Your Support Staff Is Essential to Success
Happy New Year! On Feb. 16 of this year, I will be celebrating my 40th year in the field of philanthropy. I have played many roles and have had many titles in my career.
Some of my titles have included assistant director of development, associate director of development, director of annual gifts, director of annual programs, director of alumni relations, director of alumni/development, director of major gifts, director of planned gifts and director of corporate relations.
My other titles have included director of special events, director of foundation relations, director of estate and gift planning, director of athletic development, associate vice president, vice president for development, director of foundation, executive director of development, senior consultant, consultant, special advisor, foundation president, state director of philanthropy and national director of philanthropy. I know I missed a few, but you get the point. I have played many organizational roles.
Of course, I had a private bathroom once as I briefly used the former president’s office while they were moving development offices off campus. I also had a private parking space with my name on it once. They didn’t give me my name when I left that job. Such are the limited perks, which we do not expect anyway, of the profession.
My point with the title exercise is the fact I have spent a great deal of time in the front of the organizational shop, so to speak. What I am most proud of is the fact I also have spent a great deal of time in the back of the shop. Every area, whether front or back, is vitally important. When I say front of the shop, I mean sales, priorities, strategic planning, external to the public exposure, etc. When I say back of the shop, I refer to functions, such as computerization of records, data, recognition, research, support systems and working closely with support staff. These are critical, internally focused activities led by professionals.
In order to succeed in the highest levels of our profession, you need hands-on experience and knowledge of both the front and back of the office. I was blessed to receive my first assignment 40 years ago. Instead of immediately going out and soliciting gifts or sending direct mail to prospects, I was ordered to create an “acknowledging secretary procedures and policies” booklet.
In this booklet, I created policies and procedures for recording gifts, acknowledging donors, maintaining correct data and gift history, establishing a system for maintaining notes on prospects and donors, plus inputting survey information to send to prospects and donors. I also was in charge of determining what information staff needed to take on cultivation or solicitation calls, such as case for support materials.
In other support-staff roles, I had to maintain correspondence between attorneys, CPAs, financial planners, insurance agents, other professionals and the organization I served. A large number of organizational donors had trust arrangements, life insurance policies, gift annuities and other important documents that both parties needed updated on an ongoing basis.
Do you think financial support information maintained by organizational professionals is important? When I joined one university, I was appalled when I began opening file cabinets. In many cases, donor files were not kept up to date or were not consistent. Papers and other information were not properly maintained. Sadly, I found more than $150,000 in checks made out to the university that were not cashed and out of date. Can you believe that? In my opinion that is not only reckless, it is criminal. For me, this pointed out at an early career stage how important support staff is to an organization. They establish systems and processes for others to utilize for success.
The point of this story is simple. For all of the fundraising professionals reading this post, take time to thank and appreciate those individuals that create the data, maintain the data, handle the recognition, provide the research, keep the numbers updated, establish and maintain systems, plus a host of other duties. They deserve our deepest appreciation because our success depends upon their tireless labor and direction. Thank you, support staff, for doing the important work for our organizations. We truly need and appreciate you!
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 email@example.com or 317-224-1029.