by Dan Schipp
I was seated across the table from the chief executive officer, a highly successful fund raiser. We were having a conversation about the record-setting, fundraising year his organization had just completed.
He leaned across the table and said, “But I want more for this institution . . . I want to ensure that the success we are currently having in fundraising continues well beyond the tenure of the present team – CEO, advancement staff, and volunteers . . . I want to “systemize” a high-functioning, productive development program.”
How do you do that? How do you provide for continuity and on-going, long-term success in fundraising? How do you build a culture of effective development?
For answers to those questions, I look to an organization, located in Indiana, that has had a strong, distinctive development culture since the 1960’s.
How has this organization gone about systemizing its approach to development? I can identify four primary ingredients in its recipe for successfully sustaining a consistent, distinctive effort in fundraising:
- A vision or philosophy of development. Early on the architect of the organization’s program articulated his vision for development, captured it in writing, and passed this “philosophy” on to those who succeeded him. For nearly 50 years, this philosophy with its foundation stones of planning, communicating values, and inviting support has guided the program.
- Orientation, on-boarding and mentoring of new staff. Efforts are made early on to familiarize new administrative and advancement staff with the organization’s tradition of development. Through written materials and frequent oral reminders about the program’s basics, new staff members are instructed in the organization’s approach to fundraising. The orientation often includes extended conversations or mentoring relationships with those who have previously worked in the development office. Lastly, a common frame of reference for staff is established by having the executive leadership and all development officers attend The Fund Raising School’s “Principles and Techniques of Fund Raising” course.
- Emphasis on building relationships. From the outset, the organization’s development program has focused on building mutually rewarding relationships with benefactors. The emphasis has been on long-term returns rather than immediate results. Thus, cultivating and nourishing relationships with benefactors through frequent contact with institutional leadership and advancement staff is a hallmark of the program.
- Longevity of staff. For an organization to develop a culture of effective fund raising based on building relationships, it cannot have a constant turnover in executive leadership or advancement staff. Over the past 50 years, this organization has had six presidents and four chief advancement officers. Such stability in leadership comes about when the leadership is motivated by the mission and values of the organization and the organization offers a rewarding work experience and competitive compensation to the leadership.
Those are one organization’s key ingredients for systemizing a highly effective development program. What other ingredients would you add to the formula?