How to Become a Fundraising Favorite

If you’ve been a fundraiser for long — whether in higher education, healthcare systems or large nonprofits — you’ve probably heard these phrases:

The fundraising team loves that program.

That program gets all the funding.

That faculty member is advancement’s favorite.

And the reality is, it’s likely true! We know that not all initiatives are created equal, and philanthropy reflects that. But we also know there are plenty of strong fundraising opportunities that can be created when faculty/physicians/program leaders invest in becoming a fundraising favorite.

Of course, we cannot raise money for every program within our institution, no matter how important the cause. But we can raise more money for the programs with leaders who are strong partners. That’s why we, as fundraisers, need to be honest about that, and then clearly define how a program can become a favorite.

Expectation-setting is critical. Leaders new to this area may expect quick magic, rather than the thoughtful process of building toward generosity. Expectations that I share regularly include:

  • Not every program will have the same fundraising results.
  • Fundraising must be a true partnership between advancement and program leadership to be successful.
  • Leaders need to consistently make time for fundraising.
  • Donors have their own interests and we support those interests, even if it means a gift to a different program.
  • This work takes sustained effort and time – the results will not be immediate.

Then we must outline that we need the leaders’ partnership in three key areas: vision, engagement and alignment.


  • Define a clear vision and impact for the project.
  • Engage in a transparent budgeting discussion.
  • Be prepared to demonstrate milestones and outcomes along the way.


  • Be prepared to communicate directly with donors.
  • Share your research, lab, classroom or other showcase opportunity for donor tours/visits.
  • Don’t feel that you need to go it alone – advancement will partner with you to create donor strategies, communications and more.
  • Be available to edit communications/proposals.
  • Learn to speak passionately about why philanthropy matters to your project – but know that your fundraising partner will solicit the gift.


  • Speak about the institution positively.
  • Be a champion for your project and institution, both internally and externally.
  • Be a true partner with advancement, working together to align communications calendars, messaging, donor outreach and more.
  • Do not keep your own database: provide all engagement and biographical data updates to your fundraising partner for the university’s database so there is one accurate tracking system.

We know that leaders who partner with us by committing to supporting vision, engagement and alignment will be fundraising favorites. Let’s share this message with our internal partners and invite them in!

Measuring what Matters

The topic of metrics comes across my desk regularly. It may also be one of the more challenging topics in fundraising, as metrics is both an essential tool and one that is often misused, thus causing damage to morale.

In a conversation I had last week, we discussed my approach to metrics: Advancement leaders should create a system that incentivizes and celebrates performance, rather than a system that is punitive.

Think about the traits that support long-term, generous relationships: collaboration. engagement, and perseverance. Metrics can incentivize and reward each one of these. For example:

  • Some teams allow only one team member to take “credit” for a gift, which is counterproductive. Shared credit, when used correctly, incentivizes our teams to be more collaborative, to think about the institution first (versus the unit), and to elevate the role of donors in their giving. Not doing this creates silos and competition.
  • Building the donor pipeline is both essential and often neglected. Give credit for outreach activity and for qualifying (or disqualifying) prospects, and team members will more clearly see this work as a non-negotiable part of their role. As a result, they’ll be better positioned to remain persistent in the face of “no,” or resist silence when reaching out to new prospects.
  • Engagement leads to generosity, so measure and reward activities like donor visits and phone calls. By giving credit for this work, you’ll help motivate the team to stay focused rather than getting caught up in less important activities.

When we only focus on the financial goal, and not the activity that leads to the greatest generosity, we become more transactional in our approach. By creating a system that celebrates the hard work of building an authentic relationship that leads to generosity, we remove barriers that can stand in the way of team members collaboratively building authentic, sustainable relationships that reflect an institutional approach.

Metrics do matter. I believe in them and I used them when I led a team. But what I know from experience is they can be as effective in creating fear and poor behavior as they can be in motivating excellent work. And the only difference is leadership: what we choose to measure, what we choose to reward, and how transparent we are about those choices.

What metrics do you use that incentivize strong fundraising? And what might you change?

For a deeper dive into how data and metrics can support your leadership style, check out our recorded webinar Beyond Metrics: How Data Can Strengthen Your Management Style.

When Your Partnership With a Leader is on the Wrong Path

It’s something most of us have experienced: in our partnership with a dean, president, or other leader, something seems amiss. Maybe we don’t have a shared vision for the role of a development officer or a leader in the philanthropic process. Maybe they’re just really uncomfortable in the fundraising dynamic. Or it’s any other reason from the countless possibilities.

But regardless of the reason, I’ve found that when this relationship isn’t working, we can’t have the philanthropic impact we would otherwise. That’s why we should provide effort and intentionality in building this partnership…including a commitment to honest discussion. And the best tool I have found when the partnership isn’t working is the reset conversation: an open dialogue that identifies the challenge and builds consensus for a path forward.

I know from personal experience that having this conversation can be difficult. With everything from differences in style to power dynamics, it can be hard to know where to start. However, in my experience, there are six critical elements for creating a productive discussion:

  • Request a conversation specifically to address the issue at hand, setting expectations for what the conversation will be about.
  • Be honest but professional about what you’re seeing — hinting at the issue will only delay real resolution.
  • Ask for feedback about how the partnership is working. Their perspective is critical to creating shared solutions.
  • Provide constructive feedback within the framework of your shared goals. For example, “I know your time is limited and I want to make sure we get the most from our meetings with donors. That’s why I wanted to hear your thoughts and share some feedback about how these visits are going so far.”
  • Identify the benefits of doing things differently: raising more money, more effective donor visits, etc.
  • Be clear about what you’re asking for. Is it a certain number of hours per week for fundraising activities? A different understanding of your priorities as a development officer? Whatever it is, don’t leave room for guess work.

Honest dialogue can be intimidating, I know. It’s also the only way to build a truly productive and trust-based partnership, and developing these skills takes time and practice. To fill your toolbox, join me for my webinar series, Creating Success with your new Academic Leader. We’ll cover everything from onboarding a new leader for success to creating buy-in for the philanthropic process to crucial conversations and more. Learn more and sign up here!

Onboarding New Academic Leaders for Success

Turnover rates for deans and institutional leaders are among some of the highest within higher education. In 2018, Higher Education Publications Inc. released the results of a study demonstrating that while the average turnover rate for university administrators was 12%, deans, directors, provosts, and presidents all had higher rates.

This is why spring has become a season of announcements for the hiring of new academic leaders, as these leaders prepare to step into their new roles for the new school year.

Fundraisers know that our relationships with academic and institutional leaders are among the most important for creating fundraising success … and yet, it’s all too common for these new leaders to arrive without a thoughtful, strategic onboarding and integration plan into the philanthropic function.

There is positive news, as more and more of these job descriptions include language about the importance of philanthropy — but there’s so much more institutions can do. As you approach the season of transition at your university, assess your process against the following key steps to make the most of these opportunities.


  • Is advancement a part of the search committee?
  • Are donors represented in the process?
  • What is the discussion around philanthropy, and how are philanthropic initiatives portrayed, both challenges and successes?
  • Is the institution providing a state of the unit from a philanthropic lens?


  • How will donors and stakeholders hear the news of a new hire?
  • Do you have a philanthropic onboarding plan?
  • What can be learned about the new leader from their current advancement partners?


  • Have you created a plan for the first 90 days from a philanthropic lens?
  • What should the roll-out of donor introductions look like, and why does order and timing matter to this process?
  • How will this leader be staffed — and how do they want to be staffed…or do they know what being staffed even looks like?

The First Six Months

  • Success is a partnership. How can you as an advancement professional assist in building a solid foundation of communication that supports philanthropy?
  • What will happen to the initiatives championed by past leaders?
  • How will you build new initiatives, and how will you ensure the new leader has heard what is important to current donors and future stakeholders?

The arrival of a new leader is so much more than press releases, welcome notes and introductory meetings. With the right tools and strategy, we can build formative partnerships that lead to success for our donors and our institutions.

Looking to sharpen your tools and get new ideas for onboarding leaders? Check out KDD Philanthropy’s new webinar series, Creating Success with a New Academic Leader, and jump-start your role in building a purposeful partnership with your new leader.

How to Support Your Employees Today

Every article, podcast and blog is saying the same thing: we need to practice self care. We need to take time to do things we enjoy, find ways to be active, be kind to ourselves, have realistic expectations for ourselves and loved ones, and so on.

It’s the right advice — but we all know it’s not that easy. Today, instead of offering you that same advice, I want to take it a step further: Leaders and managers have an obligation to make it possible for our employees to follow this advice instead.

Let’s be honest: this is a difficult conversation to have. On one hand, we empathize with our employees. We know they may be struggling emotionally, working in spaces not conducive to focus and performance, trying to manage feelings of isolation, jugging care of a family member, or bearing any other number of additional challenges right now. We all are! On the other hand, your fundraising goals are still ambitious, and your institution may even be reliant on philanthropy to keep its doors open and carry out its mission every day.

While it may feel like you have to make an either/or choice as a manager — show compassion or meet goals — the truth is that managers don’t have a choice. Most of us are struggling in some way. Our staff are feeling burned out and conflicted, and they need encouragement to be true to themselves. Effective managers will acknowledge that the only thing (and the right thing!) we can do is seek productive ways to support our employees.

What can that look like?

  • Start with honest dialogue. If you’re not asking your employees how they’re doing, how they feel about their work during these circumstances, and how you can support them, start today. Take time to be vulnerable, and through role modeling, allow your staff to do the same.
  • Know that what works for one employee may not for someone else. One person may need to catch up on work in off-hours, but not always be at the computer during typical work hours. Another may be struggling to draw boundaries, and therefore need to “turn it off” starting at 5 p.m. each day. Get to know the needs and preferences of each individual on your team, and honor and encourage those whenever possible.
  • Check yourself. Do you say that you are empathetic to your employees and tell them to take care of themselves, but expect their work product/speed/etc. to stay exactly the same as before? If so, take a deep breath and realize that you need to honor your intent. Give permission for slowed responses to non-urgent matters, realize that a normally reliable employee may make more mistakes, and focus on each person’s outcomes, not worrying about whether they’re “putting in their hours.”
  • Get creative. Find ways to allow each team member to carry more of the responsibilities they’re best able to do right now. If you have an employee who is struggling to make donor calls due to noise in the house, could you shift their work portfolio to minimize calls and allow them to pick up other work in the interim — writing assignments, portfolio projects for teammates, etc.?
  • Take that creativity a step further. Encourage time off. Declare a Vitamin D afternoon (close the office early) or a coffee/tea/pajama-and-me morning (surprise your team with a late start Monday). Declare Zoom-free time zones, walking lunch breaks, shorter meetings, or virtual stretching sessions. Most importantly, recognize that unusual times call for a different and more creative approaches to leadership.

If you think you don’t have the ability to honor these ideas and make space for employees who are challenged right now, understand the consequences of not meeting your employees where they are.

Right now, some of your team members may not be as productive as they used to be. Your frontline staff may even raise less money. Working with our teams to foster their best talents is an important part of our work.

Good employees are worth keeping and investing in. They will reward your institution with high performance most of the time, if you honor their needs and meet those with concrete flexibility during this unprecedented time. Every manager has a powerful opportunity to be a source of sincere support and compassion right now. Doing so will help your employees, but it will also you: knowing that you’re a positive force for others is great self care for you, too.

Tools for a Safe Culture

Last month, I wrote about the need for leaders to spend more time creating a culture of trust, openness and inclusivity in the wake of #metoo and the CASE Zero Tolerance Pledge. Advancement offices around the country are revisiting their harassment and discrimination policies and documents crafted by Human Resources and legal professionals. But this is the easy part. The true challenge – and the opportunity for greatest impact – is how advancement leaders rise to the occasion by implementing policies specific to fundraising, and by demonstrating their commitment to a safe work environment.

There is not a single right answer for every institution, region, or workforce, but the debate about policies and perception is critical. Consider the following potential guidelines; while they may not be incorporated wholesale into your institution’s policies, they serve as a foundation for thoughtful deliberation:

  • Staff members are empowered to decline an invitation from a donor. For example, a team member can decline a dinner request from a prospect whom they suspect is seeking more than a professional visit. Or they can say they’re only available to meet during business hours.
  • Safety considerations for travel (e.g. valet, car service, etc.) are respected.
  • A team member may remove themselves from a donor strategy without retribution, and will be credited for a gift that results from the strategy.

What about internal interactions; should your team agree to these standards?

  • Open conversations are encouraged but raising one’s voice is not acceptable.
  • Supervisors should not request to connect with employees on social media.
  • Contacting colleagues on personal phone or email is strictly for professional purposes, unless given permission otherwise.

The Gray Areas

No policy in the world can address the gray between “this behavior is illegal and obviously should be reported,” and “nothing is wrong here and everyone agrees.”

This is why leaders must demonstrate they take these issues seriously and have an open door. Encouraging dialogue on any topic that will improve trust, communication and strengthen culture will provide the foundation needed so employees feel safe to bring difficult topics forward. When a safe culture is not in place, leaders will not be trusted, nor asked to intervene before scenarios escalate, reduce incidences of exposure to inappropriate behavior, or limit institutional liability. This is where language can be powerful:

  • “I understand that people will have different comfort levels with various donor behaviors. I would rather you come to your supervisor or me to discuss any irregular behavior than assume you shouldn’t be concerned.”
  • “You may have an experience that isn’t illegal and doesn’t feel ‘concrete,’ but that still leaves you uncomfortable. We want to hear about those and support you in deciding how to navigate.”

Ultimately, no policy or nuance can overcome a lack of communication. Discuss your commitment to a safe culture early and often. Include it in hiring materials, discuss during new employee onboarding, and incorporate the topic into team discussions.

Navigating these issues is not easy for anyone. But when managers shy away from these difficult topics, they contribute to unhealthy cultures. Strong leaders must lean into this issue with transparency, openness and a commitment to creating a positive and productive workplace. These are the leaders who build teams who feel empowered to do their best work. And these are teams that are most impactful in service of our institutions’ missions.

KDD Philanthropy provides customized training and coaching to support teams in creating productive, respectful cultures. Contact me to learn more about Tools for Crucial Conversations, Navigating Difficult Situations and more.

The Zero Tolerance Pledge

Nearly a year ago, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) released its Zero Tolerance Pledge on harassment. CASE invited leaders from throughout the advancement industry to join them in a commitment to “respond promptly and appropriately to any reports of harassment.”

This pledge was, in part, a response to a survey released just a few months earlier by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. It reported that approximately 25 percent of female fundraisers experienced sexual harassment on the job, with two-thirds of that harassment coming from donors and one-third from colleagues. What’s more, fewer than half of these fundraisers reported that harassment to their employer.

The Zero Tolerance Pledge likely sought to close this gap, but I regularly talk to teams who don’t trust leadership to manage difficult situations, regardless of whether those scenarios reach the threshold of harassment.

The reason is simple: leaders need to spend more time creating a larger culture of trust, openness, and inclusivity that demonstrates they’ll respond accordingly when an employee has a concern about an experience they’ve had. Employees who don’t feel their manager is accountable on any topic won’t feel safe taking a tough situation to them, let alone one where they feel they have been compromised – or worse.

This reluctance isn’t surprising: it can be difficult to speak up, especially around sensitive matters. Leaders need to cultivate the openness and responsiveness on everyday issues that will lay the foundation for employees to feel comfortable discussing bigger challenges. When these larger issues around trust and accountability make employees hesitant to speak up, leaders become unaware of what’s happening on their teams and unable to act – potentially leading to unsafe environments.

If you’re a manager, ask yourself:

  • How have I demonstrated that I welcome feedback?
  • How have I shown my team that I care about their workplace culture?
  • Have I created an environment that’s inclusive?
  • What steps have I taken to show that I’m open to hearing difficult information? And does our team have tough conversations?
  • Do members of my team talk to me openly about the experiences they’re having at work?
  • How have I taken action on concerns that surface during the conversations above, rather than sweeping issues under the rug?
  • Do we set team ground rules based on a culture of respect?
  • Does my team know I will champion them, whether it be on a performance issue, an equity issue, or a difficult situation with a campus partner?

This isn’t an easy issue. Getting it right requires us to respect our employees and honor our responsibilities as leaders. We have to recognize that all aspects of our team culture will ultimately support a safe environment, or they will undermine it. The Zero Tolerance Pledge has ignited an important conversation, but that dialogue must be much broader than donor behavior and harassment. We must look at what our work culture says about safety for all employees: if our team members can’t speak freely about the “small stuff,” how can we expect that they will bring the serious issues forward?

Next month, I’ll share my thoughts on specific tools for creating a safe workplace. I welcome your thoughts on how you create a safe culture.

KDD Philanthropy is proud to provide training on this topic that gives leaders and teams the context, tools, and skills to meet the demands of a new era of respect and expectations.

How We Can Train Leaders to be Philanthropic Allies

Perhaps you saw the recent LinkedIn post from Regina Bergeron in your feed:

“Hey fundraising friends! Doing an informal survey. What are the MOST common mistakes that nonprofit leaders make related to raising resources??!!!”

The responses came quickly and were unsurprising: Leaders not trusting development professionals. Unrealistic expectations. Not being willing to give their time to fundraising. Refusing to invest in major gift staff. And too many more to list.

We’ve all worked with leaders who’ve been challenging. While the temptation can be strong to throw our hands up in the air, this is where our real work kicks in. Training an organizational leader to be an ally to the philanthropic process is a part of the value we bring to the table as development professionals. While we might ultimately find an executive to be un-coachable, we do a service to our industry when we try.

In my experience, the ability to coach an executive requires a solid foundation of respect. Respect alone doesn’t solve every issue that you and a leader may disagree about, but it does give a platform for honest conversation, and makes it more likely that the leader will be open to your counsel. I’ve demonstrated and earned that respect with techniques that are not new, but do require intention and consistency:

  • Having a plan. From preparing annual plans to ensuring every event has specific goals, I establish credibility by showing that my team’s activities are coordinated, strategic, and moving us toward success.
  • Protecting their time. This includes creating meeting agendas that support focus on the most important topics to sending concise emails with clear action items.
  • Never allowing an executive to walk into a situation unprepared. Whether it’s an internal meeting between deans, a donor event or a Rotary lunch, I make sure the leader knows why they’re present, what is expected of them, and any necessary background.
  • Demonstrating honesty, even when it’s difficult. I want leadership to have confidence that if we disagree about something, they will hear it from me. Delivery requires tact (and asking myself whether it really needs to be said at all), but the dialogue is critical.
  • Being accountable for myself and my team. Whether a communication was sent with a mistake, an event’s details weren’t well planned, or any of the numerous other opportunities for error, I don’t deflect responsibility. Own it quickly and strengthen the process to ensure stronger partnership in the future.
  • Being a true partner. Showing up, leaning in, and recognizing the myriad of other responsibilities our leaders have on their plates. Provide strategy and empathy, be a true area expert on philanthropy, and understand how and where this priority fits when looking at other responsibilities our leaders have.

What tools and experiences do you use when coaching executives to better partner with development? Share your thoughts in the comments so we can continue to learn from each other.

KDD Philanthropy can help your organization strengthen its culture, build tools and expand partnerships throughout the organization. Contact us today about how we can help your team achieve even greater success.

What Kind of Relationships Are You Building?

As advancement professionals, we’ve heard the complaints from our organizational colleagues: Fundraiser turnover. Competing priorities. Restrictive policies.

And, we know the results of these complaints: Hesitation to meet with advancement. Lack of participation in the fundraising process. Unwillingness to follow policy.

Ultimately, outstanding philanthropic success cannot be achieved without strong organizational relationships, and every member of the advancement team has the responsibility to build those relationships on behalf of the larger advancement enterprise, not a specific team or function.

How could these simple techniques to build holistic relationships boost both your credibility as a professional and your results?

  • Use inclusive language. Consider how you represent yourself and your team when you say, “I will work with our writer in donor relations to create a photo book” versus “I’ll create a photo book to steward our donor.”
  • Expand your organizational relationships. Bring colleagues to internal meetings and making strategic introductions at events, sharing how your coworker’s function boosts your work. (How often do various members of the advancement function meet with academic partners individually, rather than as a coordinated team?)
  • Celebrate as a team. When announcing a win, acknowledge everyone’s role in the process. Send internal thank you notes. Recognize diverse contributions (in and out of advancement). Share wins along the way, building a culture of recognition. Include everyone involved in celebratory bagels or happy hours.
  • Display a united front. Organizational partners will inevitably be displeased about an advancement policy or decision. This is a critical time to explain and contextualize decisions or policies of the advancement team. That doesn’t mean you can’t acknowledge real challenges, but it does require displaying and accepting nuance.
  • Share your donor strategies. Many of our best donors and prospects have multiple relationships across the organization, especially at a university. By showing your colleagues the larger strategy, they’ll have a greater appreciation of a donor’s touch points and interests.

Think about the donor relationships you can create when everyone in your organization is pulling in the same direction, and whether you’re a part of building that culture.

KDD Philanthropy can help your organization strengthen its culture, build tools and expand partnerships throughout the organization. Contact us today about how we can help your team achieve even greater success.

A Winning Partnership With Your Dean

When you consider your most valuable allies in higher education fundraising, whom do you think of? I’m willing to bet that for the vast majority of you, your dean came to mind quickly. And that’s because the dean’s role is irreplaceable as an influencer with prospects, advocate across campus, and champion for our cause in the larger community.

However, many fundraisers struggle to create the kind of relationship with our dean that maximizes these roles and leads to greater success. How many of us have felt that our dean didn’t understand our work, provide development enough time, or have all the tools to shine with donors?

There is good news here – these challenges can be overcome to create a strong, mutually-beneficial partnership by using techniques like those below.

  • Cultivate your relationship with your dean just like you would with a prospect – get to know his/her communication preferences, goals, and values, and celebrate his/her non-development successes.
  • Use written strategies to demonstrate a clear thought process, purpose, and outcomes for prospects, events, and projects. For example, if you are planning an introductory event, what is the realistic expectation for new prospects identified – 2 or 20?
  • Be clear with your dean about your manager’s expectations for your work – what are your metrics, are you responsible for alumni relations or pure major gift strategies, etc.
  • While it may not be fun to play the “bad cop” by adhering to naming gift policies, identifying fundraising projects that may not be viable, etc., it will help your dean save face and time in the long run.
  • Make it a standard part of prospect meetings to provide and receive thoughtful feedback afterward.
  • Get to know what your dean enjoys and excels at in dealing with prospects, and adjust accordingly. Is s/he good at making small talk with prospects, or do you need to always facilitate the rapport building? Can or will your dean make a solicitation?
  • Additionally, set your dean up on campus to capitalize on strengths, and try to avoid situations that highlight a weakness. For example, if your dean actively dislikes conflict with other deans, first flesh out the details of a shared donor strategy with another unit’s development officer before bringing all parties into the same room.
  • Protect your dean’s time by drafting donor communications and even internal communications under the dean’s name.

How many of these tips do you currently practice, and how do you think your dean would respond if you implemented more? Share your thoughts in the comments!

KDD Philanthropy offers hands-on sessions to support you doing your best work with faculty/physicians and internal leadership. Check out our offerings here, and sign up here for more insights delivered to your inbox.