More often than not, there’s a gap at organizations between the people on the program side and the people on the fundraising side. For some nonprofits, it’s a slight division. For others, it’s a gaping chasm.
This is problematic on many levels…
It prevents relationships and connection among folks working on the same mission. It makes collaboration more challenging. It weakens your fundraising, which means less money for your programs. I could go on but you get the idea.
Meanwhile, a culture of fundraising helps counteract these dynamics.
So, what is a culture of fundraising? Good question!
In my view, a culture of fundraising looks like this…
- Everyone at the organization respects and values donors as allies and not just for the donations they make.
- Fundraising is seen as noble and honorable work, not a necessary evil. And it’s talked about respectfully, not as “hitting people up,” “twisting their arms,” “begging,” or countless other unfortunate expressions.
- Staff and board members understand they all have a role to play in fundraising and embrace that role.
Now, this may sound like fantasy land from where you’re sitting today. But it is possible!
Here are some tips and strategies for how to start…
- Begin at the top. The next time you meet with your supervisor, ask them their thoughts on a culture of fundraising. Or share this blog post and say you’d like to talk about it at your next check-in. Realistically, you’ll have a hard time shifting the culture of an organization without buy-in from some senior people. Aim to build a core group of allies in leadership positions to talk about the organization’s fundraising culture and how it might be improved.
- Build relationships with your coworkers outside the development department. Learn about them, their passions, and why they do the work they do. Ask what’s hard about their job and find out what their stressors are. Get a sense of what “a day in the life” looks like. In turn, talk about what an average day or week looks like for you. And share your passions and frustrations with them. If you have authentic relationships with folks and truly care about your coworkers, you’ll both better understand how you can support each other and ask for help when needed. These connections will also enable you to act on some of my other recommendations below.
- Communicate with the whole staff about fundraising (or, if your staff is too large for that to be manageable, approach specific departments). Start by helping them rethink and redefine fundraising. People often hear the “F” word and jump to the part about asking for money. Undoing this is critical. Talk about the countless tasks that are part of fundraising that having nothing to do with asking for money. Over time, you can gradually move people away from seeing fundraising as only about solicitation.
- Break the taboo around talking about money. The cultural norm in the United States around not talking about money is part of what makes fundraising so unappealing to many people. That’s why it’s critical to talk with anyone new to fundraising about these societal taboos. They are very real. Discuss where they come from and how these ideas compare with the experience of folks in your group. Ask about people’s first associations and earliest memories of money and share yours. Based on the culture of your organization, you’ll have to think about how personal you want to get with this conversation. Obviously, you want to respect people’s limits and boundaries, as well as your own.
- Share financial statements with the full staff and teach people how to read them. By not talking openly about organizational finances, we are colluding with the same system that makes money a societal taboo not to be discussed. Make your budget a public document. Share financial statements and help people understand how to read them. Tell folks where you get the money to pay for the work your organization does and how it’s raised. Make all of this part of orientation for new staff.
- Share donor stories, inspiration, and success. The next time you meet a supporter and hear an inspiring story or get a meeting you’ve been working on for a while, share it. Most organizations announce big donations coming in, which is well worth celebrating! But can you take it one step farther? Is there a story you could share about that donor and why they were inspired to give? This will help staff see donors are real human beings they can relate to. And beyond donations, what else can you celebrate that might brighten someone’s day?
- Create a list of the top five or top ten things people could do to help with fundraising. This could include things like writing “thank you” notes to donors or hand-addressing envelopes for the next mailing. It might be emailing you their most compelling client story at the end of each week. Just don’t have anything on your list involve directly asking for money! It’s fine if one of your options is to come on a donor meeting to talk about their program and then sit there quietly while you ask for a donation. But don’t even hint at asking for gifts. Maybe later, but not at the start.
- Spend time in the field with program staff regularly. I’m sure you’ve already got more work than you can handle, but one of the best things you can do to build a culture of fundraising is to spend time each week (or every other week, or even monthly) working side by side with program staff. They’ll appreciate the help and your time “on the ground” will boost your fundraising success. You’ll continually have new stories to share, you’ll strengthen your connection to the mission, and you’ll empathize with the work your program colleagues are doing day in and day out.
Easy peasy, right? 🙂