An experienced fundraiser is familiar with the potential for the fundraising continuum to be an endless cycle of analysis and planning: your fundraising team sets goals, then outlines objectives, timelines, budget and other resources and sets off to do great things for the organization. A period of time goes by before the team revisits these goals. Some activities have taken place, many others have not. The team circles back and creates a new plan, with a revised set of objectives and timelines and sets out again. Eventually even the most enthusiastic volunteer or professional fundraiser is put off by this process and moves along, and new staff and volunteers come on board, ready to have someone make the most of their energy and enthusiasm.
This process of bringing the group into the fundraising planning process is supposed to garner support of a plan to initiate donor cultivation and outreach, make asks and follow up. It is true that having such a vital role in the planning process can create a productive feeling of ownership, but occasionally a team falls into this cycle of never getting off the starting line and comfortable with their fundraising duties.
The process of coaching your fundraising team can help you break out of this cycle. Coaching differs from mentoring. Mentoring is a two-way relationship with no specific agenda. Coaching is performance-oriented, helping a person or team develop skills they use in ever more effective ways.
Almost every one of every skill level can use a coach. Just like high-performance athletes and grade school-aged soccer players alike benefit from the support of a coach, so too can experienced fundraisers and those new to the process.
Coaching requires a few fundamentals:
- Belief in the person you are coaching –Sometimes great staff and volunteers who want to learn and are ready to engage if they had guidance are undermined by a leader’s lack of faith. When a team senses this lack of faith, they respond with lackluster effort. If you’re working for someone who is impossible to please, why try? Start by believing your team has the skills it takes to do the job, and that it’s your great honor to help them unlock those skills. Your energy and enthusiasm will be apparent to your team and they’ll want to succeed.
- A fundamental curiosity – For every donor there’s a specific approach, one special point of passion that’s going to be the foundation of their relationship with your organization. Each member of your volunteer team is also a donor, and each donor is a potential point of cultivation with future potential donors. Each can be coached to put their passion into words that flow well for them. Don’t be a stickler for the exact wording of your case statement if what works well for your fundraising team member is to tell a story or use a particular set of statistics. Begin by asking them questions about why they’re involved and help them frame a story that comes from the heart. Help them avoid being at a loss for words when the opportunity comes up for them to be an evangelist for your organization.
- Ability to focus on the task at hand – practice active listening with your fundraising team, and make the time to talk to each member individually about what they want to accomplish and the tasks they’ve taken on. Developing fundraising strategy is not a one size fits all proposition. If your fundraising team member is consistently overwhelmed by the number of calls to be made, help parse the to-do list down into bite-sized chunks of activities with specific timelines. Then move on to the next set of tasks. If a fundraising team member has volunteered for a task that they now find intimidating, help them identify something that makes the best use of their existing connections and skill set (perhaps scheduling a presentation at a local service organization, or filling a table at an event to start) and build up to developing ever more valuable skills (setting up a call on a prospective donor and initiating a conversation about supporting the organization).
- Ability to identify and put aside preconceived notions – What are the fundamental beliefs that are holding you back as a coach? Remember that lack of faith in your fundraising team we talked about earlier? Are you trying to protect your board and fundraising team from letting you down because you’re convinced you don’t have a “fundraising board?” That they’re not well connected enough? That they can’t be motivated to make calls? That they shouldn’t be asked to give financially themselves because they already contribute so much of their time? All of these beliefs will hold you back from being an effective fundraising coach. Everyone has something to contribute to your organization if they are passionate about your cause. Your board members are presumably mature enough to decide on their own with your guidance what they can do to best leverage those skills for the organization.
If you’re interested in breaking the analysis paralysis cycle of your fundraising team, look at resources to develop your skills as a fundraising coach. Developing as a coach will require you become a more engaged listener, learn to ask probing questions that move the fundraising process forward, give effective feedback and continually stimulate energy and enthusiasm in your fundraising team.
There are resources available for aspiring fundraising coaches in the Boise Public Library, which, with the support of the Idaho Chapter on Association of Fundraising Professionals, is an official Pierpont-Welde Affiliate Library. For more information, visit boisepubliclibrary.org or afpidaho.afpnet.org.