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Are your fundraisers tied in “nots”? Here are 3 tips to loosen them

Written by Jess Koscher

Jess has worked in the nonprofit field for 25 years. She has had responsibilities in organizational management and strategy, donor development, marketing, event planning and program design.

September 27, 2019

I am a fundraiser… it’s in my blood. I was the kid who couldn’t wait to participate in the school fundraiser in middle school. I lived out in the country where a block was 4 miles and houses were sprinkled around. I pounded the pavement and approached everyone I knew and some I didn’t. I won the top fundraiser for my grade and came in 2nd for the school only to lose every year to one guy who’s family owned a popular local business and was grade ahead of me. I love raising money… and yet I’m not raising funds anymore.

In August, the Chronicle of Philanthropy released a study on the profession of fundraising. They found that fundraisers are fed up. In fact, they report that 51% are planning to leave their current organization in the next two years and 30% say they will leave the field.

For nonprofits, this is a problem. But with a few tweaks, you can change this for your development staff. (Keep reading for my 3 tips to help loosen those “nots.”)

We development people are a quirky breed. We hone a craft that every person in society thinks they too can do. I can’t count the number of times when I’ve told someone I was a fundraiser and they told me about the bake sale or car wash they did that brought in money for a charity. While their efforts and work are great, this highlights one of the biggest challenges in the development field. Fundraising is a science and a craft. It takes a professional who is a statistician, storyteller, and socially savvy to be successful in this field.

We are also a group of people who are passionate about the organizations for which we raise money. It is insulting to us when organizations think we are simply hired guns who will produce buckets full of money. In fact, 93% of fundraisers say they can only work for a nonprofit when they have a strong belief in its mission — even though we admit the actual job is similar no matter the organization.

The truth is: organizations need fundraisers. They need an individual or even better a team of individuals who are dedicated to sharing with donors the organization’s work. It is time for nonprofits to work on their relationships with their fundraisers and reevaluate how development is performed in their organizations.

Here are three areas that may be tying your fundraisers in “nots”

Your Fundraiser is Not a Lone Wolf

Sure you’ve hired the perfect development person… but development is not plug and play device. The best development results happen when everyone has a part in fundraising. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that your very busy program person is out hitting the streets trying to find new donors. However, making sure that all program people understand the financial needs of their program and have some metrics in their pockets to rely on when someone asks is essential. So many times, people in the field have conversations with the public about the work they do. They often are passionate and share the mission and vision of their work. However, they freeze or avoid any conversations around giving. When Write Connections | strategy & design works with our clients, we work with the entire staff to understand a few simple ways to begin a development conversation. For example, simply saying, “our program cost $40 a day for each of the kids here and if you know of anyone who would be interested in sponsoring someone for the program…”

There Is Not a Money Tree in the Backyard

…and if there was, you’ve picked it dry. Seventy percent of fundraisers say their charity’s fundraising goals are unreasonable. I’ve personally experienced this in my career. When you are a fundraiser, CEOs and boards expect you to create magic and in some cases demand it. If you are guilty of this behavior… stop it. Working with your fundraiser (see a theme here?) will yield better results. As fundraisers we look at numbers and history of donations in which we make projections on the amounts that can be raises. Talking to us and discussing a reasonable goal for the annual campaign will yield results that you’re both happy with. Creating an open relationship with your development team will create trust and in the end they will kill for you and buckets of money will show up at your door. At Write Connections | strategy + design, we help our clients create realistic development plans and work with development teams in data mining to uncover donor trends, churn and areas of potential.

Your Fundraiser is Not a Machine

Fifty-five percent of fundraisers report they “often feel unappreciated” in their work and 30% are dissatisfied with the level of recognition for their accomplishments. One time, I had a large gift come in from a donor who I had cultivated for several years who gave a new gift to a new organization I had just started working for. Later I heard the CEO tell someone the donor gave because they saw the new electronic sign in our yard. While this is the oddest example of my career, this happens often. Development people are out hustling every day, planting seeds and cultivating donors. When a gift comes in it is usually due to their work and yet often they are not recognized for the donation. Please know, I’m not suggesting a big giant hug and commotion, but simply a professional “thank you for your work, I appreciate how hard you’re working for us” will do.

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