Build Internal Capacity First

By Zack Macdonald, Senior Consultant

As the rush of the holidays fades and end of year rapid boil slowly eases to a simmer, we launch our plan for 2020. Winter is a time to reflect. Maybe we want to grow. Or perhaps the board is eager to discuss a new project or a new hire.

When we start thinking about expanding our fundraising efforts, we often look outward. This is a mistake. We focus on some vague idea of a big donor who will fund our work. We look outside for a new fundraiser to hire. We explore a clever new website, research tool, or app that promises to make fundraising easy.

Instead, we need to look inward. There is no magic fundraiser. There is no mystery donor. And, there is no silver bullet technology.

Fundraising starts with the internal culture. It begins with staff from development, administration, and program talking about why we fundraise, who is involved in the process, and how we go about engaging our donors. These conversations may be hard. To reach a common understanding takes focus, persuasion, and time. While developing and implementing strategies for growth, development leaders must share an inspiring vision, over-communicate internally, and listen attentively.

Similarly, we must look inward at our board. Even the most passionate and enthusiastic boards often do not understand the fundraising strategy and their role. Or they may be distracted by their day jobs or by exciting, but not strategically critical, projects.

Boards need compelling and clear leadership from the executive director. They need to be reminded of the core strategy and be inspired to add their personal touch to outreach efforts to donors. The executive director must clearly define key priorities and lay out the steps board and staff are taking together to reach shared goals. This internal work will drive stronger fundraising results.

To test how well you are aligned internally, ask yourself two simple questions:

If I asked a random senior staffer and a random board member to articulate our fundraising strategy, would their answers match my own?

If we surveyed the staff and board, how many people would say they share responsibility for development results and have a plan of action?

If the answer to both questions is not a resounding “yes”, there is work to do before new initiatives can be launched. Some of the hardest and most productive work is with senior staff and in the boardroom. Take care of the internal workings, and the external work will be much more productive.

1 thought on “Build Internal Capacity First”

  1. Great, to the point, article. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Zack. A good reminder to make sure we are all aware of and focused on core development strategies.

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