Nothing is more important for your non-profit than fundraising. Without fundraising, you can’t run any programs, or even keep the lights on. The money that your donors invest in your organization is the lifeblood of your non-profit.
Yet, many smaller organizations try to relegate fundraising to second-class status. They know their programs are important, but see fundraising as a “necessary evil,” something that they have to get through in order to get to the important stuff. Because of this, they shy away from investing money into fundraising. This especially true when it comes to fundraising staff. Most non-profits wait way too long before they hire their first full time fundraiser.
When to Hire a Full Time Fundraiser
I am often asked when the right time is to hire a full time fundraiser for a small organization. While the answer will differ for every organization, depending on what strategies they use to raise money, in general, every non-profit that is raising more than $500,000 per year should have a full time fundraiser on staff. Many organizations should hire a fundraiser sooner, particularly if they are relying (as they should) on individual donor cultivation to raise money.
Think about it this way… how many for-profit businesses that make over $500,000 per year don’t have a sales or marketing person on staff? The answer is very few. If you want your programs to thrive, then you need to raise the money they need to thrive. The best way to do this is to have someone on staff who spends 100% of their time raising money to support your work.
Do You Have a “Secret” Full Time Fundraiser?
When I tell small non-profits that they need to hire a full time fundraiser, many push back, telling me that they are raising a good amount of money already, without an development staff at all. When I dig deeper, I find that many of these organizations already have a “secret” full time fundraiser.
That secret full time fundraiser could be the Executive Director, who spends 80%+ of their time raising money. It could be a board member or volunteer who is particularly focused on raising money. Or it could be some combination of all of the above…. a team of people putting in 30-40 hours per week raising money, instead of a full time development staff member. Regardless of how they are doing it, these non-profits are putting significant hours into fundraising… imagine how much they could do if they had a full time fundraiser on board, whose efforts were magnified by all of that staff and volunteer help!
How to Afford Your First Full Time Fundraiser
Maybe your organization knows it is time to hire a full time fundraiser, but has been putting it off because you’re not sure where the money to pay this person will come from. (As an aside, don’t skimp when it comes to fundraisers. If you underpay your people, you will either get subpar results or face incredibly high staff turnover). So how can you afford to hire frontline fundraiser for the first time? Here are some ideas:
Hold a Board Campaign
One idea that some non-profits have used successfully is to run an extra board-giving campaign to ask the board to help fund the position for one-year. After all… who knows your need to hire a full time fundraiser better than your board? Having one-year of funding for the position in hand will go a long way to allowing to comfortably hire your first fundraiser.
Seek Funding to Build Capacity
Similar to the board campaign idea above, your non-profit could seek out a capacity building grant or leadership gift to allow you to hire a new full time fundraiser. Talk with foundations and individual major donors who already know and support your organization to see if they might be interested in providing all or a portion of the funding you need to hire your first development team members.
Add Fundraising Hours Before Hiring
This route is probably the most common for smaller non-profits. Once you are certain that you need to hire a fundraiser, ask your board, staff, and volunteers to commit extra time to raising money so that your organization will have a surplus which it can use to hire. This might mean cutting back on the hours spent on other tasks like communications, public relations, or new program initiatives, while your team puts the funding in place to be able to hire your first full time fundraiser.
Whatever method you choose, there are a few you should definitely avoid. First, don’t offer to pay your fundraiser on a percentage basis. This is unfair to the fundraiser who will need to spend 12-18 months building off of your current donor network and building relationships with new donors (most good fundraisers refuse to work on commission). Second, don’t tell your new fundraising hire that the first thing they need to do is to “go out and raise your salary.” Your non-profit needs to be committed to fundraising, and that includes investing in your new hire.
Hiring your first full time fundraiser can be a game changer for your non-profit, leading to more revenue, better programs, and more impact for your organization.