Yes, We Have a Fundraising Policy for That
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to review and recommend updates to a nonprofit organization’s development policies. Yes, I said “opportunity.” Development or fundraising policies may sound like the boring stuff we prefer to ignore, but they are actually a wonderful tool for fundraisers.
There are numerous resources online to guide you if you lack policies, or if yours were last updated during the Reagan administration. If you are a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), you can access a plethora of resources, but even without that membership, helpful resources are not hard to find with a simple online search. AFP provides nonmembers and members alike with a great tool: Developing Fundraising Policies and Procedures.
You may be wondering: “Why bother? Why waste time developing a policy that we have been doing just fine without for years?”
For starters, a good development policy tells fundraisers—staff, volunteers and consultants—what kinds of gifts you accept and what the criteria for acceptance are. Your policy can spell out what you will accept (cash, securities, gifts-in-kind, etc.) and what is required to be done before saying “yes.” The donation of a piece of property, for example, can be a wonderful gift—or a major problem if you fail to do due diligence before accepting the title to it. While fundraisers hate to say no, there are times when we must, and having a policy to point to as the reason adds credibility.
A development policy can also spell out the ways you will recognize a gift. What size gift earns a listing on the donor wall in the foyer? What gifts will be listed in your annual report (with donor permission, of course)? What giving clubs are established and what are the criteria for membership? While this may get updated if you launch a capital campaign and have added naming opportunities, having the basic understanding protects fundraisers from overpromising and then having to backtrack.
Your policy may also spell out gift and donor contact entry procedures. Standardizing how this is done improves consistency, making it easier to pull data or transition a major donor from one staff member to another when necessary. Having a policy for how quickly gifts will be processed can make hiring decisions easier (even temporarily) if you are understaffed and falling behind in this important back-office task. Be sure to also include specific instructions on processing online giving.
The development policy is also a good place to state your ethical and security commitments. What is your policy on shredding donor records? What is your confidentiality policy? How often will staff with access to donor records be required to review and re-sign the ethics and confidentiality policies? (You may have everyone sign it when hired, but do they really remember what they committed to after month or years have gone by?) Your donors expect you to handle their information securely and maintain confidence, and this policy is a wonderful place to spell out your expectations of anyone who has access to this information.
If you have events as part of your fundraising mix, the development policy can define requirements for fundraising events. Are there any events that are not acceptable to your organization? Is there a minimum income to expense ratio required to continue an event year over year? Will you account for volunteer hours in determining the cost of the event? Are there laws in your city that you have to follow regarding permits, etc., for events?
These are only a few of the things you will want to include in your development policy. If you want more information, do an online search for “sample fundraising policies and procedures” and take a look at the examples that are available. And remember, you will want this policy to ultimately be approved by the board of directors, since this adds credibility.
This old dog knows that preparing policy statements is easily put off in favor of the more exciting work of fundraising. But a solid policy can serve you for years to come, eliminating uncertainty at best and major gaffes at worst. Even if you think your organization is too small to bother, this is a great tool to have that helps position you for growth. I salute those of you who have policies that have been updated in the last three years, and encourage the rest of you to give it some thought. After all, a good policy can prevent future problems—and ultimately, resolving those will take more time than developing a policy, and they can potentially cost goodwill and even donations.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.