Years ago, I was hired to lead an all-staff fundraising workshop for a mid-sized nonprofit.
When I walked into the training room, about a dozen people were waiting for me: arms crossed, eyes down, sideways smirks. This was a “mandatory training opportunity” for program staff. None of them had the words “fundraising” or “development” their job descriptions.
The good news: this very entrepreneurial organization relied heavily on program fees and had a large customer base.
The bad news: because they were so fee-based, seeking voluntary donations from their customers (or other people) was considered submissive, begging behavior.
The Hook: Who Wants a Raise?
I looked around the room and took a deep breath. “How many of you would like a raise?”
They giggled. A few hands went up.
“How about better benefits? More vacation time or comp time?” More hands.
“Who would like professional development opportunities so you can do your job better?” Even more hands.
“Well,” I said, “I’m your new best friend. Because if you raise more unrestricted money from donations, some of that can filter back to you in the form of benefits, year-end bonuses, and professional training.”
In trainer parlance, these opening questions are known as the “hook.” The people in that room were hooked. For the next three hours, they fully engaged and came up with several useful, practical fundraising ideas they are now implementing (see below).
Escaping the Fundraising Ghetto
Before starting a consulting practice, I worked for fifteen years as development staff for several grassroots organizations. In a couple of instances, I was the sole fundraiser: creating the calendar, preparing grant proposals and funder reports, organizing events and mailings and phone banks, meeting with donors, sending thank you letters, etc., etc.
I had primary responsibility for raising the money; everyone else spent it. Some days I felt like I was working in the fundraising ghetto while everyone else romped free.
My biggest mistake was trying to do everything myself. I devoted far too little time enlisting my colleagues and building their capacity to help us raise money effectively. If I was confined to the ghetto, well, I had constructed those walls myself.
Train Your Co-Workers to Help
Yes, you can train your co-workers.
Your first step is to redefine fundraising. You may already know the secret: fundraising isn’t about money, it’s about relationships.
Very few of your non-fundraising staff colleagues will ultimately solicit gifts, but nearly all can help in other ways. They can identify prospects, look for ways to engage those prospects, thank donors after they give, create involvement opportunities for your supporters, and so forth.
Here’s a great exercise, the Cycle of Fundraising, that you can use to enlist everyone’s help in strengthening donor relations. It’s guaranteed to help your co-workers think differently about fundraising, and how they can participate without adding much to their workload.
Co-Workers Add New Perspective
In the staff training described above, the non-fundraisers came up with several creative ideas. Here are some ideas they suggested.
• Add a “donate now” button to the signature of every email – across the organization, they send thousands of emails each week
• Offer weekly office tours to their out-of-town customers and visitors
• Be transparent about their business model: letting customers know that program fees cover only a percentage of the budget, and the balance is raised from voluntary donations
• Ask all vendors for gifts (this was suggested by the accounting department)
Build Your Team. Raise More Money.
Fundraising is a team sport. The more people involved, the more money you raise.
So while you’re working to engage your board, don’t leave the staff behind. They can help, too.