Let's Raise Some Money
Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Program Staff Vs. Development Staff – It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way

November 18th, 2013 by Karen Climer

If you’ve been in the business a while, you probably know of a situation (or maybe even experienced it) where friction between the development and program departments is less than ideal.  Sometimes, the program folks find fundraising absolutely repulsive.  When they think of fundraisers, they think of a con man who stalks you in the parking lot telling you his hard-luck story about his car breaking down and his baby is locked inside, and your two dollars will save him (and his baby).  And when we aren’t stalking innocent people in parking lots, we spend all of our time going out to lunch and to parties.  (OK, maybe that’s a little bit exaggerated, but they don’t always understand that fundraising is more complicated than begging)  We can’t blame the program people, though.  We have misconceptions about what they do too.

In today’s post, I have two ideas that might help the program staff have a little better understanding of what we do.

Have a thank-a-thon that includes all staff members
I’ve worked with organizations that did thank-a-thons, where the organization would call donors and thank them for their gift.  No ask – just a thank you call.  The calls are always well-received, and the caller usually benefits as well.  In my experience, the callers are usually clients or board members.  There’s no doubt this is effective.  (If you aren’t doing this, I’d suggest you start it in some form.)  Donors love to hear from clients who benefit from the organization.  Board members are a good choice as well.  Donors are flattered to hear from board members.  And it gives the board a chance to be part of the fundraising process without having to ask for money.

Operation Smile, an international organization that offers cleft lip and similar surgeries, does a thank-a-thon that involves staff members.  They have all of their staff members call to thank donors.  Why do I like this idea? The program people (whether its teachers, counselors, doctors, or anything else) spend all of their time dealing with clients.  The clients are grateful, but in a very different way than donors are.  Generally, the program staff members know that donors are important to ABC Charity, but they might not realize how important ABC Charity is to the donor.  By giving the program staff the opportunity to thank donors, staff members get to experience one of the best parts of fundraising.  They get to see that maybe Mr. Jones actually wanted to donate money. We didn’t twist his arm or bribe him or use a taser gun. He really enjoyed making the donation. Other staff, such as accounting, facilities, or human resources, may have very little connection to the mission.  The thank-a-thon reminds them of the greater purpose of ABC Charity.

Share your success stories
Charities spend a lot of time sharing success stories.  We proudly tell anyone who will listen that Bobby’s little heart stopped beating until the skilled doctors at East Cupcake Hospital saved his life.  Those success stories are important, for sure.  But what about the widow who had no real meaning in her life until she found East Cupcake Hospital, began volunteering, and made the lead gift to the latest capital campaign.  That’s a success story too.

At your next staff meeting, share a donor success story.  The story shouldn’t be, “I met Mr. Jones at a Chamber of Commerce event.  I cultivated him for six months, then asked him for a gift.”  What does it mean to cultivate someone?  (That’s fundraising jargon.) You don’t need to mention every single contact you had with Mr. Jones, but explain what you did and why you did it.

When you do give the detail, be sure to give credit to the program people who helped you.  “Mr. Jones is an accountant, so he loves numbers.  Betty, thank you for the statistics about our outcomes.  That was a key factor in his decision to make a gift.”

If you have a success story about how you got the program staff involved in fundraising at your organization, feel free to share it in the comments section below.

Posted in Organizational Culture

One Response

  1. Lisa Blackwelder

    While working at the American Cancer Society I would take a program staff member on donor calls to share first hand how the donor’s gift was being spent. I found that the perspective of program staff is very helpful when sharing the ‘what we do’ part of an agency’s purpose. I took that same concept to BETA Center, and for the most part, together, we were successful. The key is finding the right program person to take with you. Train, practice, and practice again is the advice I leave you 🙂

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