A young fundraiser in a new job recently told me that he has been calling donors to introduce himself. “They don’t want to talk to me,” he said sadly. “They want to talk to program staff or the executive director.”
I wanted to encourage him, but there was a sliver of truth in his discouragement. It is more gratifying for a donor to get the attention of a frontline worker or a leader than the development staff. On the other hand, throughout my fundraising career I have solicited many five- and six-figure gifts as the sole representative for the organization.
So who are we? Are we empowered ambassadors, or simply facilitators working behind the scenes? The most effective fundraisers occupy both ends of the spectrum, and many nuances in between.
As with most fundraising questions, the solution can be found by scanning the list of top donors and prospects.
Ideally, the executive director and several board members and program leaders each has a portfolio of donors and prospects. As a fundraiser, in your “back office support” role, you can support these relationships by prompting the lead contact when it time for a visit, drafting talking points for the meeting, and setting up the meeting, writing letters, keeping the database current with notes from the conversation. You might or might not attend the meeting as a sidekick, to make sure the conversation stays on track.
If key staff and board members at your organization do not believe that keeping in touch with donors is their responsibility, you might have to do some upward management and training.
Ideally, also, you have your own portfolio of donors, for whom you are the lead contact. Introducing those donors to key people at the organization might be part of the cultivation, but you are the primary face of the organization to that donor.
Top-notch fundraisers are flexible. They allocate the scarce time of their colleagues where it will have the biggest impact. And they allocate their own, perhaps slightly less scarce, time to fill in the gaps. Here is the answer to my young colleague: some donors will be delighted to talk with you. Celebrate what you can accomplish through those relationships. And, yes, with some donors your role will be behind the scenes. Celebrate the work you can do in that role, as well.
Paul Jolly is the founder of Jump Start Growth, Inc., and, as of March 2016, major gifts officer for Earthworks. His clients include advocacy and religious organizations, social services, community arts, and education nonprofits.