Yet fundraising cuts horizontally across an organization, touching virtually every aspect of its work. And, in order to raise money effectively, you can’t simply work hard at fundraising, you must also work hard at creating the right environment – the enabling ecology – for fundraising to thrive.
Fundraising’s enabling ecology approach suggests that the sustainability of your fundraising program depends on the strength, interconnectedness and balance of each of the approach’s four elements: strategies, infrastructure, culture and principles. And you must purposefully plan for each if you want to have the full involvement of your organization and ultimately raise more money.
Let’s break it down
The four elements of the fundraising enabling ecology approach fall into two categories: the mechanics of fundraising and the heart and soul of fundraising.
Strategies and infrastructure are the mechanics, or the engine, of the typical fundraising program.
Strategies are those fundraising methods that are visible to outside observers. Here are some of the more common ones:
- Direct Marketing (including mail and digital outreach)
- Capital campaigns to build new buildings or fund research
- Special events, such as walks, runs, bike rides, golf tournaments, galas, etc.
- Foundation grants
- Corporate support
- Bequest or legacy giving where donors are asked to remember their favourite charities in their Wills
The infrastructure of a fundraising program consists of the behind-the-scenes supports that are rarely seen yet are critical to the long-term success of your program. They include:
- Donor stewardship to ensure your donors feel acknowledged, feel appreciated, and are aware of the important work you do.
- Communications strategy – a good communications strategy (including digital communications) and a good donor stewardship program work hand-in-hand to make donors feel appreciated and keep donors and potential donors informed about the work of your organization.
- Database management to ensure you have
- accurate donor information, including contact details, donation history and other important notes
- meaningful analysis on the performance of your fundraising program
- the ability to stay in touch with donors
- accurate and timely tax receipting accurate reporting to the government( e.g. T3010 in Canada, IRS Form 990 in the US, etc)
- Risk management and policy development related to fundraising, to ensure that you comply with your country’s rules and regulations and are creating a safe environment for donors and fundraisers alike – whether volunteers or paid staff.
- Prospective donor research to ensure that you are submitting the right request to the right donor at the right time.
- Reporting to donors, senior leadership, and government bodies.
- Volunteer management to enhance the chances that volunteer skills will best serve the mission and give volunteers a sense of satisfaction and meaning in their roles. Volunteers are the backbone of our sector. It’s critical to invest in supporting them.
- Professional development – fundraising is a diverse and ever-changing field so ongoing professional development is critical to staying current.
Who is primarily responsible for the mechanics of fundraising?
While staff are typically expected to do the heavy lifting involved in setting out the strategies and infrastructure of a fundraising program, it really is a team sport, requiring engagement and vision from both staff and volunteer leadership.
Staff are expected to develop a plan and make sure the strategies and infrastructure are well developed and executed. This is not normally something that can be added to the role of an executive director of an operating agency with any reasonable hope it will be carried out sustainably.
Developing and executing an effective fundraising program – heck, even carrying out a modest fundraising program – is a LOT of work. At some point, if fundraising efforts are to be sustainable in the long term, dedicated fundraising staff will be needed.
Note: if you are the executive director of an organization with sole responsibility for fundraising, such as a foundation, it is entirely reasonable to expect that you will be responsible for creating a plan, overseeing the execution of it, and participating directly in fundraising strategies.
Staff must establish the framework of the fundraising program:
- Which combination of strategies are right for your organization? (direct marketing, online approaches, corporate giving, foundation giving, special events, etc.)
- What infrastructure is required to allow your organization to successfully implement the strategies you’ve identified? (database, volunteers, communications, stewardship, research, reporting, etc).
The Heart and Soul:
The next two elements – culture and principles – are the heart and soul of fundraising. They underpin the fundraising program. After over 25 years of fundraising, I have seen the difference in organizations that are deliberate about creating and supporting a culture of philanthropy. They raise more money. I have a hypothesis that if you are deliberate about how your organizational values are lived through guiding principles, you will improve your fundraising results.
The culture of philanthropy refers to an organization’s attitude toward philanthropy and is a subset of the overall organizational culture. Why is it so important? Because philanthropy is not just about revenue. It’s part of the mission of your organization.
The culture of an organization can be well-defined or explicit. Most organizational cultures, however, are understood, not documented, and rarely discussed. The culture is the sum total of internal assumptions, habits, and the actions of people within the organization. In the famous words attributed to Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If you don’t create a culture that embraces and supports fundraising, you will not get the results you want.
I ask my clients a fundamental question that often helps prompt discussion about the culture of philanthropy in their organization: In addition to delivering on your mission and serving your community, are you also a fundraising organization?
Some believe that fundraising is tantamount to going “cap in hand” to a donor, which conjures up a paternalistic view of charity. If the underlying belief across an organization is that philanthropy is, at best, a necessary evil to mission delivery, it will be difficult to develop a robust fundraising program.
If, however, the people closest to your organization – staff, board, and volunteers – believe in the power of fundraising to engage donors as partners, to collectively participate in solving problems that cannot be solved alone, to offer a sense of belonging and the satisfaction of making a difference then your organization will be better positioned to do what is needed to develop a strong, effective fundraising program.
A culture of philanthropy acknowledges that donors are important partners in the delivery of your mission and that everyone in the organization has a role to play in fundraising.
Operating from a place of values is foundational for many in the charitable sector. I have seen many people in organizations resist fundraising because they believe that operating with integrity and engaging in fundraising are mutually exclusive. For the record: I don’t believe that’s the case. While values help organizations identify what is important to the work they do and the people they work with, principles are the how that reflects these values.
Establishing your guiding principles – based firmly on your organizational values – allows you to put your values into action. They can act as the moral touchstone for the organization’s activities, providing guidance when decisions are needed. They can also guide your fundraising program, informing what you do, with whom, and how. Importantly, they can ensure that decision-making across the organization is based on the same set of principles, whether it’s program delivery, human resources, finance or fundraising.
In addition to articulating your organization’s overall values and translating them into guiding principles, there is a particular set of values and beliefs that is generally overlooked but can have a significant impact if explored: money mindset or the beliefs and values your organization holds around money. There exists a dynamic tension between attitudes towards money and fundraising and leadership capacity in organizations.
Leaders who embrace positive and generous attitudes towards money tend to be open, effective and courageous in their fundraising efforts. Conversely, leaders who hold a scarcity mindset or limiting attitudes towards money tend to have more modest aspirations and behaviours with respect to fundraising. If money mindset is a potentially limiting factor in delivering your mission, it warrants attention as you prepare to develop your strategic fundraising plan.
Including all four elements of an enabling ecology in your fundraising plan
The fundraising enabling ecology approach suggests that the sustainability of your fundraising program depends on the strength, interconnectedness and balance of each of the approach’s four key elements: strategies, infrastructure, culture and principles.
It is common for strategies and infrastructure to be included in organizations’ fundraising plans. However, it is rare to see culture and principles explicitly incorporated into a formal plan. My hypothesis is that creating a plan that purposefully includes all four elements of a fundraising enabling ecology will make a meaningful difference in the success of your fundraising program.
The fundraising enabling ecology approach can be introduced at any time or place in your organization’s fundraising journey since the emphasis on each of the four elements will change as your organization’s fundraising program evolves and grows.
The key is to start where you are and create a plan that supports your vision of where you’d like to be in the future. If you’re early in your fundraising planning, you may find you’ll spend more energy and time on the mechanics (strategies and infrastructure) before you get to the heart and soul (culture and principles).
Including all four elements of the fundraising enabling ecology in your fundraising plan will set you on a path to having a more balanced approach, with the full involvement of many throughout your organization and ultimately, more fundraising revenue.
Cathy Mann, MA, CFRE, President of Fundraising Lab and Cathy Mann & Associates, is an award-winning fundraising professional, teacher, author, podcaster and is loved and owned by a geriatric standard poodle. She is usually found working with clients serving people who are among society’s more marginalized populations. Cathy is a frequent speaker and writer and occasionally, she plays her ukulele in public.