I recently received an email from a VP of Development from a fairly large organization; she’s struggling with the leadership at her non-profit. In that email she asked us this question:

  • “How do I get our executive leadership to care for our staff and our donors? The staff here feels disheartened and drained. Leadership is deaf to our desire to build and invest in developing relationships with our donors. I’m not sure what I can do.”

Sadly, Richard and I get this type of question frequently. But the question she asks really should force all non-profit leaders to look at the big issue: “How do non-profits move from an organizational-centered non-profit to a donor-centered non-profit?”
We believe that most non-profits are entirely organizationally-centered, which means everything they do is entirely focused on the “need” or “mission” they do, and everything and everybody else is secondary. You might think, “well, isn’t that what a non-profit should be doing? I mean, isn’t it all about addressing the need?”
No, it’s not. It’s part of what a non-profit is about, absolutely, but it’s not all.
That’s where non-profits lose their way and why staff AND donors feel abused and not cared for. Organizations that are only focused on the need they’re addressing think it’s fine to pay really low wages, get by with a very small staff and aging equipment – all in an effort to keep overhead low.
Additionally, these organizationally-centered non-profits are so focused on bringing in the money, they don’t properly hire, invest in and support the fundraising team – because they don’t value building relationships with donors. They really just want the money so they can take care of the need. For these organizations, developing relationships with donors takes way too much time. The idea of providing care and showing the impact of the mission for donors is seen as a complete waste of time.
I’ve talked to a few leaders recently who have started their own non-profit. They’re all excited about the reason they started the non-profit because they’re emotionally attached to addressing a need they see. All of that is great and wonderful. But when I ask them about their vision for how they will create a non-profit that takes care of the people that work for them AND invests in the care and needs of their donors… I get a blank stare.
“What do you mean, taking care of the needs of a donor? I don’t have time for that, I have to focus on my mission to help this need.”
What we say to this is, “Your mission is about the need, your people, AND your donors.” They are of equal value. Take care of your people and the donors that are passionate about the need, and you’ll be successful in addressing that need. (Tweet it!)
So how do you answer the question put forth by this disheartened development professional? In our experience, the way to get leaders to listen is to have them hear directly from staff, to see the current poor results – then look at what the potential could be if you moved from being organizationally-focused to donor-focused. In other words, give leadership the truth and a vision.
If after that, you’re pushed aside… you need to move on and find an organization that values its people and the donors as much as they do the need.
How would you answer her question?