Too many organisations bleed vital fundraising knowledge ‘ and kill their income potential ‘ when employees move on. Michael Downes recommends keeping careful records of practices, principles and successes to protect your valuable intellectual property.
Too many organisations bleed vital fundraising knowledge – and kill their income potential – when employees move on. Michael Downes recommends keeping careful records of practices, principles and successes to protect your valuable intellectual property.
After 32 years in this business, it is my firm view that the nonprofit sector suffers greatly from a loss of institutional memory where fundraising is concerned.
Here are two recent examples. One organisation, where I trained personnel and established a bequest program only a short time ago, lost its bequest officer to another organisation. They had to ask me to resupply all their bequest manuals and documents pertaining to the program.
I am also back helping another organisation that had been a client 20 years ago. Their 25,000 donor file, yielding $1 million in 1989, has dwindled this year to 7,000 yielding about $125,000. None of the same personnel are there. The fundraising program and principles I established are gone and forgotten.
It wouldn’t happen in the commercial world, where intellectual property is treated as a valuable commodity. Yet in the nonprofit sector, I have seen this kind of memory-loss time and again, as I hear of and revisit organisations whose absolute livelihood depends upon fundraising success.
3 Reasons for Fundraising Memory Loss
So why does this happen? Let me advance three reasons.
The first involves the fundraising profession itself. From my observations, around 40% of people who call themselves “fundraisers” stay in the profession for about two years before leaving it altogether. Many of the other 60% drop out later and those who remain as true fundraising professionals shift jobs frequently, increasing their remuneration, because they are a rare asset.
This translates to the average nonprofit experiencing significant changes within their fundraising team. I would say that at least every two years an organisation experiences an important staff loss and after seven years almost suffers a complete turnover in their development office.
The second consideration is that the continuity of fundraising intellect is poor. As people move away, they are replaced by others who are rarely briefed properly and who have to deal with non-existent records so far as fundraising knowledge and strategy are concerned. New personnel are not always specifically trained about fundraising for their new cause. Most institutions mistakenly believe that some sort of generic Fundraising 101 training is the answer. It is not.
The third reason is the more dangerous outcome of staff turnover, where people come into fundraising lacking fundraising experience but with enough bravado to experiment and make changes. Leaving their mark, they often eradicate successful behaviours of previous times.
Right now, one organisation that has increased its donor numbers and achieved a fabulous return on its direct mail program these past three years, is flirting with a complete change simply because new marketing staff need to feel important. I would bet on the eventual destruction of their current program. This is not just losing one’s mind … it is insanity.
Change Starts at the Top
Since so many nonprofit organisations are absolutely dependent upon successfully meeting budgets that involve growing amounts of voluntary contributions (i.e. fundraising), leaders cannot afford to put up with what is happening. A sub-committee of the board must be actively concerned about the development of new income. The CEO must be across fundraising too.
Steps have to be taken to keep records of how your best fundraising endeavours were planned and implemented, and donors nurtured. Handbooks need to be written about your most successful activities. Guide books for mail campaigns going back in time must exist. Donors, especially your bequest prospects, have to be in love with your cause, not just your staff person who keeps in touch with them.
Train and Review
Fundraising staff have to be trained to your institutional fundraising standards and that bar has to keep getting higher. Training is an ongoing and regular matter, and it is a group dynamic for your organisation that should remain in-house. You cannot lift the bar by sending one or two to fundraising conferences and short courses.
Finally, your organisation needs to regularly review its fundraising performance through a formal analysis process.