Welcome to the Development Team! (Yes, You!)
When I was growing up in our family business, my Dad told me that everyone who works for a small business is a sales person. That’s the only way a small business survives.
That’s also true of non-profits. Everyone who works for a nonprofit is a development team member, whether they are part of the paid or the unpaid staff. It’s the only way a non-profit survives.
I have friends that will tell me that they can’t ask anyone for money. It’s not acceptable in their social circles, or they just aren’t comfortable with it.
I admit, I have an advantage. When you grow up in a home where selling is an expectation, you develop the required skills.
You also realize that it isn’t always about asking for money.
Sometimes it’s about telling the organization’s story. After all, no one donates to an organization of which they are unaware! Other times, it’s about building a relationship so that the conversation can come up at a later date. Often, it’s about asking for something other than money. Asking a friend to volunteer with you or organizing a work party can be excellent ways to help a person build a connection to the organization. Plus, donating time is donating something of value. Of course, sometimes it is about asking for money.
So how do you build a “home,” or a nonprofit culture, where development efforts are the expectation? How do you get past the people who object to the idea of “selling” your nonprofit, even when they support it personally? Here are my suggestions:
Talk About It.
The first step in turning your entire organization into a development team is to educate them on what that means. Describe your vision of a team that is entirely focused on generating resources for the organization. Talk about the impact that cultural shift will have on your nonprofit’s ability to meet its mission objectives. Most importantly, talk about the range of development roles people can play … from spreading the word, to asking for volunteer help, to asking for money.
Don’t forget to include your volunteers. Board members, committee members, and project-based volunteers can and should all be part of your newly expanded development team. Make sure they hear that message, too. And make sure that they understand the subtle, yet important, ways they can contribute. For example, encourage those one-time volunteers to post pictures of their volunteer service on social media. By talking about what they did and why they were inspired to help, they help educate the people in their social circle about the organization and its mission. It can also reinforce their connection to the organization.
Teach them What to Say.
Messaging is very, very important. If you want your entire community to have a solid understanding of why you exist, the impact you make, and why they should contribute time or money to help you succeed, you need for everyone to say the same thing.
It’s rather like being in a sports stadium. If everyone is yelling different things at the same time, no single message comes through. But what happens when someone organizes people into saying the same thing at the same time? “Go team! Go team!” The message is loud and clear.
If everyone who works with or volunteers for your organization says the same thing, the community will hear it. If everyone says different things, the message will be drowned out by the din of messages we hear every day.
Make sure that you have a solid messaging platform, and take the time to teach it to both volunteers and staff. A solid messaging platform is simple. It includes a few messages with some backup facts to support them. Make sure every volunteer and employee understands those messages and is prepared to use them. It doesn’t take long, and it’s very, very important.
Give them Something to “Sell.”
Most organizations have a wish list of things they want. Sometimes it’s on their website. Sometimes it’s clear in a campaign. If you want to make every employee a member of your development team, you need to make sure everyone has a range of things for which they can ask. Include volunteer opportunities, items the organization needs, specific items the organization needs to purchase that could be sponsored, and funding goals. The first key to success with your expanded development team is to make the types of support tangible.
The second key is to make sure your expanded team knows how the prospective donor can follow through. If a volunteer had a great time and wants to invite others to join them, they need a specific date and time for the next volunteer opportunity – and ideally a link to a website where prospective volunteers can sign up. If one of your expanded development team members is talking about specific needs, such as a school supply drive, the list of desired supplies needs to be readily available to them. And of course, it should be obvious how to make a financial donation, and very easy to do so.
Celebrate Small Steps.
Everyone likes to be recognized for their contributions. Make sure to recognize the contributions of volunteers and employees who aren’t development team members for their efforts. When someone brings in a new volunteer, celebrate the value they delivered to the organization. If a school group organizes a supply drive, measure the value and celebrate it as you would a development team win of the same size. When a board member introduces a development team member to a prospective donor, and the development team member closes the deal, celebrate the board member’s contribution to the win.
As you do, remember that not every person likes to have their contributions acknowledged in the same way. Some employees and volunteers would prefer to have anonymity, for example. The key is to acknowledge the behavior publicly, even without attribution to the individual, so that others learn from the behavior.
Add Your Thoughts to Mine!
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About the Author
Heather Fitzpatrick is a management consultant who focuses on helping organizations create thoughtful, strategic plans to achieve important goals. She provides strategic planning, marketing planning, financial planning and business planning expertise to a broad range of nonprofits. An active community volunteer, Heather has also served on 10 different boards of directors. She is the author of Marketing Management for Non-Marketing Managers: Improving Returns on Marketing Investments, published in 2013 by the AICPA’s publishing division.