Whose Responsibility is Fundraising Anyway?

In the non-profit organization who is responsible for raising funds? The real answer is everyone affiliated with the organization. You may ask, what does this mean? Is this just a flippant response so that everyone is included and they have to do something to support the organization? Does everyone really have a responsibility for the financial resource development of the non-profit organization? Is there really a meaningful role for everyone? If there is something for everyone to do then what does this mean in the everyday operations of the agency?

These are familiar questions to most of us who have been or are responsible for insuring the operations of voluntary organizations. We are concerned about the financial stability and the ongoing cash flow of the organization. It is apparent to all that if there are insufficient funds to meet the monthly expenses the organization will have to curtail programs, cut back staff, and suspend plans for further developing services to the community. Ultimately this means the organization will not be able to fulfill its mandate to provide its recipients with the requested and needed services.

Well run organizations providing educational, cultural, recreational, health and social services, among others, usually plan for an annual fundraising campaign and other events during the year to increase their financial resources. In addition to these specific activities agency volunteer leaders and staff have many opportunities to cultivate potential donors and to interest people in supporting the services provided by the organization. More often than not, we are not aware of all the possibilities we have to reach out to others and to encourage them to provide financial support for the services they value and in many cases have actually been a recipient or participant in the agency’s programs.

Every staff person has a role in fundraising for the organization and this includes all administrative staff as well as the professionals who deliver the services to the clients. What this really means? Let’s start with the receptionist in an organization. Often people will judge the organization on how someone answers the phone or responds to an initial request when they walk in the door of the agency. When someone responds in a friendly, “how can I help you” way, this says a great deal. When someone answers the phone and tries to direct the call to the appropriate person with patience this makes a lasting impression. These are the kinds of responses that encourage people to want to support an organization.

Several weeks ago I called an organization for a client who wanted to make a donation and I could not be directed to the appropriate person who handled donations. The receptionist acted like I was disturbing her and it was not her job to deal with people who wanted to make a contribution. Since I am not either a timid or bashful person and I persisted in my quest to find the right person I was finally given the cell phone number of a staff person who was  responsible for working with donors. When I finally reached a pleasant young man he politely told me he does not deal directly with contributors and he gave me the phone number of another staff person and suggested I call this third person. Thus, it took me three conversations to find the appropriate person who was willing to process a contribution.

I would like to tell you that this is an extraordinary situation, but unfortunately I cannot say it is not unusual. Too many organizations assume staff members know how to respond to people who call for information or contact the agency directly to make a contribution. Administrative staff members are not necessarily adequately trained to understand the importance of their initial contact with people who want to give a donation. There is a need for all staff to be sensitive to the importance of initial phone contacts with potential donors. Actually one never knows what direction a phone call is going to take, and each and every conversation has to be treated as if it is going to be with someone who wants to support the organization.

Initial responses often set the tone for the potential contributor and the first few minutes can determine how enthusiastic someone will be about contributing to the organization. When a person does not feel they are being received warmly and there is not a sense of “I really want to help you”, then this can lead someone to reconsider whether they want any kind of ongoing relationship with the organization. No one wants to risk the loss of a donation because the phone was not answered in the right way or the receptionist did not respond appropriately to someone who walked in and wanted more information about the agency’s services.

The first step is to realize every that staff member is involved in fundraising and the second step is to act accordingly. Every contact with people in the community has the potential of leading to a significant gift that can make a difference. Resource development is not limited to the annual campaign or to the special fundraising events. Everyone is part of the effort to strengthen the financial sustainability of the non-profit organization.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.