Strategies for Navigating Some Leadership Struggles
Getting leadership buy-in for fundraising programs takes time and often happens in baby steps. There are pitfalls to watch out for and strategies you can employ to help navigate them.
Bonnie Osinski, a fundraiser with more that 25 years experience and director of development for CAMBA, a large multi-service agency in Brooklyn, says most times leadership will come around to seeing the benefits of programs in its own time and its own way.
“I think a lot of times people who are not familiar with professional fundraisers have a lot of really peculiar ideas about what works and what doesn’t work in fundraising. They base their opinion on personal preferences and individual experience,” Osinski says. “Very often you have to be a little thick-skinned about it.”
Osinski says leadership often needs outside reinforcement before it buys into an idea. Fundraisers might discuss things with leadership for a while, without results, and then witness a comment from someone outside the organization be the turning point in leading the leaders to the buy-in.
“If you can get yourself to understand that you’re going to have to take smaller steps and it’s not going to happen all at once, you can very often start turning them around,” she says. “And once they get the bug, then they start running with it.”
There might always be situations or programs that leadership is resistant to. Osinski suggests you work with programs it’s already comfortable with and go from there. If successful, the programs will prove themselves. “When they find out that they can do something they didn’t think they could do, they enjoy the visibility and the recognition that starts coming back to them,” she adds.
A common struggle for fundraisers at social-services organizations is that the organization has been primarily reliant on grants and wants to incorporate private fundraising, which requires a lot of up-front costs. It also requires the organization see things more from the private donor’s perspective — something the administration might not be accustomed to if it’s been primarily focused on government grants. A lot of social-services organizations want the unrestricted support that comes from privately raised funds but might be resistant to making the internal organizational changes necessary to run that type of program successfully.
“The problem with introducing new programs is that a lot of what you do in fundraising this year doesn’t pay off until next year, or later,” Osinski says. “For a year or two, you’re putting in a lot of up-front money, making investments, maybe hiring consultants, maybe hiring staff you didn’t have before. With direct mail, you might lose money for a couple of years. Special events have a lot of up -front costs. And that becomes a barrier to organizations that do not have a lot of discretionary money to invest. While government grants allow administrative costs, they do not cover fundraising.”
Osinski says getting buy-in for programs also requires the support of the board -- another thing that takes time. If, at the end of the day, you can’t budge the board or the CEO at all, Osinski says it might not be the right fit for you.
“You can’t quickly change a board. You have to start slowly, educating the ones you can and helping to bring on new board members,” she says. “But it’s another thing if the board just digs in their heels.”
She advises that when entering into an organization, fundraisers find out as much as they can about the management’s attitude and expectations, and look for signs of an entrenched board or founders resistant to change.
“Take a look at that before you get into the situation. And once you do, first be patient. Secondly, look for small areas you can work with,” Osinski says. “The first thing to look for is what can you do, and start there and work your way up.”
Bonnie Osinski can be reached through www.camba.org