No one can do it alone, sitting in their own little corner.
Not the E.D. Not the development director. Not the development committee of the board. Not the fundraising consultant.
One-person shows don’t work in fundraising.
This isn’t tennis, figure skating or golf. You’re not one person trying to be the best you can be, with all the glory accruing to you. You’re part of a team, all pulling together in the same direction, with the glory accruing not just to your team but also to your fans and your community.
Siloes don’t work in fundraising.
You aren’t saving up grain for the winter. Besides, simply hoarding won’t help enough. Development operations must figure out how to grow and harvest as much grain as possible so you can feed more and more people in need. Hoarding in siloes is a scarcity, not an abundance, mindset. A status quo, not a growth mindset.
If you have vision and big goals you need a team to see you through.
How Do You Build Your Development Team?
Begin with recruitment of stakeholders.
Look around you. Who do you see? You see internal and external stakeholders. People who care about your organization winning.
Generally, you’ll see:
- Users of services
- Community leaders and activists
These are the folks who can be members of your team. They have skin in the game, because they’re connected to you. They don’t want you to fail, because they care. Your existence means something to them. You’re a part of their life. So they’ll play to win.
You need every single one of these folks on board.
They are your aiders, abettors and accomplices, ambassadors, advocates and askers. They offer their stories, spread the word, sing your praises, and some will even ask their personal networks to become involved.
Let’s take a closer look.
Aiders, Abettors and Accomplices
When I think about those who provide aid and assistance, I think primarily of staff. Not just the development director. ALL staff are your “partners in crime.” In a good way, of course.
This individual must embody a commitment to philanthropy – love of humanity. They must be willing not only to fundraise themselves, but to encourage everyone else on your team to be part of a culture of philanthropy. If the team manager isn’t committed to doing everything possible to create a winning team, you’re out of the game before you even begin to play.
I mean it! If your executive hates fundraising, hates donors, or both, you’re going to leave a ton of money on the table. Personally, I find this frustrating to the point of exhaustion. I can’t do it, so I’ve quit when I’ve found myself in this situation. Sure, first I tried to coach, coddle, exhort and even threaten a bit. But if it doesn’t work, cut your losses. A culture flows from the top.
The same holds true with other executive management staff. Anyone in a leadership position, especially those who interface with donors, must understand and embrace their role in facilitating philanthropy. It only takes one brusque staff member saying “that’s not my job” to undermine months of hard work by a development staffer.
Development Support Staff
Even if you’re more or less a one-person development office, you still need some assistance with at least administrative tasks. Otherwise you’ll spend too much of your time processing gifts, creating mail merges, cleaning up your database, ordering supplies, organizing meetings, filing documents and a whole host of other jobs that will take away from the work of fundraising. Insist on some assistance, even if only part time.
Should you consider outsourcing support? You certainly can, especially if what you need is a very distinct skill (e.g., maybe you have a 3-person team of development director, annual giving and events manager, but don’t have anyone skilled with digital technology. Or maybe you need a grant writer). In my humble opinion however, most of the time it’s better to bring someone in-house so they can live and breathe your mission. Development is a passion sport. People who work on the inside develop and share that passion. People you hire on contract tend to look at it as “just a job.”
Your communications and fundraising strategies support one another. In fact, I believe “marketing” and “development” are the same thing. Everything is about the customer experience and working with the customer at whatever point they are along a continuum of engagement. No matter what you call it, it’s the same thing. Both functions elucidate values and uncover shared values. When a match is made, engagement incurs. Investment sometimes follows. Without marketing staff firmly in your court you won’t score all the points you need to win big.
We’re living in a digitally-revolutionized time, accelerated by the pandemic. You can no longer ignore the fundamental importance of digital skills to your fundraising success. Digital skills will are of strategic importance in today’s world, so if you don’t have these skills among your development staff you need to make I.T. staff your best friends. A recent McKinsey survey found businesses were three times likelier now than before the pandemic to say at least 80% of customer interactions are digital in nature. And the most recent M+R Annual Benchmarks Report found online revenue for nonprofits grew 32% in 2020. How did your organization compare? During the crisis of the past year the most successful businesses reported a range of technology-related capabilities others lacked. So don’t skimp in this area; make sure you’ve got digitally-skilled staff on your team.
Finance and development are two legs on a three-legged stool, the other being programs. Finance manages the money, assuring it is used per donor intent and in furtherance of the mission. Development generates the money through strategic fundraising and marketing communications. Program staff use the money to fulfill the mission. Everyone, in their own way, is on the front lines.
The relationship between finance and development must be transparent, cooperative and ethical. Donors are looking for financial efficiency, and you can’t effectively report back to donors without the information finance provides. You also need the finance department’s support in building budgets to submit donor proposals and report back to donors at the end of the grant period.[Here’s a free guide for connecting your finance and development team members in strategic partnership.]
Without program staff doing the front line work, development staff have nothing to sell. You must have a strong partnership with these people so you have compelling stories and results to share with donors. And it doesn’t hurt to show them how you can help them as well. Make program staff your partners by inviting them to join your staff meetings and offering to attend theirs. Share stories about gifts received that will help them with their work. Ask them to do the rewarding work of calling and thanking donors who earmark gifts for their programs. Praise them lavishly for the work they do; without program staff you couldn’t raise money. I always tell them they’re the reason donors give; I’m just the intermediary.
When I think of ambassadors, advocates and askers I think not only of staff but also of volunteers. They aren’t charged with boots-on-the-ground responsibility for the direct mission work, but they do have a big picture stake in how that work is planned, delivered, promoted and funded.
Ambassadors largely spread the word. They’re a marketing team with many tentacles, sharing your story with the larger world. And there is huge strength in numbers.
Board of Directors
The board are key members of the philanthropy team. Through sharing their contacts, making connections and mission evangelizing, they are the energy that fuels your mission. And unlike other volunteers, they have a responsibility to aid with philanthropy facilitation. Why? Because they develop plans and budgets and set strategic priorities. Fulfilling on these established goals and objectives depends on money; they’re the ones charged with assuring they’re not simply creating unfunded mandates.
Should board all give? In my humble opinion, yes. Because they all have a financing responsibility. If your budget requires philanthropic support, you’re committed to meeting your budget and setting an example. You shouldn’t ask others to give if you’re not willing to give yourself. No “do as I say, but not as I do.” Time is great, but giving time doesn’t pay the phone bills. Board members are leaders. They should make leadership gifts. Generally, I suggest to board members they make their nonprofit one of their top three philanthropies during their period of service.
Volunteers, through their dedicated time and service, have real skin in the game. They are definitely on your team, so it behooves you to include them in some form of “team meetings.” Figure out some ways to come to a “meeting of minds.” Ask for their feedback via survey. Invite them to join ad hoc advisory or focus groups. Find out what they most admire about your operations, and where they think you can improve.
Don’t forget to include donors on your team, especially those who are most loyal. These are your true fans, and the importance of fans to a team’s success should not be undervalued. By sticking with you through thick and thin, they’re demonstrating a level of commitment that’s precious. Treat it, and them, accordingly.
Users of Services
Users can be among your greatest fans, or biggest detractors. Put a customer service plan in place to create a positive emotional connection and assure their satisfaction. Whatever you do, don’t ignore them. Try to keep these folks attached and attentive through storytelling, e-mail marketing, social media outreach, texting and any other creative methods you can dream up. If you do, you’ll assure yourself of more ambassadors and advocates for your programs and services.
Community Leaders and Activists
Community leaders are folks who see the value in your organization as a public benefit. Similarly, activists see the benefit in what you do to advance a cause they support. Both can be powerful philanthropy team members as they spread the word about the importance of your work. Figure out ways to partner and collaborate with them, both formally and informally.
Advocates go one step beyond ambassadors, and actively meet with targeted groups who may have an interest in your mission. They may be among any of the groups described above, but generally must be specifically asked to serve in this role. Often this role involves providing testimonial as to the merits of your management, work processes, standards and outcomes. Examples of ambassador tasks include:
- Meet with a foundation funder
- Meet with a potential business sponsor
- Meet with a community service organization (e.g., chamber of commerce, Rotary, Elks, Lions, other volunteer services)
- Meet with a community group (e.g. school, place of worship, homeowners association, book group)
- Share a petition or call for advocacy action
People give to people. Generally they give more to people they know, like and/or respect. So you absolutely need askers on your team. Of course, not everyone is comfortable with asking. At least not at first. So it’s the job of the chief development officer to support everyone else in becoming more comfortable. This takes education, cheerleading and a bit of handholding. And it takes practice. [You can learn to help people with asking here.]
“You must keep working out at the philanthropy gym,” says Ted Hart, host of the Nonprofit Coach Podcast. Lead your board members to the gym by helping them find the fire in their belly that led them to you in the first place. When you reconnect folks with their values, remind them how your organizations regularly enacts those values, they will be more comfortable sharing those values with others.
Let’s get back to your big vision, big goals and the team you need to see you through.
How will this team get built, and who will build it?
If you’re the fundraiser, and your executive is not currently doing this work, it begins with you. You are the one person, or one department, actually charged with living and breathing philanthropy on a daily basis. It’s in your job description. You are the philanthropy facilitator.
As such, you must do everything within your power to make philanthropy flow. And it’s not an individual sport. It takes a team effort.
What makes this team tick? Justice, balance, caring, and empathy are key components of a nonprofit’s culture of philanthropy, as is the “golden rule,” which underlies just about every world religion. When you come from a place of doing unto others as you’d have them do unto you, or at least from a place of “do no harm,” you’ll more likely find your fundraising efforts are not just successful but also fulfilling. Most people want to come from a place of love. Commit to spreading this gospel; see what wonders may ensue.
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Image courtesy of Jeffrey F. Lin on Unsplash