Last week, in part two of this series on roles and responsibilities in fundraising, I talked about the importance of making a good first impression with your donors. In part three this week, I talk about some of the other roles in your organization that can have a positive, or negative impact on your fundraising program.
Finance and administration
In many organizations, letters and donations are processed by either the finance or administration teams. This is why it’s crucial to have a system in place to ensure that the right person in your organization is notified immediately upon receiving an important piece of mail, such as a gift from a major donor, or notice that an organization is the beneficiary of a donor’s estate. This is particularly important if there is a backlog with donation and mail processing, and messages are taking longer than usual to get completed.
Another reason why your finance team should be fully on board with fundraising is so that they understand the fundraising process. I’ve often seen situations where finance managers (and treasurers on the Board) only pay attention to the bottom line with regard to income and expenditure. The bottom line is not all that matters. For example, one of the most cost-efficient ways to raise funds is through major grants, however, over-reliance on just a few major funders can leave the organization very vulnerable if this funding were ever to be withdrawn.
The way to address this risk is by having a more diverse fundraising portfolio that might include grants, individual giving, and sponsorship. Such diversity is undoubtedly more expensive to implement. Therefore, a balance needs to be struck between ensuring that there is a good return on investment and having longer-term financial sustainability. By communicating your strategy, and plans, for investment and growth with those responsible for managing the finances in your organization, you can work together to ensure that you have the right mix of financial efficiency with longer-term financial security.
Sometimes, data entry is not handled directly by the fundraising team. At times, data entry might even be handled by temporary staff and/or volunteers who may not have the strongest understanding of why things need to be done a certain way. Therefore, having good systems and procedures in place that are properly understood by everyone involved can be extremely helpful. This includes
- proper handling of sensitive personal information including being kept securely and only accessible by the right people,
- proper management of financial information such as credit cards, as well as other, sensitive, personal details,
- correct and consistent data entry. This is crucial to enable proper data segmentation and reporting, so that you are able to track trends relating to your fundraising program and donor behaviour,
- ensuring that information is updated promptly, especially when donor details have changed, and finally
- flagging any system issues relating to the database so that they can be fixed immediately before damaging your fundraising operations.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with one very upset man who called in to the fundraising department. His partner had died several months before and he had asked, several times, for her to be removed from the mailing list, yet we were still writing to her. It was clearly causing him considerable distress. If there appear to be any challenges around consistent reporting, or if your needs in fundraising are starting to outweigh the system’s capabilities, you need to know about it quickly so that changes can be made as soon as possible.
In many organizations, communications and fundraising are all handled within the same team, but in some they are not. When they are separate departments, a number of issues can arise if there isn’t good enough collaboration between departments. These can include
- lack of brand alignment. There are many cases where fundraising and communications are pulling away from each other in terms of their branding and direction. By working together to developing a set of key messages that work across departments, you can begin to overcome such issues.
- poor timing of communications. If both your fundraising and communications teams are contacting your donors it is imperative that these communications are coordinated to ensure that donors are not inundated with information, or conversely, receiving nothing for long stretches. It is also essential to ensure that you are prioritizing messages properly so that donors are able to focus on what matters most at that particular time.
- Missed opportunities to share expertise. Both fundraising and communications professionals can bring so much to the table in terms of knowledge and understanding. Whether it’s knowledge of what really inspires donors or expertise of the latest communications techniques, by working together you can create outstanding communications that really inspire your audience and move you toward the achievement of your goals.
While this this list is not exhaustive, it demonstrates how fundraising is absolutely a team sport, where everyone in your organization has a part to play in giving donors a positive experience. How can you ensure that you are all working towards shared goals that are for the betterment of the whole organization? By creating a true culture of philanthropy, you can create a team approach where fundraising is truly part and parcel of your organization’s overall success.
First published for Hilborn: Charity eNews