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How Many of Those Fish Did You Catch?


Last week, when I posted these photos of Dan and me fishing for sockeye on the Kenai River, a friend responded: How many of those fish did you catch?

In fundraising, where the board, staff, and volunteers should be working toward a single goal, competition for “who caught the fish” can arise.

The reality is that fundraising is often a group effort:

  • The board member makes the introduction.
  • The staff puts together a plan and proposal.
  • The executive director asks for the gift.
  • And, the operations team creates the promised outcome.

Healthy organizations set measurable goals

If you read my past blogs, you know that I was personally goaled on cash received annually for nearly two decades.

However, fundraising — not unlike subsistence fishing we learned about in Alaska — is intended to support the non-profit’s mission, or in the case of Alaskan natives, feed the family.

To create a team atmosphere in which everyone is working to fulfill the same vision, I recommend aligning fundraising goals along product line and assigning a team member to head all funds raised therein.

For example, when I led a nonprofit hospital foundation, our major gifts officers’ goals were aligned with pediatrics, cancer, heart, and trauma.

Four advantages to this model

1. Each area had a specific goal, and everything — special events, major gifts, planned gifts — rolled into the goal for that program.

This meant that everyone worked for the cause not for metrics associated with a single person.

2. Commonly, donors gave across multiple product lines. In such cases, we respected the donors’ primary love.

We never worked to move a major donor to another product line simply because we had a need there.

3. Generous donors enjoyed speaking with one person regarding all their fundraising needs.

Because the product line goal was comprised of special events, mailings, stewardship, and planned giving, one call to the staff member in charge of the donors’ preferred product line provided all answers.

(Relationships are forged around competence in the small things.)

4. To ensure that our board of directors understood that our success was a team effort, at board meetings, we reported by product line, and the lead fundraiser for each area spoke to her success and challenges.

Back to the sockeye

Our frozen salmon arrived this week, and we shared three fresh, delectable fillets tonight.

I wondered as I took that first special bite, “Did I catch this fish?”

I’ll never know. But if you’re wondering, I caught four. Dan caught five. Our guides gave us their ten.

I love to say that “we” caught 19.

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