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Is fundraising a team sport or a solo effort? We call it a team sport when we want to engage volunteers and stakeholders in the important work of securing funds for our nonprofits. But when it comes to claiming success, we say “I did it.”

The amount of funds raised is used as a “quick-and-easy” way to determine who is a successful fundraiser. Managers and executives use it when evaluating the work of development staff, potential hires, and board members. Those who contract with fundraising counsel ask a variation on the question, “How much have you raised for your clients?”

It feels good to say, “I raised $2 million for our local parks,” or “I raised $30,000 for scholarships.” And, people are impressed by these claims, “He must be a really good fundraiser to have raised all that money.” But rarely is this the case. And when one person claims the fundraising success, it can be disempowering to the rest of the team. Yes, we said it, and we always say it: fundraising is a team effort. No one person does it all. A person can have the title of Chief Development Officer, or Development Director, but their ability to secure gifts is dependent upon the work of many people, including those who may no longer be employed by the nonprofit, or serving on its board.

Here’s what we mean. First, today’s giving is often influenced by a nonprofit’s history of relationships, funding, board leadership, strategic directions, and acceptance. These are built over time, and they impact how a fundraising professional is perceived and the extent to which donors or funders are willing to interact with them. The organization’s financial, social, and political positioning also impacts current-day fundraising. Second, the above factors influence the circle of current and prospective donors/funders and how they want to be involved. When a fundraising professional is working with a portfolio of well-established and closely connected donors they will – in most instances – be more successful in their fundraising. Third, an organization’s brand and market position impact the extent to which fundraising professionals have to educate a prospective donor or funder on the nonprofit’s work. These are all factors that influence fundraising success. As one major gift officer for a well-established nonprofit shared, “All I did was go around and collect checks.” This is so different from a fundraising professional who has to identify potential donors/funders, cultivate their interest, and appropriately solicit their support. There is no comparison.

Finally and most importantly, when one person claims fundraising success, it renders the work of everyone else on the team invisible and of no perceived value. That includes the board members who have opened doors and made introductions, donors who have introduced the organization to their peers and encouraged them to give, the grant writers, the annual fund managers, the marketing team, the fundraising volunteers, the data management person…. and don’t forget the executive director! Fundraising is a team sport – no one person can do it all.

Copyright 2024 – Mel and Pearl Shaw of Saad&Shaw – Comprehensive Fund Development Services. Let us help you plan for 2024! Video and phone conferencing services are always available. Call us at (901) 522-8727.

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