The dangers of staff-led fundraising

In this column we define and discuss the differences between volunteer-led fundraising and staff-led fundraising. With volunteer-led fundraising board members are actively engaged in cultivating, soliciting and sustaining relationships with individuals who can support your organization with gifts, resources and connections. Current donors and friends take a leadership role in soliciting gifts and promoting your organization.

With volunteer-led fundraising your development staff plays the role of supporting and facilitating the work of board members and other fundraising volunteers. Development staff can accompany volunteers, provide an orientation to the organization’s vision, mission, fundraising priorities and programmatic accomplishments. They can record gifts, manage special events, produce reports, write proposals, facilitate introductions – but they aren’t the people responsible for raising the majority of the organization’s funds.

With staff-led fundraising staff are charged with meeting an annual fundraising goal independent of the engagement and leadership of board members and volunteers. The responsibility for meeting fundraising goals rests on the shoulders of staff who may or may not have the skill set, experience and relationships required to meet the organization’s annual goal. And then there is the issue of time – there are only so many hours in a day and one, two or three staff people cannot accomplish what a larger team of well trained and motivated volunteers can accomplish. The pressures associated with staff-led fundraising often contribute to burnout on the part of development staff. National average tenure for development professionals is low – three-to-four years, the pressures are high, and the demand for these professionals far exceeds the number of experienced and talented individuals available.

One of the major risks associated with staff-led fundraising is the departure of staff. Losing a staff person charged with fundraising can create challenges that are hard to overcome. While the causes of staff-turnover are varied, the result is that information and relationships which have sustained your organization often walk out the door when staff leave. Unless meticulously captured in your donor management system, your organization won’t know about upcoming proposal submission or funder reporting deadlines, the giving preferences of specific donors, and the marketing outcomes specific corporate partners are seeking to achieve. Relationships with your major donors will need to be rebuilt. The time it takes to recruit a new person and prepare them to begin the work of fundraising can set you back months.

When volunteers and board members are engaged with fundraising relationships and information are often shared amongst a larger group of people. Your organization has more “faces” in the community, and the work of cultivating and soliciting can continue during the search for new staff.

Increase your odds for success – invest your time and resources in developing and sustaining a volunteer-led fundraising program.

© Copyright Mel and Pearl Shaw.
Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at or call (901) 522-8727.

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