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Program Colleagues as Partners in Donor Engagement
Recently, I was speaking with the Chief Program Officer of a Midwestern symphony (full disclosure – he’s my father), who told me that his orchestra’s development staff rarely involve him in cultivating and soliciting prospective donors. As the staff member responsible for designing programming to build and stimulate audiences, and as someone with over 30 years of experience with classical music repertoire, he has a lot to offer when it comes to engaging donors. Sure, he’s not as much of a celebrity as the conductor, but I’d rather take a backstage tour with him than with a development officer. I believe the organization is missing an important opportunity by failing to partner with him in donor engagement.
Program officers are an important “behind the scenes” face of the institution, often valuable because they are authentic representatives of your mission. He’s the guy who wears boots to work because he’s always in the field (literally), or she’s the woman with clay on her shirt because she was helping kids in the studio. These individuals – and the people who report to them – have the best stories to tell about your organization’s work. They are the colleagues you seek out when you’re writing a newsletter article or case statement, they are your partners in grant development and they may even be speakers at stewardship events, so why not have them as first-person resources to cultivate individual donors?
Depending on your organization, program officers may be more comfortable dealing with clients and constituents than with donors – or perhaps they are even more outgoing than your executive director. It’s your job as a development officer to help your colleague be a successful partner in fundraising, so here are some tips for working with program counterparts:
Most senior program staff understand that, today especially, fundraising is an important skill to develop, and they’re likely to welcome an opportunity to help your organization build stronger relationships with potential donors. The more practice – and success – they have, the better partners they will become.
Schultz & Williams is a national consulting firm based in Philadelphia providing management, fundraising and marketing consulting for nonprofit organizations, along with full-service direct marketing, database and creative/production services.