As a development leader, one of your roles is to help your colleagues understand that your work is not black magic or anything of the sort. If there is a disconnect at your organization between development and other departments, it’s probably because they don’t know what your work involves.

This next and final step in the series of building a culture philanthropy will be crucial for your organization’s fundraising efforts. You have asked them to participate in fundraising, and now it’s time to open up about the fundraising process and be transparent. This is the time to demonstrate the details of your work.

Before we dive further into step five, opening up about your fundraising process to your non-development colleagues, I want to further emphasize the term transparency by referencing a nationally acclaimed leader in the discipline of leadership and transparency, Walt Rakowich.

Rakowich on transparency: "History has shown how damaging secrecy can be to teams of all varieties. In contrast, substantial research and many of today's CEOs have demonstrated how an open climate not only allows teams to provide leaders with critical feedback about mistakes, it creates room for innovative solutions and a growth mindset."

5 Steps to Opening Up About Your Fundraising Process

1. Demonstrate the Donor Engagement Process

Because fundraising can seem ambiguous to others, it’s important to present to colleagues a listing of the donor engagement process along with any donor relation steps.

Organizations use a variety of processes for donor engagement and most are rooted in the age-old cycle of identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship. Make sure your colleagues understand that it should be thoughtful, it takes time, and must be done with a series of face-to-face conversations. Fundamentally you are seeking to understand where and why the donor wants to be part of the organization

Three crucial points to emphasize to your colleagues:

  • The engagement process with potential donors requires dedicated time.

  • The process is best served with a series of personal interactions to fully comprehend the donor’s desire to give and inspire them towards an investment. 

  • Building a donor relationship and ascertaining how and why the donor wants to be part of your nonprofit organization. Most significant is their connection to the organization. Perhaps they themselves have been involved; friends or family have needed help; or they just have a deep sense of your organization’s importance.

2. Explain Methods for Prioritizing Donors

When sharing your strategy with colleagues, it is also important to communicate why you focus on certain current and prospective donors.

  • It will bear repeating that, much like sales, you want to focus on donors and prospects who are highly engaged and have “bought into” your program, and who have the capacity to make a significant investment.

  • Although the term relationship building is cliché to development professionals, it should be emphasized to your non-development colleagues. Most people intuitively make the mistake that you should simply chase the money: if mega-philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates give to one organization, naturally they would give to others with similar missions. Again, though, you must emphasize that relationships make a difference through the donor’s connection and the engagement of the institution.

  • It’s advisable to highlight the time and return on investment quotient. Because time is a precious resource, your colleagues will appreciate your wise time investment with donors and prospective donors who are receptive and have indicated a desire to give at some level—rather than watching you tilt at windmills.

3. Share What Your Work Looks Like

To exemplify transparency, you can show your colleagues what your work looks like. To make the process more tangible, I suggest providing colleagues with a template portfolio and pipeline of current and prospective donors.

  • This is an occasion where revealing live names could unduly color colleagues’ opinions of people on your list (and as my kids say it’s TMI!), so you should mask out actual names or plug in a fictitious sample name. When colleagues see your concern for confidentiality, they will also better appreciate your carefulness, methodology and commitment to your stakeholders and the organization.

4. Show How Priorities and Opportunities are Set

It’s always important to show your colleagues how funding priorities or opportunities are set.

  • This is usually an appropriate time to bring your colleagues up to speed on the internal process. Communicate to them the strategic plan prioritizing the greatest needs of the organization’s mission. Assure them that this plan has been approved at a higher level by the organization’s board of directors in concert with the executive leadership, committees and other stakeholders.

  • We know that every organization has too many priorities to count. As the Rolling Stones put it, “You can’t always get what you want.” Not all of an organization’s priorities can be realized immediately. It’s obviously disappointing for colleagues to hear this. If it makes sense you could tell them that when you have a future opportunity to make a case for their priorities, you will help them build a case.

  • This is also a valuable time to continue developing the transparency and sharing a major gift model of giving. Explain that major gifts are typically facilitated by presenting a specific impactful funding opportunity or big idea.

5. Define Performance Measurements

As development professionals, we inherently rely on metrics or KPIs: ROI, moves ratings, retention and conversion rates, proposal and pipeline measurements and the like. Sharing these important factors with your colleagues should further debunk any black magic they think exists in our work, and demonstrate a high level of accountability. Additionally, we should enlighten our colleagues that it’s not all about cash raised – ok it is, but if you focus on the right activities of engaging donors the money will come.

  • Share with them the importance of connecting with donors and prospects for future giving opportunities and the moving them into a more engaging point with the organization.

  • Demonstrate development efforts either one-on-one or perhaps through a special event (digital or in person). This can be measurable with metrics. There will also be critical questions: Did you raise awareness of your organization and mission? Were people inspired toward investing in your organization?

  • Show colleagues the silver lining: despite not receiving an immediate commitment from a donor, you can demonstrate that the individual was further engaged and inspired for future giving opportunities, are one step closer to a gift at a potentially much more significant level.

Wrapping it Up

I’ll end with another gem from Walt Rakowich, an interesting illustration of transparency comparable to us unmasking the process and opening up to our colleagues and showing them the mechanics of our development work:

No golfer swinging an iron club likes to hear others say, “you got good wood on that one.” That would mean the golf ball hit a tree, and we know trees are 100%...not transparent.

But scientists have been working on a colorless synthetic wood, making it almost translucent. Fortunately for golfers, the material cannot be seeded to grow!

Here is what transparent wood can remind us about transparency.


  • Increases Clarity

  • Produces Strength

  • Improves Culture

  • Builds Trust

I guarantee that if you are transparent about your work, open up and show your colleagues the development process; they will understand and even embrace it, and you will be on your way to building a culture of philanthropy.

These are just some of the methods in which your colleagues can engage donors, and I invite you to comment on other ideas and experiences that you feel would be effective.

It’s important for your colleagues to understand the art and science of donor engagement. Once they understand this, they are better prepared to start building stronger relationships with donors of your organization.

If you would like to learn more about engaging your staff in the fundraising process, please visit Make Philanthropy Work or contact me at