Getting Respect

It’s true—to steal a line from the late Rodney Dangerfield—that fundraisers don’t get no respect.  Especially internally in their own organizations. Too often, the very people whose work we are working hard to support, are the ones who (honestly) don’t see our value.  Yes, they like the results of our work, but typically they don’t connect the dots between what development staff do and the gifts and grants that come in.

The problem is with us.  We reach outward to the greater community but rarely inward to our organizations or institutions.

Fundraisers, of course, are not expected to toot our own horns.  We make sure that credit is given to the board, our CEO, program staff. And when we announce a gift, we tend to only talk about the outcome and not the many moves it took to get there.

But for us to really do our jobs well, we need the support of our internal constituents and our Board members.  And that means that they must understand the role we play in getting those gifts.

This internal marketing should be a departmental effort.   Yes, individuals should be singled out and kudos given for a job well done (and if you are a one-person department, so be it—toot your own horn when necessary), but part of this marketing is to make it clear that “development” is an official part of the organization.  The other—more major—purpose, of course, is to let people know, regularly, what efforts are being made by development on their behalf (and, when appropriate, with their assistance).

One good way to do this is with a very basic email “newsletter.”  Whether you format this as a newsletter or simply as an email message, you want to talk about department (and individual) efforts, successes and yes, failures.  Why write about that?  Because we have them and because people do understand that not everything works out the way you want it to.  Besides, it is a great spportunity for you to assess why it didn’t succeed, what you learned from the experience and how you might be working to turn that around.

Naturally, you’ll want to talk more about your successes, but don’t just announce those outcomes—"We got this great gift."  That’s wonderful—but review the steps you had to take to get there.

Reporting out face to face at board and staff meetings and at individual get togethers is also useful.  But again, think about your purpose.

When we are speaking to the wider world, we do want to focus on those things that will connect that world to our organization.  When we are marketing the development department and efforts to our inside world, we want to make them our allies and partners.  We want them to support the work we do.

For that to happen, they have to understand what we do, why do it that way, and how it all, ultimately benefits them and the organization.  In short, we need our internal constituents to see that people who work in development are more than people who go out to great lunches, throw elaborate events and make salaries they are sure would be better spent in hiring more program personnel.

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping them to increase fundraising capacity.  Learn about her services and the many workshops Janet facilitates at htpp://