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"What the Board Needs to Understand About Fundraising Staff"

(This is excerpted from Boards That Love Fundraising)

Too few board members understand how terribly labor-intensive fundraising is. They lobby executive directors to keep their operations "lean and mean," thereby effectively cutting themselves off at the fundraising knees.

It is the rare organization that has enough fundraising staff. A major university may employ 150 people in its fundraising office but need 200; a small, community-based counseling program expects the executive director to cover all the fundraising bases without so much as a part-time administrative assistant.

The optimum size of a fundraising office is not a function of an organization's overall budget. We know of a $50 million medical research project funded by two grants from the National Science Foundation that does not require a full-time fundraiser (a part-time proposal writer does nicely). On the other hand, a pediatric cancer clinic with an annual budget of $5 million that raises funds via foundation grant proposals, corporate solicitations, direct mail letters, sales of tickets to special events, major donor visits, and planned gift efforts requires enough staff to address all areas comprehensively.

Cultivation of prospective donors takes time and effort and cannot always be measured in dollars and cents, especially when an organization is new to the world of individual giving. As explained earlier, the thank-you letter sent to the donor in response to his or her first gift is the first step in getting the second gift. Organizations require fundraising staff to solicit initial grants and contributions and to cultivate donors consistently and imaginatively in securing future contributions. It is the rare organization that does enough cultivation because it is the rare organization that has enough staff to cover all the fundraising bases.

Good fundraising means targeted marketing, and targeted marketing is labor-intensive. As indicated earlier, the most effective direct mail campaigns target particular constituencies and amend the text of the letters to agree with the interests of those constituencies. A successful major donor campaign depends on extensive research to determine not simply how much someone might contribute but what his or her political slant is and which hot button issues might crop up during the face-to-face visit. Nonprofits need labor power to generate this information.

As a board member, your job is not to hire fundraising staff (unless invited to serve on an interview panel by the executive director) but to help the executive director determine the size of the fundraising office and budget, and the appropriate positions within the office.

Copyright 2007 Zimmerman Lehman.

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Copyright © 2005, Zimmerman Lehman