A guest post by Larissa Stoddart

There are constant headlines in my news feeds these days about the nonprofit sector (and nearly every other sector!) struggling to attract and retain staff. Based on conversations with my clients, the fundraising role is no exception. Since the fundraising staff member and the Executive Director play the two most active roles in raising money, hiring and retaining fundraising staff who can be successful in their work will not be possible without clear and supportive communication between the two positions. 

One way nonprofit leaders can increase their chances of attracting and keeping a stellar fundraiser is by ensuring the Executive Director has the knowledge required to support their fundraising team and provides frequent and positive opportunities for interaction. 

Executive Director and Fundraising Staff Relationship Challenges

Many Executive Directors I work with ask how to guide, support, and monitor fundraising activities and performance. Often they have little or no fundraising experience, or if they do, they have worked outside of fundraising for quite some time. This creates a challenge in building a productive relationship between the two roles. The Executive Director suspects some critical tasks are not occurring, but they are unsure which ones because they don’t know what to look for. They want their organization to raise more revenue without requiring intensive amounts of time from the Executive Director so they can focus on oversight for the entire organization. By learning about their role in fundraising, what they should monitor, and how they should monitor it, they can more easily lead staff to raise more money. 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The Role of the Executive Director in Fundraising

The Executive Director’s overall role is to build a culture that values philanthropy at the organization and enables the fundraiser to be successful in their work. Leaders can do this by: 

  • Ensuring their organization offers meaningful programs or services, is financially stable, and has a strong reputation
  • Acting as a fundraising ambassador by engaging staff, volunteers, boards, members, and partners in embracing a philanthropic culture
  • Considering the impact on fundraising when making organizational decisions
  • Understanding fundraising basics to either help execute (for small teams) or evaluate and oversee (for large teams)
  • Ensuring fundraising staff have the tools and support required to do the work
  • Actively participating in major gift solicitations and other fundraising initiatives when appropriate 
  • Finding experts to guide and support the fundraising staff on complex topics 
  • Ensuring that fundraising operating procedures are documented to increase efficiency and make future staffing transitions easier

The Executive Director also needs to evaluate their relationship with money. Do they believe there is an abundance of wealth available to the organization? Or do they believe there is a scarcity of wealth that potential donors will not readily give? A leader’s relationship with money will impact their view of fundraising and their approach to donors, for better or worse!

Signs of an Efficient and Effective Fundraising Operation

Every fundraising department, regardless of size, needs a few foundational elements to make it efficient and effective. There are a few things an Executive Director should look for when overseeing their fundraising operations. 

An audit is an annual assessment of how your fundraising is performing. It assesses all components of fundraising operations: management and planning, human resources, the Case for Support, information management, prospect research, how relationships with donors are built and maintained, and what fundraising strategies are used to ask for money. An audit provides a performance baseline to measure progress and create a fundraising plan. 

The fundraising plan addresses challenges observed in the audit and clarifies to fundraising staff members what to do and when. It includes financial and non-financial goals, diverse strategies, deadlines to complete tasks, and budget assigned to tasks. The plan also outlines how the department will be managed and how the team’s knowledge and abilities will be built. 

The Executive Director should also support the fundraising team in creating and updating a Case for Support. The Case is a document that outlines to donors the impact the organization is making on people and how much money is needed to make that impact possible. This document forms the basis of all other fundraising communication, is aligned with the strategic plan, and provides the fundraiser with clarity on what to ask donors to fund. You can’t raise money effectively without it! The fundraising staff can complete the fundraising audit, plan, and Case for Support with the proper training and support, or you can hire an external firm to complete this work for you. 

Some other things to ensure are in place include a fundraising database (also known as a CRM). A CRM is necessary for managing donor relationships, financial reporting, activity reporting, and donor communications. Prospect research is also required to identify new donors and learn more about existing donors. Finally, ensure the fundraising staff are focusing on solid cultivation, stewardship, and fundraising strategies to attract those newly identified donors and retain the ones you have. 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Monitoring Progress

While basic fundraising knowledge is helpful, translating that knowledge into productive conversations is the next step. Monitoring progress and supporting fundraising staff with executing fundraising plans is essential. A leader can do this by setting weekly meetings focusing on progress towards goals in the fundraising plan. An agenda should include the following items: 

  • Discuss and celebrate progress on fundraising plan goals 
  • Review reports/CRM dashboards based on plan goals (number of donors gained, number of donors lost, number of meetings attended, amount of money raised, etc.)
  • Discuss roadblocks to meeting fundraising plan goals 
  • Celebrate wins (including progress on the plan that isn’t money related!)
  • Provide feedback on fundraiser performance 
  • Determine the support fundraising staff require from Executive Director
  • Agree to the following actions required to remove roadblocks to further progress

By educating themselves on fundraising basics, fulfilling their own fundraising responsibilities, and holding regular meetings as outlined above, Executive Directors can focus their relationships with fundraising staff on issues that will raise more money for the organization! 

Larissa Stoddart

Larissa Stoddart is a consultant based in Ontario, Canada. Her company, Growth & Co., trains and coaches Executive Directors and their fundraising staff to enhance their fundraising operations in ways that build internal capacity to raise more money sustainably into the future.