Who should be Driving Fundraising?

March 22, 2019

I have stated many times before that I am a huge fan of Jason Lewis. He is really making some of us stop and think about how fundraising really works (or, more aptly, he is confirming some of our theories). Jason talks about different ‘lanes’ of fundraising — from transactional to mid-level to campaign and it really resonates with me.

So, Who should be Driving Fundraising? Well, I guess we need to start with the question — what fundraising are you talking about? As Jason puts it, most of the arm’s length fundraising (direct mail, special events, newsletters) can be done by volunteers and/or outsourced. In a former life, we hired event coordinators for specific events in a contract role rather than have them as permanent fixtures on the staff. In my current posting, I cannot think of having a holistic look at our Fundraising without our Events Manager. Why the difference, you may ask? The answer is simple — our Events Manager builds relationships. I hold her just as accountable as I would other fundraisers to meet non-monetary objectives (i.e. moves management).

But, getting back to Who Should be Driving Fundraising? If it is an event, I have always held the belief that ‘you cannot want the success more than they [the volunteers] do’. So, I believe that the volunteers should be driving the events-based fundraising. From getting sponsors to getting participants.

Looking at relationship fundraising, I believe that should be driven by (competent) staff. And I don’t just mean the paid fundraising staff. I mean the staff — the program experts, the CEO’s, etc. As I heard someone once say “not everybody needs to be a fundraiser, but everybody needs to be involved in fundraising”.

The staff need to drive the agenda of relationship fundraising. When you abdicate this responsibility (or even worse, don’t take ownership of it personally), who do you honestly think will drive the agenda? How does fundraising fit into the organization’s bigger picture? Autonomous cars may be on the horizon, but autonomous fundraising with deep relationships will never happen.

It is so very easy to spend your days in the transactional arenas — not a huge level of risk and every now and then you hit a home run. I would suggest that this is not a great long-term strategy. It requires some self-reflection (maybe you prefer to be in the transactional arena) — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The reflection comes in knowing what your limitations/comfort levels are. I would suggest that if you aren’t inherently comfortable with relationships, you will never learn how to be comfortable. I believe either you have it or you don’t. And it’s fine not to have it. You just need to be cognizant of this and focus yourself where you (and the charity that you work for) will be most productive.

This is a fairly heavy topic, so I will leave the blog at this point. If there are comments that produce a discussion, this article may be expanded upon in the future.