Who's In Charge of Fundraising?

• fund development plan • Fundraising the SMART Way
Ellen Bristol

Hey, fundraising professionals - who's your boss?  I'm pretty sure I can guess your answers.  You're most likely reporting to one of the following humans: your director of development;your executive director/CEO; or your board. Ask a simple questionThe Boss, you get a simple answer, right?

But maybe not. I bring this up because I've been puzzling over the issue of accountability in the fundraising profession. We have some pretty good data about fundraising these days, including AFP's Fundraising Effectiveness Project, and our Leaky Bucket Assessment for Effective Fundraising. The FEP shows lousy donor retention rates; data from 2013 shows 105 donors lost for every 100 new donors gained.  Leaky Bucket data shows that 15 percent of our respondents have no targets or standards for donor retention, while another 57 percent say they are "encouraged" to retain donors, but have no documented metrics. To be "encouraged" to achieve important results has a fairly weak impact on performance. I'm being polite.

If results like these are undesirable, how come nobody's minding the store?  We have to stop thinking that the boss is good old Frank, ED since 1822, or nasty horrible Marjorie, who just came on board. We have to START realizing that the development plan itself is the boss.

Yes. The Plan is The Boss.

If retaining lots of donors is important, why not make sure "the boss" - i.e. the development plan - includes specific, documented donor-retention targets, with easy ways to keep track of actual results regularly? If donor acquisition is desirable, why doesn't "the boss" (yes, the plan) include donor-acquisition targets, and track progress against those targets every month? Regretabbly the data tell us our development plans are not doing such a hot job of managing such critical information, so The Boss (again, the plan) is AWOL. Those who should be paying attention to this issue either aren't doing it, don't know how to do it, or are doing a less than stellar job. One CEO of my acquaintance actually told me "I have no idea how to manage my fundraising team." Ouch. Oh by the way, he's the CEO of a decent-size agency, running at about $16 MM a year.

Why doesn't he know how to manage his fundraising team? Because he never established a game plan for fundraising, one that included robust performance indicators, success measures, and targets. And to be fair, neither did any of his predecessors in this 47-year-old social-services agency. Without a robust plan, or in some cases no plan at all, the plan just can't be the boss, and getting good fundraising results is a whole lot tougher.

Which brings us back to the question of "who's your boss?"If your actual, human boss wants to know about the opportunity forecast, rates of donor retention and acquisition, and insights about where the fundraising process slows down or encounters obstacles, then your human boss needs to give you a development plan that drives desired results. And guess what, you end up with a great plan, one that can really be "the boss."

Here's another thing I like about using a great development plan, and reviewing progress against it regularly. The plan may indeed show you the "brutal facts" about your fundraising results, but it will never yell at you.

What's going on in your fundraising shop? I'd love to know.

PS: we are soon releasing the first benchmarking study based on the Leaky Bucket Assessment. I'll tell you more soon!

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