In 15 years working as a fundraiser in charities large and small, the greatest challenges on most occasions were not: the economy, donor apathy, difficulty finding and retaining good staff or an emotive cause to tell donors about. No, the most common and energy sapping challenge is gaining and retaining the co-operation of colleagues in other departments, senior management and trustees.
Don’t complain – get buy-in
Without emotional buy-in and practical commitment to fundraising from colleagues and volunteers, the fundraisers will always be working with one hand tied. The hurdles can take many shapes. They might include a lack of understanding or disinterest in donor’s needs, to low levels of co-operation when trying to get ‘raw material’ for your case for support. The most difficult to overcome is a wobbly or non-existent business plan, leaving you with no foundation for your case to donor ‘investors’.
I am not here to give fundraisers licence to complain to colleagues. Ultimately you must work with what you can get. But fundraisers must express their professional needs (the tools you require to get the job done), firmly and constructively. Time dedicated to creating an environment that is more friendly to fundraising, is time very well spent.
Let’s look at some of the reasons for this strife and some possible solutions.
A misunderstanding of what fundraising truly is
Like a lot of fundraisers, I used to see myself as Robin Hood. Taking from the rich and giving to the needy. This is entirely wrong. A fundraiser’s skill is in what they can GIVE to a donor, not what cash they can take (see recommended reading below). Alternatively, non-fundraising colleagues may see fundraising in a Dickensian vein; fundraiser as Oliver Twist with a Begging Bowl. This view is even more damaging, as it describes a one-way process in which the person asking is totally lacking in power. Who wants to be a beggar? Too many charity staff view fundraising as a necessary evil, like having to call the plumber in to unblock a toilet! No, no, no! Fundraising is at the very heart of this thing we call ‘charity’. It’s about making a precious connection between those with a need (beneficiary) and those with the means to meet that need (the donor). It’s a fundraiser’s responsibly to promote this healthier and more accurate picture. There is no quick fix, but a fun and engaging fundraising induction process, for all staff and volunteers is a great place to start.
Lack of professional respect
Within the voluntary sector, there are two kinds of professionals. Those that work directly with service users / carrying out charitable purposes (social worker, scientist, teacher etc) and those who do a job in support of that first group (accountant, fundraiser, IT worker etc). Almost without exception, the first category are looked on as ‘heroes’ within the charity (no problem with that!). However, ‘support staff’ are too often taken for granted, or in the worst case, seen as a terrible ‘drain’ on income. This is nonsense. Of course overhead must be justifiable, but each half depends on the other to get results. Like two blades of a pair of scissors or two wings on a plane. Fundraisers should lead the way in advocating for mutual respect across the departments, seeking to influence senior management and trustee behaviour in this area. Creating ‘buddy’ links between teams can be an effective way to build respect and co-operation.
Lack of commitment at senior level
If the first two factors exist, chances are that this third factor is in play too. It may be the cause or symptom. Either way, if your chair of trustees and CEO do not have much time or interest in the fundraising function, it will struggle to perform. I say ‘function’ rather than fundraising. All CEOs and trustees are interesting in fundraising performance. Fewer, however, want to get involved in the process.
But involvement is essential. This is because fundraising is very much a team sport. To mix metaphors, there are certain ‘roles’ that have to be played by non-fundraising people. For example, a wealthy donor is going to want to meet the organ-grinder (not the monkey). There are few things more painful, for a fundraiser, that sitting alongside a bored CEO, across the table from a keen major donor prospect.
Then there is the budget round. Enthusiasm for and commitment to fundraising (in the good times and bad times) is essential to get the long-range investment needed to grow income, on a sustainable basis. To use a biblical phase, one should not “muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain”. Or to put it another way, it’s illogical and wrong to send the team that raise most (or all) of the money to the back of the queue, when resources are being distributed.
In terms of solutions, for those leaders that are not naturally enamoured by the prospect of going out into the world to ask for financial support, my advice is to appeal to issues closer to their heart. Make the connection between fundraising’s success and their pet interest.
As a consultant, I’ve worked with dozens of charities, varying hugely in size and cause, but one constant remains. Those charities in which fundraising is valued as a professional skill-set and colleagues are well informed and co-operative, succeed. Learn to love fundraising and it becomes the charity’s heartbeat.
Some recommended further reading:
- ‘Relationshift’ Revolutionary Fundraising’ by by Michael Bassoff, Steve Chandler (Robert Reed Publishers) 2010. Simply the best book for debunking damaging fundraising Myths.
- ‘The Porcupine Principle’ by Jonathan Farnhill (pub. DCS) – Equally insightful and entertaining. Clearly explains fundraising’s role in the big picture.