The Founder and the Fundraiser

One of the most interesting and challenging relationships in a nonprofit organization is the relationship between the organization’s founder and the financial resource development (FRD) professional. The CEO-founder is the creator of the organization, the one who “gave birth” to the agency that strives to improve the lives of others; the fundraiser’s role is to market and sell both the concept that guides the organization and the services it is providing or hopes to provide to the community. One would think that these two roles would be entirely complementary and that the two professionals would work together without a problem. Unfortunately, that is often not the case.

Founders were and continue to be the creative spirit of the organization. These are the people who have both the idea and the commitment to make it a reality. Often a combination of vision, passion, commitment, and professionalism guides them through the initial steps that made it possible to open the organization’s doors.

There is no one more committed to their organizations than their founders, and when they are able to successfully implement their vision, their relationship to their agency can almost feel like a parent-child relationship. Founders tend to believe they are the only ones who can guarantee the continued functioning of the organization; they tend to doubt that anyone can represent the organization as well as they can to the community and to their supporters. That is why founders often have difficulty working cooperatively and in coordination with FRD professionals in their organizations.

Generally founders have worked very hard to cultivate a core group of dedicated and devoted contributors with whom they feel a close connection; they will often reflect on the personal nature of the relationship they have with these people. Over time these donors have provided a great deal of support for the organization, and they may even have a sense that they are as connected to it as the founder. As the organization has grown and developed, one or more FRD professionals may have had some contact with these supporters, but it may only be an informal, superficial relationship based on meeting at social events.

Many founders meet with these major supporters and deepen their special connection without involving the FRD professional. Throughout the year they will make a special effort to meet these supporters both informally – over coffee or drinks – and formally, at scheduled meetings to solicit their continued financial contribution to the organization. It is not uncommon for the founders to conduct these meetings without the FRD professional being present, and when they make a new connection with a prospective donor, the founders often do not invite the FRD professional to join the meeting.

Often one hears a founder justifying the exclusion of the FRD professional by saying to him or her, “I have a special relationship with this person and it is not necessary for you to join me.” When a continuing donor makes a new connection for the agency, the FRD professional might be told, “Mr. X. opened the door for me with Mr. Y., and I do not think it would be appropriate for you to join us in the meeting. It is going to be my first connection with him and I will know how to approach him.”

Many CEO-founders have been accustomed to “going it alone” and feel very comfortable and confident that this is the best way to approach their fundraising efforts. However, a very big price is paid for their handling these cultivations and solicitations of donors on their own, especially in the case of national and international organizations. By being left on the sidelines, the FRD professional is unable to follow up with these people or to expand the sphere of philanthropic influence among potential donors.

Ideally there should be a partnership between the CEO-founder and the FRD professional. The professional should accompany the founder to meetings with prospective donors and donors. In this team approach the donors’ respect, belief, and trust in the founder are continually reinforced by contact with the FRD professional.

By working as a team, the FRD professional is in a position to follow up with donors – maintaining contact, planning for their visits to the organization, and deepening the relationship between them. This connection does not take the place of the donor’s relationship with the founder, but rather expands and deepens the contributor’s involvement, dedication, and commitment to the organization. The FRD professional should be one who specializes in these kinds of personal connections and can always turn to the founder when it is important for him or her to have a conversation or meeting with the donor.

The effective use of the FRD professional can blaze the trail to financial sustainability. By holding on to the primary responsibility for fundraising, founders find themselves overburdened and overworked while trying to fulfill an impossible role. Spreading the responsibility for donor relations within the staff of the agency frees up the founder to continue to develop new relationships and not have to maintain all these connections alone.

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.