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Reliance on Fundraising Has Never Been More Important!



The strength of the fundraising program is a key factor that will determine the winners and losers among nonprofits for the future. Fundraising is one of the most important things on which a nonprofit must focus as services open again. All hands on deck!


How effective is my fundraising office? How can I strengthen it?


Let's not fool around. This is a moment when you must add strength to your development team.


1. Carefully add staff to an under-resourced team of people: Development has always--and notoriously--been an area where large and small organizations have under-invested. A key reason for this is lack of genuine understanding on the part of leadership of what each staff member does or could do if the resources were sufficient. Set clear expectations.


How the addition of staff would look is a genuine topic of discussion for each office now. Fundraising is going to be even more challenging post-coronavirus.


2. Reorganization of existing development officers is also under strong consideration. It is imperative to look at how everyone on the team can work more effectively, how teams can work together and gain synergy. What are donors considering? How can we make more of an impact? Development team members should also be taking an in-depth look at how they do things and how they could be more efficient and effective.


3. If necessary, make changes. Evaluate each of the staff members for effectiveness in fundraising: And this includes the Director of Development.


Are each of them really carrying their own weight? Are they inspiring donors and ensuring that the "right" amount or the "necessary" amount of money is actually being raised? Are each of the development officers making a favorable impact? Is the Director looking carefully at each staff member? What should be considered?

  • Does the development office have a plan? Has the Director discussed it with and presented it to the senior executive and board so that everyone agrees with the approach and knows how to proceed? Surprising that many organizations are without a fundraising plan generally--particularly egregious during a time when it is this essential.

  • Now is the time to look to your donors or prospects and see what they have to say about the development team and their fundraising skills. Ask a few trusted board members what they think.

  • Is the staff really out and about and soliciting funds? Or bringing prospects to meet with the CEO? Or taking the CEO to meet them? How many meetings have there been with potential major donors or prospects prior to the pandemic? How has the staff stayed in contact with prospects and donors during the lockdown? What do they know about the progress of the organization?

  • Prior to the lockdown, was the development officer in the office all the time or out on calls? Or a combination of both? This will tell you something important. While keeping records and planning are critical functions, there are no important records without ongoing fundraising activities.

  • Does the development officer have stories to tell about the beneficiaries of the services being provided? Are they heartfelt--are they delivered with passion? One would see this during a joint solicitation or just in casual conversation. What does he/she have to say about the donors during the last two months? Does the development officer speak with affection about some of the prospects and donors? Has he/she outlined the next steps anticipated for each?

  • Ask the development officer about their top ten prospects...how are they progressing? I have sometimes asked about these top prospects and the development officer's eyes get wide--like a deer in the headlights. Uh oh! Not a good sign.


4. Ensure that senior leaders and members of the board understand what a development office actually does, the goals they have and the priorities on which they are focused. It is surprising that key leaders do not get more involved in ensuring the effectiveness of the development team, but equally surprising that they do not urge their next level leaders to become more involved. For large organizations this is a particular issue.


Performance measures for senior level managers outside of the development office should be tied to their personal impact and involvement in development. They all have an opportunity to make a difference and should be required to exercise that opportunity and produce results for the organization.


While fundraising can be an uncomfortable business, it is part of the business of any senior leader--as well as anyone who sits on a board. Now is the time to make the organization the strongest it can be--and this issue should rest squarely on the entire senior team, not just the development officers. Get it right.


A senior leader should clearly articulate the strategies that the organization plans to employ in this new environment and senior leaders should not only be supportive, but completely involved. It is not just a team of development officers who raise the money--raising funds involves the entire organization.


4. Board members should take leadership right now. They should not only be contributing but coming up with other ideas that can be helpful. They should ask the development team for guidance.


5. This may be a time when a consultant could be of service. It is often important to get an objective viewpoint of the situation that exists in your organization. History generally prevents that from happening. Engage a consultant for a short period. Try to choose someone in your own region...the right consultant targeted at the right tasks can lift the possibilities for your organization. Explore this option with an eye to increasing opportunities.


Finally, a word to the wise: For those development officers--including senior development executives--who work with their heads down in large organizations, hoping no one will see that their fundraising productivity is not as strong as it could be--stand up and start working more effectively. Seek guidance from a trusted resource, have a frank discussion with your supervisor. Save yourself and the organization. It might mean that you quit and look for something in another field. Or join an organization that might be a better fit. Just do something to take your own effectiveness to a new level.


(There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long range risks and costs of comfortable inaction...John F. Kennedy.)



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