This is a guest post by our smart friend Olga Moshinsky Woltman of LemonSkies.
Mission fuels fundraising, fundraising enables mission. Neither can exist without the other. The differences of opinions between program delivery and development teams tend to not be overtly aggressive (i.e. I personally have not witnessed things come to blows, but if you have, PM me). Still, the two groups often have very different points of view. So why do these two departments in organizations, working for the same cause, still find themselves so often at odds with one another? And what does it take to create a culture of collaboration?
Walking the Walk
Before putting ‘pen to paper,’ I reached out to a former colleague, Allison McElvaine (actually that’s Dr. McElvaine to you). Just so happens, Allison and I collaborated often while she was on the mission team and I worked on development side of the house at the American Diabetes Association. The resulting campaigns were compelling for donors and well aligned with our mission. Her insights about what works in a strong mission+development collaboration contributed to this article.
Let’s be real for a moment: Many (fine, not all) programs colleagues have a slightly dismissive view of fundraisers as mercenaries who lack depth of understanding. This view is not entirely unfounded, especially when fiscal year is nearing the end and the trend lines are not moving in the desired direction. Allison cautions that “fundraisers need to recognize that the mission is defined and executed in a focused way and avoid falling prey to the temptation to take the path of least resistance to a dollar that is not true to the mission.”
“They won’t let us say that.” If you’re in development, you may have said this at some point in your development career about colleagues who do not have fundraising goals. From the fundraiser’s seat at the table, policy and program nerds directors can be a bit of a buzzkill, with endless caveats and complex nuances that deflate the strength of any fundraising appeal. Also, it’s not endearing when a fantastically crafted campaign is pulled at the eleventh hour because of, well, scruples.
Building a Culture of Collaboration
It all boils down to communication and respecting each other. Sound simple? Keep reading. Your other IRL relationships just might improve too.
- Don’t get defensive. When sitting across the table from peers, do assume good intentions. Uncross those arms, and be open to hearing them out. With the exception of truly heinous jerks, people are not trying to stick it to you. Just like you, they are trying to do their job and represent their priorities, whether it is looking out for the integrity of the mission or trying to ensure the organization raises the funds needed to deliver on its mission.
- Keep an open mind. This can be tough and takes some degree of maturity (think how a toddler reacts and do the opposite). Sometimes it means being prepared to compromise or even change your mind entirely after hearing out their reasoning. Messaging and campaigns may even end up shaping up to be more compelling! There also will be times when mitigating risks and backlash have to be prioritized. That’s how the cookie crumbles -- this is (except for those heinous jerks) not personal.
- It’s a partnership. Being a partner means being respectful and genuine, focused on a shared end goal rather than gaining the upper hand. Mission staff: Don’t place yourself as an arbiter with the power to shut down fundraising efforts, which will just mean less money for the mission. Fundraisers: Asking for input is not the same as a CYA gesture.
- Communicate early and often. Waiting too long can be detrimental. Coordination up front actually makes life simpler since you don’t have to retro-fit things later. You may even identify additional opportunities early enough to actually incorporate them. Regular, proactive communication over time helps build understanding and will bring up new, outside-the-box ideas.
- Educate and ask questions. Dear Mission folks: Please stop with the jargon and explain in plain language how our programs impact people or make a difference. Fundraisers: Don’t assume that your colleagues understand why you are so hung up on dollar equivalencies or what topics are compelling to a donor.
- Find your person. If you’re in development, having a trusted mission colleague you can informally run ideas by and count on for perspective can be invaluable. A dream partner is one willing to explain and willing to listen, and capable of translating the most complex jargon into layman’s terms (extra points for the ability to do so without judgment). Allison was my person, and she understood that “mission professionals need to recognize that funds are essential to serving the mission and that fundraising professionals know how to make the case for bringing in those resources.”
- Get over it! So maybe your brilliant fundraising idea was shut down this time around. Or maybe some exciting programmatic details just didn’t make it into the fundraising phone script. It’s not personal. Time to move on.
- Don’t stop pushing the envelope. Don’t take the “safe” route to get through approval processes. Fundraisers, keep proposing what you believe to be the best approach, and know that it’s your job over time to educate Mission colleagues about what works with broad fundraising audiences and why.
Fundraising and mission cannot be separated. Staying in silos, fundraisers risk straying too far from mission, and mission delivery depends on fundraising success. Do you have any tips or war stories to add from your experience?