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How to Be Your Nonprofit's #1 Fundraiser in 2016

Posted by Andrew Littlefield on Jan 4, 2016 10:00:00 AM

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The new year is upon us, and many of us have made a list of resolutions in an attempt to better ourselves in 2016. Some of these resolutions are personal, some are professional.

Unfortunately, most of us are going to fail in our resolution attempts.

An impressive 45% of Americans typically make a New Year’s resolution, but only 8% of us are successful in our attempts.


But you didn't become a fundraiser because it was easy, right? Far from it!

So what if you've resolved to become your nonprofit's #1 fundraiser? What's a specific action you can take that will help you reach that lofty goal?

Here's a big one that is all too often overlooked:

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Improve Your Relationship With Your Prospect Researcher

Being a prospect researcher is a tough job. They’re often behind the scenes, digging through mountains of data to connect fundraisers with prospects. Then when the gift finally comes through, the fundraiser gets all the glory.

Such is the life of a prospect researcher.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Fundraisers and researchers can live together in harmony! In fact, you’ll probably raise a whole lot more money in the process. If you keep lines of communication close between the two teams, fundraisers will have better information on their prospects, and researchers can better understand what fundraisers need to build strong relationships.

Here are some simple ways to foster better working relationships between fundraisers and researchers.

Commit to meeting face-to-face at least once a week

In any relationship, communication is key. And just like a marriage, one of the biggest complaints about work communication is that it often feels like your message isn't being heard.

Chances are, it isn't.

Many of us communicate primarily via email, yet email is often one of our most overloaded communication channels. In fact, only 14% of the emails we receive for work are considered "critically important."

No wonder we often ignore the messages our coworkers send us.

One of the best ways to improve this is to go old-school with your cross-team communication and meet face-to-face with your research team.

Crystal Graves of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation combines face-to-face meetings with email to really make her data stick with fundraisers:

"I try to give important info like research on a new prospect at a face-to-face meeting first, then back it up with an email. Fundraisers are usually extroverts, and extroverts naturally place more importance on things they hear directly from another person than on things they read (not their fault, just how they’re wired)."

Think your team is too big to pull this off? Think again. John Taylor, a development consultant with over 30 years of experience, pulled it off with a development team of over 50 people!

"The key I found at my rather large organization (6 researches, 2 prospect managers, and 45+ full-time major gift officers) is frequent face-to-face meetings, plus having researchers attend the monthly MGO strategy meetings."

If the idea of adding another meeting to your schedule fills you with dread, relax. Your meeting with the research team shouldn't be a long, drawn-out, time suck. A short, 15-minute stand-up meeting is more than enough to help improve your communications and start working towards a closer relationship.

Email can still be an effective way to communicate information between teams when done properly. Jillian Pruitt, a prospect researcher, says her team uses a regular newsletter to keep everyone on the same page:

"We use a monthly newsletter to keep our fundraising team informed. It lets our major gift team know what we’re currently working on and what’s coming down the pipeline."

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Commit to Giving Honest Feedback

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I ask a co-worker or supervisor what I can improve in my work and I'm met with "Nothing," or "Can't think of anything right now," as an answer.

That doesn't help me! I'm asking you to tell me what I can do to improve. I'm actively seeking out actions I can take. My feelings will not be hurt; I'm asking for it!

Committing to honest, constructive feedback between fundraisers is a great way to improve your relationship.

However, it's important to understand what honest feedback really means.

Telling someone "You suck at your job and I don't like you" might be honest, but it's not exactly constructive feedback.

Honest feedback should never feel like you're complaining or piling on; just telling someone how they can help you more.

Here's an example:

At our NP2.0 meetup group here in NYC, we've heard comments from prospect researchers that the research reports they send to the major gift teams often go unopened and unread (see point 1).

Researchers work hard to find this information, and it goes unused by fundraisers. Fundraisers might be interested in receiving a weekly report, but only if the information is relevant and helps them do their jobs. Both parties are left feeling frustrated.

Some honest feedback could greatly improve this problem. The fundraising team could tell the research team exactly what kind of information they need, how often they need it, and what the best way to get it delivered is. Researchers can provide feedback on what type of data is feasible, along with communication methods that work for them.

That way, information isn't a one-way flow, but a continuous feedback loop that allows for constant improvement.

Researchers can do their part by making it easy for fundraisers to request information on a prospect. Jennifer Broadwell, Associate Director of Donor Database and Special Projects for the Pennington Biomedical Research Foundation, gives her fundraisers templates to use when request data:

"Use templates to make it easier for fundraisers to request information. I have used bio templates and list of all of the work I can provide so that our fundraisers know what’s available and can ask for exactly what they need and there is no confusion."

Commit to Shared "Glory"

As so hilariously illustrated by this FundraiserGrrl post, sometimes fundraisers take all the glory and credit for closing a gift, even when that prospect was identified by the research team.

This can really grate on the nerves of the research team.

Recognition for your work is one of the big keys to career happiness and avoiding burnout.

So whether you're an MGO or a Director of Development, make sure your research team gets its due credit when a big gift is closed.

What can you expect from an improved relationship?

Fundraising, particularly at large organizations, relies on information. Yes, relationships and stewardship are key, but without the right information, fundraisers would be struggling to know who exactly they should be building relationships with. Finding a donor with linkage, ability, and inclination would be akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

And that's where your research team comes in. Turning these departments into a tight-knit team has the potential to turn your development efforts from a clunky operation into a veritable fundraising machine.

Take this advice from development consultant Armando Zumaya:

"In order to be successful, leadership must focus on a strong partnership with the research team. In order to do that, they need to lead by example. This is hard to find, but vital for development success."

When operating at peak efficiency, the two teams should have a continous feedback loop that provides constant opportunities for improvement (rather than a one-way flow of information). Once that happens, researchers can constantly provide the data fundraisers need, and fundraisers can focus on doing what they do best: building relationships with qualified prospects.

In the end, it really comes down to building rapport between research and fundraising staff. Members of each team can make efforts to go the extra mile to help each other out. One researcher I spoke with says she personally reaches out to major gift officers after a gift comes in to congratulate them. This simple act goes a long way in showing a shared concern for the mission and provides another communication channel where the researcher can learn more about what the fundraiser needs to close more gifts.

After all, we're all working to further the same mission, right?

And that's a beautiful relationship.

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Topics: major gift fundraising,, Major Gift Officer, prospect research

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