Over the years, I have had variations on the same conversation with directors and board members of nonprofit organizations about the role of the fundraiser. Certainly, fundraisers are hired to raise funds for the nonprofit. However, both fundraising consultants and staff members play an important role that goes beyond just the amount of money they bring into the organization.
I know it may sound strange to discuss the added value of a fundraiser beyond fundraising, but the agency is short changing itself if it looks only at the amount of money brought into the agency during the year. A professional fundraiser can impact the entire organization and it all depends on the way they perceive their position and on the expectations by the chief executive officer (CEO).
Ideally, the process should begin with the initial discussion with the consultant or the fundraising professional. Prior to engaging someone to focus on increasing the financial resources of the nonprofit, it is essential to discuss the scope of the position. It should be clear that the primary focus is in increasing the contributions for projects, programs or capital (building and equipment) development. In most cases it is best to have a goal for the fundraising effort. For example, if it is a physical project then there should be a detailed budget detailing the anticipated costs and providing for an endowment fund for the maintenance of the building.
The goal can be set prior to the fundraiser joining the organization, however, there are times when the CEO will assign the fundraiser to work with the agency’s staff to develop a budget that will be used to set the goal for the campaign. This depends both upon the timing of when the consultant brought on board and how the fundraiser’s role is conceived within the context of the organization. In general, I advocate for utilizing the fundraiser/fundraising consultant in the broadest possible way. That is why I would always try to involve the fundraiser from the earliest possible stages of the development process. Every attempt should be made to positively exploit the person’s skills and abilities in planning and in implementing not only the campaign, but in defining the role of the agency’s staff in both activities.
A trained professional with relevant experience can enhance the way the organization gears itself up for a fundraising effort. As such, it is important that all the staff be involved in the process. (Please see Whose Responsibility Is Fundraising Anyway?) The fundraiser is the one to train the entire staff and assist them in feeling comfortable in joining the fundraising effort. All too often professionals in an organization say, “That’s the fundraisers job.” This comment is indicative of a lack in their understanding of resource development and of building a sustainable fundraising campaign.
The fundraiser on staff should be given the responsibility for providing his colleagues with a meaningful in-service training experience. This process not only sensitizes the other staff members to the purpose and focus of the fundraising efforts, but also engages them in the fundraising process. There are many opportunities for staff members to engage with potential donors and it is a matter of responding to someone at the right moment and using effective communication with them.
Sometimes fundraising may simply be a matter of responding to a client, member or other recipient of an organization’s services who shares how thrilled they are with their experience with the organization or, on the opposite end, who is complaining about not receiving the response from the agency that they needed. In either case, there is always the opportunity to engage someone and to leave them with the feeling that they have been heard and that their comments and sentiments are important to the organization. The professional fundraiser can work with the staff so they are prepared to respond in a variety of situations.
Staff members are not always comfortable engaging with donors and potential donors about their support of the organization. More often than not it is a matter of their knowing what is expected of them in these situations and how they can fulfill those expectations. The professional fundraiser/fundraising consultant can work on educating and training the staff so they feel more comfortable with themselves in having conversations and discussions with donors.
For example, let’s say a teacher at a Jewish Day School is having a discussion with a parent and the parent expresses their satisfaction with a particular program. The teachers knows that support for the program is waning, and at an appropriate moment the teacher could suggest that the parent may want to consider funding the program so that it will not be phased out. I am not suggesting that all teachers should be fundraisers, however, in an appropriate situation the right word from a teacher could motivate a parent to provide needed support.
If the teacher did not feel comfortable suggesting the parent donate to the school, he could always say, “I know there has been a great deal of concern for continuing this program. You might want to speak with Ms. Fundraiser who is working on securing the necessary resources so the program will not be phased out.” The key point is that the teacher, as a staff member in the school, shares in the responsibility to work on the financial sustainability of the institution.
When the fundraiser has worked with the staff as well as donors then the process of securing the nonprofit’s sustainability will be easier to attain. When the entire staff conceives of themselves as part of the “fundraising team” then they can coordinate their efforts and communicate a strong message to donors and supporters. This planned and purposeful process will simultaneously strengthen the staff, the donors and ultimately, the organization.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening nonprofit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.