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Unleashing Organizational Possibilities, Part Two: Build a Team

The first post in this five part series, "Unleashing Organizational Possibilities, Part One: The Big Idea at the Beginning of Serious Fundraising," talked about the impact of one person with a big idea at the non profit. That person who has a sense of adventure starts asking questions (Isn’t there a more stable route to funding than foundation grants? Why aren’t our board members introducing us to their networks? Is there a more efficient way to raise money than putting on a gala every year?). Suddenly, new possibilities become possible.

But one person can’t make it happen alone. It is important to emphasize this, because non-profiteers are often over-conscientious, idealistic people who want to do the right thing regardless of whether it is possible or not. And in many non profits, “fundraiser” means “the person who raises the funds.” If “raising the funds” means writing grant proposals, organizing events, sending appeal letters, and coordinating online campaigns, then, yes, the development person can do it, mostly alone. As soon as you start talking about getting large gifts from individuals, however, “fundraising” means coordinating/facilitating/enabling/empowering fundraising, not doing it.

Now, with a commitment to major gifts, the board and executive directors have different roles in fundraising. Program staff need to be involved. This organization-wide transformation is one of the biggest reasons that many organizations stall between recognizing “We could get big gifts from individuals” and the creation of a major gifts program. Fundraisers, repeat after me: “I will not try to do it alone. I will master the subtle arts of upwards and sideways management.”

Here are some scenarios where people outside the development office give the transformation a necessary nudge:

Program staff: At one organization that was entirely funded by government grants and fees, the senior program staff brainstormed “How could we better serve our clients if we had funds that were not restricted?” They came up with a wishlist, which, six months later, formed the backbone of an expansion campaign.

Board members: At one organization “we are not a fundraising board” was voiced by board members so broadly that you might have thought it was in written their orientation packet. But a few new board members -- and a few reinvigorated long time board members -- ignored the status quo. Each of them volunteered to manage a portfolio of high-capacity donors. They invite the donors personally to events, call to thank them for their support, and introduce them to the executive director. These trail-blazers promised to invite the rest of the board to do the same, after they had some successes under their belts.

This video shows how one smart fundraiser empowered her board to get involved in fundraising simply by taking a few minutes at each board meeting to celebrate their commitments.

An adventurous donor: Most donors are cautious about a new initiative. They want to see some traction before they will invest, and they want to know who else is committed. But sometimes you will be lucky enough to run across a donor who is willing to create new possibilities. One organization, celebrating its 40th anniversary, wanted to encourage its donors to consider bequests. A forward-thinking donor agreed to give $1,000 right now every time someone else declared a bequest commitment (or signed over a life insurance policy or retirement assets). The genius of this is that it creates immediacy for donors to do something that is inherently subject to procrastination.

These things happened only because the fundraiser was working behind the scenes with a very clear plan. None of them would have happened if the fundraiser had been relegated to his or her cubicle with a stack of grant proposals due next week. So go forth and facilitate!

Paul Jolly Paul Jolly

The preceding is part 2 of a 5 part series, “Unleashing Organizational Possibilities” by regular guest post contributor Paul Jolly, founder of Jump Start Growth, Inc. Paul worked as a fund raising professional for over 20 years before starting the consulting firm Jump Start Growth. He began his career serving various Quaker institutions, then moved to The Wilderness Society, and then the American Civil Liberties Union. In every instance, he has zeroed in on gifts from individuals at the top of the giving pyramid. The focus of Paul’s consulting work is bringing sophisticated major gifts fund raising practices to organizations that are outside of the philanthropic mainstream. His successes include leading three capital campaigns for organizations new to major gifts fund raising, securing millions of dollars in bequest and planned gift commitments, and bringing new life and laser-sharp focus to disheartened development departments.

Topics: Fundraising