Mutual Trust Is a Must
Every day we hear about the lack of trust between nations, between citizens and their governments, between employees and customers, customers and corporations, and between individuals. Advances in technology have aggravated the problem by making it easy for individuals and organizations to steal or misuse sensitive information.
Within the nonprofit community, we talk incessantly about good stewardship, integrity and financial transparency — and how donors trust that the organizations they support will use their gifts wisely. But are we really adhering to these principles in the day-to-day operations of our fundraising programs? We’re saying that these values are important to us, but are our actions truly based on trust and honesty?
In a nonprofit/fundraising agency relationship, one can’t expect trust if the other party isn’t providing it. To put it simply, the program’s output is only as good as its input.
A partnership based on mutual trust must exist between the organization and its agency to produce sound fundraising strategies and great results. For starters, nonprofits need to share past results and donor files with their agency partners and commit to ongoing program analysis and file audits; they must not expect an agency to deliver smart strategies and satisfactory results without them.
Sometimes nonprofits are reluctant to provide this information; and in other cases, they just don’t have a firm grip on their own data — their donor database is in disarray, and past program results have not been accurately or consistently recorded or reported on. In turn, agencies and fundraising counsel need to assure nonprofit clients that their valuable data assets will remain confidential.
Set realistic goals
If a nonprofit sets unrealistic goals for its program compared to widely accepted industry benchmarks, and requires its agency (or prospective agency) to create projections based on these goals — that’s a breakdown in trust. The agency must advise the client or prospect on realistic goal setting and refuse to commit to impossible projections. The Association of Direct Response Fundraising Counsel Rules of Ethics and Practices states that “fundraising counsel will not enter into a business relationship without first stating in writing the reasonable expectations for fundraising income.”
Likewise, an agency shouldn’t inflate its projections in order to win a new account. Unfortunately there are agencies that take advantage of nonprofits that set unrealistic goals by saying, “Yes, we can do it,” even though they know the results aren’t attainable. Again, to cite the ADRFCO rules, “A member of the Association will not exaggerate its performance record or lead a prospective client to a false conclusion that a given result is guaranteed.”
Sometimes a nonprofit’s unrealistic program performance goals are driven by a development staff that is inexperienced in direct-response fundraising. Other times, uninformed boards dictate performance expectations to the development staff, which accept the numbers to get their budgets approved. The ADRFCO rules state that, “Fundraising counsel will not enter into a business relationship without reasonable assurance that the client understands the economics and processes of direct-response fundraising.”
Nonprofits should hire talented, experienced, direct-response fundraising professionals to lead their programs and advise their boards on program plans. Nonprofits also should commit to ongoing training of all fundraising staff. On their part, agencies need to share their knowledge and expertise with their clients, and not take advantage of a client’s knowledge gap. Agencies should know that an informed and educated client makes a strategic partnership much stronger.
The nonprofit community strives to make the world a better place through its many missions and programs. In turn, development teams, agencies and
other fundraising suppliers can make the world of fundraising a better place by conducting themselves in an honest and forthright manner — and trusting each other to do the same.
Lynn S. Edmonds is president of direct marketing firm L.W. Robbins Associates. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.