Fundraising Success: Creating a Collaborative Work Environment

Wild Goats Fighting

My first job as a development director was with an organization that had been through five development people in the five years prior to my arrival. As you can probably imagine, several of the staff (and board) members weren’t all that excited to meet me – or to help me get started (I can’t blame them – they just figured they’d have to do it again within a few months time). It was baptism by fire!

During the course of that job, I learned a lot about meeting people where they’re at and about engaging people (in ways that they’re comfortable with) in the development process. The success of a fundraising program relies on so many pieces of the organization working together – accounting, technology, communications, program. In fact, it really takes the whole organization working together for a fundraising program to be truly successful.

From what I’ve seen, there are three common causes of conflict:

  1. A belief that everyone else is just like us
  2. A tendency to think that the area we work in is the most important
  3. Focusing on what we hear – rather than what was intended


We’re Not All Alike. I confess that I am not a detail-oriented person. However, I have the utmost respect for those who do. I also confess that I used to get really irritated with people who dwelled on details. Over time (and through communications profiles such as DISC and Myers Briggs) I’ve come to have a much greater respect for the importance of diversity on work teams. It ensures that we will be less likely to overlook items essential to the success of our project (among other benefits).


We’re Equally Important. While there could probably be some very energetic conversations about the most important area of an organization (programs / fundraising / operations), the truth is that none of the areas of an organization could be successful without the others (we need money to operate programs, but we need strong programs to warrant funding and we need good systems in place to assure that every is operating smoothly).


Communication (especially listening) is The Key! Communications is an ongoing challenge for people – as evidenced by the deluge of self-help books covering this topic and the increasing number of coaches focusing on this area. We have two people using the same words, but meaning very different things.


So with these challenges (and many more that we don’t have space to cover here) how do we begin to create a more collaborative environment?

First, understand yourself (with a goal of helping to understand others). The things you find most irritating about others may be something you yourself struggle with (or it could be your exact opposite). Spend some time thinking about your reaction to other people. If it’s a negative reaction, try to identify what’s causing that reaction.

Next, try to see the good in others. When you’re able to identify differences between you and others, try to see the benefits that those differences offer. If you’re like me and love to push forward on projects, it’s good to have one or two people on your team providing cautionary words about possible obstacles. If you’re the type of person who gets stuck because of all the obstacles, it’s beneficial to have someone on the team pushing to move things along.

Bring internal partners into the conversation early. Take time to ask questions about how things operate in their department (and understand the implications for their department of what you’re trying to accomplish). Bringing all of the parties to the table at the beginning of a discussion can help avoid delays later on. The primary objective for this meeting would be to share what you’re trying to accomplish and then ask for ideas of the best way to get there. It does take longer up front, but there will be more support for implementation phase – and you might be happily surprised when a better idea emerges to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to do.

Understand your organization’s programs. Take time to learn about the programs you’re raising funds for (and what the hoped for outcomes are). This is a great opportunity to build bridges with program staff. And remember, people don’t always remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel. Listening goes a long way in helping to build a strong relationship.


Recognize program and operations staff. Whenever the opportunity arises, talk about program staff and operations staff. As fundraising professionals, we often have the chance to do so publically. Let your program and operations staff members know how much you appreciate them.

Start a staff giving program. As donors, other staff members become investors in the organization. And, in a small way it also introduces them to the joy of giving. Perhaps in a small way it helps other members of the organization get a small glimpse of the way we, as fundraising professionals, have the privilege of helping our donors use their money to accomplish something that (1) they care deeply about and (2) would not be able to accomplish on their own.

So to summarize, it boils down to being a strong partner by listening and appreciating the strengths each person brings to the table. Hopefully through this process mutual respect will develop and a fruitful partnership can begin. Please let me know how these tips impact your work!



Fundraising Success: Creating a Collaborative Work Environment — 3 Comments

  1. Right on Kirsten! We are all different and it’s important to know the differences and work with them. Our difference creates diversity and that’s a good thing in nonprofit organizations.

    Sandy Rees

  2. Very thoughtful post, Kristen. Awareness and communication are truly the keys to collaboration. I worked at the Dept of Ophthalmology at a major university many years ago and I’d make it a practice to sit in one of the waiting rooms of our eye clinics to listen to our patients, meet our staff and learn stories about how we were serving the community. Those were some of my most cherished times at that job and allowed for deep collaboration because there was a trust built by being in the “field.”

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful comments! And Lori – I did the same thing when I worked at the health center (it was such a joy to meet the patients and hear their stories).