With the organization we are writing about, we literally started from the scratch, from a phone call with one of their Board members and the Administration manager who, right after the mutual introductions, told us about their concerns related to how to make their cultural and social initiatives sustainable; their attempts to fundraise and the discouraging results they obtained. And also, that these efforts had determined an internal break between those who argued that their development should not (also) have passed through giving and philanthropy and those who, on the other hand, were convinced of it. The Board was part of this break and, in addition, there was no internal staff with fundraising and communication skills.
It was a long phone call, made up of questions, requests for feedback, numbers and sharing of critical issues and first impressions.
This was followed by our collaboration proposal (you will find all the information on our consultancy packs here) detailed and concrete, articulated in terms of contents, timeline, objectives and expected outcomes. And a starting date made of a 3-day full immersion – focused of analysis, discussions, training, identification of short and long-term objectives and much more – with the Board in the headquarters of the organization, a place full of history and stories. We were aware, then, about the a formally cooperative Board but, just below the surface, rather conflicting on the issue of development, starting from the meaning to be given to the word “development” and ending with the ways to carry it out.
Suggestion nr. 1: each time you start a job – whether it is with your “historical” organization or with a new one – immersing yourself in the world of the organization is the first step to gain elements and insights connected to its mindset, as well as practical information. To do this, it is necessary to exercise the listening skills (it’s one of our mantras: the listening abilities are among the crucial skills for fundraisers) and curiosity. What you will receive in return are engaging stories, pieces of someone else’s lives that, in some way, also become ours. And it is one of the gifts that our work gives us, every day.
The full immersion with the Board provided clearer ideas, aware and, although not all of them agreed with the idea of development, at least they were convinced to give a structured fundraising strategy a chance. This first meeting was followed by a second one with the group of people identified by the organization itself: a dozen young people who for some time collaborated, albeit sporadically, in the activities, together with two people of the administrative staff, the manager of one of their branches, two Board members – all them received a short and customized training on fundraising.
The working group, a part of those attended the training, then began to work with us on the operational activities that were developed in the following months.
Suggestion nr. 2: the adversity by the Council on investing to hire a professional fundraiser led us to a “plan B”, that is to say engaging a number of trained volunteers to cooperate to the start-up of the fundraising strategy. This choice didn’t imply volunteers as a “second choice”; more precisely, in that case the proposal was an alternative opportunity possible in light of a request that came from a group of young people close to the organization who have long been asking the Board for more structured involvement. The call developed and addressed to the volunteers required certain requirements for the application, a certain type of availability especially in terms of continuity, an interest in a possible continuation in terms of professional development. This allowed us to know that the people identified were really motivated and, on the side of the volunteers, to do something concrete, structured and not sporadic, which really met their desire to “do something” for the cause.
Volunteers are a precious resource: to enhance and gratify them you need to have clear ideas about the role, define an open discussion and, above all, not consider them as a substitute for a paid staff. By setting things up in this way, and sharing the approach with the organization, it is possible to set growth and development paths in the long term.
After 1 year of work with the organization, the result is:
- a Board fully involved in the development strategy, with an active role in the donors seeking process and as ambassadors of the mission;
- the set up of the Development office, provided with a staff initially made up of 4 volunteers and a Board member who received ad hoc training on fundraising and which will soon see the hiring of 2 of these volunteers with regular employment contracts;
- the definition of a communication plan dedicated to fundraising;
- the first two successful fundraising campaigns;
- the development of targeted and segmented mailing lists (the starting point for the future CRM);
- the launch of the first major donors campaign which shows encouraging results.
All these activities have been aimed both to the Italian and international audience, in particular (but not only) North American, in relation to the positioning of the organization.
Was it all easy or straightforward? Not at all: the initial planning has been revised, the organization’s tone of voice has been focused, and internal tasks and flows have been redefined several times. The Board was solicited using different levers, in order to find the ones that “resonated” best and that led to genuine involvement. It was not easy to involve the rest of the organization in something perceived as sporadic, eventual, somehow unrelated to the organization – and in this the presence of the Board (not all, initially) made the difference.
Change is rarely “linear” – like almost everything in life, on the other hand. But it can be done.
It can be made concrete by having a clear direction of travel and by adjusting the course every time the non-linearity causes skids.
This is what we do with organizations: we accompany them in the change, in the analysis and structuring of the internal organizational structure, in the design or re-design of the Board of Directors, in the identification and implementation of fundraising campaigns or even with the use of vehicles. philanthropists who are not traditional fundraising but, in some cases, are better suited to the type of organization.
And looking at how change takes shape, listening to feedback like the one we started with this blogpost… as we often say, the impact we produce lies in the ability of organizations to walk straight and forward, on their own legs, once the work is done together.