Notes from Nonprofit Rockstars: How to Build Your Olympic Quality Development Team

August 28, 2019 / Comments Off on Notes from Nonprofit Rockstars: How to Build Your Olympic Quality Development Team

Featured MNA News Org. Development

Guest Writers: Emily Allison, Development Director, Bridgercare | Laura Brin, Development Director, The Traveling School

Development is a team sport. But fundraising professionals are often left on their own to raise essential funds for their organizations. Staff are expected to put on events, pull off major gift asks, and raise thousands on online giving days. It is hard to score with a team of one. We only win if everyone works together and participates wholeheartedly.

So how do you build a team (or teams!) to leverage your fundraising efforts? Want your board to help with donor asks? Wish you had a task force to help put on that annual event? Dream of supporters who fundraise FOR you? Chances are you have board members, donors, and supporters who want to engage, they just need a little guidance from their team captain (you)!

Here is the training plan for molding your current network into a well-trained, unbeatable fundraising team.

Teamwork, what is it good for, anyway?
Before you even start thinking about building your fundraising dream team, you need to flush out the WHY … why are you creating a team and what will the focus be? Your organization might need a board committee focused on strategy, a planning committee for a gala, or a task force for that Major Gift Campaign.

These teams are all different, so be clear about your goals and the support you need. Based on our combined professional experiences and stories from other nonprofit staff, we know that building a culture of philanthropy and a motivated fundraising team will multiply your efforts to help you raise more funding for your organization! Doesn’t that sound nice?

The more you involve your supporters in your fundraising efforts, the closer they feel to the organization. They’ll give more, talk up your organization more, and connect you to networks that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Simply put, it really makes everything way more fun because you have other people to help bring enthusiasm and celebrate wins with.

Teamwork makes the dream work! Now, let’s prepare for that championship game.

Step One: Prepare to Lead Your Team
You are the team captain, so you bring the passion and enthusiasm. As the development guru, people are looking to you for direction which is both terrifying and creates a lot of opportunity. Take a moment to reflect on your passion – why have you chosen to dedicate so much to this cause? What is special about it and what impact does it make?

Take that motivation and infuse it into your team by educating and leading by example. Asking for money can be intimidating. Many of us are taught to never ask about money and to keep finances private. But philanthropy is a catalyst for change and progress. It is what makes the nonprofit sector function.

Break down fundraising fears by talking to your team and working through them. You know better than anyone that fundraising really isn’t all that scary. Make them feel heard and supported and remind them you’re in it together. And, if someone really doesn’t feel comfortable with a certain task, put them on a different team where they will be more successful.

Step Two: Recruit Your Team
So, who should to be on the roster? Just like a major gift ask, recruiting people to help you fundraise is an art. They need to have a strong interest in your cause, a little extra time, and you need to be able to get a hold of them.

Start with people closest to you and concentrate on folks who already want to help rather than spending time converting those who are less invested. Here are our top picks for creating an all-star team:

    • Board Members
    • Loyal donors (i.e monthly donors)
    • Volunteers
    • Current or former clients/patients/students of your program
    • Staff (even non-development staff)
    • People who are outspoken about your organization/work on social media or in letters to the editor
    • Local business professionals who are connected and have affinity to your work

Remember, just because you know someone does an awesome job volunteering with a different organization, doesn’t mean they will want to help your organization, doesn’t mean they will have the time to do it, and doesn’t mean you even have a way to get in touch with them. Ignore those people and connect with your people!

Step Three: Play to Their Strengths
So, what position should your team members play? Everyone is different. It’s good to have a variety of options based on your needs and to give people fitting opportunities to be involved.

Consider their skills and interests so you can pair them with the right volunteer opportunity or committee. Start by simply asking them how they want to be involved and how much time they have to give.

Here are a few of our favorite teams:

Strategy:          The Traveling School’s Development Committee is comprised of staff, board members, and volunteers that help with fundraising strategy, planning, and goal setting.

Peer to peer fundraising:     Bridgercare rallied 21 fundraisers to raise $26,000 in just 24 hours on Give Big last year.

Major Gifts:     Seven board members have joined The Traveling School’s Major Gift Task Force. They have been trained and have all partnered with staff on major gift asks.

Fundraising:    Supporters of Bridgercare host fundraising and outreach events in their homes, folding their own social networks into the organization’s reach.

Community Outreach:        Both of our organizations have partnered with local coffee shops, jewelers, florists, and other business owners to put on events and special promotions.

Stewardship:   A group of Traveling School alumnae, parents of alumnae, and volunteers write thank you cards and make thank you calls to donors as they give throughout the year.

Events:            Bridgercare’s Sweet Tooth Ball is powered by a volunteer force that is organized and directed by development staff, making all the tiny details of a big event possible.

Think about the human potential you already have in your network and ASK THEM TO JOIN YOUR TEAM!

Step Four: Train for Success
This is the hardest part for both you and your volunteer team! Once you recruit your team, how do you motivate them to increase their fundraising fitness and put in the necessary hours to be successful?

First off, drills. As in, drill down to the basics and provide training so they feel confident in what they are doing. Break down whatever you are asking them to do into tangible steps and make it as easy as possible. If a donor is throwing a house party for you, write sample outreach content and give them three tasks to be completed in one week rather than a laundry list of things to do within a nebulous timeframe. If a board member is accompanying an ask, ensure you’ve prepared for the ask by reviewing the donor profile and practicing the ask together.

Second, be a good coach and help them along the way. That might mean sending reminders or asking what else you can do to support them. It is critical to meet your teammates wherever they are. Not all supporters are created equal. Dreamers bring the enthusiasm and create community but might need an extra nudge to finish sending those invite emails, whereas the work horse might have all the details done in 20 minutes but is overwhelmed by the idea of creating a curated atmosphere for the annual gala. Tap into their strengths, and coordinate with others to fill in the rest.

When possible, we encourage you to create a team environment so that everyone has a sense of belonging. This goes a long way in making sure that each individual feels supported. Group emails, Facebook groups, or in person events are a great way to build intentional community and momentum around your fundraising efforts! Consider starting group meetings by sharing any successes or good news.

And, most importantly, be sure to express gratitude. These people are your champions and you need to thank them over and over again (because you love them!)

Cool Down (aka Celebrate Your Success!)
We know that being in development can feel lonely and overwhelming, especially when none of the other staff even understand what you do (no I am not a new college intern… I have worked here for almost three years… Sigh).

Fundraising can be hard, thankless work and people aren’t always chomping at the bit to get involved, BUT you don’t have to go at it alone. We hope this blog post gave you some ideas and tangible ways to build a culture of philanthropy inside your organization. We would love to hear what has worked for you in the past or how you have been an unbeatable fundraising team.


Notes from Nonprofit Rockstars is a guest blog written by nonprofit leaders, practitioners, staff, and board members in Montana. Have something you’d like to share with our audience? Submit your article idea to [email protected] to be featured on our website.