Donor Relationships Belong to Organizations, Not Fundraising Professionals
A friend who serves on a nonprofit board shared his board's thought process in hiring a consultant.
“The consulting firm’s president called several board members and shared that she would give ‘a very favorable introduction to several area foundations,’” he said.
This saddens me. There are a lot of great consultants. However, consultants, just like other fundraising professionals, have a responsibility to treat donors with respect and hold any private information in confidence.
Donor relationships are not meant to be transferred when a fundraising professional leaves one organization and goes to another. Likewise, they are not to be purportedly brokered by a fundraising consultant. Neither in practice is effective for very long.
The AFP Code of Ethical Standards is quite clear: “Members shall not exploit any relationship with a donor, prospect, volunteer, client or employee for the benefit of the members or the members’ organizations.”
The organization’s CEO endorsed the “connections” that this consultant purported to bring and hired the firm, which has a reputation for making this promise, to the quiet chagrin of many foundation leaders. I wonder how the CEO would respond if the consultant or a staff member used the same approach with one of the nonprofit's existing major donors?
I’m likewise saddened when organizations seek to hire a fundraising professional because he or she “has connections.” A fundraising professional should be hired because of his or her expertise, success and ability to deepen or make new relationships on behalf of the organization. Relationships are not the property of the fundraiser. The fundraiser is a steward of a donor relationship for the organization.
As for the firm that made this promise of connections? Over the holidays I visited with a board member at another organization that hired the same firm based on the promise of connections to foundations and other major donors. The board member was very frustrated. The campaign had been stretched two years past the promised timeframe and the promised “connections” had not developed. Why? Because the foundations that the consultants had dangled in front of the client have very firm matching-gift policies and they are typically the last moneys raised. The organization had not been successful enough yet to make a successful application.
I have never met a foundation professional who was not willing to learn about an organization that fell within his or her focus areas. I have never met a foundation professional who was not willing to provide confidential insight as a part of an organization’s feasibility and planning study.
A major foundation leader who was a great mentor to me would often express his frustration at consultant approaches like this. He valued valid research visits as a part of planning studies. However, he abhorred the consultants being “in front” for a client. “I never know who they are representing, and these calls and visits actually hurt their clients,” he shared.
These same foundation professionals are savvy. They know the ethics of our profession. And these games do not help our profession or the deserving organizations being misrepresented.
Let’s uphold the ethics and reputation of our profession. Donor relationships are not the purview of a consultant or a development professional to be passed along from client to client or employer to employer.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.