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My Tips on Planning and Prioritizing: Managing Fundraising Teams

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This post is a complement to a podcast episode of Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster, of which I am a monthly contributor. To listen to the episode about this topic, click here.

When you hear the phrase fundraising planning – what do you think? Do you think about Excel spreadsheets that sit on the shelf, or documents with track changes with dates that span over eight months? Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. A plan can serve as a roadmap for the direction you want to go, and can be something you refer to when your executive director asks you to do something a little out there (it can help you say no!). At the end of the day, it can – and should – be something that helps you stay sane.

As you start to put together your plan – use last year to benchmark, but don’t set your sights too low & get stuck on what’s happened in the past. Be reasonable but also imaginative. And make sure you have concrete goals. For each group you are looking to raise money from (i.e. individuals, grants, events), think about what you want to accomplish. Are you trying to raise more money? Increase your number of donors? Those goals aren’t necessarily the same, so get clear on what you want to do from the beginning.

So what if you’ve put together your plan and now you have to manage your staff fundraising team? It’s not an easy feat – getting everyone on your team on the same page. There are endless ways to fundraise, and there are always more people to ask for money, so as a team manager it’s your job to decide how to prioritize the work to be done. It’s also super important to balance what has to be done with what could be done – i.e. what is good for long term fundraising.

A couple of tips to do this:

  • Team retreats: In addition to your staff fundraising team, it’s good to include others as well, like your executive director, marketing team, or other volunteers working with you. Make sure to use time effectively – balance between strategic thinking and implementation. Make sure to do follow up! There’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours at a retreat and then hearing nothing afterwards.
  • Regular check ins: Depending on your team, this could be with the whole team or one-on-one. It’s important to keep your staff working on what’s important, but still have the bigger picture in mind.

It’s all about open communication! But: what if you’re a team of one? Stay tuned for tips next time!

-N.C.

Celebrating Six Years of Blogging & the Next Chapter for Nonprofit Chapin

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I’ve been waiting to write this blog post for months. I’ve been waiting to make these career decisions for even longer. And today, on the sixth anniversary of this blog, I am ready to share what I’ve been thinking about for so long – my plans for the future.

Over my eleven years of working in fundraising and marketing for nonprofits I have learned so much. I’ve learned about the joys and the challenges of working in nonprofits, that there is always work to be done, and that at the end of the day, the work changes lives.

I’ve also learned to key in on the elements of work that I enjoy and that I’m really good at.

  • I have eleven years of experience of working in various roles in development teams, and have a real knack for thinking about efficient operations. I know how to effectively manage direct mail appeals, put together major gifts programs, write and report on grants, put on a gala, or maintain a donor database.
  • I love thinking about how teams work and supervising staff. Empowering nonprofit staff to do their best work – while taking care of themselves and their needs – is a real passion of mine.
  • I love working in periods of change and transition – I like thinking on my feet and introducing new solutions to problems. And I have a knack for being a calming force during a time of chaos.
  • I’d like to work with a greater variety of nonprofits. Ever since I got my Masters in Nonprofit Administration, I’ve been craving the ability to use the breadth of knowledge I received with a wide range of organizations.
  • I want more flexibility with my time. I’ve realized that when I work constantly, I get in a zone and more quickly burn out, not doing my best work. I want a better balance so that I can do better work.

I’ve taken a lot of time to think about all of this, and had a bunch of informational interviews with people who have worked in development for a long time, and have landed on my next career move:

I’m looking to move into interim development director work.

I’ll help manage your development team, ensure your daily operations are taken care of and that money is raised, and even evaluate your current development program and make some recommendations. I’ll help during your search, help make a smooth transition to your permanent development director and then leave you to succeed.

With the constant state of turnover that many nonprofits find themselves in with this key position, I hope to fill a real need. Just because you’re between development directors doesn’t mean you have to put additional pressure on your current team or redirect someone else’s time. I can come in and help make sure everything runs smoothly.

My last full time day with my current employer is April 7. After some time off, I’ll be looking for jobs like this. If you hear of anyone who might need something like this, please think of me! I’ll be relying on my community of support – and that certainly includes you – to get me plugged in where I need to me. Many thanks in advance!!

-N.C.

Five Years Old Today!

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Five years of blogging as Nonprofit Chapin! You know what that means – a complete blog overhaul. New layout, new photos (courtesy of the supremely talented Krishna Patel), new About Me page, even some new stuff on my Twitter page. It’s a new year and time for a refresh. Let me know what you think!

Professionally, I have grown a tremendous amount this year. I moved from a Donor Relations Manager role, where I was focusing mostly on direct mail, grants, and donor database management, to an Associate Director of Development role, where I am in charge of a fundraising team while there is no Director of Development. I am jumping head first into some meaty management issues and getting a ton of great experience thinking about how to be strategic with my energy and efforts. With managing a department comes a variety of different types of tasks, and it can be tough to manage my time without working 12 hours a day. But I’m learning it, and gaining a lot of wonderful experience.

If you (or someone you know) has found yourself at a loss of how to move forward with your development team, I would love to help. I have gained so much great experience that I’d enjoy working with other nonprofits to reimagine how their team might work best. Feel free to contact me on my About Me page or by leaving a comment here, and we can talk about working together. I’d love to be of help, wherever you are!

Here’s to another five years!

-N.C.

Spreading My Leadership Wings

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Here I am again, another two months after my last post. And while it really hasn’t been that long, there have been some changes at my new job that are allowing the space for me to really, I mean really, spread my leadership wings.

One thing’s for sure – I’ve spent the last few months steeping myself in nonprofit staffing issues. Whether it’s hiring new staff, appreciating more seasoned ones, or thinking about division of duties and workloads, the human resource discussion in nonprofits is as important as ever. Now more than ever, as I manage a team of development staff, I think about the ways we can make sure our nonprofit employees are satisfied in their careers and lives. What’s my role in making sure this happens? At the moment, it’s with my own team and at my own nonprofit. What is my obligation to make change on a deeper level? I consider these questions as I move through my changing role.

I hope you also think about this as you do your work. How are you modeling behavior that your nonprofit peers can appreciate and emulate? Do you have clear goals and expectations in your role, and are you being fully appreciated for them? For that matter, are you being outwardly appreciative of your colleagues? We should all shower each other with a little more love! No matter where you are on the totem pole, you can make a difference with your actions.

Thanks again for your patience. I assure you, something big will come out of these changes. And I’ll try to be better about bringing you along with me. Because I’m learning so much, and what’s the point of that if I’m not sharing my learnings with you?

Happy working, my nonprofit friends!

-N.C.

A Brand New Role in a Brand New City

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It’s been some months since I’ve blogged – I’m sorry about that! But I promise there’s a good reason: I’ve been busy learning and growing in a brand new role in a brand new city. I accepted a new position: Associate Director of Development at a theater nonprofit. I started there on August 19 and have been getting to know the ropes and my role in the development team.

I was attracted to this position because I was ready and craving the next step in my career. Over the past few years, I have gained multiple direct reports and realized that my favorite time at work was working with these folks. I really enjoy thinking about how development teams work and I was looking for a new step that would allow me to contribute to that most thoughtfully.

And that’s where my current job comes in. This brand new position was created to inject capacity into a department where everyone is working at 150% and no one is able to step back and plan (sound familiar?). I am able to serve as the liaison between the development director and the rest of the development staff, manage daily operations, and assist the development director with department strategy. I was excited that this nonprofit identified the need for this kind of role and happy I could fit in to help.

I am learning a tremendous amount at my new job, and the possibilities are endless about what I could write about here. In addition to the development operations, I get to focus on developing the people in our department, which I love – a nonprofit is only as good as the amount of happy people working for it.

So thanks for being patient with me, and I hope you’ll read the coming posts as I navigate through my new role. It’s not always going to be pretty, but it’s always going to be honest. I appreciate you understanding that.

-N.C.

UnderDeveloped

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I am thrilled to share a phenomenal report about the challenges faced by nonprofits surrounding fundraising. If you work in development or are a senior level employee at a nonprofit, you must read this! UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising is a joint project of CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund that surveyed development directors and executive directors across the nation to understand their relationship to each other and to fundraising. The report includes insightful numbers on high turnover rates, skills and abilities around fundraising, and an entire section about nurturing a culture of philanthropy in organizations.

I believe the biggest takeaway from this report is that we must reframe what it means to raise money – whether that be by development directors, executive directors, or line staff. We need to have an honest conversation about money, what it means to all of us in society, and what it means to nonprofit organizations. Money, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, is an incredibly taboo subject. People aren’t comfortable talking about finances in a really open way. It is not deemed to be an acceptable conversation topic. This is a problem when that is what fundraisers are supposed to do – talk about money all day. What does this mean for the success – or lack thereof – of fundraisers?

We need to get to a place where we all understand that money is necessary for nonprofits to provide the services they do, and without donors and their generosity, there would be none. We need to be comfortable to share that with outsiders when we are talking about our programs. We need each other – nonprofits need funds to run, and donors need causes to support and believe in. In the end, we will all win.

Please, read this important report and share it with everyone you know! It can have a great impact for people in need.

-N.C.

Donors are People, Too!

I’ve noticed an “us versus them” attitude with fundraisers and donors. Us development staff spend hours trying to understand what motivates, inspires, and eventually causes donors to give. What makes them happy. What makes them sad. Heck, there are countless studies on what day of the week and time of day donors are on Facebook!

I understand the value of understanding the art of giving – and I appreciate that people want to understand what donors want instead of cramming solicitations down their throat. But when does this interest go too far?

I’m here to make a bold statement.

Donors are people, too!

Development staff get so wrapped up in understanding what donors might want that they get scared to do anything at all. Acknowledgement letters go out without personal notes. Major donors don’t get regular calls. Volunteers are never asked for money.

We need to make a change. The next time you send an appeal to a donor you know recently donated, take two minutes to hand write a note to thank them. On a random day, call up a major donor just to say thank you. Sending an acknowledgment letter to someone who gives regularly? Reference that!

These are not big changes. They’re small, but I promise you they make a world of difference. When was the last time you got anything hand written in the mail? Follow the golden rule – for every donor you work with, treat them the way you want to be treated. Simply acknowledge that they’re special.

Because donors are people, too.

-N.C.

How to Ask for Money Without Being Scared

Money is a funny thing. Our relationship to it is unlike anything else. Money ensures you have food, shelter, clothing – all the basic human essentials. In fact, with the American economy set up the way it is, one could argue you need money to live. But most of us work to get more money than is necessary. Most of us dream of the house with a white picket fence, the nice car, and the fancy dinners. And therefore, in many people’s eyes, money = happiness.

That’s one of the reasons asking for money is so scary. Money is sacred – it represents so much more than the coins jingling in your piggy bank. It represents a comfortable home and piece of mind. But if you change your mindset about what you’re really asking for when you ask for money, it’s easy.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when asking for money.

  • Love the cause you’re asking for money for. If you’re passionate about what you’re fundraising for, it will come across when you’re talking to potential donors. Remember to share why you love the cause, what got you involved, and why you care. Instead of trying to convince them to care, showing that you care is the best way to persuade them.
  • Be in the business of making people happy. Giving away money to good causes makes people happy (there are several studies that show this is the case). People love the feeling they get when helping others. Instead of thinking of it as asking someone for something, think of it as giving them the opportunity to be happy. You are simply the middle man.
  • They are going to give away their money anyway – might as well be to your cause. More than 9 out of 10 Americans donate in a given year – that’s huge. There’s a strong chance the person you’re talking to is going to give to something this year. It might as well be the amazing cause you are working for – you know how amazing it is, so you’ve already vetted the cause and done the research for them! All that’s left is the easy part – donating.
  • Don’t be afraid of rejection. The worst possible thing that could happen when you ask someone for money? They say no. Then what? Nothing. You move on, they move on. Don’t take this response personally – when someone says no, it’s no reflection on you, it’s simply not a fit for him/her to give to your cause.

Asking for money does not have to be scary, and if you follow these tips, it will become natural to you. Let go of being scared of rejection, feel confident in your cause, and put on your best smile. You can do it! 🙂

-N.C.

Five Things I Wish I Knew About Being a Development Coordinator Five Years Ago

If you’re wondering what being a Development Coordinator is all about, here are five aspects of the job that jumped out at me as lessons I’ve learned in five years of working in the field. None of them would have deterred me from being where I am today, but I wish I knew about them before!

1. There’s always work to be done.

There will always be more money to raise, more donors to call, more data to clean up. The work of a Development staffer (and most nonprofit staffers, for that matter) is never done. You need to start your days at work knowing you’ll do the best you can to tackle some of the high priority projects, and be satisfied with what got done at the end of the day. Don’t get bogged down in the big picture of having a huge fundraising goal – break your tasks into manageable chunks and you will go far!

2. You’ll always be part of the supporting cast.

If you love the spotlight, become Program Manager. Development staffers, especially support staff to the Director of Development, are almost always in the background. We’re the ones setting up the registration table, answering questions about auction items, or processing payments – not the ones discussing our passion for the cause or smiling in photos with a big check. When people want to learn about the activities of the organization, they want to hear it from those working directly with the clients, not from administrators (which Development staffers are considered).

3. You will always be known as someone’s assistant.

It might be the Director of Development or it might be the CEO, but as support staff for a Development department, outsiders won’t understand what you do. A Program Assistant will have specific duties that outsiders understand, like managing volunteers, but a Development Coordinator, even if she manages the website, e-newsletter, and does all data entry, she will still be asked about the guest list for the gala. Be secure in the fact that outsiders might not understand that there is plenty of work to be done for more than one person – I’m sure your boss is aware!

4. You’ll be asked to answer phones, fix computers, and deliver checks to be signed.

For some reason the Development department becomes the do-everything-no-one-else-wants-to-do department. At the heart of a Development Coordinator’s role is to improve capacity for an organization… on the surface, that might look like simply to raise money, but it’s really so much more. It means that you’re suddenly the organization’s IT department and you’re asked to hold an Outlook training for the staff because you manage the website, so you must know about computers! Note: Many nonprofit staffers feel they do much more than their job description, so this should be no surprise for anyone!

5. Someone worked very hard on that piece of mail you’re glancing at.

After working a short time in Development you’ll realize that what is commonly referred to as “junk mail” was actually drafted multiple times, reviewed by several people, mail merged, printed, stuffed, sealed, and hand delivered to the bulk mail center at the post office. Being a Development Coordinator has opened my eyes to how much effort is put into a lot of things, including direct mail. It definitely helps me appreciate the little things! Just remember that not everyone has your same experience, so not everyone will treat your mail, or anything else, the same way.

It’s not that being a Development Coordinator is all hard work and no fun. Being support in a Development team is great – you get to get your hands dirty in various projects and talk to donors, the biggest advocates of your cause. Just remember the above five things as you work away and remember that you’re contributing to your organization’s mission, every day. We all should be so lucky.

-N.C.