Think and Act Collaboratively

Successful fundraising depends on a partnership between your nonprofit and your donors. The partnership is created by your fundraisers. Your board also has a significant but indirect role to play in creating the partnership.

The success of any partnership depends on all sides cooperating. In the case of a nonprofit there are three key components in the partnership. One is the donor. The second is the fundraiser. The third is the nonprofit.

The fundraiser must be a collaborator. Additionally, the fundraiser must screen prospective donors to ensure they are collaborators also. Some donors prefer to exercise more control over their gifts than is practical in a collaboration. The line must be drawn by the board.

The ability of the fundraiser to collaborate with a donor to set reasonable expectations and restrictions on the use of the donor’s funds is important to the success of the partnership. It is hard to be restrictive when a donor is willing to write a large check, especially if the nonprofit has an immediate need for cash. However, the conditions established by the donor must be carefully considered. The demands might do more long-term harm than the immediate good justifies. For instance, if the demands displease other donors or impact the success of a significant number of clients, the loss of sustainability may be significant. Keep in mind that the impact of the donor’s demands might only be noticable several months later.

The board finance committee must be willing to give the fundraiser the latitude to create a mutually beneficial partnership what will be durable. Many times a board’s finance committee will give the immediate cash needs of the nonprofit greater importance than protecting the sustainability of the funding stream. This limits the fundraising team’s ability to be selective when recruiting donors. There must be a balance between near term and long term. The long term must always take priority.

The fundraiser must be able to help donors focus on their long-term goals and temper their interests in short-term issues that sound good but, may over the long term, be suboptimal for the donor, clients, or the mission. Catering to the near-term interest of a donor with a large check is the easy solution. Protecting the sustainability of the funding stream takes more effort. It makes the future better, which is hard to remember when there is payroll to meet and vendors standing in line to be paid. It takes courage to trust the future when the present seems to be under siege. The board must be objective at times like this and encourage the fundraiser to remain future focused.

The board must also proactively create and maintain an organizational culture that promotes collaboration. Most boards aspire to create a collaborative culture but they set policies that are rigid and they insist that the policies be enforced. Collaboration requires flexibility and the willingness to deal with ambiguity and sometimes make exceptions to policy. A formal structure makes it difficult to be responsive to the diverse needs of diverse clients and donors.

The best approach is to have guidelines that define the desired results rather than policies focused on how the results are achieved. Many board members want to trust the staff to abide by the guidelines but they worry that a misstep will reflect poorly on them and their ability to carry out their responsibilities as board members.  Stricter procedures can seem like a less risky approach but they ultimately hinder the staff’s ability to innovate.

Next Step:

Empower your fundraising team to be selective when recruiting donors

Require your fundraising team to give the long-term impact on fundraising, clients, donors, and the mission a higher priority than meeting this year’s goal

Use your board development committee to train the finance team to trust the rest of your nonprofit do do their jobs

Ask your board development committee to monitor your board’s decision making and policy setting to ensure they foster a culture of collaboration and flexibility

Establishing a collaborative environment and recruiting collaborative fundraisers and donors is the first step. The fundraising process must continue to cultivate the partnership between the donors and the board. In part, this requires the board to be responsive to the donors’ requests while ensuring that the requests will be embraced by all of the donors and will result in increased client success through increasing mission effectiveness.

Take It Further:

Use the increase in donor engagement to determine how your collaboration with your donors is working

Ask your board development committee to recruit members who have a history of collaboration

Ask your fundraisers to preview board decisions and policies with select donors (give donors the opportunity to collaborate at all levels)


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