Too often, fundraising is relegated to an administrative function rather than a mission-central function. It’s viewed as a ‘necessary evil.’ As a result, either no one embraces it as central to their job description, or someone is hired and shunted off to a corner to do the ‘dirty work.’
Others don’t necessarily feel a need to cooperate or support the fundraising effort. It’s ancillary, not primary.
In fact, I’ll often hear executive directors or board members tell me, with some pride and a soupçon of defensiveness: “We can’t spend money on development staff right now; anything extra we have must go into the mission!”
As if fundraising doesn’t support the mission? Seriously, that’s the entire purpose of what nonprofits call ‘development’ (aka fundraising and marketing). It derives its purpose from ends served. It’s never an end in itself.
What this so-called ‘mission first’ logic fails to acknowledge is that everyone associated with your nonprofit is guided by a ‘mission first’ philosophy and has a collective stake in your nonprofit’s survival.
And for most nonprofits, survival – or at least some level of mutually desired success – depends on philanthropy.
When fundraising is treated as an afterthought, relegated to the development committee, or delegated to the development director, it disenfranchises a huge segment of folks who care about sustaining the cause. This means you’ll leave money on the table and fail to realize your mission potential.
It takes a dedicated village to generate sustainable, meaningful philanthropy.
I’ve found four ways nonprofits don’t wholeheartedly commit to fundraising. They all have to do with typical priorities that aren’t standing them in good stead.
4 Reasons You’re Failing to Achieve Your Nonprofit’s Fundraising Potential
1. Failing to put in place a development staff team to cover all the bases?
To hire a development director?
A staff person to focus on individual gifts, which according to Giving USA accounted for 79% of all philanthropy last year?
A major gifts officer to focus on the area that, on average, brings in 93% of total contribution income from individuals?
A staff person to support that development director, annual individual gifts and major gifts officer?
A staff person to generate foundation grants?
A staff person to produce marketing communications to warm prospective donors up for the fundraising ask?
Any other range of essential functions to support attracting and retaining donors (e.g., database manager; online marketing/fundraising manager; donor relations coordinator, and so forth)?
While it may not be within your reach to hire different people to fulfill all these critical functions, at the least you must include these responsibilities in someone’s job description– ideally spreading the tasks out, say, among a development staffer, executive director, program staffer, administrative support staffer and/or a marketing staffer. Try to keep in mind, however, you’ll reap what you sow.
If you’re skimping on essential personnel, trying to do this all with just one chief cook and bottle washer, or are ignoring some of these fundamentals, it’s time to rethink your priorities.
Or suffer the consequences.
Mission is not possible without money to move it forward.
‘Penny-wise and pound-foolish’ yields fundraising pennies.
2. Failing to develop a ‘fundraising board’ vs. a ‘community board?’
To let board prospects know when you recruit them that part of their service includes giving and getting according to their ability?
To make it clear board service incorporates a dual responsibility of governance and financing, and they cannot abdicate either role?
To assure ‘development’ is a standing committee of your board, and that just because you have a development committee does not mean individual members are absolved of their financing role?
To include development on every board meeting agenda?
If you’re not putting development front and center in your board recruitment and ongoing development process, it’s time to rethink your priorities.
Or suffer the consequences.
It’s hard to ask others to do what your board isn’t willing to do.
A board that does not lead in fundraising generates too few followers.
3. Failing to develop an organization-wide philanthropy culture?
To prioritize this from top leadership (E.D., Executive Management Team, Board Chair and Board Committee Chairs) down?
To express this philanthropy-centered culture (i.e. ‘love of humanity’) as a written goal in your strategic plan?
To create a collaborative environment that eliminates departmental silos?
To hold staff and board orientation and ongoing meetings where culture of philanthropy is on the regular discussion agenda?
To regularly express meaningful gratitude to your team players and stakeholders, both internal and external?
To incorporate transformative vision and values into individual job descriptions so everyone is on board with your common, shared raison d’être?
To include donors in your core mission, asking not just what they can do for you but what you can do for them?
To commit to help constituents experience the joy of giving, understanding it is through you they will achieve their most meaningful work.
If you’re failing to embrace fundraising as part of everyone’s job, it’s time to rethink your priorities.
Or suffer the consequences.
If everyone shares the same enemy, and is committed to obliterating the same foe (be it hunger, poverty, disease, injustice, cruelty, illiteracy, or whatever), it’s your obligation as an organization to facilitate philanthropy – to help folks (staff, volunteers, donors and your community) fight this fight on all fronts.
Without goodwill and a culture of philanthropy, you’re not going to achieve anywhere near as much as you could or should.
4. Failing to tell relevant emotional stories?
To speak to people’s hearts, not their heads?
To emphasize impact, not money?
To draw attention to specific, compelling stories of people, places, animals and ideals, not emotionally-dulling facts, figures and processes?
To focus on the motivations people might have to ensure you continue to exist?
To develop systems for collecting and sharing impact stories that demonstrate what might happen were you to be unable to grow or, even worse, cease to exist?
To get out in the field to visit your programs and see first-hand your story in action?
To talk to donors and learn why they are so invested with your cause, and what stories resonate with them?
To take the time to intentionally structure your stories for maximum impact?
If you’re failing to articulate and relate a persuasive emotional story, it’s time to rethink your priorities.
Or suffer the consequences.
Donors will give drop-in-the-bucket token gifts to fact-based appeals; they’ll give transformative gifts when they’re drawn into a story with which they can connect.
You must describe your story – aka your ‘case for support’ — in such a compelling way the donor wants to jump into it and become the hero that gives the story a happy ending.
Summary and Next Steps
If you want to achieve remarkable results, rather than simply limp along, heed the advice of innovative thought-leader Seth Godin:
“I can’t afford it.”
“I don’t have the time.”
…almost always means, “this is not a priority.”
When we care, it’s amazing how much we can get done. One way to choose to care is to be clear about your priorities, which means being clear in your language.
And so we can say to ourselves, “I’d love to do that, but it’s not a priority.”
Remarkable work is usually accomplished by people who have non-typical priorities.
— Seth Godin
1. Determine the development staff and infrastructure you need, and prioritize making this critical investment in your future success.
2. Think carefully about how much a strong, committed fundraising board could help you accomplish and prioritize taking steps to move towards this place of strength.
3. Imagine a philanthropy culture where everyone helps each other as a matter of course, and prioritize making this culture a reality.
4. Revisit the core story of your mission, break it down into components that mirror your key initiatives, and then find stories to show and tell that demonstrate your impact.
For each of these four areas, ask yourself and others:
- What would it take?
- Where should we focus?
- How might we find the resources?
- Who needs to be involved?
- When shall we target to accomplish each of these objectives?
What do you think? Doable? What holds you back? Please share in the comments below.
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All images part of my series on seeing philanthropy — love of humanity — through the world’s art galleries, studios and museums.