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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Fundraisers and elite military SEALS have much in common. Both are highly dependent on synchronization with others on their teams. In the military, teamwork is essential, as the life of one soldier is dependent on the actions of others in his/her unit. On a much lesser scale of danger, seasoned fundraisers know that individual success is often contingent on the actions of fellow staff members.

I long adhered to former New York Yankee manager Joe Torre’s philosophy that there is no “I” in team. It’s true in baseball and it’s true in fundraising. And yet there is the epic story told of Michael Jordan, the great Chicago Bulls basketball Hall of Famer, who in the fever pitch close of a tied playoff game was reminded of this dictum by his coach who wanted to give the final shot to another player. Michael snapped, “Yes, but there is an “I” in win. Give me the dang ball, coach!”

So when do the needs of the few or even one outweigh the needs of the many, and when do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the individual or the few? No, this column is not about Star Trek, nor is it about opposing teams organized to compete against each other. It’s about how fundraising requires staff and volunteers to work as a unit to achieve a common goal.

Having been part of assorted development efforts, I will personally vouch for the necessity to have “all hands on deck” with most fundraising activities. Let me express profound appreciation to my colleagues and lay leaders who worked with me and collaborated on many a project on behalf of our nonprofits. We raised a lot of money and it was primarily because we planned and worked together as a cohesive group and not as individuals.

There are many building blocks in a proactive and dynamic fundraising program. These include, but are not limited to, major gifts, special events, direct mail solicitations, web campaigns and many grassroots efforts. Whether you are in a small shop as a full-time or part-time fundraiser, one usually depends on the goodwill, skills and involvement of others to be successful. You are generally dependent on board leadership, volunteers and friends of the organization. There is no circumventing this fact.

For those in the throes of a special event such as an annual dinner, it becomes clear to everyone that the “team,” in the words of an old cliché, represents many cogs in a wheel that make it go around. If one of the cogs malfunctions, it affects the sturdiness of that round wheel and can mean the difference between success and failure. All cogs in the wheel must be in sync to assure an effective result.

To carry this notion further, let’s look at some of the many elements necessary when coordinating a special event, such as an annual dinner, that best exemplify the team effort. Here is a “small” checklist of items, each of which requires its own team logistics:

  1.  Invitations: hard copy and/or evite plus mailing
  2.  Event-site acquisition and coordination
  3.  Catering and menu
  4.  Program and schedule
  5.  Entertainment (when appropriate)
  6.  Registration
  7. Seating arrangements
  8.  Advertising and publicity
  9.  Audio-visual requirements
  10.  Volunteers such as greeters and facilitators

And this preliminary checklist is easily expanded because every special event is unique and brings its own issues and logistical considerations. But you get the idea.

I have been privileged to run annual and capital campaigns, as well as planned-giving and endowment-fund programs. These efforts require the fundraiser to mobilize collegial and/or lay-leader support to initiate or implement these undertakings. One must be grateful to all the folks that assist and participate because without their valued collaboration the programs go nowhere.

Occasionally, I am asked whether face-to-face philanthropy or solicitations require team participation. After all, when one approaches a donor, it’s only you and the prospect, right? Truth be told, there usually is a team behind such efforts. In some cases, there is a researcher who collects and provides background information on the prospect. There may be friends, family or business associates that offer advice about how best to solicit the donor. Colleagues may be consulted and, after the meeting, a gift may need to be recorded. The point is there are others “behind the scenes” that play a vital role. They may just be invisible to the naked eye. But, we are grateful they are behind the ubiquitous curtain.

There is a wise saying: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” When a major donor makes a significant gift and joins your team, it feels like having won a championship.

So, are you ready to be a team player or do you indulge in individual sports?

By Norman B. Gildin


Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $92 million in the process. He is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds for their organization. He can be reached at [email protected]