January 28, 2015 \ Rachel Jellinek
3 Lessons Learned for Fundraising Execs



I recently attended an event hosted by Women in Development of Greater Boston entitled, “The First Six Months Are Over. Now What? How to Be Resilient and Nimble in Strategy Development.”

The panel of speakers included:

·      Susan L. Richardson, Director of Alumni Relations, Boston University

·      Seth Rosenzweig, Vice President, Development, Combined Jewish Philanthropies

·      Suzanne Tompkins, Vice President of Development, Zoo New England

Here are three key takeaways that they offered:

1) Challenges or matching gifts can be used successfully to motivate people to give, but they should be used sparingly.  All of the panelists weighed in, sharing their experiences and noting that matches can be a mixed bag.  The two main risks are:

a) The time and effort spent in identifying a match donor could be used in better ways.

b) Since, in most cases, the donor is going to give her pledged gift anyway, the “match ask” can seem less than authentic.

2) Not only is it important to focus on donor retention, but staff retention is critical as well.  Seth noted that there has been a lot of talk regarding how costly it is to attain new donors and how solidifying relationships with existing donors is key.  But he added that it is also crucial for organizations to retain good talent.  Since successful fundraising is based upon building relationships and trust, if you have a revolving door with your staff, then your ability to build relationships and trust within your community is going to be compromised.  Your donors notice when people come and go, and it can make them nervous about your organization.

3) As a leader of your development team, it is very important to remain “emotionally level.”  Seth stressed that as difficult as this might be, it is in your best interests to try and maintain an even keel as much as possible for the benefit of your staff.  It might be tempting to celebrate big wins, but you never know when a life cycle event might happen that affects one of your donors, and then things could drastically swing the other way.  If you carry yourself with as much calmness as possible, then your staff will be in a better position to follow your example, and morale will remain strong through both highs and lows.


Photo: Todd Petrie