Get Out of My Way

Fundraising, at its most basic level, is about building relationships. The beginning of the most famous definition of successful fundraising talks about “the right person asking the right prospect.” That right person can open doors that would otherwise stay firmly shut. They can also turn a small gift into one that is transformative. That’s the good. There is also the bad. Sometimes, the person who would be “the right person” is nothing more than a roadblock; someone who stops you—the development professional—from doing your job.

This is the person who tells you not to “bother” a prospect, or not to follow up with a donor who is their contact; their friend or colleague.

It’s hard to go around this barrier. Sometimes, if they are your boss or your boss’s boss (as in a member of your board), it is impossible. And this important prospect remains…well, a prospect. How do you get this barrier out of your way?

Let’s start with worst-case scenario. You can’t. One recourse is to find someone else—a peer or better of the roadblock—who also has a relationship with this prospect and have them make the approach. Another is to find a peer who may be able to talk some sense into the roadblock.

Sometimes, however, the roadblock doesn’t mean to be a roadblock; they are just protecting their friend and/or their position. Here you need to allay fears that you will “take the donor away” or—worse—embarrass your roadblock by your bad behavior.

This is where education is critical. Explaining to your board members and other volunteers how you work with them and their friends to create a situation where everyone is happy. And to show how you are the person who coordinates and facilitates fundraising efforts of your board members (and yes, of those on staff who are higher up the food chain than you).

While it is tempting to simply push the roadblock out of the way and barrel through, it is much more effective to work with them as much as possible to create a team that can together create a series of right situations that will get a gift that works for your organization and brings your donor and your volunteer or other staff happiness.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity, build stronger boards, and be more effective at raising funds. Learn more at And while there—sign up for the monthly newsletter.