In recent months, I’ve had several conversations about the challenges of working with and staffing our internal partners — physicians, faculty, program leaders, and others — in a virtual environment. With fewer unstructured connections and in-person opportunities to engage, creating an open and authentic partnership is requiring more intentionality than ever.
This partnership is critical: Our internal allies are the best representatives of their work, and they can inspire greater levels of generosity and impact than fundraisers can alone. In my coaching, I talk about three critical elements to developing trusting and authentic relationships: We must be educators, navigators, and negotiators.
Education: Our internal partners are often brilliant … but they’re rarely fundraising experts. We can play an incredible role in increasing partners’ buy-in and comfort, and therefore fundraising success. Let’s take every opportunity we can to do just that, by educating on how this work happens and their role in it by discussing:
- The process of prospect assignment and building portfolios.
- The steps for building an effective new fundraising initiative.
- Partnering with our central advancement colleagues — and the value in this partnership.
- Building a strong prospect relationship, and how we invite prospects to become philanthropic partners.
Navigation: Fundraising can be tricky! Where resources are involved, navigating those dynamics becomes key. We can build trust and buy-in by skillfully navigating scenarios to create the best possible outcome for the program, the donor, and the institution, and provide guidance to our partners on how to navigate these challenges as well. For example:
- Considering multiple strategies or approaches to find the best one for a donor.
- Two deans working together on an interdisciplinary fundraising priority when their visions do not align.
- A donor seeking more transparency to better understand how a gift would be used to create real impact.
Negotiation: Fundraising is full of varying personalities, priorities, and preferences … all requiring regular negotiation. As gift officers, the more thoughtfully we can negotiate competing desires and approaches, the better we can build internal partnerships and move toward results. The opportunities for negotiation, and for guiding our internal partners in negotiation, are frequent:
- A potential gift requires a fair amount of negotiation with the donor, and our partner needs assistance in managing that process skillfully and with patience, understanding that it will be worthwhile.
- A partner’s priority initiative is not seen as aligned with the institution’s strategic plan. And therefore, not an approved fundraising priority.
- A partner is in a leadership role, and is approached by a team member requesting fundraising support. That support isn’t readily available due to other priorities, but the leader needs support saying “no” (e.g., a dean you work with is approached by a faculty member).
- A physician wants to solicit a prospect for a new piece of equipment, but you know the prospect has a different priority.
- A donor offers a gift that isn’t in alignment with the program’s vision.
The investment that we make to educate, navigate, and negotiate should build relationships that allow philanthropy to do its greatest good. But this won’t happen by accident: We as fundraisers must have the courage to lead those discussions in a timely and appropriate manner. Think about your most important internal partners — are there any topics you’re leaving on the table? How would it build your relationship if you took on those topics through open dialogue and a commitment to education, navigation, and negotiation?
Looking for more tools to strengthen how you work with your key physician, dean, or program partner? Our recent webinar series on being a unit lead is great for team discussions, learning, and practicum.