How to Meaningfully Coach Your Frontline Fundraiser
How much of your time is dedicated to coaching the fundraisers on your team? If you’re like most nonprofit leaders, you probably aren’t spending much time meaningfully, but that’s nothing to feel bad about. Most leaders receive no training on how to coach when they move into that role and are often overloaded with too many responsibilities.
The reality is that coaching takes time, dedication and mental space to hear (and respond) to any roadblocks, challenges, questions or needs that come up. It’s not just a weekly one-on-one with your fundraiser. It’s a thoughtful, strategic relationship to help elevate each fundraiser to their fullest potential.
In every meeting, the focus should be on making sure each fundraiser has their plan and is working it. I’ve found this kind of disciplined and regular approach led to an average growth of 22% in major gifts and 7% in mid-level giving in 2022, while the latest data from across the sector shows donor giving was down an average of 4% in major gifts and 3.9% in mid-level, according to Fundraising Effectiveness Project data.
So, how can you start bringing in proven coaching strategies to better support your team? Well, first, let’s define your role as a coach:
- You’re keeping each team member accountable to do what they said they’d do.
- You’re a sounding board for brainstorming and strategizing.
- You’re listening for obstacles and roadblocks that are in the way of success.
Alright, now let’s talk about some tips to help you be a better coach to your fundraisers.
1. Focus on Building Trust and Mutual Respect
Without a relationship of trust, it will be extremely hard to effectively coach someone and hold them accountable. And as you know from other relationships, trust takes time to build.
It’s also impacted by past experiences. If that trust has been broken already, the first step here is to repair it. Then, you can move into establishing a stronger relationship where each party feels valued, heard and appreciated.
2. Ask Open-Ended Questions That Encourage Strategic Conversation
There is a wrong way and a right way to ask questions if you want to create a relationship of collaboration and support. I know that sounds really black and white, but how you ask a question (the words chosen, tone used, etc.) can quickly put someone on the defensive. And when that happens, the conversation will struggle to be productive and healthy.
Asking questions is an important part of accountability and management though, so knowing how to craft thoughtful and honoring questions can be powerful. Asking, “Why haven’t you asked for a large gift from donor A?” immediately puts the other person on the defensive. The person who the question is directed toward will naturally move into a protective focus. Now, the word choice is only part of the equation. Your energy also has a big impact. If this is coming from a place of frustration, the question will easily come across as judgmental.
Instead, ask, “What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing in asking for larger gifts?” This question inspires openness and creative solutions. It still helps you get to the root of the problem, but your team members won’t feel like they need to defend themselves.
3. Consider Each Team Member’s Unique Gifts and Talents
As you’re coaching each team member, you need to consider them each individually. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s easy to compare or bring expectations of how things should be done.
You’ll need to tailor your approach, conversation and where you focus your coaching efforts based on where each person has strengths, where they struggle and what obstacles they are facing. And the best part of this aspect of coaching is that you’ll also find incredible ways to enhance your team member’s skills and talents so they can thrive.
4. Don’t Just Listen — Take Action
This is a big one and relates back to the role you have in actively listening for obstacles. Uncovering roadblocks and understanding the impact they’re having for your team is huge. But you need to go beyond just listening and understanding.
As a leader, you need to pursue solutions, in collaboration with your team, for addressing those issues. Ask questions about what they think would solve the problem. Talk to other people on your team who may be part of the obstacle or may give more insight into the problem. Taking the information you learn in coaching your team and using it is powerful and, ultimately, will help to strengthen your relationship with each person.
I know this is a lot, but it’s so important to support and coach your fundraisers so they can be successful in their work. If you’re able to strengthen your skills as a coach and come alongside your team to help them achieve success, your donors and your organization will truly begin to thrive.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.