The Perils of a Staff-Driven Advancement Program

The classic public higher ed advancement model is built on the triad of the college president, the foundation board, and the professional development staff. If the triad is in place and functioning well, do everything you can to maintain its effectiveness. If it is not in place, do everything to can to support the formation of the triad.

Without the president and board onboard you have a staff-driven program, and with a staff-driven program you limit your revenue to 50% of potential. You can do a lot of things right, and effectively, and still have a staff-driven program. You may have a strong Annual Fund and grants program, but you will have a weak major gifts program.

When you limit your revenue to 50% of potential you become irrelevant. That is, you cease to matter in the power dynamic of the college. You won’t receive an adequate budget or sufficient attention to get the job done. If advancement isn’t an engine, it’s a caboose. If advancement is the caboose, it will fail.

When I refer to the engine, I mean the resource engine, that term Jim Collins talks about. The major gifts program is more potent resource engine of the development program, as compared to the Annual Fund, and, it goes without saying, special events. Yet the Annual Fund must be well established for the major gifts program to launch. So there is hope for anyone running a staff-driven program raising most of the annual revenue from the Annual Fund. You just have to shift the dynamics of the advancement triad to put the president front and center and the foundation board firmly—and actively—behind you.

I wrote about engaging the president in my last blog entry. As to engaging the foundation board, you might refer to Tip #19 in my book: “Members of effective boards actively support the fundraising activities of the Annual Fund and make it a priority for personal involvement.”

After that, major gifts!

The Problem with Special Events

Opportunity Cost, Transactional Displacement, & the ROI on Staff Time

A word on the origins of our dependence on events: in terms of fundraising tradition, this dependence arises  from a grassroots board and a lack of staff. I advocate that we talk about mission instead. When I hear of a strong dependence on special events, the warning flags go up. We have to look at the opportunity cost of events–of what I call transactional displacement.

Transactional displacement is the displacement of mission-based, purposeful cultivation by event-related fundraising transactions. This includes “selling tables,” “selling sponsorships,” and rounding up auction items. It can become similar to a retail transaction, unrelated to the mission-based story of changing and transforming lives.  And when event participants are done with the event, they are sometimes done with you until next year. They think they’ve done their part.

And we have to look at the ROI on staff time. It usually is lower with events than with other forms of direct cultivation. The higher your gross, the greater your dependence, the more difficult it will be to shift your paradigm. At a certain revenue point, change becomes nearly impossible; you are locked in.

So unless you are raising a lot of money on events, you might want to rethink your reliance on them, and instead think about raising money using the collegiate development model.

Repositioning for Fundraising

soiree rencontre bethune site de rencontre pour ado gratuits paru vendu 42 rencontre rencontre avec les filles de bamako enter http://vertesinfo.hu/vselenaya/1095 site de rencontre ado 78 site de rencontre dakar rencontres adopteunmec http://www.canmarkindustries.com/mimido/5243 It was 20 Years Ago Today…

See if this article of mine originally published in 1994 by Nonprofit Management Strategies remains relevant today. I am struck by how many of the principles presented here made it into Fundraising Strategies for Community Colleges eighteen years later. Can you recognize any organizations you know in the advice below?

Repositioning for Fund Raising

Loss of Government Funding Often Sparks Attempts to Enter the Fundraising Market

You are the executive director of a small agency that historically has not raised much in the way of private funds. You have just been notified that long-held government funding will be lost or curtailed. After the initial panic wears off, you take a deep breath and resolve—once again—to approach the board about the need to raise funds.

Just don’t overlook the need to reposition the agency for fundraising.

Organizations that ask themselves, “Why can’t we raise funds?” often overlook one obvious answer: government funding.

Like an I.V. in a patient’s arm, government funding is an artificial-life support compared to fundraising in the private sector. Yet there’s no problem until it’s cut off.

In the book Nonprofits for Hire (Harvard U Press), authors Steven Rathgeb Smith and Michael Lipsky assert that governmental funding now accounts for roughly half of all social service agency income. They estimate the amount of governmental funding to be in the range of $15 billion a year.

Can this amount of money change nonprofit organizational culture? The answer is, “You bet!”

“Is he knocking government funding?” you ask.

Only to the extent that government funding breeds an organizational culture of indifference to fundraising. And that, unfortunately, is a common occurrence.

The reason not to engage in fundraising is, of course, it’s too hard. And organizations that have failed in past attempts to raise funds know better than anyone how hard it can be.

Repositioning 101

Repositioning involves three elements:

  1. Make your own commitment. (You. The executive director.)
  1. Give volunteer leadership a stake. (Here comes the culture change…)
  2. Enlist your board of directors. (They may never forgive you, but they will respect you.)

The Executive Director’s Commitment

A note to the executive director: You are the fundraiser in-chief. It’s your responsibility to:

  • Educate yourself.
  • Get serious about fundraising.
  • Develop a realistic plan to reposition the agency.
  • Cultivate volunteers everywhere you go.

Volunteer Leaders Are Made Not Born

Certainly one of the most fascinating elements of philanthropy is the human drama of volunteer relations, and the leader of any nonprofit organization has got to be good at it.

Many seasoned professionals will tell you the most satisfying part of their job consists of the many and varied relationships they enjoy with their volunteers. So how do you and your organization take advantage of this? You know the old saying about business—“location, location, and location.” With volunteers, it’s “cultivation, cultivation, and cultivation.”

The Board of Directors: They Really Will Forgive You

Here’s a premise you may not like: It is the responsibility of the executive director to manage the culture and performance of the board of directors.

And a premise they may not like: Repositioning for fundraising nearly always requires significant change at the board level.

Significant change at the board level is accomplished via the Alpha and Omega of board building: the nomination process and evaluation process. These processes belong to the board, but are managed in part by the executive director.

You can be successful without a high-powered board in the traditional sense of the term. There are many wonderful organizations out there proving it every day.

But you cannot be successful without the attention—and involvement—of your board. The trick is in finding the right roles for committed, trained board members to play. And of course, everybody gives.

Here are 12 keys to board success:

  1. The board must establish the repositioning effort as the number one or two priority of the organization. The effort must be characterized by measurable goals and accountability for performance.
  2. Find your potential board president and work for his or her advancement to that position. Lobby.
  3. Educate the board as to the principles of fundraising. Use outside counsel.
  4. Define “Give, get, or get off” and enforce it. This means offering nonperformers an “out” such as your new “advisory council.”
  5. Recruit strategically.
  6. Seek commitment, time, talent, connections, influence, and money.
  7. Without commitment, the other resources are wasted.
  8. Define expectations up front. Be firm. Be clear.
  9. Cultivate those who really interest you. Their time should be worth your time.
  10. Make a compelling case for the need and the mission.
  11. Giving begins with the board. Make it your first campaign.
  12. No one is exempt. All trustees must feel some involvement with the fundraising process.

Ira S. Robbins wrote in Fundraising: A Crucial Role for Board Members:

“The first responsibility of a board member, of course, is for himself or herself to make a contribution. It may be a large amount or small, but giving is of great importance.”

Nine Handy Maxims by Which to Survive & Thrive

  1. It is not sufficient to preserve the status quo.
  2. Success on a modest fundraising project is better than failure on a large one.
  3. Avoid committees where possible.
  4. Get out of the office.
  5. Fundraising performed in the context of a cohesive plan wastes no effort.
  6. Grantwriting is not fundraising.
  7. Board giving is the cornerstone of all giving.
  8. Give yourself two years.
  9. The truth about fundraising is that it’s hard—but it’s worth it!

The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Strengthen Employee Annual Giving.

The most important thing you can do to strengthen Employee Annual Giving is to adopt the practice of offering only one type of employee pledge—the sustaining pledge.

The sustaining pledge is a pledge that goes on until the employee modifies or cancels it. It is a great alternative to an annual pledge.

National Public Radio pioneered this option with its sustaining membership option. NPR characterizes the effects of the option as “a great way to cut down on fundraising costs and provide a steady monthly income to your station.”

After many years of asking employees to renew their payroll pledges on an annual basis, I introduced the sustaining pledge at Normandale Community College. Justifying the benefits of the program with language similar to that used by Minnesota Public Radio for its sustaining membership program, I encountered no resistance. Employees liked having their gifts on autopilot. It allowed the development office to change its messaging from that of making an annual pitch to that of an extended “thankathon” that allowed us to focus on nondonors with the message to “join our sustainers in making a gift.”

When we offered a premium or a raffle, we made sure to include the names of our sustainers in the promotion—and we made sure they knew about it. This follows the practices of public radio stations that offer their sustaining members premiums like magazine subscriptions.

Occasionally, I encounter an aggressive development director who wants to ask for pledge upgrades every year, and thus prefers annual pledges. No problem; it’s easy to tell your sustainers, “You need do nothing to continue your gift, unless you would consider upgrading your pledge…here’s what your extra commitment will buy…”

I would much prefer to discuss an upgrade than I would a pledge renewal—the gift is already made—it’s just a question of the amount. One can imagine a host of marketing touches that could be directed toward promoting pledge upgrades.

Of course you also need to assure your donors that they can downgrade or cancel a pledge with a simple note to the development office. No muss, no fuss. And then get that cancellation notice to payroll ASAP; it’s a matter of program integrity.

Sustaining pledges allow an overtaxed development staff to focus on the margins—new employees and employees who in the past have not chosen to participate. Presenting to a departmental meeting is easier when the language revolves around joining the sustainers. It never hurts to state the percentage of people in the room who are sustainers. Ask one of them to say a few words about how easy it is.

Great Employee Annual Giving programs are built on building the base. Sustaining pledges are the best means by which to build and hold that base. It could be key to your shop achieving and exceeding the 50 percent participation threshold. And once you are exceeding the two-thirds participation rate, you are running a best-in-class Employee Annual Giving program.