A long time ago, when I was the Dean for External Affairs at Pasadena City College my president used to comment how we should contact the president of USC and ask him how “he” raised the many millions of dollars the University brought in each year. “I can tell you,” I used to tell him. While we had me as the only fundraising professional on campus—and I wore many, many hats—USC had, has, hundreds and those hundreds have a lot of support.
Beyond that, most of their development officers work within a pretty specific portfolio—either at a certain level, type of giving (individual, corporate, foundation), or specific project(s).
All this means that the most important factor of fundraising is considered—that fundraising is about relationships and the closer you get to a prospect the more likely that prospect will become a donor. More, the closer the relationship with a donor, the more likely the donor will continue to be a donor.
Smaller organizations, those not quite as successful in the fundraising arena, tend to shoot themselves in the foot by minimizing the size of their development staff (if they even have a development staff) and maximizing what it is they expect the development director to do.
It’s not that someone can’t possess the various skills needed to write a grant, run an event, publish the annual report, create a direct mail appeal, and meet one on one with major donors. Many do have all those skills. But it is foolishness to think that anyone person can successfully manage all those things at once.
And those are the lucky ones. In many organizations, fundraising is only one area of responsibility. When I was Dean, the following programs were in my area:
- The foundation—the 501(c)(3) organization where charitable money was kept.
- Board relations for the foundation
- Alumni Relations
- Extended Education
- PR and Marketing
- The web (content)
- Government relations
- The Grants Office
I did have 17 staff members. Two of the programs had managers: PR and Marketing and Extended Ed. I was the manager—and sometimes the sole staff-- for the rest. That meant that in addition to everything else, I had about 12 direct reports. Clearly some things had to give. Beyond my sanity, what gave most of the time was fundraising.
I bring this up not to complain—I know too many development directors who wear more hats than I did and have fewer resources—but to point out a fact of life. Fundraising takes time. It takes focus. And it takes commitment.
Commitment not only from the development director and the donor but also from the organization. Commitment that says we are serious about raising private funds so we can enhance our programs, serve more people, improve our facilities—whatever it is that will allow the organization to do better. Anything less means you are focused solely on keeping your doors open and that does not make a very impressive nonprofit.
It is way past time for nonprofits to realize that investing in development is an investment in the future. And like all investments, it must be handled wisely. That means considering the ways funds could be raised for your organization and making sure you have enough hands on deck to do the fundraising well.
Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations helping them to maximize whatever resources they do have to raise more money. Learn more at http://janetlevineconsulting.com