INVOLVING FRONTLINE STAFF IN PLANNING YOUR FUNDRAISING STRATEGY - WHY BOTHER, AND HOW CAN YOU DO IT?
One of our main areas of work involves helping organisations to develop a new long-term fundraising strategy. Often the same question comes up early on when planning the process: who should we involve?
For reasons that we've shared before, our process is very much not to sit in a room alone and write a fundraising strategy using a template. Instead we take a collaborative approach, facilitating a series of workshops to involve as many people as possible in the challenge of making fundraising more sustainable and successful. This involves mapping out key barriers and opportunities, developing clear strategic priorities, and identifying how the whole organisation can pull together better support good fundraising.
So far, so good. But who should be involved in that process?
Traditionally it’s the fundraiser(s) themselves, the senior management team, and representatives from the Board. All these people do indeed have a crucial role to play in making then enacting the key decisions. But if you stop there, you’re risking limiting your perspective, therefore creating a weaker fundraising strategy.
The aim of this blog is to convince you that involving your frontline staff in developing your fundraising strategy is important. So what are the benefits?
1. Frontline staff are closest to your service users, so can better articulate their views and needs
Depending on the nature of your work, the people that you support – and their families – can be a real engine when it comes to raising money, advocating for your work, and opening crucial doors for fundraising. But how might they want to be involved? What are their concerns and barriers? And what do they need from you to feel equipped to play a role?
Answering these questions will help you to plan fundraising activities and decide how to resource them. While it probably won't be practical to involve these people directly in your strategy process, your frontline staff do have a good relationship with them, so will know how best to gather, represent and respond to their needs and wishes. They'll certainly be better placed to this than your management, or even your fundraiser(s).
2. Frontline staff bring crucial insights about your work
Developing a fundraising strategy in isolation of your service delivery means you’ll miss out on crucial "crossover" observations. For example, how well your services are performing – and how you’re collecting impact data – directly impacts your ability to secure grants. The activities that you run, and the spaces where you run them, can provide an untapped opportunity to raise money, recruit supporters and develop new earned income opportunities.
It's easy for management and fundraising staff to make assumptions about what your key opportunities and barriers are. But if these assumptions are wrong, you’ll make the wrong decisions, and invest time and money in the wrong areas. Again, your frontline staff can provide essential insight.
3. If frontline staff are involved in planning your strategy, they’ll be better advocates and ambassadors for your fundraising
We all struggle to get on board with a strategy that we haven’t contributed to or been asked about. It’s just an abstract document that, at best, we read then forget about. But when people are involved in the process and can understand your decision-making, and the need for better fundraising to safeguard the future of your organisation, they’ll be naturally more engaged in making it a reality.
I’ve seen it so often - a CEO says that frontline staff won’t want to be involved in the fundraising strategy, won’t have anything to say, won’t have time to contribute. But when you involve them, they’re enthusiastic about being able to share their perspective, buy into what you’re trying to achieve, and become more motivated about their own role (even if it’s a small one) in making your fundraising more successful.
But how can you realistically involve frontline staff in your fundraising strategy process, when they don't have any time to spare?
1. During your first strategic planning session
Our strategic planning workshops always follow a similar pattern: the first session(s) focuses on “discovery” – with everyone getting all their ideas, observations and concerns out in the open, then the later session(s) are dedicated to decision-making using that information.
While your frontline delivery staff may very well not have the time or appetite to participate in the full process, asking a few representatives to come along to the first workshop – even just for the first couple of hours – may be a handy compromise approach, to ensure their views are factored into your thinking.
2. Requesting their views via their line manager
We’ve worked with organisations who have gained really helpful insights by asking their Service Manager(s) to coordinate gathering feedback and ideas from their own particular team. This can be done during regular team meetings, one-to-one conversations or a dedicated short workshop session.
Managers can then collate feedback and share a summary with whoever is leading the fundraising strategy process. While this approach may only capture a few headline ideas, it’s a helpful light-touch option where frontline staff are stretched to capacity already.
3. Creating an online survey
Similarly, you can collect brief feedback by asking frontline staff to complete a five-minute survey. I’ve seen organisations gather surprisingly helpful insights by asking just a handful of carefully-worded questions, such as “What is the biggest thing that holds back our fundraising?” or “What do you think is our biggest missed opportunity with fundraising?”
While it'll require a few reminders to ensure enough responses, it’s worth the effort. Even a single-page summary of collated ideas can be a valuable input into your fundraising strategy process.
It’s easy to skip gathering input from frontline staff, assuming they lack either the time or knowledge to help. But finding ways to involve them in the initial stages of a fundraising strategy process will help you to gather invaluable ideas and perspectives, and ultimately develop a more successful and achievable fundraising strategy.
By the way, while we've focused on fundraising in this blog, many of the same principles apply for an organisational strategy too.
We’ve facilitated fundraising strategy workshops and consultation processes for hundreds of charities and social enterprises. If you think we could help you, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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