Fund Times

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Turning Your Fundraiser’s Frown Upside Down July 9, 2012

Filed under: capacity,nonprofit leadership,strategic fundraising — fundtimes @ 7:02 pm

In the March 2012 edition of Fund Times, I offered some quick tips on how to assess your organization’s capacity to fundraise, specifically related to human capital.  But once you’ve figured out your staffing requirements, how do you retain high-quality development folks?

According to a recent blog post in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the cost for nonprofits experiencing high turnover amongst development staff is incredibly high.  For example, the average amount of time that a fundraiser stays on the job is 16 months and the overall costs (both direct and indirect) of finding a high-quality replacement is $127,650.  Given the average salary for a fundraising team hovers somewhere between $110,000 and $125,000, the cost of development turnover is not to be taken lightly.

So how do you avoid fundraiser turnover?  Below are a few “do’s and don’ts” to help you maximize job satisfaction for your ever-essential fundraising staff.

  • Do: Clarify Roles – There’s nothing more frustrating for a fundraiser than to not know the extent of their job responsibilities.  Are they solely responsible for contacting potential donors or will the executive director share in this strategy?  Will fundraising staff be required to attend foundation meetings alone or will board members and/or program staff be involved?  As you may already know, fundraising is a true team effort so clarifying the role of your development team early on helps them to understand how best to rally their co-workers in raising much-needed funds.
  • Don’t: Undermine Fundraising Staff –  Since fundraising is a team effort, it’s important to support your development team in their endeavors.  From rallying staff to help stuff envelopes for your annual direct mail appeal to emphasizing to your program/accounting team the timeliness of getting required materials to development (e.g., project updates and monthly financial reports), having vocalized support from the executive director is critical to reducing a culture of departmental silos when it comes to fundraising.  After all, fundraisers are tasked with raising the very salaries of staff anyway so it pays (literally) to have a culture of “all hands on deck” ;).
  • Do: Show Your Appreciation – Contrary to popular belief, nonprofit employees appreciate a bit of praise every now and then.  Yes, those in the charitable sector are often there because they feel a personal connection to helping those in need, but this does not give leadership carte blanche to forego a fist bump every now and then, especially with fundraisers.  Raising money is a stressful task to begin with so telling your fundraising staff how much you appreciate their work will likely go a long way in fueling job satisfaction.
  • Don’t: Skimp on Professional Development – As a self-professed overacheiver myself, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the importance of encouraging your fundraising staff to pursue additional training in other revenue generating strategies.  Local organizations like The Foundation Center, Maryland Nonprofits, and the Center for Nonprofit Advancement provide a wealth of both free and discounted classes related to fund development.  Membership organizations like the Association of Fundraising Professionals also offer peer networks for your development staff to both share and gather best-practice techniques on the art of fundraising.  Indeed, investing in your current fundraising staff will certainly prove to be much cheaper than having to hire new people.

What are your thoughts on how best to retain your fundraising staff?  Are you finding it harder or easier to keep your development folks in this economy?


To Hire or Contract? That Is the Question March 6, 2012

Filed under: capacity,nonprofit leadership,strategic fundraising — fundtimes @ 2:26 pm

If you’re like most nonprofit leaders, you are truly passionate about the work that you do. You wholeheartedly believe in your organization’s mission.  You are even committed to ensuring that your nonprofit is able to meet the various needs of its constituency, both now and in the long run.  If only you didn’t have to fundraise. 

Don’t worry; you’re not alone.  According to the national study, Ready to Lead?: Next Generation Leaders Speak Out, the number one reason that emerging professionals gave for not wanting to become an executive director is having to fundraise.  When respondents were asked to expound on this, the fear of fundraising was not about an unwillingness to raise money per se.  Rather, it was the idea that they wouldn’t be successful in raising much-needed funds.

If you’re among this group of nonprofit leaders, what should you do?  Does it make sense to hire someone full-time to oversee the organization’s fundraising duties or contract with a consultant in the short-term?  While it’s true that you’ll never be free of the wonderful world of fundraising since you are your nonprofit’s main spokesperson, the answer to this question depends on a variety of factors.  Below are a few tips to consider in how best to pass the proverbial buck (see what I just did there?):

  • Assess Overall Need.  Before you make any sudden moves, first consider what you hope to achieve by increasing your fundraising capacity.  Do you need help in mapping out your fundraising activities for the year or do you want to hand off the majority of fundraising responsibilities to another person?  If you hire a full-time staff member, this person will primarily oversee and implement your organization’s fundraising activities; keeping you abreast of benchmarks of course.  On the other hand, if you decide to hire a consultant, he or she can provide guidance on best practice fundraising strategies and even strengthen (or create) fundraising tools for you to use (e.g., grant proposal templates, strengthen content on online donation page, etc.).
  • Review Organizational Budget.  Another indicator to consider is your organizational budget.  Is your nonprofit ready to support another full-time staff member complete with competitive benefits?  According to data from Professionals for Nonprofits’ 2010 Salary Survey, the average salary range for a development director in Washington, D.C. is $70,000-$80,000 per year ($40,000-$45,000 for a development associate).  If you have room in your budget to hire another person, go for it (our economy needs you for goodness sake).  If not, then you might consider contracting with a fundraising consultant for a short period of time to help you map out and/or implement some key fundraising activities to alleviate the burden.

Now it’s your turn.  Have you ever contemplated hiring a full-time development person versus a fundraising consultant?  What did you ultimately do and why?


Leadership Matters in Giving December 6, 2010

Filed under: foundations,individual donors,nonprofit leadership — fundtimes @ 2:57 pm

How important is the quality of leadership when deciding on which nonprofit to donate to? This might seem like an odd question given more seemingly important attributes like mission, impact and financial management.  But would you give to an organization where the leadership acted contrary to ideals of social justice?

I’ve come in contact with a lot of nonprofit leaders over the course of my 10 years of service.  If I’m to be frank (as opposed to tamar), I would say that my impression of those leading hasn’t been that great.  I have witnessed huge contradictions in the mission of an organization and how leadership treats its staff.  I’ve seen the same inequities that an organization strives to eradicate be reflected in its very structure.  And I’ve seen nonprofit leaders so blind to their personal shortcomings, that the word oxymoron would be an oxymoron.

So what does this have to do with giving? In my opinion, plenty.  Would you willingly give money to a nonprofit who’s mission statement is to eradicate institutional racism, yet not one staff member of color is in a leadership position?  Or a nonprofit dedicated to women’s empowerment and all the board members are male?  Again, these characteristics may not seem as essential as the expense line on a 990, but they do provide a glimpse into how leadership uses public dollars to promote a value system that may in fact be contrary to its mission.

Without latching on to the extreme tactics exhibited by TSA, below are some quick tips to assess the “internal policies” of a nonprofit in order to better inform your giving:

  • Request a Site Visit. As a potential donor, you should be able to visit the organization that you plan to donate money to.  Grantmakers do it all the time…and for good reason.  This visit will allow you to see things that a glossy publication or web site may never be able to reveal.  Last year, I took a tour of the D.C. nonprofit Miriam’s Kitchen and was more than convinced that my potential dollars would be used in ways that really addressed the needs of homeless men and women.
  • Policy Matters. If your request for an anti-discrimination policy (or any other policy for that matter) is met with a blank stare, quickly put your checkbook in duplicate away.  There seems to be a train of thought (choo-choo) in the nonprofit sector that if you commit your life to doing good, then you are incapable of harming others.  If you’ve lived long enough, you already know that that’s just not the case.  If the leadership of a nonprofit is unable to provide you with a written strategy on how they address potential conflicts among staff and/or board, then that’s a pretty good indication that they are also not the best organization to address external instances of injustice.
  • Navigate the Nonprofit Grapevine. While I would never measure a nonprofit’s impact by what others say about it, there is something to be said of reputation.  If a nonprofit has a high turnover rate among staff or its executive director is likened to an overseer, then it’s worth it to investigate the social character of the organization before you donate to it.  Not sure who to ask?  Ask several of your trusted colleagues what they know about the organization.  Strike up a conversation with a stranger at your next nonprofit happy hour.  Or check out their review online at GreatNonprofits.  Hopefully, what you hear/see will help to better inform your giving in these tough…economic…times (ahem).

What do you think about the quality of nonprofit leadership in giving?  If you are a donor (or thinking about becoming one), how important is a nonprofit’s “social character” in your decision-making?


No Donor Left Behind November 1, 2010

Filed under: individual donors,nonprofit leadership,young donors — fundtimes @ 6:23 pm

Leave it to me to draw a connection between fundraising and education reform. This past month, my boyfriend and I saw the critically-acclaimed documentary, “Waiting for Superman.”  Without spilling the beans on the plot, I’ll just echo what everyone else already knows: our public education system is systematically leaving thousands of children behind.  Ignoring the potential contributions of young people is a social ill that unfortunately does not end in the school system.  Nonprofits are also at fault.

As a proud 30-something year old woman, I have never been asked to donate a financial gift to a nonprofit.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I was officially approached after I complained about not being asked.  Is this the way I envisioned being courted as a potential donor?  Absolutely not.  But perhaps the reason for this thoughtless approach is, well, the lack of thought involved.

According to a 2008 report released by Campbell & Company, Generations X (born 1964-1981) and Y (born since 1981) gave a combined total of approximately 36% of the total average gifts donated to secular and religious causes among all surveyed generations (other generations were Boomers, Silent and Great).  While older generations still lead the pack in giving, there is a significant amount of money that nonprofits are leaving on the table by failing to engage younger people.

So what’s next?  Below are some quick tips to help your nonprofit cultivate us today so that we will continue giving tomorrow:

  • Encourage E-Pledges. It should come as no surprise that most young people (heck, people in general) are on a budget.  Allowing younger donors to pledge a certain amount and then having a portion of the pledge debited from their account each month is a great way to allow those with limited means (but who mean well :)) to support your organization’s mission.
  • Invite us to Get on Board. Consider enriching your nonprofit’s leadership by cultivating Gen X and Y as board members.  Including us as stewards of your organization ensures that creativity prevails, not only in raising additional dollars but in defining the long-term strategy of your nonprofit.  Organizations like the Associated Black Charities in Baltimore, Maryland know the importance of cultivating young and racially- diverse leadership  through their Board Pipeline Leadership Development Project.  I participated in their last training cycle and am excited to say that I am in conversation about board service with a local college!
  • Social Media Matters. There has been a lot of conversation around the usefulness of social media in cultivating additional revenue.  Overall, the response has been mixed.  Those concerned with the potential return on investment are unsure if the staff time it takes to maintain a Facebook and/or Twitter page is worth the amount of money that these tools may bring in.  But rather than look at social media as a passing fancy, it is still a tool that your organization can use to inform and engage younger people in your organization’s mission.  Being open to new ways of communicating will ensure that your nonprofit remains dedicated to building a community larger than what you’re already used to.

What do you think? Do you have other ideas on how to effectively engage Gen X and Y in ensuring your nonprofit’s long-term sustainability?