How Do You Deal With Nonprofit Professional Potholes?
According to Wikipedia, a pothole is a type of failure in an asphalt pavement caused by the presence of water in the underlying soil structure and the presence of traffic passing over the affected area. The term pothole was applied to a hole in a road in the approximate year 1909.
Last week, I was sitting in a very warm house watching a television story about the miserable changing winter weather we were having in Indianapolis. The focus of the story was the fact that at this time of year potholes on our streets become a major problem. Literally eight hours after watching this story, I drive to a 7 a.m. appointment when I hit a very deep pothole. I felt like Jeff Gordon in a NASCAR race. I knew the outcome was not going to be good.
As luck would have it, I was near my appointment site. I heard the air quickly leave my right front tire, which I had purchased three weeks ago, as I parked. I dreamed of having a pit crew quickly change my tire but had to settle for an auto association worker change my $280 tire in two below weather, which seemed to take forever. This situation made me realize the analogy of dealing with potholes in our profession, especially during transitions in fundraising positions.
I have left a number of fundraising positions during my career only to quickly join new organizations. Sadly, in each case of transition no one asked me for information regarding my prospects, portfolio, strategy and other key information needed for a smooth transition of information generated over a long period of time. In fact, I felt total detachment and non-interest in the organization I was leaving in having my important information.
Conversely, when I joined a new organization I usually inherited a blank page of information. Think of the many years of good will and credibility that was lost. In fact, opportunities for board members to step in with donors, for example, as interim bridge relationships did not exist. Employees come and go, but board members usually stay in place for a longer periods of time.
In my experience, the activity of fundraising employment transition becomes a pothole in a sense that it causes disruption, loss of revenue, loss of relationships and many other negative implications. Think about your job experiences. Do you mandate a complete debrief of information when your employees leave employment? Do you ask board members to help bridge significant relationships to keep engagement and donor momentum in place? Do you provide new fundraising professional hires with solid prospect and donor information gleaned from former employees? How can this issue be dealt with in a positive way, especially when some departures are negative in scope?
Here are some ideas to prevent a complete "pothole" when a fundraising professional leaves employment and new professionals join your staff:
- Make sure your fundraising staff has a portfolio of prospects and donors with germane information placed in your data system that is shared by you and your staff members.
- Meet on a regular basis with your fundraising staff to discuss relationships and strategies.
- Engage a development committee of board members, and use it to develop relationships with significant prospects and donors.
- Make sure your CEO knows your top prospects and donors who are annual, major and planned giving in scope.
- Have at least two employees involved with high-level institutional prospects so one employee departure isn't as impactful on the institution.
- Promote with your key prospects and donors the concept of institutional, long-term loyalty as opposed to employee loyalty to maintain permanent engagement with the organization.
- Through events and activities, have significant donors get to know other significant donors personally so long-term relationships between them can be built.
- Create a major gift club to link prospects and donors to the institution.
Disruption and potholes are to be expected in a dynamic and fluid profession such as fundraising. Each year fundraising staff comes and goes. Prospects and donors interact with a large number of fundraising staff over a lifetime of institutional involvement. An organizational goal must be to minimize disruption and fill potholes as quickly as possible. Looking ahead for the sake of the institution, profession and your career, positively prepare for your employment departure and happily share information with others. This will help when you need an employer recommendation. Keep your eyes open for potholes and safe navigation through your career path!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.