Fourth in a Six-Part Series: What Should I Do If…?
What should I do?Something happens in almost every non-profit where, over time, we lose focus. And as the non-profit grows, it breaks down into departments or siloes that forget to communicate with one another. The ultimate loser in this (besides you and your colleagues) is the donor.
Richard and I have received hundreds of emails over the years from development professionals, all lamenting this fact. It almost feels like a disease that sweeps through non-profits, and if it’s left unchecked, over time it will prove fatal – to you and to the donor.
This dysfunction happens in the non-profit as a whole, and within development teams. So I’m going to give you some ideas on how to bring both your development team AND the entire organization together – so that everyone can understand the donor’s experience, and you can all work collaboratively, which will help you create a healthy culture of philanthropy within your organization.
The Development Team
Whether you’re a one-person shop or you have a hundred members with multiple specialties on your development team, the ultimate goal is to be centered on the donor experience. (Tweet it!) Here are some ideas to create that goal:

  1. Create a strategic fundraising plan together. Too often managers will ask each discipline within development to create their strategic plans without consulting with each other. Before creating those individual plans, bring everyone together to discuss the big picture. Where are you going – together? How does the direct-response team feed into mid-level, which then feeds into major gifts and planned giving? What are the goals of events and corporate giving? Everyone should be aware of this before developing individual plans.
  2. Hold monthly development department meetings. Bring the team together to do three things:

a. Report on results – from each discipline
b. Ask for help – from each other whenever someone is stuck.
c. Tell donor stories. Too often, the direct-response team has no idea how donors are moving through the major gift pipeline. Telling stories connects the dots of why they’re acquiring and cultivating donors and where it leads.

  1. Create cross-team projects to ensure the major gift pipeline is flowing. Always ask: “Are there any clogs in our donor pipeline either with any policy we’ve created or lack of communication?” Assign a team (made up of all disciplines) that solves the problem.
  2. Understand the donor’s journey. Report on metrics with the team, from acquisition to a planned gift.
  3. Create incentives and build into performance metrics, moving the donor through the pipeline. One clog in the pipeline that Richard, our team, and I see quite often is that non-profits disincentivize each discipline working together by using the wrong performance metrics. For example, the direct-response team doesn’t want to lose a donor to mid-level because it makes their revenue go down year over year. That’s the wrong metric to be focused on. Instead, focus and reward the direct-response team when donors they acquired move up.
  4. Create cross-specialty presentations to entire organizational staff meetings. When development is presenting to the whole staff, don’t just get a major gift officer up there talking about a big gift. Bring together a team to talk about the donor’s journey from acquisition through making that planned gift.
  5. Create informal gatherings for staff. Breakfast meetings, lunches outside of the office, happy hours after work – they all promote getting to know one another. It works!

The Entire Non-Profit
Along with creating collaboration with your development team, to have a true culture of philanthropy and to help everyone understand the donor experience, here are some suggestions to promote that understanding across the entire organization:

  1. Leaders and managers promote collaboration. If the leaders and managers are promoting collaboration and asking it of their staff, it will happen. Unfortunately, this is not happening enough, and staff members are left to do it on their own, which is not easy without leadership support.
  2. Hold monthly staff meetings that include either donor participation or stories of donors. Richard and I have seen forward-thinking non-profits invite donors to talk about why they give, with the entire organization present. It changes how the staff think about fundraising. Telling stories can have the same effect.
  3. Invite staff into meetings of other departments. This creates empathy and an understanding of what other departments do.
  4. Go through the exercise of creating a Donor Impact Portfolio. This single exercise will do more to promote cross-departmental understanding than anything you can do because it brings program, finance, leadership, and development together to figure out everything you do and what it costs.
  5. Invite program staff to donor meetings. Donors want to hear from those working in the programs. The MGOs that we have worked with say some of their best donor meetings happen when they take program staff to present either a case for support or to report on impact.
  6. Encourage development and other departments to volunteer in the work that program is doing. Again this promotes empathy. It allows non-program staff to talk to donors differently because they have experienced it themselves.
  7. Create informal gatherings to get people together. Just as you would do within your team, go out with folks in other departments of your organization and get to know them personally. You need each other to create that culture of philanthropy.

Hopefully, this gives you some ideas on how to promote collaboration, which will lead to understanding the donor’s experience in your organization. Remember, part of the mission of your organization is to help your donors find joy in their giving. All the big and little things you do every day to create that experience for the donor will lead to wildly fulfilling the overall mission of your organization.
Read the whole series, What Should I Do If…?

What If Leadership Is NOT Entirely on Board with a Donor-Centered Program?
What If I’m Trying to Upgrade a Mid-Level Donor and No One Has Ever Talked to Them?
What If My Older Donor Stops Giving, but They Tell Us They’ve Made a Planned Gift?
What If I’m Trying to Promote Better Collaboration Between Departments? (This post)
What If I Can’t Get a Donor to Talk to Me?