Six Success Factors in Strategic Fundraising

Six Factors of Success in Strategic Fundraising

Effective fundraising must be a strategic priority for every nonprofit organization that counts contributed support as part of its annual revenue stream and as a source for capital and endowment assets. Viewing fundraising through a strategic lens focuses on advancing the organization’s mission and vision and not merely on meeting immediate dollar goals.

Organizational Leadership

Organizational leadership is the single most important factor in thinking and acting strategically. Strategic leadership focuses on what is to be achieved and not just on how much money must be raised. Strategic fundraising starts with organizational leadership.

Chief among the organization’s leaders is the executive director or president. Partnering with board and development leadership to articulate a clear vision, define priorities, build relationships with donors and constituents, and nurture a culture of philanthropy is essential. In her recent book, Donor-Centered Leadership, Penelope Burk goes as far as to say “CEOs influence how fundraising works more than anyone else in an organization.”

An equally important task for the CEO is hiring a talented chief development officer (CDO) capable of strategic leadership at both the organizational level and at the functional level. The CDO must share, along with other executive level organizational leaders, in shaping the vision and direction of the organization. He or she must be skilled at integrating a fundraising perspective into the larger organizational agenda as a fully-accepted member of the leadership team. He or she must be passionate about the mission, cognizant of the larger fundraising environment, and astute in aligning fundraising goals and resources with the strategic priorities of the institution.

So, we know that organizational leadership provides the foundation upon which strategic fundraising can be established within an organization, but what are the other elements that make strategic fundraising successful?

Collective Leadership

Collective rather than individual leadership is increasingly characteristic of strategic organizations. Collaboration among the CEO, the CDO and volunteer and board leaders is critical. Much has been written concerning role confusion and differences of perception about who, among organizational leaders, is supposed to be doing what when it comes to fundraising. Accepting shared responsibility, agreeing on organizational best practices and clarifying leadership roles is a strategic necessity.

Inspiring Vision

Among the collective responsibilities of organizational leaders is envisioning an inspiring future and defining the role of philanthropic investment. Vision charts the path from inspiration to reality and motivates donors, stakeholders, and staff.

Community of Donors

Building a community of donors engages donors as partners in vision and mission. Community arises from common values, unity of purpose, and collective commitment to goals. Community is characterized by shared relationships not only with organizational leaders but also with staff, stakeholders, and most importantly, with those who benefit directly from philanthropic support.

Stewardship and Performance

Stewardship of such a community requires performance, i.e. achieving what the organization exists to do; integrity, i.e. using gifts as donors intended; and respect, i.e. caring about and for donors and donor relationships. Capturing and reporting measurable outcomes and impact to donors and other stakeholders is a strategic duty of organizational leaders. Donors, more than anything, want to know what has been accomplished with their individual and collective gifts and whether or not the vision articulated by organizational leaders is becoming reality.


Purposeful and strategic support for fundraising underwrites the organization’s ability to steward a constellation of sustained donor relationships and to inspire future philanthropic investment. Insuring optimal financial resources is an investment in the future, not a cost, and should be determined by careful analysis, thoughtful planning, and application of evidence-based best practice.

Culture for Philanthropy

All of the factors mentioned above both contribute to and benefit from an organizational culture for philanthropy. “Culture,” according to Mark Bodnarczuk, “is dependent upon patterns of interaction. If these patterns are typified by collaboration, teamwork, common purpose, group goals, and positive affirmation of team members . . .they solidify and create a climate of positive energy and high performance.” A culture for philanthropy endorses fundraising as essential to achieving the organization’s mission and vision and as a strategic responsibility for everyone.

In the future, I’ll be taking a more in-depth look at each of these six factors and expanding on our understanding of what they mean for your organization. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on these six factors? Is anything superfluous or missing for you? Please share your thoughts and follow the on-going conversation.

Marilyn Foster Kirk, CFRE
Vice President
Alford Group

2 thoughts on “Six Success Factors in Strategic Fundraising

  1. You are right on track. There’s no question that the leadership of an organization sets the tone for the strategic nature of the fundraising environment and culture. I’ve experienced both lack of leadership and inspiring leadership with commitment to help make the connections to donors. It is incredible what happens when commitment and inspiring vision converge and the rest of the community sees it.

    Thanks for sharing this article.

  2. Les, your point is so important. It is essential that mission and vision represent an organization’s essence and be defined and embraced collectively, i.e. by the many individuals who have a vested interest in the organization’s future. Inspiration finds its origins in these two elements of organizational identity. Leadership—both shared and individual—draws upon this inspiration to motivate individuals and groups to achieve organizational aspirations.

    This notion of collectively defining and embracing the organization mission and vision raises some interesting questions about nonprofit leadership. Traditionally, leadership in nonprofits—just as in business—has been centered in individuals positioned at the top of a hierarchy. Is this the right model for contemporary nonprofits? Are there merits associated with shared or collaborative leadership? Dangers?

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