(It Makes for a More Perfect Fund-raising World)


The fund-raising “left hand” not knowing what the “right hand” is doing when it comes to who is asking whom for how much, for which purpose, and when, has always been a common dilemma for non-profit organizations. So it was with mine. As I began my twenty-year engagement as Director of Development of The Cleveland Orchestra, it became readily apparent to me that numerous solicitations of individuals, corporations and foundations were being made without anyone’s coordination by scores of volunteers acting independently on behalf of our Orchestra in general, but specifically to meet needs as determined by the Orchestra’s three women’s committees, the Chorus, and by staff from the artistic, marketing, education, and finance departments. Such well-intended, but errant fund-raising activities collided with my own development department’s ongoing and planned annual fund, capital, endowment, sponsorship, and underwriting campaigns. Something needed to be done—and it was, with great and satisfying cooperation by all parties. Simply put, I actively promoted the benefits of establishing a process to make the development department the total fund-raising “Clearinghouse” as an absolute necessity in order to establish funding priorities, maximize funding potential for each of the special needs, and make more efficient our overall fund-raising program. The following article will make the case for such a clearinghouse arrangement, and show you how to do it should “ad hoc” fund-raising be an issue at your organization.

A “Perfect” Fund-Raising World It Is Not!

In a perfect world all fund-raising initiatives would begin and end with the development department. There would never be a worry about one fund-raising imperative stepping on the toes of another. Fund-raising priorities would be established by the board and executive director and maintained by the development director and her or his staff. A donor would always be asked for a gift for the right purpose, at the right amount, at the right time, and by the very best person to ask—usually a peer. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. At times, fund-raising priorities that have been carefully thought out by those responsible for the success or failure of the entire organization are ignored. Best practices and procedures are forgotten. Often these things happen when program staff directly seek funding for projects near and dear to their hearts. They go to donors with whom they believe they have a special relationship and personally ask for support.

“Ad Hoc” Fund-Raising Vs.
Development Department’s Fixed Fund-Raising Goals

The problem of course is that such appeals, even when successful, are likely to dilute or even hinder an organization’s overall fund-raising efforts. This is especially true when the development office is unaware of donor contact. Suddenly, prospects earmarked for crucial gifts in an upcoming capital campaign are taken off the “table.” Even though they had been rated and evaluated as major donors for the capital campaign, the gifts they make to the special project now may not only be substantially less than their potential, but also make it all but impossible to carry out the long planned capital campaign solicitation. It will be too soon to go back to them for the kind of major donation that had been scheduled. Ad hoc fund-raising all too often “poisons the well” for other fund-raising efforts. The above scenario is a familiar one to development officers in the education community. Universities often have deans, department chairs, and faculty who at one time or another are likely to seek support for a project from a private donor or grantmaking institution. Hospitals and organizations engaged in medical research are likely to find themselves in the same boat. Museums and performing arts organizations also are particularly vulnerable to such “special-relationship” fund-raising. All fund-raising campaigns should be established and their criteria set by an organization’s board and its executive officers. These campaigns are more effective when they emanate from the overall general development plan, which springs from the organization’s long-range, strategic plan. The development department is the place where fund-raising tactics are matched up with strategy, and priorities are maintained. Without the control and oversight, fund-raising chaos reigns. However, ad hoc fund-raising is not likely to be remedied by merely issuing policy-and-procedure directives. Ad hoc fund-raising occurs because it can—because special relationships between people do exist, and it occurs out of sight of development staff. And more often than not, it can be annoying to the prospect and potentially damaging when multiple solicitations are made at, or near, the same time by the same organization.

Converting a Problem To An Opportunity

How then can this thorn in the side of the organization’s overall development effort be removed? By first being aware of it, and then co-opting it. It is crucially important that the development office be a place where all fund-raising efforts, large or small, are recorded. It needs to be a clearinghouse. It needs to be a place where the flow of “traffic” is systematically managed and directed in order to avoid fund-raising collisions. The goal should not be to deny the relationships and passion that drive ad hoc fund-raising efforts, but to remove the cloak of invisibility that surrounds them. Do that, and the problem of special-relationship fund-raising becomes an opportunity. So how do we remove the problem and manage the opportunity of special-relationship, ad hoc fund-raising? How do we get them to use our clearinghouse? We start by establishing and then maintaining trust with the people likely to step outside normal fund-raising channels. To do this we have to understand and value their interests. Program-staff with relationships powerful enough to allow them to raise money on their own can be valuable assets for a development operation. While they may not be the best solicitors, they are important avenues of approach and can be great case-makers. Begin by learning everything you can about the projects important to these people. You want them coming to you before they reach out on their own for funding. They need to see you as a resource—an ally—someone who may be able to help deliver the money they seek. More times than not, you’re going to end up asking them to wait. But to get that forbearance you’re going to have to give something. If the project is truly worthy, you’ll need to champion it. At the very least you should be prepared to support it as a fund-raising priority at the appropriate time—when the board and executive director are determining future fund-raising priorities for the organization. If the amount needed is small, maybe you can even put together a micro campaign. It might present a great opportunity to solicit prospects you have been cultivating who are capable of making truly substantial gifts, but who have not yet committed to your organization at that level. A narrowly defined, smaller funding initiative that touches upon such prospects’ special interests may be just the thing to draw them closer for bigger gifts the next time.

No More Fund-Raising “Ad-Libbing”

By approaching an individual’s desire to fund her or his project as an opportunity to be embraced, rather than a problem to be overcome, it is possible to forestall fund-raising conflicts while opening up new avenues of funding. Making the effort to learn about specific projects can help you build relationships within the organization that can yield impressive results at a later date. In order to bring ad hoc fund-raising into sync with the professional efforts of the development department, it is necessary to change the way in which individuals likely to go out and raise money on their own, see the development department.

  • They need to see it as a place where things are arranged and organized, rather than as a place where they are simply told “no.”
  • They need to see the development director as an enabler of fund-raising, not a fund-raising dictator making one-sided life-and-death decisions or recommendations about funding efforts.

Doing this successfully means that the development office truly has to listen to the arguments brought to it for fund-raising efforts on behalf of the pet projects ad hoc fundraisers are pushing. It won’t work, if “listening” is just a technique for saying “no.” In the end, those who feel passionately enough about the institution and its projects to ask for money to support them, are people with whom the development office should partner. To accomplish this, development staff will have to be flexible. The development staff will have to be ready to work with them for special hearings of their specific requests for fund-raising that are not on the organization’s priority “table” and have not been scheduled. If development directors cannot control absolutely every fund-raising effort made in the name of their organization, then what can they do? The answer is simple. They can and must lead. And leading is more about instilling confidence and delivering success than iron handed control. My solution to ad hoc fund-raising is to make the development office the welcoming clearinghouse of fund-raising. The development office should be the place where members of the organization share their funding desires. It should be a place willing to support and advocate worthwhile endeavors. It should partner with all who want to make the organization stronger and its programs more successful—but always first with the approval of the organization’s leadership that the programs are truly desired, that they fit into the mission, and when guidance is provided in the establishment of priorities.

Turning Outlaw Fund-Raisers into Good Citizens

Nobody ever said bringing ad hoc fund-raisers into the fold would be easy. They may be the outlaws of fund-raising, but if all you.re trying to do is lock them up, you won’t succeed in ending the problem. Ad hoc fund-raising springs up because people within an organization’s staff or friends perceive a need. As a development professional, I know how hard it is to motivate individuals to ask for money. When people step forward on their own to ask for gifts, that tells me they feel strongly abut the project. It tells me they are bringing zeal, passion, and commitment to it.

So What’s A Development Director To Do?

You have to make potential freelance fund-raisers want to ally themselves with you and your department. How do you do that? By showing them how it can be in their self interest to do so. Here Are The Steps:

  1. Actively recruit potential ad hoc fund-raisers. Throughout your organization make it clear that the development department is LOOKING FOR fund-raising needs. I stress the word “actively” here. You must reach out to people if you want them to share their funding needs and desires with you.
  2. Really listen to people who bring you their funding needs. This is the first step to earning credibility with them, and if you want them to change their behavior, it is crucial that they believe you really care.
  3. Do an analysis of each funding request brought to you. Place it in the context of overall fund-raising plans. Analyze the impact of making an effort to meet that request. Will it harm overall development efforts? Identify prospects likely to look favorably upon each request. If you need, take the request up the chain of command, and if you believe in it, be prepared to argue for it. Arrive at a decision about whether the request should become a micro campaign. Now report all of this back to the people who have brought you their requests.
  4. Working with each requester, develop a plan and/or campaign to get the funding they want, find a way to roll it into an upcoming or ongoing fund-raising effort, or show them why their request cannot be fulfilled at this time. If going forward is likely to damage other funding efforts, show them how and why. The special funding sought by the ad hoc fund-raiser might not be considered by the donor as additional money to what they regularly give to the organization. Their special grant, possibly even in a lesser amount, could be given as a substitute for what the organization receives on a regular basis. If donors are not likely to support the project at this time, prove it. Donors could already be reviewing proposals for major gifts and would likely reject out of hand any other solicitation. Or, they simply might not be ready to contribute, and would first require a program of cultivation to better the chance for support in the future. If the executive director or CEO of the organization and the board will pitch a fit over the requester trying to get funding on their own, let the requester know it. While the project is important to the ad hoc fund-raiser, it’s possible that sometime during the solicitation process the organization’s leadership would have an otherwise harshly critical and contrary view of the attention, time, and the priority given to the projector they might not have wanted such a project funded in the first place. If possible get the executive director/CEO to attend a meeting to discuss the issue with the requester. If it makes sense to turn the request into a micro campaign, do so and provide support to the requester and any others who will be asking for the money.
  5. Get each individual requester’s buy-in on the decision to either go ahead with a micro campaign, or roll it into another fund-raising effort, or table the request at this time. If a request is tabled because of timing, set a time when it will be dealt with. If it is tabled because the organization does not want to seek funding for this purpose, get the executive director/CEO and/or each requester’s supervisor to explain the decision and the consequences if an outlaw funding effort is undertaken.

Having in place a process such as the one outlined above to deal with individual funding requests is a large part of the battle when it comes to bringing ad hoc fund-raising efforts into the fold. However, you need to do more. The development office needs to educate potential freelance fund-raisers about fund-raising. There are two kinds of people likely to go off on their own and seek funding:

  1. Those who are unaware of the impact their efforts may have on other fund-raising efforts.
  2. Those who simply don’t care what happens to other fund-raising efforts.

Both groups need to be educated about the organization’s fund-raising plans, goals, and techniques. Those in the second group need to know that there are consequences for being an outlaw fund-raiser. The organization needs to establish policies to censure such activity and then carry through on the promised consequences. You want to harness the zeal, passion, and commitment ad hoc fund-raisers bring to their efforts. You do that by helping them raise money and avoid the pitfalls inherent in becoming an outlaw fund-raiser. You need to find a way both to assist with legitimate funding requests and to make the requesters better solicitors. Help them learn how to ask, and make them aware of other campaigns for which prospects may have already been solicited. Finally, good will can do much to solve the problem of ad hoc fund-raising. Those who see the development office as a resource to be drawn upon are less likely to go off on their own. You earn that good will by responding to funding requests and when you can, helping requesters get the funding they want. To do that, you have to make the commitment to approach every funding request with an open mind and a desire to help.