Fundraisers and Program Professionals: Can’t Everyone Just Get Along?

May 18, 2010

Today’s guest post comes to us by way of Heidi Massey.  Heidi is a nonprofit consultant with a passion for strategic networking, leadership development and creating meaningful educational and service-based programs and collaborations.  For more on Heidi, check out her blog.

Every time I meet someone who tells me he/she is a fundraiser, my shoulders tighten, my teeth clench and I brace for conflict.  This is probably not the politically correct response, particularly in today’s economy, where organizations are more desperate than ever for funding.  However, in my very first job out of graduate school, I was in the trenches of a very heated battle between the program staff and the fundraising staff.  Since then, I have shared many a knowing glance with another nonprofit program professional while we are engaged in conversation with a fundraiser.

Like intellectual snobs from an Ivy League school, we know that the work we do for any organization is what is important and meaningful in the nonprofit world.  Fundraisers don’t really get it.  They are all about the money and we program people…well, we generally aren’t.

However, maybe it is time for some meaningful dialogue on this area of conflict for many nonprofit organizations.  Although I am not a fundraiser, I suspect that there are many who have also shared knowing glances with other fundraisers while in conversation with a nonprofit program professional.  They too, are convinced that what they are doing is the most important work of the organization because without them, the organization cannot survive.  Realistically though, organizations only thrive when both the program and fundraising professionals are skillfully executing their responsibilities.  So what is it then, that causes conflicts between these two groups?

Perhaps the conflict arises from the types of people who are attracted to the different positions.  Are there skills that are important for a program professional or a fundraising professional that put the two groups at odds with each other?  Or are the goals of their departments at odds with what each wants to accomplish?  Is there any connection between this division and what many have observed between small/medium sized organizations and large organizations?  Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above…

While researching conflict between program and fundraising professionals, I came across an audio webinar by two fundraisers.  Although the webinar was aimed at fundraising professionals, I was taken aback by how defensive I felt while listening.  It seemed to me that the blame for conflict was placed squarely at the doorsteps of the program professionals, in spite of the speakers’ repeated statements that this was not the case.  The explanation sounded to me like fundraisers know best, but need to be patient while the programming staff learns what the fundraisers already know.  I am certain that it wouldn’t be atypical for program professionals to create a webinar that would cause the same reaction in fundraising professionals.

There is an alarming lack of transparency about this issue.  There hasn’t been much discussion about the conflict between fundraisers and program professionals.  Talk about the elephant in the room!  Even google was just about empty of relevant links.

However, I have had enough conversation with other program professionals to know this is an issue, at least for some people.  Professionals from both groups revel in their superiority and neither seems to have any motivation to create a more collaborative environment.  Is there something to be gained by this?  Sounds a bit like the cliques we all survived in high school.  It is much easier to stereotype those who are different and to cling to our own kind.  But the elephant is a symbol of a dysfunctional organization.  Unfortunately, that dysfunctional elephant keeps growing until you deal with it directly.  Perhaps now, with difficult financial times and some maturing of the nonprofit sector, we are ready for a real conversation about the value of truly working collaboratively within organizations.  As we begin to understand and respect the roles of others inside our organizations, we may also be able to minimize turf issues related to our own roles.  And in my perfect world, as we begin to eliminate turf issues within our organizations, perhaps we will become more open to collaboration with those outside of our organization.  Ultimately, the turf issues that arise from conflicts between fundraising and program professionals do not merely undermine our ability to function as thriving organizations.  They undermine our ability to function as a thriving community.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

John Haydon May 18, 2010 at 7:11 am

Heidi – Great post!

This reminds me of the Tweetsgiving campaign where kids in Tanzania (who would benefit from the money we raised) were tweeting the gratitude along with hundreds of others on Twitter. There was no duality between program folks and fundraisers.

We can get along!

Suzy May 18, 2010 at 7:14 am


Good points! As someone who writes grants for my organization (and a past program person) I have found the tension happens primarly in two places.

First- as implementors, Program people (myself included) tend to be very invested in the process- how the program will work including each step along the way. For the grantwriter, having the outline of these details is important- but it doesn’t sell the grant.

Second- outcomes. As a grantwriter, I know the importance of concrete, impactful outcomes. As a program person, I know the vagracies of the world that make establishing these outcomes so difficult.

Most of my conflicts have come in this last area. Usually Program people are bullied into accepting outcomes then left to figure how to measure these outcomes which they never thought were achieveable in the first place.

One way that I’ve built bridges with Program people is to stick with them when report time comes around. Get them the report questions, make sure they are aware of timelines. In my case, I ask program people for the bullet list of achievements and do the actual writing. This seems to lighten their load, shows an interest in their hard work and builds trust that I’m invested past the moment the check comes in.

Wonder if others have strategies for making this relationship stronger?


Leslie May 18, 2010 at 7:51 am

When I was in charge of both progams AND fundraising at the same organization, I never ran into this problem. LOL! Now that I have been with larger organizations, I see this divide. I think we do have to address the personalities of people who are drawn to fundraising vs. the personalities of people who are drawn to programming. Fundraisers, for the most part, are your salespeople. (I know, I know, program people cringe when I say that part of development is sales, but it is. Rather than convincing someone to part with their hard earned money to buy a widget, we are convincing them to part with their hard earned money to help people or a cause.) We, as fundraisers, must constantly give programming staff their due. The truth is, the hard, focused, wonderful programs and outcomes achieved by our programming staff make my job so much easier. It gives me something to talk about with donors. Sometimes getting information from the programming staff about success stories can be challenging, but I find that once I explain why I need to know, they are always willing to help. Feeding success stories to the development department just isn’t at the front of their radar – of course not, helping clients is and should be their main focus. It is my job as a development director to ask and communicate. Successful relationships between programming and development are possible. They just take work and remembering that we NEED each other.

Nancy Iannone May 18, 2010 at 8:51 am

You raise some good points about the kinds of dynamics that can occur in an organization Heidi.

What would it take for both sides of this issue to share a vision of what is possible in the community based on their efforts?

Heidi Massey May 18, 2010 at 11:16 am

Thanks John for the comment and for RT’ing. Your word means something and encourages others to follow.

Amazing thing, that Twitter! Maybe the ticket to getting along is not being too physically close. 🙂 I agree, though, we can all get along. But it’s going to take some serious work to make it happen. And some professionals who have the sophistication to build those bridges that are very difficult to build.

Heidi Massey May 18, 2010 at 11:24 am

Thanks for your input. I think you provide great insight into some of the cause for conflict. I do think some program people are VERY invested in the process and may confuse process with results. But I do think the larger concern is your second point, that there is an expectation of providing concrete results from abstract events. It’s that pit in the stomach angry feeling when trying to accommodate a foundation’s needs for specifics on why the organization gets the results that show it is a great place for their money. I LOVED your response to “stick with them when report time comes around.” I think that response would make all the difference in the world for anyone responsible for writing up results. It is PRECISELY that feeling of abandonment while needing to provide not well understood information that is the source of much of the tension. Kudos to you for dealing with that so effectively.

Thank you for your wisdom!

Heidi Massey May 18, 2010 at 11:30 am


I love your ability to put yourself in the program pros shoes. You really seem to understand that perspective. I also get a sense of a profound feeling of appreciation for program pros which goes a long way toward getting things done. As the saying goes, “You attract more bees with honey than a fly swatter.”

Wondering if you ever come across program pros who were not as responsive to you and if so, what did you do?

Thanks so much for your comment.

Heidi Massey May 18, 2010 at 11:38 am

Hi Nancy,

Thanks for commenting.

That is the million dollar question, isn’t it? I’m not sure there is one clear answer. Ideally, I think the Exec. Director of an organization sets the tone. And ideally, he or she sets up an environment where the entire team is knowledgeable about what each part of the organization is doing and why it is important to the whole. There would be a lot of engagement between different teams, sharing of ideas, and opportunities to question. Additionally, each professional is treated with respect and as someone who adds value to the organization as an important member of a team. I think, so often, conflict is about turf and feeling threatened or not valued. By assuring that each person feels appreciated and valued, there is an opportunity for a more collaborative organization.

What would you add Nancy?

Monise May 18, 2010 at 11:50 am


Great post!

As someone with no background in non-profits (self-taught)I find your insight helpful because, from what I have seen, the two groups tend to work against each other as opposed to with each other. Could it be that those who are successful fundraisers possess different personal characteristics than those who are successful program directors/coordinators? I see this ‘challenge’ as an amazing opportunity to cross-train both sides so they can do their jobs more effectively.

But then again, what do I know? I am still learning and playing catch-up!


Laura Kaufman May 18, 2010 at 12:15 pm


Love this post, and I agree wholeheartedly that fundraisers and program staff need to work together.

You hit the nail right on the head when you note that turf issues do not contribute to a successful organization.

When I worked at foundations and read grant proposals, I could often tell if the fundraisers and program staff were collaborating or were in conflict. Well conceived proposals almost always reflected an intentional connection between programming and fundraising.

Maybe it’s just because I have been both a program person and a fundraiser that this is so obvious to me, but a fundraiser is not just writing the grants, direct mail appeals, etc. After the grant is given (hopefully), the fundraisers should be helping to manage the administrative and reporting aspects of the grant (we call this donor cultivation) and working in partnership with the program staff to do so.

And, the program staff should understand that the fundraisers need to meet certain requirements to win the grant and help them to do so.

I find it works best when all, as you note, collaborate and respect each other to reach the common goal of sustaining the organization and its programs. If this isn’t done, then clients/program participants won’t get served and everybody loses.

Nancy Iannone May 18, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Heidi –

I agree with you that leadership by ED in creating the culture is very important, as is a shared vision with the board of directors. Ideally, that shared vision throughout an organization allows each person to know how they are contributing to that vision.

I’ve seen some great discussions in the last couple of months about leading from within organizations, no matter what your role. Modeling the collaboration you want to see can start the change process, even if only within your area of influence.

Great discussion here has obviously resonated with many people. Thanks for taking the lead in starting it 🙂


Laura Deaton May 18, 2010 at 3:38 pm

So glad to see you on Pam’s blog, Heidi! I’m with Leslie. This conflict rarely exists in very small grassroots nonprofits because (1) program staff are also charged with fundraising, and (2) because everyone is cognizant that money=mission. When it does pop up, the problem is exactly as you’ve identified: silos. Hopefully, tuned-in leaders will recognize the symptoms of what I call “silo disease” and take action to avoid it. IMHO, anytime that there is an “us v. them” in a nonprofit, it’s a leadership challenge and an opportunity for team-building.

I don’t usually share links when commenting, but this one seems too directly related to not post it: Silo Disease: 15 Ways to Spot it and 10 Ways to Stop it:

Chant with me now, “Money equals mission, money equals mission!”

Mazarine May 18, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Hi Heidi

Thanks for this post. I did feel conflict in certain nonprofit organizations between program staff and fundraising staff.

The fundraiser feels lonely because it feels like the program staff don’t want the nonprofit to succeed.

Meanwhile the program staff probably feel upset that they are being asked to help fundraise. Perhaps they are in human services, and the fundraiser just seems too excitable, or too focused on intangible results to them. Why should they care about marketing? Or grantwriting? Or stuffing envelopes? What’s in it for them?

I suppose in a for-profit it would be like asking the people creating the computers for microsoft to also be salespeople or marketers. That’s not what they signed up for.

Some nonprofit books suggest that you get everyone in your organization to be a good fundraiser.

Personally, I think that it’s difficult to convince program staff why your goals are important, and they have a similarly hard time convincing fundraising staff that their goals are important.

The fundraising staff comes in, doesn’t get any support, no kudos or respect, and goes out just as quickly. Many program staff seem to stay in for the longer haul. But all do not have performance tied with compensation.

We have to stop the siloing of tasks, foster intra-organizational communication, and let the fundraisers and program people do more cross-collaboration between tasks, so that everyone understands that we’re all here to get a job done.


Sandra Sims May 18, 2010 at 7:37 pm

I really like Laura’s mantra money=mission. The reverse is also true: mission=money. When you stay true to your mission and are successful at what you do, then donors are more likely to give.

Bill May 18, 2010 at 8:20 pm

I find it odd that nonprofit professionals (all being paid so much money) find that turf wars are necessary or required to make the mission of an organization happen. I don’t understand why anyone is bristling about anything? Or would.

I came to work to help make the community better. I joined a team of other nonprofit folks working toward the same goal. As I understand it, program is the mission and why the organization exists or make change happen – fundraising raises the dollars necessary to make the program/mission happen (from general operating $, salaries and program money.) I don’t understand how either one exists in a vacuum/silo/turf/clique at any nonprofit for anyone’s benefit let alone those to whom we are serving.

So what I want to know is why those who are the elephants in the room are in the room at all if they have come to the work for the work, the community, the people they serve? Who allows this attitude to exist? Why would you hire, let alone keep, someone or people who carry on like this – fundraising or program staff?

You want turf? Go play football, work on a sales team at a Fortune 100 company, cut the grass. Nonprofits exist to make the world a better place, not for the nonprofit professional to be the hero for doing what they are paid to do – program or fundraising. So why battle except for the common good?

Are you looking to talk about change or making change in nonprofits and how staff interact? I can’t tell from your post.

Kirsten Bullock May 19, 2010 at 7:01 am

Thanks for this great post Heidi!

The truth is, neither programs nor fundraising can be successful without the other (we need money to operate programs, but we need strong programs to warrant funding). I think one of the root causes of these tensions is how organizations are structured (those silos always seem to show up).

Perhaps as a fundraising professional I’ve been more successful at overcoming these barriers because of my social work background. It is true that the primary responsibility for creating a team atmosphere lies with the ED and board leadership, however here are two things I have done (as a staff member in two separate organizations) that have seemed to help build bridges and create a more collaborative environment:

First, I agree with Sandra and Laura that if we as fundraisers are focused on the mission of the organization, we can be better partners with program staff. Part of this is taking the time to learn about the programs we’re trying to raise funds for (and asking questions to better understand what is being tracked already so that we can use those outcomes in materials being developed for fundraising).

In addition to learning about the program, we need to listen to concerns of program staff. There has been more than one instance where I followed in the steps of a fundraiser who was only focused on the money. This really alienated program staff. That bad taste doesn’t go away overnight. If we are truly passionate about the mission of the organization, then we can be seen more as partners in the cause rather than an annoyance. Hopefully through this process a mutual respect can be developed (and if we go into this process feeling superior we will most likely fail).

In both instances, once these bridges were built, I was able to start a staff giving campaign. Now as donors, program staff became not just staff members, but investors – in their own program (because of course they were already invested in that) and also in the fundraising process.

It was exciting to be part of that transformation. And perhaps my experience will be helpful for someone else!

Thanks again for this post and getting a conversation started!

Katherine Miller May 19, 2010 at 10:00 am

I’ve worked on the program side and experienced a tough relationship with the fundraising team. I’m transitioning into fundraising and this issue is very much on my mind.

I think one concrete tip is to cultivate young program staff into great partners. Give them a first hand view of your role, instead of letting them see nonprofit only through program colored glasses.

Young staffers are always eager for prof. development, so teach them the basics of fundraising! Give a brown bag seminar, share what you know. They’re sure to encounter fundraising often in their nonprofit careers. Explain the big picture, the development plan, the tools you use to successfully cultivate and manage donors.

Also, show them your day to day work. A huge turning point for me was when I was recruited to help with the board dinners (just managing name tags, even) and saw the development staff in action. You learn to appreciate the skills of fundraisers when you see them “at work” and you realize that they really are working at an event. When they would explain what was really going on during the board dinner, I appreciated their expertise all the more.

I think looking at young program staff is at least one good place to start. It would have helped me if I had learned more about the secret world of fundraising earlier!

Gloria T. Hurwitz, CFRE May 20, 2010 at 7:17 am

This is an important issue and one I try to keep top-of-mind in my world. My world is I am the only development professional in a large, regional non-profit organization with four program lines in three states. Obviously, since there is only one of me, I rely on the program people to help me in my fundraising efforts. I consider all of them my clients and I get to know them, their programs and understand their needs. Then, I ask them to help me hammer out details for grant applications, be aware of resources in their communities to tap and help build relationships with people who may be inspired by the good work that we do. Understanding the programs and the players and the needs is integral for my work as the fundraiser in this organization and collaboration with all involved is critical…and of course, POSITIVE ENERGY all for the good of the entire organization.

Anna Marie Ventura May 20, 2010 at 8:04 am

Very interesting conversation. I have so many things I want to add, but not enough time so I’ll address only one part of this. I have been both a program person and now a fundraiser. And a big part of the problem, in my opinion, is that program people are quite dismissive of fundraisers and actively challenge why money is being “wasted” on fundraisers instead of being focused on the mission. It’s quite difficult to have a positive working relationship with people who think your job should be eliminated!

Anna Marie Ventura May 20, 2010 at 8:10 am

Just wanted to add one other thing to my post. I do spend time with clients and program people to get to know what I am “selling”. But there is no way I will ever be able to talk about my program in the same way as the program staff. So whenever possible, I bring them along to meetings with donors. And I often send program staff to meetings RATHER than me. I see myself as a matchmaker. It’s my job to get in the room the people who are most passionate and knowledgable about the subject – and that is the person doing the work that the donor wants to fund.

Michelle May 20, 2010 at 8:26 am

Although I agree with Suzy, I believe that there is an additional element to this issue that needs to be explored and that is management. So many times I have been “set-up” by a management to retrieve information for a funding opportunity that appears to be a match to a program through the managers eyes. I meet with the coordinator of the program and find out that program is not actually what the funder is looking for. In these cases, the program person is forced to “tweak” the program to fit the funding requirements. This of course brings about undue stress to the both parties involved.

Ruth McLean Dawson May 20, 2010 at 9:00 am

I emphasize that I am a translator – putting programs into fundable language. I also try to spend time in the field whenever possible (is that because it means I am in a boat on the Caribbean Sea or on a trail on one of the many rivers of southern Belize or because I am learning first hand?)

I also communicate and celebrate our work and the staff and make sure that staff are aware of where their actions and/or words are right in the proposal or release.

It is always a balancing act, but it is part of my job to make it work.

Tracy Moavero May 27, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Great post and discussion! I also find this easier in smaller organizations, especially since program people raise funds or get constant updates on fundraising — even informally.

I’ve worked for membership/grassroots based organizations with a heavy emphasis on organizing, where the funding and mission links are clear. I wish more nonprofits saw their work through this prism — that we’re building social change movements. These orgs know that a big foundation check is great, but that 5,000 more members is even better.

I like to ask staff for their most exciting experience, biggest success, or their most interesting or surprising conversation in the past month, etc. They will reveal things that they didn’t realize were significant to fundraisers.

And managers need to integrate measuring output and outcomes into project planning and program staff reports/meetings for them to be a part of the organization’s culture. If it’s left to development staff to beg for data, it’ll never happen.

I love many of the ideas listed above. I’ll add that program staff need to be trained out of their distaste for fundraising by letting development staff share their feedback from donors, which is often exciting enthusiasm for the program work. It also includes reminding that fundraising isn’t just asking for money, it’s giving more people the chance to be involved in the organization and to advocate for the mission. And if they think about how they feel as donors to other orgs, they will “get it” better.

Roger Carr May 28, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Several fundraising consultants have been telling nonprofits to avoid special events because there are more efficient ways to raise money. They are right. However, what is minimized or ignored is that in addition to raising money the special events can help the organization recruit/develop volunteers, raise awareness for the cause and the organization, identify and engage company partnerships in the community and support advocacy efforts. These are all positive things from the program professional perspective. But unless the fundraisers and program professionals start viewing their efforts from a “corporate” perspective, there will be unhealthy conflict and the organization will not be as effective as it could be. Thanks for the great blog topic.

Pamela Grow July 6, 2010 at 5:57 am

Thank you for your comment Roger. I work primarily with very small nonprofit organizations, usually with annual budgets under $1-million, and limited staffing (one solitary development/marketing person, if any!). In my days as an employee I cannot begin to tell you how many times I was called off-task to do “event-work” … for events that yielded anywhere from $3,000 to maybe $5,000. For the smaller organization I recommend Benevon-style “friend-raising” events, completely spearheaded by board members with little to no staff involvement.

Jessica Journey July 6, 2010 at 8:43 pm


I love your post, and it inspired me to blog about how I try to address the tension between program and fundraising staff.

I wonder if you have more recommendations to add to my list?

Keep up the good work!

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