I hear from Directors of Development all the time that they are frustrated in their positions. These Directors feel that they don’t have influence as the fundraiser. They say they feel marginalized by their Executive Director, frustrated with board members, or stymied by uncooperative program staff.
Is this you? Do you lack the influence you need to be a successful fundraiser?
Here’s the bad news. You can’t really change other people. They have to change themselves. .
But you do have control over the way you behave and relate to others inside your organization. And by doing that, you can help create the insight others need for change.
As I was preparing for a workshop presentation for AFP ICON 2021, reviewed my own ability to have influence as a fundraiser. I focused on the three jobs I had as Director of Development.
For example, in my first fundraising job, I started as a sponsorship relations coordinator creating the newsletter and fund appeals on a budget of $75,000. Seven years later, I was part of the five person senior management team at this national nonprofit. When I chronicled the changes, my department grew from just me to a six person department with a budget of $750,000. I oversaw house fundraising, grants, donor education, cross-cultural communications, volunteers, a resource library, and a startup bequest society. I also participated on teams within the organization and with our international colleagues.
Here are 7 factors I found to be essential to have influence as a fundraiser:
Demonstrate that you know what you are doing, as both a fundraiser and as a manager. That means learning what really works and doesn’t work in fund development and how to put that into action. This requires you to read the research, participate in the professional organizations that value research, hang out with colleagues who have proven they can raise money. You need to take charge of your professional development. Read more
What does your board know about fundraising? I wanted to share my podcast interview on boards and fundraising with Steven Halasnik of Nonprofit MBA. https://tinyurl.com/ygmn72x6
What does your board know about fundraising? Start here:
- First and foremost, the board needs to ensure that its nonprofit is making an important difference for its community, its constituents, or the planet. That is, the Board needs to ensure that the organization is worthy of donor support.
- Next, it needs to ensure that the organization is trustworthy, that it stewards its resources well.
- Then, board members need a deep emotional connection to the mission, to be able to be ambassadors and to sincerely thank donors for their support.
- After that… it depends…
Is your fundraising stuck in a rut? Have you lost the ability to see new fundraising opportunities in your current work?
Have you ever played with a kaleidoscope? Those are those tubes that you look through and as you twist them colors and images shift.
I hadn’t played with one in years until I received one as a gift for presenting a workshop at a fundraising conference. Instead of creating designs from shapes embedded in the kaleidoscope itself, this one made fascinating patterns out of whatever you were looking at.
Successful fundraisers are a lot like kaleidoscopes.
How? Excellent fundraisers have the ability to look at people and their own organizations and see limitless opportunities for making interesting designs together.
As fundraisers, we are always on the lookout for donors whose dreams and desires are a perfect match with our organization. Sometimes that match is pretty straightforward, as when a loved one is stricken by a disease and family members give to the organization that is working to find a cure. Or the guidelines of a foundation are a perfect fit with our programs. Read more
On this day of giving thanks, I’m resharing this post from 2018 about true donor gratitude, from a heart filled with love.
All my best to all of you and your loved ones for this Thanksgiving.
You might want to read about the history and myth of Thanksgiving while you are waiting for the turkey to roast.
We talk a lot in fundraising circles about gratitude. We hear over and over again how we need to honor all of our donors.
But then organizations revert to form by tiering their gratitude to the size of the gift. The biggest gifts get the most personalized thank yous. The biggest donors get priority mention in the annual report. Big givers get their names at the top of the donor wall. They are forever fixed in our minds, remembered by name and amount.
The little gift donor barely registers.
Yet that small gift may be a much bigger act of philanthropy. How often do you celebrate that small gift? Do you stop to think what kind of sacrifice might come with that gift? Someone of limited means or on a fixed income may have reached deep to send their donation.
So when I saw this message bubbling with gratitude on Facebook, I knew I had to share it with you.
With the permission of its author, Henrietta White-Holder, founder and CEO of Higher Ground International, I bring you a close-up, truly authentic example of loving your donor for their act of generosity:
“Lounging around and I received a notification on my phone that someone had made a donation to HGI via our website.
“I checked, and there it was – a wonderful woman had donated $10.00 (ten dollars).
“I found it very significant and heartwarming that she would think of us in such a loving and kind way to donate what she could. It is not the amount that matter[s] but the fact that she contributed in such a thoughtful way means a LOT to us.
“Now, her generous gift of $10.00 is going to help purchase ice melt to help keep the premises of the HGI’S Rukiya Center safe!
“Oh, Happy Day! ❤”
Thank you so much, Henrie, for reminding each of us that donor love starts within our own hearts.
More on donor gratitude
You may not be surprised to hear that COVID has caused a major drop in volunteer participation, according to a report from Fidelity Charitable – but fundraisers should take notice. Volunteer experiences can be an important point of entry for many donors, particularly Millenials. The study is summarized in today’s Mass Nonprofit News.
Sixty-six percent of volunteers report ending or decreasing their volunteer commitments since the crisis began. Only 11 percent have increased their volunteer hours. Of those who maintained or increased their commitments, about 80 percent participate online, compared to just 11 percent before COVID.
As with other COVID impacts, we can only speculate whether these changes in behavior will stick when we arrive at our future “normal.” In the meantime, it’s a good idea to engage with idled volunteers now to sustain these valuable relationships.
While looking at all those exciting resumes, it’s easy to forget to bring the necessary rigor to your interview. Don’t get swayed by all those gobs of money allegedly raised!
As we learned from the ground breaking study UnderDeveloped, it’s really hard finding a fundraiser you can afford with the experience you need. Don’t be charmed by the individual and hire for all the wrong reasons. We share our cautions in our article: The Ten Worst Reasons For Hiring Your Development Director
To be more confident about who you hire, be meticulous about reference checking.
Another screen is to be very thoughtful about the types of questions you ask in your interviews. Here are some tips:
What kinds of questions do you want to ask in your interview?
- Because you need someone with both fundraising knowledge and the ability to execute, ask questions that probe for technical skills in action.
- Consider questions that uncover the candidate’s personal attributes, like creativity, passion for achievement or people skills.
- Be sure to ask about your candidate’s approach to work to help you understand how they might fit in your workplace.
- Because you wanted dedicated professionals, ask about professional membership, professional development and service to the profession or philanthropy.
- And of course, it’s important to know where they are heading, so ask about their future ambitions and goals.
Guess what development director. Board member fundraising is hard work.
Your board members aren’t going to start fundraising just because they are now on the board. And you can’t scold them into participating.
You’ve got to treat them as the individuals they are. If you invest time in these directors, some will become strong partners with you. Others may participate around the edges. With the proper attention, all will give.
Change happens in stages
Most of us don’t leap from never doing something to suddenly being good at it. We usually need to contemplate our new role, convincing ourselves that the benefits of doing the new thing are greater than the cons of doing it. Then we need to prepare, to develop the skills we need. With those skills, then we are ready to act, taking a small step forward into doing. After that it’s practice, practice, practice. And with the right supports to enable the new thing to eventually become second nature. .
What do board members need from you?
Above all, they need to really get the need for raising money. No, not the financial statement line item. The compelling case for support they can understand in their hearts, as well as their head. How the money links to the outcomes. You can never explain this enough.
So show them. Create the transformative experience that knocks their socks off. A day volunteering in your food pantry? That bird banding session with your super caring staff? A special trip to capitol hill?
Help them find the large donor in themselves. Have a relationship building strategy for each board member, just like you would have a strategy for any of your prospects.
What else do they need?
On the practical side:
- The right assignment that corresponds to their planned movement up the change ladder
- Leadership from you, the professional
- A menu of options from a well-developed plan
- Personal training, coaching, encouragement
- Logistical support
- Your gratitude for their work
- Celebrating their baby steps and the big ones
And for yourself… when thinking about board member fundraising, start with the willing few. Then work your way deeper into the pack.
I was cleaning my workshop files and found this compact, or volunteer fundraiser commitment, I created a few years ago. Feel free to share.
Here’s my volunteer fundraiser commitment.
- discover joy in raising money for my favorite cause
- ask, otherwise I’ll never know
- rely on my team for advice and support
- only volunteer for assignments I know I can complete
- ask for help when I need it, as soon as I need it.
- take risks and not fear failing
- remember the words of hockey star Wayne Gretzky: You miss 100% of the shots you never take
- send in my notes from all of my meetings and contacts.
- I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to start!
More reading for you
I was asked today by a client: Can we run fundraising for investments like staff that were identified in our strategic plan? Say a “non-capital campaign?”
Yes you can. Universities and hospitals do it all the time. Their big comprehensive campaigns usually include lots of stuff like buildings and equipment. But they also don’t overlook other capacity and operating needs, like new staff or programs.
To maximize success for a campaign like this, reframe the way you talk or think about donor motivation.
To get some help here, we’ve turned to the really smart folks at the Nonprofit Finance Fund. They frame the difference in terms that create a shared vocabulary for speakers of For-profit and Nonprofit English.
For the Nonprofit Finance Fund, build money (for “philanthropic equity”) is qualitatively different from buy money (for program execution). Builders invest in your enterprise capacity, not your services.They are more likely to be interested in enabling your growth with large gifts. They may only be providing you smaller annual donations because you haven’t piqued their true interests.
Buyers pay you to provide services to others. Buyers may be willing to contribute enough, if communicated well, to cover your other operating costs (too often considered “overhead” But that’s another article). But buyers don’t provide sufficient income above current costs to finance major new initiatives.
The takeaway: recognize, as the biggest nonprofits do, that you need institution-builders as well as buyers for your services and products. Read more
I am ever so thankful for a donor moment of insight.
When I’m working with a client on a strategic planning project, with their board and staff we routinely interview a selected group of stakeholders. They might be colleagues, political or government leaders, relevant businesses, funders, donors, volunteers … anyone with special insight. And it’s super great when two or more of those categories overlap.
A few days after a recent interview, I received a follow up email from a community leader-donor. They remembered something else they wanted me to share.
The donor had received the latest annual report. Like most of these reports, it included a list of donors. In this list, the organization had made a special effort to note donors who had given continuously.
Unfortunately, what was recognition for some was a rebuke for another. My donor felt hurt by not being included in this list. You see, this donor had been a donor for many long years. But, due to a few years of tight finances, there was a gap in their giving.
They were no less loyal. They started giving again when their finances improved. But that didn’t seem to matter. And now they were reconsidering future giving.
I completely sympathized. I feel this way whenever my college sends out its annual report with the same listing. Though I’ve been giving for many many years, I’ve missed a few now and then. Once I gave two gifts in the same fiscal year which knocked me out of the continuous recognition.
Think! What are you trying to accomplish with that public list of donors?
In this case, the intent was to reward some donors and inspire others to similar continuity. But it unexpectedly caused hurt feelings on the part of another long time donor.
Penelope Burk documents a number of concerns learned from donor research in her book Donor-Centered Fundraising. One that stands out are listings by gift range. A small donor might be making a huge stretch to give what they do. Yet they will never seem as valuable as those big donors for whom the gift that got them top recognition might be a drop in the bucket.
As the folks who care most about our donors, we’ll do better if we set aside convention and think of more creative ways to recognize and acknowledge our donors. The Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s complimentary membership is a good illustration of the return when you put donor needs first.
So, using that donor moment of insight shared above, here’s a simple solution: