Who can give?

A friend who works at a nonprofit—not in development—emailed me in distress. Her Development Director asked her to look at a list of volunteers to the organization and tellRespect fundraising her what she knew about these folks—specifically, their financial ability to make a major gift. My friend was appalled. Many of these folks were her friends, and she felt that she was being asked to “finger” them. “What,” she asked should she do?” I think she wanted a way to tell the development director to buzz off; to tell her that her ask of my friend was inappropriate. But I am a fundraiser, and I didn’t see it that way at all.

Organizations that are successful in raising funds are so because there is a clear culture of philanthropy at the organization. Everyone understands the importance of fundraising for moving the mission forward, and everyone feels that they have a role in fundraising.   More to the point, no one thinks that asking someone to support that mission—or if they think another person might support the mission—is “fingering” anyone.

Development staff often find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Everyone wants them to raise funds. No one wants to be part of the process. And for an organization to thrive, that sense that fundraising is somehow less than important and yes, noble, is a killer.

Creating a culture of philanthropy starts—always—at the top. The Board and the CEO must think it is at the center of all you do. That not just the money raised has value but the activities of development themselves do. And that it is critical enough that they will ensure there are resources for making it happen.

Staff and volunteers must be told how important fundraising is—and donors must be shown how important they are to the organization and its mission. Both of those things take resources, human resources, to make the case. And do note that I wrote human resources—plural—not resource as in one human. Fundraising is too diverse to be adequately handled by a single person.

All people at the organization—regardless of the size (or lack) of the development department---really must believe that asking people to support your cause is not just asking them for a gift but is also giving them a gift. Enabling an organization whose mission speaks to you is a wonderful feeling. Helping to accomplish something that has meaning in your life is incredibly, well….meaningful.

That said, the development director at my friend’s organization was pretty tone deaf. Before she asked—before you ask—someone to identify prospective donors she really needed to sit down and talk with that person about his or her charitably giving. She needed to ensure that she and my friend were on the same page. And when she discovered—as she would have—that they were not, she needed to have a discussion to find out why and what she could do to move my friend to a place where she would be proud to fundraise for the organization, and proud to be a part of that process.

  Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their ability to raise funds effectively. Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com. While there, sign up for the free newsletter and contact Janet for a free 30 minute consultation.