For good donor stewardship, it is essential for a multi-person nonprofit development team to coordinate their fundraising efforts and create a culture of staff collaboration:
- Annual giving managers need to coordinate with major gift officers to encourage annual gifts from major donors.
- Special event coordinators should cooperate with annual giving managers to convert new event attendees into annual donors.
- Major gift officers must work closely with special event managers to identify and attend to VIPs attending a gala or golf tournament.
- Corporate gift fundraisers need to communicate with major gifts or special event managers when a business is a good prospect for a corporate sponsorship or when an individual major donor contributes through a business.
- Development Directors and board members play a critical role in gift acknowledgement, major donor cultivation, and events, all which effect the job performance of their team.
Unfortunately, even in a group of sincerely well-intended, cooperative people, development programs often foster competition rather than collaboration.
I once worked as annual giving manager for a development department where this was an intensely frustrating issue. Because our job performance was measured according to the money our respective fundraising activities generated, we were essentially competing for gifts from the same pool of donors.
You can probably imagine how this got ugly.
For example, one long-term, well-known donor, who had been personally cultivated for years by the major gift officer, made a significant financial contribution at special event. Because the gift was recorded as event revenue rather than as a major gift, the event manager, rather than the major gift officer, got “credit” for that gift towards her annual goal.
On many occasions, a gift would arrive through the annual campaign with a note from a donor complementing an event they attended recently. Was the event what prompted these repeat gifts or was it the annual campaign? Whose gift was this?
Of course, it’s impossible to determine exactly what prompts most gifts. No doubt it was a combination of many efforts of many people over many years. But the organization’s evaluation system required a subjective decision about each gift which led to an inadequate measurement of staff performance.
This type of situation is exactly what Penelope Burk criticizes in her book, Donor-Centetered Fundraising. She argues that this type of competitive, “silo” system creates an incentive for staff members to hold on to “their” donors rather than providing and encouraging a variety of giving options. It fosters a negative work environment, inhibits donor retention, and hurts overall fundraising.
What can you do to make sure your development team is managing your donors collaboratively?
Here’s how our development team corrected our dysfunctional system:
1) Regularly coordinated cultivation and solicitation efforts
Key fundraising staff began meeting regularly to maintain a master fundraising schedule and to review individual and corporate major donors and prospects. We created a strategic action plan for each donor based on what made the most sense for the individual. Because of this we were able to:
- Strategically plan special events around donor cultivation involving all staff members.
- Work together to solicit appropriate major gift and corporate prospects through the annual campaign.
- Prevent over-soliciting our donors with multiple asks from various channels.
- Plan meaningful donor appreciation and gift reporting activities.
2) Changed our database from a system primarily focused on back-end gift entry to one equally focused on pro-active donor cultivation
Within our existing database, we created a new system for planning and documenting all donor activities. We developed a moves-management plan and a major gift prospect rating system.
Everyone in our development department was actively involved in implementing this new system. Our development assistant even developed a fondness for prospect research that complemented her data entry responsibilities.
3) Revised staff performance metrics
While we still continued to track the performance of our individual activities, our primary focus was to achieve a team-based, overall fundraising goal that honored the contributions of everyone on our team.
In addition to net revenue, other metrics such as donor retention, upgrade rates, and new donor conversion became important as did less quantifiable “metrics” such as compliments from happy donors and creative ideas for donor retention.
Every member of a development team (whether paid staff, board member, or volunteer), plays a critical role in contributing to the retention and stewardship of donors: the well-executed event that recruited a new donor, the appeal letters that inspired a second and third gift, the timely gift acknowledgment and pleasant phone interaction from the office, to the “big ask” years later, that resulted in a check for 25K. Development operations and performance measurements are most effective when they are designed in a way that reflects this.