amy may be reached at or 919.521.5776.

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