Not every fundraising effort is a smashing success. There can be any number of reasons an initiative or campaign doesn’t meet its goal; from a message that isn’t compelling enough, to unfocused leadership, to poor management. One major handicap for any fundraising effort is having too few members on the team.
I’ll admit, when I was a Development Director on staff for a mid-size regional nonprofit, I was frequently caught trying to do everything myself. I wanted to deliver the right message and the right materials to the right prospective donor at the right time. The prospect of managing a big group meant that anyone could be out there saying something that was slightly wrong, requiring follow up I didn’t have time for. I didn’t want to delegate.
There’s a problem with this kind of approach within the context of almost any fundraising effort, and it’s more than just the truth behind the old standard: “many hands make light work.” There are many reasons to work with a team:
- The larger the group, the more legitimate the cause in the eyes of some of your prospective donors. More people want to back a winning horse, be part of the “in” crowd, than want to be the early adopters with all the risks that come with that.
- The bigger the mass the larger the pull of gravity, and the bigger the pool of people, the more you’ll garner enthusiasm, social media “buzz” and people wanting to get in on the action.
- A dream that belongs to just one or a small group lacks opportunities for buy in. A dream that encourages feedback and the exchange of ideas encourages action, and ownership. Engaged members of your campaign team are some of your first and most enthusiastic donors.
- Each member of a team brings a different skill set to the project, and each can be of some help at some time or another. Think about how much your board treasure likes explaining a P&L report, or how well your fundraising chair can get in to see almost anyone when the need arises. A diverse team of volunteers can accomplish more when each is given a set of tasks appropriate to their skills.
The word “campaign” means a series of operations undertaken with one objective in mind. I have come to realize that one can more readily predict the likely success of a nonprofit marketing or fundraising campaign or project based upon the amount of focused activity that is going on. If only one or two people are making calls on prospective donors, very few calls will be made and donations will be few and far between. Momentum won’t build. Ripples won’t spread.
If you are a control freak, gathering a cadre of excited volunteers is a terrifying prospect. What if someone says the wrong thing, or talks to a reporter? What if more than one person approaches a prospective donor? What if things get out of control?
But the result of only one person or a small group of people working on a project is that multiple tasks will wait for someone’s attention, missing important deadlines or windows of opportunity.
If you share my control-freak tendencies, consider:
- Remember the KISS principle and keep it simple. Create job descriptions for all volunteers that include five or fewer bullet points. Then work with the individual to carve out specific additional duties and tasks appropriate to that person.
- Let go, a little bit, of the message. Everyone has a slightly different way of telling the story of why your organization is important. You can’t control everything they’re going to say when they’re in public, just make sure they know one or two key points to hit while they’re telling their story.
- Keep in touch, or enlist a committee to do so. Have them call and or email volunteers regularly. If someone is not accomplishing what they’ve told you they would, gently suggest going another route. Keep short intervals between check in times, and meet with your core group often to keep tabs on the momentum.
Remember that ultimately there is very little to be gained – except possibly a significant therapy bill – by trying to manage everything yourself to the tiniest detail. Share, delegate and collaborate and you’ll ultimately be more likely to celebrate success.