We hear the constant complaint from nonprofit professionals and board members “if we had more people, we could raise more money, build more capacity, engage more people, and make the case better, etc.….” It’s valid, especially for emerging and grassroots organizations as well as larger organizations and institutions that are historically (and currently!) under-funded.At the same time we also know that an organization has to be prepared to absorb additional staff and to put them to work effectively. If you don’t hire the right people, or aren’t prepared to support their work, you won’t see much of a difference in fundraising results. We have seen organizations grow their staff and simultaneously stumble over each other. We have seen lean operations raise funds in a nimble fashion.
We want you to have the staff you need, and we want you to have the “prerequisites” that leverage the work of staff and board. You need both. Here are a few things to consider as you grow your team – or begin with the team you have.
First, well managed organizations are more successful at fundraising. Conflict, uncertainty, a lack of transparency, and changing priorities negatively impact fundraising. People want to know your organization is well managed because they want to know you can deliver on your promise. This is compounded when you are asking board members and volunteers to fundraise on behalf of your institution. People won’t extend their reputation and network if they don’t have confidence in leadership’s ability to manage and deliver. The same goes for staff – they begin looking for other positions because they won’t be successful raising money, something they will have to explain to their next employer.
One way that good management manifests is through planning that builds consensus for fundraising priorities across management, staff, board, donors, and key volunteers. Hear what others have to say and develop a case for support and fundraising plan to guide the work of people across your organization. Work from a timeline with assigned responsibilities.
When considering who should do what, look at the actual skills and strengths that current staff possess. Instead of wishing for staff with different skills, build your program around the skills that are represented. Likewise, your board might want a major corporate leader to endorse your organization and ask her peers to do the same. But if you don’t have that relationship, start with the people who are close to you and ask for their endorsement and giving.
Seek to keep morale high. When people are using their strongest skills, they are more engaged. When they like what they do, their energy is contagious.
Understand what we are saying: yes, nonprofits and HBCUs need more staff. But you have to be prepared to put your new team members to work. Your top leadership has to shine: staff cannot make up for mismanagement or lack of vision. Operationalize your vision. Use what you have as you build towards what you want.