Build Your Fundraising Team to Expand Your Reach

Dear Kim, 

I am a development director in a big, if still civil, disagreement about the allocation of my time—should I spend less time reaching out to annual fund donors giving unrestricted donations under $1,000 so that I can spend more time on major donors, many of whom support specific projects? I feel strongly that neglecting smaller donors would be a disservice on many levels, including the value of community building which may not be as obviously useful as the financial implications.  

Could you give me your opinion about whether you think it is worthwhile to have a development person allocate time more evenly versus what my ED wants, which is for me to double up efforts to reach out to major donors and just do the bare minimum to keep everyone else donating. 

Go Wide or Go Deep? 

Dear Deep and Wide,

Many decades ago, I was in a women’s consciousness-raising group and a harried mother of two toddlers said she just could not get everything done and had asked her husband if he would rather have a hot dinner or a clean house?  Imagine her surprise when the leader said, “How about if you ask him, ‘would you rather make dinner or clean house?’”  

Your instinct that all the donors deserve attention is correct, but the work culture in which you are the contact point for all donors is not. There is no reason why you can’t reach all the donors, if you work on finding volunteers and moving your ED into much more active fundraising. The board is an obvious place to start, but they may not be a possibility. Major donors are sometimes happy to help with other major donors and long time donors are often flattered to be asked to do something besides just giving money.  

So my first piece of advice is to build a team of people which you manage and take yourself out of the center of donor relations.  My second, and unsolicited piece of advice, is to start asking major donors for unrestricted gifts. Most of them understand the need for that and often will move away from project based giving. In fact, when we trace back why Major Donor X only gives to Project Y we find that is because she was asked for Y and not because she said, “I only love Y!”  The great gift of individual donors is the lack of strings on their giving.  

Good luck with this culture shift.  It will not be easy but it will be worth it.  

~Kim Klein