The First 90 Days

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

A version of this article was published in the May/June 2016 edition of SPN News.

Fundraisers play an essential role in helping to fulfill a nonprofit’s mission, maintain current initiatives, and launch new projects. Consequently, everyone from board members to management and program staff have high expectations for this position.

At some nonprofits, development is a revolving-door shop with fundraisers leaving before the ink on their business cards is dry. It’s true that fundraisers are in high demand, but that isn’t the only reason for the rapid job changes. Unrealistic expectations on the part of leadership and a lack of knowledge by fundraisers are part of the problem. Needless to say, too much staff turnover can jeopardize both continuity of donor relationships and institutional growth.

So how do you best stabilize the development department and create an environment in which fundraisers can learn, grow, and stay? Both CEOs and fundraisers must take steps to make the first 90 days of employment the basis for a long-term relationship.

Advice for CEOs:

Prepare for the fundraiser’s arrival. Gather the annual report, strategic plan, organizational history, fundraising plan, budget, newsletters, etc. Make it as easy as possible for new staff to learn about your organization.

What is the goal? Be realistic. You want results yesterday, but fundraising occurs on the donor’s timetable, not yours. A new fundraiser cannot turn on a money spigot, especially if your organization has been understaffed. Your revenue goal may need to contract for a year before expanding.

Clarify responsibilities and expectations. Do you want the fundraiser to spend most of his time on the road or in the office? Use the job description to set specific goals.

Clear your calendar. Onboarding a new fundraiser takes time. Dedicate several days or more to the transition so you can share your vision and knowledge. You’ll need even more time for staff who are new to the freedom movement or who work remotely from your office.

Provide sufficient resources. Fundraisers can’t schedule and hold donor visits while also updating the database, mailing letters and emails, writing grant proposals, and preparing reports. Invest in support staff to get the administrative work done.

Get educated about fundraising methods and metrics. You don’t need to know how to merge-purge a database, but you do need to know whether your direct mail is on target. Be informed about best practices and benchmarks.

Build a culture of philanthropy. Engaging with donors doesn’t begin and end with the fundraiser. Create an environment that encourages all staff to feel connected to donors and responsible for their stewardship.

Advice for fundraisers:

Find out what’s important. Identify key donor relationships and top sources of funding. Which donors need immediate attention? Pay special attention to grant and report deadlines so that nothing slips.

Befriend the program staff. Learn about the organization’s history as well as key initiatives and future projects that need funding. Establish an open channel of communication to make program staff feel like respected partners.

Sell ideas, not golf tournament sponsorships. If you haven’t worked at a think tank before, then you need to learn how to inspire giving when the benefits are less tangible. Start by writing a case for support that explains in an urgent and compelling manner why someone should support your organization.

Map out a communications calendar. Weave your “case” into all communications, and decide how and when you will interact with donors over the course of a year.

Remember that not all donor dollars are created equal. Rigorously prioritize your time and fundraising activities. Put yourself in the driver’s seat, focus on high-value work, and take ownership of fundraising results.

Establish systems. Review the database and determine whether some cleanup is necessary. Focus on protecting donor data. Create regular reports that provide decision-making data such as revenue by source and comparisons to prior-year results.

Gather all vendor contracts. Marshal your external resources and find out who’s doing what. Maximize consultant relationships by getting help in areas that are not your strengths.

Don’t burn out. Commitment to the cause of freedom shouldn’t mean giving up all your free time. The first 90 days of any job can be intense, but seek balance and ways to reward yourself. Above all, ask for help when you need it.

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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