5 Steps to Unlocking Hidden Fundraisers: A Practical Guide to Working Better With Program Staff and Raising More Money

April 2, 2014

RoryGreenGuest blogger, Rory Green has been fundraising since the age of 10, when she volunteered to help run her school’s annual Bike-A-Thon for juvenile cancer research. Fundraising became her vocation at 14, when she lost a friend to Leukemia. Rory is Senior Development Officer at Canada’s BCIT Foundation by day, and infamous as the brilliant Fundraiser Grrl by night.

Today’s guest post arose from a Twitter conversation.


How many fundraisers does your team have? One? Ten? Fifty?

Mine has more than 1,700.

Yep, you heard me right.

The catch is, they don’t all work for the Development Director. There are fundraisers, relationship builders and donor stewards hidden all over the place. When done right, every member of your staff could be a fundraiser. But it takes work. So, let’s get to it.

1.  Seek first to understand THEN to be understood

How many times has this happened: fresh new fundraiser comes in and she decides to educate everyone about fundraising. “If only they knew what I knew about fundraising,” she thinks, “surely I can pull them out of the dark ages and help them see the light.” The new fundraiser puts together a “Fundraising 101” presentation, and delivers it at a mandatory all staff meeting. Words like “identification” “cultivation” and “solicitation” are used. Maybe there’s even a nifty donor pyramid. She might even put in a slide on philanthropic trends.

I have never, ever, seen this approach work. Why? For the same reasons you can’t talk a donor’s ear off about your organization’s merits and expect a gift. What you are asking program staff to do, is change their attitudes and behaviors. In some ways, that is bigger and harder than asking for money. You cannot expect that kind of change from a one-way monologue.

You need to get to know program staff as people – by asking questions and by listening. Take the time to invest in “discovery” meetings with them – take them for a coffee, bring them a muffin – and chat. Have a dialogue. LISTEN!

Here are some of my “magic” questions for great conversations with program staff:

  • How long have you worked here? What is most meaningful to you about the work you do?
  • What inspires you to come to work every day?
  • How long have you wanted to do this kind of work?
  • What has been your best day here?
  • What is the most challenging part of your job?
  • What could you do with one million dollars? How many people could you help?
  • What makes our cause and organization worthy of support and donations?

The answers you get to these questions won’t just help to build relationships – they uncover great gems for proposals and thank you letters. Like this one, from a nursing professor:

“For many of us, the most important moments of our lives happen in hospitals…
Hearing our baby’s heartbeat for the first time
An amputee walking again after finding the right prosthetic
Those crucial first few moments in the ER after an accident
Hearing the words: “you are cancer free”
.… BCIT School of Health alumni are there, with you, for all the important moments of your life. All of us, at one point or another, will meet someone who studied at BCIT and thank goodness they did, because they received the best possible education and training, and they will give you the best possible care. I want my family to be cared for by BCIT alumni”.

When I get to know program staff, I have found this to be a powerful message: “You care about this cause. I’ve seen how invested you are in making a difference and all the time you give to help others. There are people outside our organization, who want to help too, but they don’t always have time to give – they want to give money. My job is to help them make the kind of difference you make with your work and help you make the world even better”.

2.  Debunk the “Asking is Begging” Myth

Fundraising is NOT begging.  This is the first thing you need your program staff to understand, or all is lost. Giving to a cause you care about is a joyful expression of your beliefs and values. It feels good. Donors are happy to do it. I tell my program staff that a fundraiser is not a beggar – they are a match maker. We connect people who want to help with the opportunity to make the world a better place. When I do my job right the donor is the happiest person in the room.

Once program staff start to understand how GREAT giving can be they will start to warm up to learning more about fundraising.

3.  Inspire Action

Program staff – like donors – don’t owe you anything. They aren’t required to care about or help with fundraising. You need to inspire action. Talk about your funding projects in exciting ways – help them understand how the money you raise will help them do their jobs better. Make it personal. Make it emotional. Tell stories. You know, all the stuff you do with donors.

How do you inspire action? Well – as Simon Sinek says – start with why – WHY do you need money? Start with the cause. Where I work, it is our shared desire to help students get an education and live their dreams. Whatever your cause is, focus on that – inspire action with that cause, because it isn’t about money – it’s about making a difference.

The key issue here is to show them how more money will benefit THEM, and not YOU:

  • That million dollar gift will fund your research, and get us one step closer to curing cancer.
  • That twenty thousand will make sure none of your bright students have to give up on education because of a lack of money.
  • That two thousand will send a kid with disabilities to camp, and let them feel like a normal, happy kid who has a place to belong, and play, and laugh.
  • That one hundred dollars will feed a kid breakfast for a week, so she can go to school and focus on learning, not hunger.
  • That twenty dollars is a mosquito net, that can save someone’s life from malaria.

It isn’t about our goals, our targets and what the board wants us to raise. It isn’t about how much you need in the door by fiscal year end. It’s about the programs that money will deliver. That’s what your program staff care about – and guess what, that’s what your donors care about too.

4.  Have a Call to Action – Make it Easy

In a team, it takes a great deal of trust to have the vulnerability to ask for help. But if we want our program’s staff help, we need to ask for it. Make your ask simple, easy and actionable. Try:

  • This is such a great project. Do you know any people or companies who would be interested in learning more about it and getting involved? This program seems really worthy of donations and I want to make sure the right people have a chance to get involved.
  • I am trying to help Ms. Donor connect with the great work you do. Would you co-host her for a tour of your work with me?
    I want to invite Mr. Donor to campus – are there any exciting campus events coming up that show off how amazing the students are?
  • This person is really interested in the work you are doing. Is there anything new and exciting that you are working on that I could share with them?
  • Mrs. Donor just gave a donation to help students. I want her to feel really good about making this donation –by saying thank you, and telling her the difference this will make. Can you think of any ways to say thank you, or to connect her to the difference she has made? IF we do this really well, I think she will keep giving and helping your students for years to come.

The result? Most of my prospects come from program staff – who are as invested as I am in seeing our projects funded. I’ve also had some beautiful thank you letters –  better than I could have ever written – penned by program staff. One was written by a teacher to a bursary donor. She talked about her years of teaching – and how it broke her heart every time a student had to give up on their education, and their dreams, because of money. Powerful, personal, emotional stuff.

5.  Report Back on Impact

Make fundraising fun for your program staff. Give them credit for the work they are doing. Recognize them often, publicly, privately. Be sincere – and don’t be shy with your thanks. Be specific about the difference their help has made. Show them how they have helped get the donation, and how that donation will help the cause. When they host a donor for a tour, when a prospect they identified makes a gift, celebrate them. Do you have little rituals to celebrate big gifts? Include the program staff. Let them ring the bell.

I love writing my program staff thank you notes in big colorful cards. Throughout our campus I see them proudly displayed on desks, little conversation starters about how great it is to work with donors, and raise money.

Some of the best advice I have ever received is “treat your program staff like donors”.  Never take for granted the contributions they are making to the cause every day. Building relationships takes time, respect and effort, but just like working with donors, it is the only way to be successful in the long term.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura c September 19, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Rory, this is a super helpful article!

I have issues getting people to understand fundraising- it’s really useful to know that approach to take with your colleagues.

Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

Laura

Rachel Hurst April 22, 2016 at 11:43 am

This was incredibly helpful! Thank you!

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