Right on the Money: Motivate Your Development Team to Boost Fundraising

A young woman speaks at a podium.

We know that donors want to see the impact an agency has on its community as they make decisions about where to give. But what motivates fundraisers, those staff members tasked with bringing in donations to keep programs afloat?

One answer, research shows, is hearing the personal stories of individuals served by an agency. A study from the University of Michigan's Department of Psychology found that fundraisers who heard a scholarship recipient share his or her story were more likely to make calls and receive more fundraising pledges than their peers who didn’t. That finding can translate to other family- and youth-serving organizations seeking to motivate their development staff and strengthen their fundraising results, says study co-author Elizabeth Campbell, Ph.D.

We spoke to Campbell, now an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, about three ways agencies can motivate their development team to help bolster fundraising.

1. Show how your agency impacts the people you serve. Just like donors, fundraisers want to know that their work is helping others, Campbell says. She recommends inviting someone who has benefited from your organization to speak to your development staff about their experience. If reconnecting with a former client  sounds too difficult, you can also ask a program director or social worker to share their experience with a particular youth or family.

Don’t worry about presentations being a certain length or sounding too polished. Even informal visits can have big results, as long as the invited guest speaks from the heart. “I have found that heartfelt information [can be] a great motivator,” Campbell says.

2. Tap into fundraisers’ empathy. Help development staff understand what brings clients to your agency, including the circumstances that may lead them to need support and common challenges to finding help. You can share vignettes and photos of families served during the past fiscal year, for example, or invite fundraisers to visit a local program site to watch their colleagues in action.

The key, Campbell says, is to give clear, real-life examples that invest fundraisers in your cause and that give them anecdotes to share with potential donors.

3. Say “thank you.” Asking for money can be a difficult task, particularly if members of your development staff hear “no” more often than “yes.” A simple note of thanks can give fundraisers the extra boost they need to keep contacting potential donors, Campbell says, whether it comes from a family or an agency leader.

Learn more about saying “thank you” to donors and volunteers.

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