You would most likely agree with me that no one excels at everything that’s required to be a successful fundraiser.
But you might find yourself behaving at times like you have to do it all, with no mistakes, all by yourself.
What might that look like? Working 10-hour days that often spill into nights and weekends. High stress. Feeling overwhelmed. Beating yourself up for not being perfect at a certain task. Avoiding your work. Feeling frozen and unable to focus.
Interestingly, part of the pressure you may feel to do it all likely comes from our individualist culture in the United States. The U.S. ranks 91 out of 100 in the individualism index. (Compare that to China which is ranked at 20.)
Now… what does that mean? In individualistic cultures, you see your personal identity as separate from others, prioritizing independence. As a result, people tend to compete with one another, not share their vulnerability or struggles. In places like the U.S., we’re more likely to believe we have to make it on our own to show our value.
Even though there is great value in individualistic cultures, like encouraging self-expression and personal development, there’s also great wisdom from collective cultures.
In collective cultures, people value interdependence; putting the needs of the group over the individual. Personal identity is connected to the larger community and culture.
Consider how different it would be for your non-profit if you started functioning as a collective group, supporting each other from your strengths!
How can you start to apply this collective structure to your work with donors? First, take a moment to understand your existing culture and where you are in this work:
- Reflect on your personal culture. Do you approach things from a more individualistic or collective place?
- Identify your strengths and motivations. What piece of this work are you particularly good at and love doing?
- Identify who you want to talk to about being more collaborative. If this is new for you, start with a few people you know and trust and get them on board.
- Work together to propose this idea to the larger group, share what each of you bring to the table, and create a safe space for others to also identify their strengths.
- Set up an easy way to collect stories and touch points in a shared folder.
- Check in quarterly about how it’s going, who might want to do something else, and what training or support can the team bring each other.
Once you’re ready to engage with a larger group, I recommend focusing first on other fundraising team members. Talk to your events team, direct response, mid-level, major gifts, planned giving, and capital campaign officers. Identify what strength each person brings to the team.
This is not just about what everyone is good at, but also what they love doing. Are they good at intro calls? A social media wiz? Data guru? An excellent writer or a sharp researcher? Maybe they’re creative with video, or particularly good at building long-term relationships of trust?
Then lean into each other’s strengths and collaborate. Create a Dropbox or Google Drive and start collecting donor touch points according to program areas. Your writer could write up a few touch point stories of varying lengths. A strong researcher can work to collect interesting articles relating to the problem you are solving in each program, or collect interesting data from program. Your data guru will work to get everyone on the same page and trained to collect data in a consistent manner. The expert at small talk and cold calling will work with the team to build out call outlines and practice great examples of language and questions to ask. Your video creative will spend a bit more time in the programs, gathering video that shares the story and impact. Everyone works from their strengths, feels less stress, and the team benefits.
Of course, all of you need to know how to write, make phone calls, and build trusting relationships at some level. So you need to keep building skills where needed. But at the same time, why not work from your strengths and benefit from the gifts of the whole team?
Then, look beyond the fundraising team to include marketing, administrative staff, program, finance, volunteers, and board members. Have you taken the time to build relationships of trust with each department, build a culture of philanthropy, and explain the important role they play in donor communication? Make it easy for them to be involved with regular check-ins and simple ways to collect stories and share them. Discover their strengths and have them contribute.
Make sure you also tell them the difference they made when a donor gives significantly. Share when a donor was touched by an article from marketing, or when they appreciated the clear budget including overhead from finance. Just like with donors, you need to share the impact that your internal teams are making. It shows gratitude and builds trust.
So, why is this important? Well, let’s first remember that a donor who has a deep passion for your mission and wants a personal relationship with the organization will likely move through the donor pipeline and give more significantly through the years. This means they’ll interact with many different people over the course of their journey with your organization.
When we think of a donor as “my” donor, we can block them from a full experience in our organization.
What if as a major gift officer, you focused more on the donor and their needs and interests overall? Why not ask a donor who gives individually if they would also like to be introduced to the event person and give through their company to the next event? Or connect a donor with a board member who has planned giving experience to talk about their will? The more we work collaboratively and trust in our colleagues, the better we can connect donors to our mission in meaningful ways.
We can’t forget that we do need each other. We do impact each other. So, if you’re working in a culture where fundraisers compete and feel they have to do it all alone, you know how this zaps your energy and adds to exhaustion. It doesn’t serve us, our donors, or the missions we collectively care about. But when you start to approach fundraising and your work with donors as a collective, that’s when the real, transformational impact can happen.