This guest post is by Karla A. Williams, an organizational consultant with more than 35 years of professional nonprofit experience. Her latest book is Leading the Fundraising Charge: The Role of the Nonprofit Executive (2013), available in Foundation Center libraries.
Q: "A nonprofit’s leaders should be involved in fundraising." This concept doesn’t seem so new. Why do you think it’s not more commonplace?
A: First: Fundraising is seen as secondary, not primary.
Fundraising tends to be a stepchild to other programs and does not have the prestige and status that other activities have. When fundraising as a profession is relegated to the basement (so to speak), it will not be seen as a major driver to accomplishing the mission. It will only be seen as a method to fund the mission.
Let me give you an example: Most fundraising departments/process are considered subservient to organizations other departments. In other words, fundraising is the “way” to fund everything else. If the fundraising department was seen as equal to all other departments, and donors were considered “clients”, with client services much like all the other departments, then fundraising would be highly regarded. And, it would be measured on metrics of donor satisfaction rather than dollars raised.
Second: Many leaders come by their position, without an in-depth understanding of the power of philanthropy (voluntary action for the public good).
For decades, the nonprofit sector has sought out leaders who were/are specialists in their field, be it social work, arts administration, financial management, etc. I do not take issue with this, except when leaders fail to see that philanthropy had played a key role historically in the evolution of most nonprofit missions.
In today’s competitive nonprofit world, philanthropy is a driver of mission. A leader must be aware of the philosophy, psychology, and sociology of donor-driven actions. When they come to appreciate and understand the impact/influence of donor involvement, they will be even more successful.
Third: They are not comfortable with the “asking”.
If, philosophically speaking, fundraising is “asking” for money, who would not resist it? We grew up with parents who taught us, “Don’t ask for money.” To ask for money suggests that we are incapable of taking care of ourselves. It relegates us to a begging position in life. UGH.
When leaders push themselves past the “asking” perspective to a “receiving” perspective, they will enjoy the process of philanthropic exchange much more! We are not asking for ourselves. We are inviting others to join us in something that is mutually beneficial.
I have often said (and my colleagues cringe), "I have never asked for money." But that is true, and yet I have received millions of dollars for programs and projects that have benefited the community. My focus is on presenting cases that will meet the donor’s need to give. In this way, I do not HAVE to ask.
Do you agree with Ms. Williams? What does your organization do to get executives and board members more involved with raising money? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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Learn more from Ms.Williams and veteran consultant and author Andrea Kihlstedt in last month's live chat transcript about asking styles and building an asking culture in nonprofits.
Raise More Money with Returning Donors will be our next live chat with veteran consultants and authors Erik Daubert and Pamela Grow, on Wed., Aug. 28, 12-1pm ET. Get more info & register>>