Leaving Your Mark As a Fundraiser

While completing a major stewardship mailing last week, I recalled that I needed to document the production process for this mailing (one that I first introduced last year to provide an annual report of sorts to all of our donors).

As someone who is a tireless cheerleader for the fundraising profession, I know firsthand why it is important to document these processes and assure continuity for our organizations.

Institutional memory is a critical part of the foundation of all organizations, but especially for non-profits and most especially for the development office in non-profit organizations.  When this memory is lost through staff turnover, the organization’s fundraising message can get muddled, relationships that were being actively managed can be squandered and overall fundraising efforts can become stalled indefinitely.

Smooth transitions among fundraising staff can significantly reduce the amount of time that a new staffer needs to get up to speed with the usual workings of an organization.  In my current role, I have been the beneficiary of well-documented work processes and it has made all the difference, especially when it came to executing major mailings and reports for the first time.  In addition to documenting processes, I have found it helpful to remain available for your successor (ideally in situations where you have left your position amicably) as he/she begins to pick up where you left things.  After leaving a past position, I willingly responded to queries from my successor for months and did so out of respect for the organization and my contributions to that fundraising program; now everyone is not as over the top as I am and I don’t expect them to be, but these realities of transitions are rarely discussed.

I sincerely believe that it is a vital part of our duty to our organizations as fundraising professionals to do all that we can to assure that they can go on in the future without us; I believe that the best way to assure this is to leave a clear record of how things were done in the past.

How are you documenting your work in your current position?  Have you benefited from your predecessors documenting their work processes?


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7 Replies to “Leaving Your Mark As a Fundraiser”

  1. What a thoughtful post, Dan. It’s so easy to get caught up in the plethora of “tasks” and forget to leave a clear trail for your successor. I’ve always loved Ken Burnett’s idea of a “Guard Book” http://www.kenburnett.com/BlogGuard%20book.html. Going beyond that, though, I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve come into a new position and been unable to lay my hands on things like passwords, membership information, contracts, etc. I like the idea of a centralized place for ALL OF IT, and sometimes something as simple as a huge binder or two works.

  2. My organization was named in a contested will. The donor had contact with our organization in the past but not during my tenure due to his mental deterioration. I AM SO GRATEFUL to my predecessors for documenting their contact with him as it proved invaluable in the eventual receipt of a six-figure gift from a foundation that was created from a later will. One thing that the parties could agree upon was that the donor intended to support us.

    1. Nancy,

      It is always good to hear that there was good documentation to back things up, especially in situations like contested wills which always place charitable beneficiaries in awkward positions. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Nice post and good ideas! I wish that someone had documented what they did before I arrived. But honestly, I don’t think it would be possible as stewardship was unofficially done by many many people in a variety of offices.

    As I devlop new policies and procedures I’m documenting them so that the next person will have a smooth transition.

    I’m also seriously considering writing a stewardship handbook. Might even use my blog as a starting point.

    I would add that documentation can contribute to constant improvement, something that is always difficult to do with turnover in important positions.

  4. Thanks for this post. I will be sharing your advice.
    (I wrote a guidebook for my previous position – documenting processes, etc. Yes, saving institutional memory is key to smooth transitions.)

    Keep sharing!

  5. I have been a strong advocate of detailed procedure manuals for many years. Our Center now is in the process of updating and moving all our department manuals to OneNote. I find this to be an excellent tool for organizing (and re-organizing) the content. Its structure makes it a large electronic notebook which we “store” on our intranet site making it just a mouse click away from any staff who needs to look up a procedure.

    1. Mary,

      Thanks so much for sharing how your organization is taking work process documentation seriously. It’s always good to know that other non-profits are on top of this.

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