I was in Dallas, TX last week for the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions annual convention. While there, I had the honor to co-host a two-day development and leadership workshop with my good friend, Derric Bakker of Dickerson Bakker & Associates. In this post, and the next four that I write in the coming weeks, I’m going to share with you what I learned from Derric in Dallas.
5 Culture Problems That Can Kill Your Fundraising
#1: You Don’t Own It!
Over my almost 20 years in the nonprofit sector, I’ve consulted with nearly 1,000 different organizations of all shapes, sizes, and causes. It’s amazed me how many of them think that it’s acceptable to fully outsource their responsibility to provide strategic guidance in their philanthropy efforts.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for outsourcing as a means to gain leverage (of time, money, and talent), especially when an organization is just starting out, or when there has been significant turnover in staff and leadership.
However, I’ve never encountered a situation where a nonprofit that abdicates responsibility for setting the strategic direction for their philanthropic engagement in the community turns out well. Donors, volunteers, and the community at large, can sense when you (the leadership of the organization) aren’t in the driver’s seat. And the results are never positive.
But so many CEO’s, VP’s of Development, and the like have said things like, “I hired you because you’re the expert. Just tell us what to do and we’ll do it.” As a consultant, that makes my job really easy. But it also has the potential to do real harm to your donor relationships, to your standing in the community, and to those you serve.
And again, I’m not saying that nonprofit organizations shouldn’t hire consultants or agencies for specific services. In fact, it’s often the exact right thing to do, as most nonprofits can’t afford to build the level of talent internally that they might need to successfully guide a capital campaign, build a best practice major gift program, or run a sophisticated direct response fundraising operation.
But here’s the thing. Don’t let your agencies or your consultants define and drive the strategy that you will ultimately be accountable for to your board and constituents. You need to be firmly in the driver’s seat. That’s not to say you need to make every decision — but your knowledge of the organization and your organization’s priorities need to be clearly woven throughout the strategy. If they aren’t, you risk allowing consultants to drive the agenda in ways that could do harm to your organization and those you serve.