The Organizational Development Muse

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What's your philosophy on fundraising?

Posted by Kim Stezala on Dec 3, 2014 6:00:00 AM

What’s your philosophy on fundraising?

Last month I had the opportunity to lead a discussion with scholarship providers about board ownership of fundraising.  I presented three approaches or philosophies about fundraising as

(1) sales,

(2) strategic, or

(3) stewardship-based, with various degrees of staff-driven or board-driven efforts.

Depending on which philosophy the board ascribes to, the culture around fundraising, or more broadly about fund development, is very different.  If the board hasn’t clearly stated which approach they ascribe to, staff is often left to make it up as they go along, perhaps following their own philosophy or building a hodgepodge of approaches to make do. We’ve also seen plenty of examples of board members that publicly state agreement and commitment to fundraising but don’t actually do it. 

So what is going on here? Let’s take a closer look at these three philosophies.  

On the spectrum of fund development approaches, sales might be described as a transactional approach with lead lists and pipelines and moving people up the ladder to reach your revenue goal.  This is how I first learned the basic tenets of fund development and many organizations successfully use this method.

A strategic approach might be described as building donor relations and practicing effective philanthropy through leveraging and maximizing gifts, often to support a sophisticated theory of change – it is a multi-faceted approach. The key is that the approach is very donor-centered, vs. organization-centered, and it is an evolution of fund development from the charity mindset to that of strategic philanthropy.

The stewardship approach is grounded in the belief that the organization serves as a conduit for the donor’s purpose and the experience should be relational, meaningful and transformational for the donor – to the point that your staff may even refer them to a different organization if you cannot fulfill their needs. (Really!) In my church, this has been expressed as: from God, through us, to others. Resources are not yours to begin with…you are the steward.

In addition to the different approaches, friction arises when staff and board members have unclear roles and commitments, generational or cultural differences about fundraising, lack of knowledge about the facts and trends in giving, and, quite often, limited bandwith (time) as staff and volunteers. 

How can nonprofit leaders turn this around?

I have been involved with organizations and individuals who have used each one of these approaches successfully. The key is that everyone is honest and has mutual expectations about their approach, and holds each other accountable.   Most of the scholarship providers in our discussion group identified with the “strategic” giving approach, but still acknowledged room for better alignment between staff and board.

One first crucial step is to assess where you are at and begin a courageous conversation.   As a springboard for the discussion, you may want to use these questions that I shared with the group:

  • ROLES: Determine the degree to which board and staff roles are clearly described.  Do you have staff-driven or board-driven fundraising?  What do you need/want?
  • FACTS: Are your strategies aligned within the larger context about charitable giving?  Do you know the facts?  Are you maximizing all opportunities to leverage what the facts tell us?
  • CULTURE: Where is your organization on the transactional vs. relational spectrum?  Where do you want or need to be?  Are the board and staff aligned?
  • READINESS: Is your board open to change? Resistant to change? YOU know them.

Looking for more resources? Design Group International specializes in the steward approach and there are plenty of articles here to help you get started.

Click here if you would like to access the resource list from the original presentation about this topic.

-Kim Stezala


Topics: kim stezala, stezala consulting, Organizational Development. effective nonprofit ma, Design Group International, Fundraising, steward leadership, fundraising philosophy


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