Saturday, January 28, 2023

When trying to change the organizational climate into one of a fundraising culture, it often requires significant changes at the very top of the organizational ladder. The board and the chief executive play the most crucial roles in changing the culture’s mindset.

Last month we talked about different types of boards. Clearly, it takes a proactive fundraising board chairperson or president, with a “down-to-business” senior executive, to shift the philosophy of board members from a passive “Someone else will take care of it” state of mind to a “We can do it” mode. When the board is committed to philanthropy and promotes a “give and get” philosophy, fundraising usually blossoms and good things tend to happen.

I have been involved with nonprofits for more than three decades where, in some cases, the boards and the chief executive “lived and breathed” fundraising. In other instances, I witnessed boards and executive teams where one or both exhibited an indifference to fundraising but, at least, were not hostile to raising money from donors and prospects.

One organization with which I was engaged launched a major capital campaign. After establishing a campaign cabinet, I met with a past president of the organization, a member of the cabinet, whose generosity and contacts would be important to the success of our campaign. I indicated the importance of his participation as a donor, as well as the support we anticipated from his contacts. His response: “Norm, I am a volunteer—a nobler endeavor than fundraising.” Obviously, changing the culture was necessary.

A positive attitude must emanate from the chief executive and the board, and permeate the organization. Staff and volunteers will then likely understand the importance fundraising has on the bottom line and what is in it for them. They should feel a vested interest in a strong fundraising program. Once they do, changing the culture won’t be difficult. In fact, their involvement can provide a springboard for multiple opportunities to enhance the development program.

Where the senior executive isn’t fully sold on the essential nature of raising funds, it may take additional time to invest him or her, as well as board members and staff, in the process. This is an example of when certain steps are needed to effect a change in the culture. Often the key is for them to understand how marketing and public relations interrelate with the development program and they enhance one another.

The chief executive must understand the need for a vibrant development program. He or she should be able to elevate the board’s interest level and justify to the governing body the value of an effective development function. Other measures also can be taken to change the environment.

Staff and board members should participate in educational programs—workshops or even retreats—led by a fundraising professional. Programs might include “Fundraising 101,” or “The Fundamentals of Fundraising,” “Understanding Principles in Donor Solicitations” and “How to Increase Your Circle of Donors.” These and related sessions frame the foundation for future development activity.

Board and staff meeting agendas should regularly include topics such as progress reports about special events, new initiatives or fundraising successes. The organizational conversation cannot focus solely on development activities but should contain selected elements that keep the conversation going.

Social media is an important tool to spread the word not only to the public but also as an internal way of keeping development on the minds of the board and staff. E-newsletters, e-blasts, timely memoranda or announcements concerning galas or special events get around the organization and underscore the importance of these activities. In fact, much of the nonprofits’ literature and various general communications should promote these events as long as these are not “in your face” communiques.

Other ways to change the culture include involving board members and staff as volunteers in planning direct-mail campaigns, solicitations or other development activities. The fundamental question is this: Does the concept permeate from the top on down?

Understanding how the financial health and wellness of the organization is strengthened through development successes goes a long way to inspiring everyone to feel they have an assigned interest in promoting the fundraising program.

So, is your nonprofit ready for climate change?

By Norman B. Gildin, President, Strategic Fundraising Group

Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $92 million in the process He is the President of Strategic Fundraising Group whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds for their organization. He can be reached at [email protected]

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