What a Career in Philanthropy Taught Me about Fundraising
Over the last 15+ years, I’ve helped hundreds of grantmakers and individual donors effectively invest in the causes and communities they care about. Earlier this month, I switched gears and joined Orr Group – a full-service strategic fundraising firm for nonprofits. As I begin to help organizations increase and diversify their revenue streams, here are a few fundraising lessons from my work in philanthropy that I am bringing to my new role:
1. Turnover is costing your organization a LOT of money.
According to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the average tenure for development directors is a mere eighteen months. In Compass Point’s National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, high turnover rates, long vacancies, and finding qualified candidates were cited as top challenges for organizations.
We all know that turnover is expensive. Recruiting, onboarding, and training new staff certainly affect your organization’s bottom line. However, the real cost of development staff turnover comes from lost fundraising momentum, forgotten relationships, and it’s impact on your organization’s stability and reputation.
At Orr Group, we recognize these challenges and are working to address them in partnership with our clients. We’re exploring best practices in developing and retaining fundraising staff, recruiting top talent to fill clients’ staffing needs, and embedding our staff in organizations to provide interim fundraising leadership. How are you working to recruit and retain your development leaders? We’d love to hear from you!
2. Donors don’t give TO your organization; they give THROUGH your organization.
Fundraising guru Hank Rosso described fundraising as the “servant of philanthropy.” Before you roll your eyes and lecture me about power dynamics and how philanthropy can’t do its work without nonprofit partners, hear me out.
Giving – whether it be by an individual donor or professional grantmaker – is driven by the interest a person or institution has in making a difference in the community. Yes, making an investment in your organization supports your work, but, more importantly, it helps your donors achieve a philanthropic goal, fulfill a passion, reflect a personal value, or leave a meaningful legacy.
When you talk to potential donors, are you focused on “selling” your organization or are you looking for opportunities to “serve philanthropy?” Talk with donors about their philanthropic values and goals. What legacy are they trying to leave? What motivates them to give? If you become a partner in their efforts, they will, in turn, become a partner to you.
3. Development staff are only as effective as the organizations they represent.
Have you ever hired a new development officer and thought, “Whew, now we don’t have to worry about fundraising anymore?” So many nonprofit executives and boards think this way! What an incredible burden on that new hire. Is it any wonder why the turnover rate for fundraisers is so high?
The reality is that no matter how amazing your development team is, they are still working within the confines of your organization’s structures, resources, culture, reputation, and reach.
The best way to raise more money is to: strengthen your board, develop your staff, craft a strategic plan, invest in your infrastructure, and increase your marketing efforts. The stronger, more effective, and more visible your organization is, the more money will flow your way.
Your organization can use every fundraising trick in the book, but if you’re not hiring and retaining great development staff, building your board and brand, and partnering with your donors on fulfilling their philanthropic goals, your organization is not raising the kind of funds it could be.
If you have comments or feedback about this article, or if you’d like to explore how Orr Group can support your work, let me know!
Katy Moore is a Senior Director at Orr Group, a full-service strategic fundraising firm. With more than 15 years of experience in the field of philanthropy at the local, regional, and national levels, Katy has a deep knowledge and insider’s view of institutional and corporate philanthropy. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on twitter at @CapitalGrits and @Orr_Group.