FUNdraising Good Times: Can You Stay in Your Lane?

For a small nonprofit, is it feasible or practical to “stay in your lane” as a fundraising professional? Should you instead be “wearing many hats?”

We have so many phrases to talk about our work lives, and these seem to multiply when we talk about those who work in fundraising within the nonprofit sector. Here are two phrases we have been exposed to, each used in a sentence. “I’m staying in my lane, and not getting involved in anything that’s not all about fundraising.” This is usually followed by something like, “If I get involved in everything else that is going on around here there will be nobody focused on raising money.” Here’s the second phrase: “We’re all team players here; we wear many hats.” That’s usually code for “drop everything and help us deal with this situation.”

With this column we will make clear our ambiguous feelings about these phrases and the perspectives they reveal. First, somebody has to be focused on fundraising. In 99.9% of cases money does not appear just when it is needed. Rather there is at least one person focused on what work needs to be done by when, and by whom, so that money can come in the door. If you are a frequent reader of this column, you know that we are always promoting the fact that “fundraising is 90% preparation and 10% solicitation.” When the person responsible for fundraising gets pulled into other aspects of an organization’s work, they often lose their focus, due-dates slip, time passes, and work towards fundraising goals comes to a standstill.

On the other hand, no one person can take full responsibility for fundraising. Within a nonprofit – especially a small one – we are often faced with the reality that everyone is dependent on everyone else, and we really do all have to work together. For fundraising staff, that means breaking the sacred vow to “stay in my lane.” But this is not just for the benefit of those we serve and our co-workers. We gain too. That’s due to the law of reciprocality: if you help out others, they will help you out. No matter how great a fundraiser you believe yourself to be, you cannot do it alone. You need board members and your CEO to approve your plans, and often to accompany you on cultivation and solicitation visits or Zoom calls. There are doors you cannot walk through that a volunteer can. And there are people who won’t want to talk to you for anyone of a long list of rational or irrational reasons. That means you need to have a team that supports you when you need that extra hand. And believe us, you will need to impose on others to help.

Successful fundraising requires cooperation, flexibility, and a letting go of egos and insecurity. You can’t be worried about who is going to get credit for what. You’ve got to stay focused and, in your lane, while wearing many hats!

Copyright 2022 – Mel and Pearl Shaw of Saad&Shaw – Comprehensive Fund Development Services. Video and phone conferencing services always available. Let us help you grow your fundraising. Call us at (901) 522-8727.


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