Unlocking Nonprofit Success: The Crucial Role Of Executive Collaboration Across Development, Finance, And Operations
Leadership Published Date, 2024

Unlocking Nonprofit Success: The Crucial Role Of Executive Collaboration Across Development, Finance, And Operations

Created By: Orr Group
March 7, 2024

Nonprofit organizations need effective cooperation among their development, finance, and operations departments to achieve their goals and maintain their viability. To explore this further, we recently hosted Russatta Buford, Chief Operating Officer of the Ms. Foundation for Women, and Dominick Impemba, Chief Operating and Finance Officer of The New York Community Trust, for an insightful and lively TALK to examine the potential of this collaboration.

Here are some important insights shared during the discussion that can help nonprofits to enhance this leadership cooperation and increase their impact.

1. Understanding the “True” Costs: How to Paint a Holistic Picture of the Need.

Finance and operations leaders are trained to review their organization’s budget with a fine-tooth comb and generally maintain a birds-eye understanding of its current financial health. These budgets are all-encompassing and account for both direct and indirect costs, which are all critical to mission success but can span fundraising expenses, general operating costs, learning and development resources, and technological needs. All of this adds up to what Russatta and Dominick referred to as the “true” cost of the work and a metric that fundraisers must take into account before starting conversations with donors.

In order to communicate the comprehensive financial need to donors, fundraisers should work with their financial/operational counterparts to paint a holistic picture demonstrating how general budgetary needs and program execution are interconnected; and that one cannot happen without the other. By bringing finance and operations officers into the conversation, they can help fundraisers capture the entire cost of programs needed to deliver your organization’s services to its communities effectively. This type of strategic collaboration also includes having structured yet flexible policies in place, such as gift acceptance policies, to guide actions and decisions. This ensures that all departments operate within agreed-upon frameworks, enhancing efficiency and unity.

Once fundraisers are armed with this knowledge, they can leverage these needs with donors to help them better understand how their investment will benefit the full value of the organization.

2. Building Bridges Between Finance, Operations, and Fundraising – Internally and Externally.

Fundraising is not the sole responsibility of the development department; all teams have an important role to play in the success of their organization and the impact of its mission. Finance, operations, and development teams must operate in lockstep from the onset, fostering open communication, transparency, and flexibility to ensure they are on the same page when faced with new challenges and opportunities. By maintaining this culture of collaboration, these traditionally siloed departments will form a connective tissue so that all parties are informed, engaged, and bought into the collective work at hand.

Across internal communications, and when engaging with external stakeholders and potential donors, being transparent and honest about this partnership will underscore just how integral each department is to the organization’s service and program delivery. Both Russatta and Dominick explained how the terms “overhead” or “admin” are not conducive to establishing a unified organizational front; rather, they suggest that fundraisers frame this partnership as something along the lines of “core mission support”, demonstrating that every function of the organization operates in service of its goals, whether they work ‘on the front lines’ or not. 

How can organizations operationalize and sustain this cooperation? Consider regular check-ins and creating opportunities for departments like finance and donor relations to collaborate on cultivation tasks or fundraising initiatives. Transparent reporting and frequent dialogue are not just beneficial to funders but to internal team members as well. This openness will encourage a supportive environment where every contribution towards the mission is valued.

3. Identifying the Right Metrics and Processes for Successful Planning and Sustainability.

Establishing open lines of communication and understanding shared responsibility is a great starting point for these leaders; but to actualize and measure success across fundraising, finance, and operations, it is crucial to establish the right metrics and processes to set goals and maintain accountability. When it comes to campaign planning in particular, leadership across these departments should first come together to identify their individual needs, ambitions, and goals, and then come to a consensus on how a campaign can support each of these elements. If finance and operations leaders are abreast of the campaign plan and fundraising goal, they can adjust their planning accordingly, and vice versa. With each department now rallied behind the same objective, the campaign outcome can only be elevated.

Part of this development of metrics and processes involves leveraging tools that enhance communication and project management across teams. Consider implementing accessible platforms, dashboards, or databases where the whole organization can easily share information, track progress, and collaboratively work on projects to improve efficiencies and reduce miscommunication.

Underpinning all of these strategies is the need to cultivate a culture of respect and understanding throughout the organization. Encouraging teams to see the value in each other’s work and recognizing the pivotal role every department plays in achieving the mission at hand is crucial. Most importantly, preserving this culture is an ongoing process that requires leadership across departments to set the right example and serve as role models.

Overall, forging authentic and productive partnerships with your organizational counterparts will not only strengthen your fundraising efforts; it will also lead to sustained operations, smarter future planning, and impactful delivery of your services to those who need it most. By working together, finance, fundraising, and operations leaders will simply build better organizations.

It was an honor to have Russatta and Dominick join us for this fruitful and productive discussion. The TALK covered a lot of material, so if you’re curious to hear more expert insights and takeaways, the recording is out now.

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