For some, just the mention of conducting an audit of their donor relations program sends chills running up and down the spine. “Audit” seems scary – like the IRS – and often viewed as questioning an individual’s or a teams’ capabilities. Or it evokes dread for a process and tasks that seem to have questionable value, take too much time, and don’t guarantee change. But audits can lead to success with leadership. Our bosses don’t necessarily want to just hear that we need more help or why we can’t fully accomplish all things for all people all the time (that is called whining). Budgets are always tight. But most leaders do genuinely want to know how their organization fares in comparison to their fundraising peers and aspirations, and increasingly in the area of donor relations. After all, competition is healthy, and everyone wants to be part of a top-notch winning team. What does resonate with leadership is the ability to talk-the-talk about what the donor relations program does to support the organization’s overall efforts around donor retention and increased giving – even with the current resources you have. So the better prepared you are able to present the facts, the clearer the limitations will also be.
My best advice for promoting and advancing your donor relations program is to conduct an internal audit. It will not only be worth your time, it will also keep you on track and updated with donor relations best practices. The key to making this exercise beneficial (and palatable!) is to approach it knowing you will use the results to increase you/your team’s value and credibility with leadership and other staff. If your organization chooses the option to engage an external audit, it need not feel threatening to you or your team. In my experience, it sometimes takes that outside “voice” and objective assessment to move leadership in a wanted direction and to lend credence and support for your program and unbiased recommendations for next steps for further enhancement (staff, resources, budget, restructure, etc.).
Some of the success with an audit, either internal or external, will depend on the maturity of your organization’s fundraising efforts. But if you don’t take charge of your program’s fate....someone else will. Here are some tips to get started with an internal audit.
Be disciplined and determined
· If you are a team manager or a one-person shop, schedule regular blocks of time to collect and review the deliverables you produce, evaluate the criteria around each practice and the timeliness of your processes, reassess staff roles and re-read job descriptions, identify individual and team strengths and note areas for improvement or additional skills and training needed. Be honest and accepting about what you discover.
· If you are a team member or a one-person shop, track for 3-4 weeks how you spend each day, how much time each activity/task takes, the quantity of deliverables you produce, the quality of interactions you have with front line and other staff. Create an calendar of the projected annual ebbs and flows associated with your work area (ex: acknowledgements, reports, etc)
Be strategic and confident
· Use the 4 Pillars of Donor Relations as a guide to measure your program’s quantifiable and qualitative data, and as a roadmap to set goals and plan for the future. Hold an annual retreat if you are a team.
· Benchmark your program against 5-6 organizations that your leadership identifies as peers and aspirations.
Be positive and team building
· Look for meetings and communications to highlight what you/your team does well for the organization and what you strive to do in the future.
· Promote capability of each team member and the DR practice/area each is responsible for.
When the timing is right, don’t be afraid to say that you are ready to do more. Make your case with the quantitative and qualitative data you’ve collected and is ready at your fingertips. Good luck!
Thanks to Maureen Donnelly, a member of the Donor Relations Guru Group for this amazing post!