Your donors are on an incredible journey with you. They may have been in relationship with your organization for decades, starting out by giving through direct mail, then giving through their business, volunteering, serving on your board, attending events, making individual gifts, joining in a capital campaign, and even including you in their will.

Which means that your donors touch many different parts of your organization. What an incredible opportunity that gives you to shift from the old mindset that this donor is “mine” to how can you collaborate and meaningfully connect with a donor across your organization!

Now, it’s important to come into this with an understanding that collaboration isn’t about what you can do for me, but how you can mutually work together to better serve your donors and bring in more support for your mission overall.

What would that look like? It could be that an MGO learns an individual donor owns their own company, and would potentially love to support an upcoming event, so they make an introduction to the event person. Or a corporate fundraiser learns that a CEO who gives through her company, also has a personal passion for one of your programs. So he introduces that donor to an MGO so they can collaborate on an individual gift. The goal is that you are working together across departments to best meet the donor’s needs and give them opportunities to connect and give even more significantly.

You might be wondering how you start shifting the relationship with other departments. Some organizations, maybe like yours, have a deeply rooted culture of competition, siloes, or just a lack of awareness about the other departments. How do you move from this to a culture of real collaboration and trust?

Here are some strategies to get you started…

  • Check your own beliefs.

    What stories or past experiences have you picked up that are playing out in your head about departments or individuals that will limit your curiosity and openness to building more trusting relationships? It might be something like: “Finance thinks fundraisers are a joke.” “Events thinks we all have to drop everything and help them no matter what.” “Major gifts just wants to steal all of our donors and get credit for the revenue.” Identify your beliefs honestly and challenge yourself to have a more open mind. In reality, other departments most likely have similar beliefs about you. But these are stories you’ve let yourself believe, and once you start changing your mindset, you can start having more honest conversations and relationships.

  • Do your research.

    Do you have a relationship with someone in that other department? Meet with them and get the lay of the land. What has the history been between your departments? How has some of that impacted trust and collaboration? What are their greatest concerns about your department? How do they view fundraising? Let this conversation lead you toward building a more collaborative relationship.

  • Set up an initial meeting with leadership from another department.

    Be clear on your objective for the meeting. Let them know you want to listen and learn so you can develop stronger collaboration between your departments. Here are some questions to guide this conversation:

      • What has been your experience in the past working with major gifts? What worked and what didn’t?
      • Is there something we do that’s frustrating or an obstacle to your success?
      • How can we support you more?
      • What ideas do you have to create more collaboration and flow?

    Share more about how fundraising works and what is needed from that department and why. Many times, others have no idea how fundraising works and why you might need certain data, stories, or budget numbers. Ultimately, your goal is to come up with strategies on how to build out systems that support collaboration, like getting soft credit for revenue that comes in through another department from a donor on your caseload. You may want to take it even further and add in metrics to celebrate the number of donors the organization has partnered together to work with, and the impact of that collaboration.

  • Co-facilitate a meeting with leadership with both of your teams.

    Here are some meeting ideas:

    • Be clear on objectives
    • Be honest about what the relationship is now
    • Spend time educating each other about what each department does
    • Share donor success stories and how that department helped you make that happen
    • Brainstorm what each department needs from each other
    • Brainstorm solutions for creating an easy flow of needed information
    • Talk through systems and metrics that support coloration and how you will be setting those up
    • Set up next steps and due dates that ensure this goes beyond a conversation into action

    Shifting a culture and building trust doesn’t happen overnight. However, you will go so much farther if the leaders and staff align, set the tone, and celebrate each small win toward a more collaborative environment.