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Making Fundraising a Priority of Presidential Proportions

Lori Halley 19 February 2014 0 comments

In honor of President’s Day celebrations in the U.S., the February Nonprofit Blog Carnival will be all about The Care & Feeding of Presidents. Marc A. Pitman, this month’s carnival host (and The Fundraising Coach) suggests many CEO’s or Executive Directors are either frustrated and want to hire a development person so they don’t have to fundraise, or they “love fundraising but don't have boards that support the staffing required to free them up to communicate with donors.”

So what’s stopping you from taking your fundraising to presidential heights?

Are either of those two scenarios happening at your organization?

Both ring true from my own experience (a number of years ago). I remember the ED at a small charitable organization had to micro-manage everything and everyone, including the fundraising team.  Yet at another, larger organization, the ED was aloof and rarely seen and (in my recollection) never involved in any communications or fundraising initiatives other than introducing the board chair or offering scripted remarks at a media event.

But given my limited knowledge, I decided to check out a number of recent articles and blog posts on this topic. Of particular note was  the report:
UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising (Bell, Jeanne and Marla Cornelius, San Francisco, CA: CompassPoint nonprofit Services and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, 2013), which found that, for example:

  • One in four executives report that they lack the skills and knowledge to secure gifts – and one in five don’t particularly like doing it. An overwhelming majority of executives—79%—agreed that executive competency in securing gifts is “very important.”
  • Still, 26% identified themselves as having no competency or being a novice at fundraising.

  • Further, among executives who reported that asking individuals for contributions was one of their primary responsibilities, 18% said they dislike it. More executives among high-performing organizations—89% compared with 72% of their peers—said they are “knowledgeable” or “expert” at securing gifts.

So after reviewing this research and a number of fundraising articles, here is my take on some of the challenges and possible solutions to making fundraising a presidential priority.

4 Tips for taking your fundraising to presidential proportions


1. Make fundraising an organization-wide priority

OK I don’t mean to patronize - I know you fundraising folks know this is essential. But with so many leaders avoiding or misunderstanding the importance of fundraising.  We need to ensure that the senior leadership and board articulate fundraising as a priority. 

To make fundraising a priority across the organization, consider:

Why are you sorry to have to fundraise?  ...  Can you imagine working at a company where the CEO constantly apologized for having to sell things?

  • Ensuring that fundraising is acknowledged as a key activity for all levels of staff (top-down) and all of the board of directors.

  • Establishing a fundraising plan - and ensuring that all staff and board roles include specific fundraising responsibilities, with effective measurement systems - tied to this plan.

  • Allocating resources - funding, staffing, systems - to enable on-going fundraising, data and donor relationship management. The Compasspoint survey noted that “Many nonprofit organizations lack basic fundraising systems and plans. More than one in five nonprofits (23%)—and 31% of organizations with operating budgets of under $1 million—have no fundraising plan in place.”

2. Take leaders from “well-connected” to “well-equipped”

Leaders - whether salaried ED’s or elected board chairmen - are chosen for a number of attributes, such as being:

  • well-known
  • well-connected
  • well respected in their field or community

But they may not be well trained or experienced in fundraising. If that is the case, organizations should:

  • Set clear expectations - for all staff and/or volunteers so they understand their role in fundraising for the organization.
  • Offer training for senior leaders to fill in the gaps in their fundraising expertise and understanding
  • Consider establishing a mentor program where experienced fundraising staff, board or former board members can take newbies through the process until they are confident

3. Identify alternatives to “making the ask”

In a recent Movie Monday video (episode #267), Vanessa Chase (thestorytellingnonprofit.com) suggests that it’s important to let Presidents or Board members who are terrified to ask people for money know that there are other fundraising roles they can play. For example, becoming an “advocate or ambassador” instead of an “asker”.

Chase suggests that board members can offer a personal testimony about “what drives their passion for this cause” and "motivates their deep investment in the organization and its work”. By offering this natural and compelling story, board members will inspire others to give and support the organization.

To establish a “culture of storytelling”, Chase suggests you consider starting each board meeting with a story from a board or staff member about why they are passionate about coming to work, projects or meetings and how they feel part of helping the organization meet its mission.

4. Keep the team focused on the prize

As Joe Garecht suggests, “It’s time for charities to be proud to ask for money, because more money means they can do more good.”

Develop a “culture of philanthropy” across the organization so all involved - from the president or ED down, “embrace and prioritize fundraising at your organization.”


Image source:  Very important high priority stamp - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 19 February 2014 at 8:30 AM
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