A Fundraiser’s Dispatches from the Field

Bonnie Osinski

Please join us in welcoming Bonnie Osinski to our team. A dedicated fundraising specialist, Ms. Osinski has worked with nonprofit organizations for over 40 years, on a national and international scale. Her expertise includes fundraising planning and management, general and major gift solicitation, and developing successful foundation, corporate and government grant proposals.

Ms. Osinki’s vast knowledge of the fundraising landscape can help nonprofits as they work to develop a new approach to fundraising or to create a targeted fundraising campaign. In her article, “A Fundraiser’s Dispatches from the Field,” she offers strategic insight into the development world that can help nonprofits avoid critical missteps as they establish their fundraising plans. 

“Fundraising Issues Cannot Be Addressed in Isolation.”

In my 35-plus years as a staff member, consultant, and teacher, I have never encountered an organization for which fundraising issues could be addressed in isolation. Organizational culture and lack of dialogue among various functional areas can hinder a nonprofit’s effectiveness across the board. For example, poor communication between finance and program areas can weaken program delivery and result in inadvertent or deliberate misuse of funds. In addition, board members who do not understand the distinctions between corporate and nonprofit sectors often create barriers to the effective fulfillment of an organization’s mission.

Several years ago, a study sponsored jointly by CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund found that a major, underlying cause of high turnover among fundraisers is an organizational culture that does not support effective fund development. I have been involved in too many situations that make a fundraiser’s job – whether a staff member or a consultant’s – difficult, if not outright impossible.

Here’s an overview from a fundraiser’s perspective:

Several years ago, I was hired by an organization to help it fulfill its untapped potential for growth in individual giving, especially in major gifts. A few months into the job, I met and identified as potential major donors, two women, who had each purchased $400 tickets to the organization’s fundraising lunch. I visited each of them, and both agreed to be co-chairs for the following year’s luncheon. Their agreement represented a give-or-get commitment of $20,000 apiece – an unprecedented achievement for that organization.

Shortly thereafter, I received an email from the executive director telling me that she and the board were dissatisfied with my performance. The new commitments did not count because “…we already knew them.” Their value was diminished even more because I had told her that I enjoyed the meetings, and that both women had readily agreed to the commitment. (I still have that email; you can’t make this stuff up.) I had to conclude that I was not working fast enough to bring in major gifts from hostile strangers. That’s not fundraising; that’s mugging. The job lasted nine months.

Over the course of my career, I have directly encountered many fundraising obstacles. Consider the following examples:

  • The executive director who routinely hired fundraising consultants to work with her and with the board without telling the chief development officer,
  • the board that voted down follow-up mailings to new, expensively acquired direct mail donors,
  • the wealthy board member who provided such a large portion of an organization’s private funds that she regularly outweighed the executive director’s management decisions
  • the executive director who directed the chief development office to notify all current foundation and corporate funders that a lack of immediate additional cash would force our closure,
  • the executive director who decided to evaluate all staff members on their fundraising results, based on the expectation that they promote the organization everywhere – including during the work commute,
  • more than one executive director who excluded the chief development officer from board meetings, even board development committee meetings,
  • the program director who scolded the chief development officer every time a grant proposal was turned down,
  • the powerful event committee that required the chief development officer – not just the event planner – to be a social peer.

Can you see why all of these issues were not strictly fundraising problems?

In all cases, the greatest damage done was to the entire organization and to its ability to reach its full potential. The greatest barriers are mindsets that may have very deep roots and the tendencies of various departments to operate in silos.

This is why I firmly believe that, in many situations, addressing one issue in isolation will not be effective in enabling an organization to achieve its social justice mission, no matter how committed staff and constituents may be.

Learn more about Bonnie’s work: http://www.bonnieosinski.com/

Connect with Bonnie: https://www.linkedin.com/in/osinskibonnie