The Secret to Motivating Annual Fund Staff

Posted on 09/02/2018

Leading an annual giving effort is no small undertaking. Doing it well requires setting clear goals, developing and implementing a strong plan, and evaluating performance along the way. Given all of the moving parts, it’s no surprise that those who gravitate towards a career in annual giving like it when things run smoothly and according to plan. It’s a good day for the annual fund when the big mailing drops on time, when donor pledges are fulfilled, and when appeal codes are properly printed on all of the reply cards.

But in reality, things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes there are little bumps in the road that can lead to frustrations. And if they’re not overcome, those frustrations can quickly affect the morale of the entire staff. With this in mind, the industry’s strongest leaders know that motivating their team is a critical component of their job.

There’s no shortage of things you can do to incentivize your annual fund staff. Rewarding success with bonuses and raises, offering professional development opportunities, or simply giving someone a pat on the back after a successful initiative can go a long way. But there’s also a less traditional tactic that can be far more motivating.

Years ago, a study was conducted in a fundraising call center. Callers were split into two equal groups. The first group was offered cash bonuses as a reward for securing pledges. The second group was not offered any cash bonuses, but instead received regular updates about the impact of the gifts. They were told how the very donations that they were responsible for securing were helping real people; they saw pictures and were given the names of beneficiaries. When the study was complete, which group had better fundraising results? If you guessed the second group, you are correct. And the results were not just a little better – they were a LOT better.

The annual giving program at Denison College understands how important communicating impact can be as a staff motivator. Billie Handa, the Director of the Annual Fund at Dennison, explains how she recently had the opportunity to participate in first-year student orientation activities, where she met one particularly passionate upperclassman. As she listened to the student’s story, it became clear to her that this was someone who wanted to make a difference in the world and that their student experience was going to empower them to make that difference.

When Handa returned to the office, she shared the story with her staff. Together, they talked about the impact that their work with the annual fund was having on students and faculty every day, and how they – as individuals and as a team – were doing their part to change the world: one student, one donor, one experience at a time. How many students might not have the financial resources to attend college, to study abroad, or to do their research if the annual fund staff wasn’t working to encourage alumni, parents, and friends to invest in the future? These discussions had an immediate and positive impact on the entire team’s morale and, in a way, motivated them to do their jobs better.

Incentivizing a team to perform at their best is critical, but don’t overlook the opportunity to also inspire them. Fundraising is ultimately about more than hitting goals or setting participation records – it is about providing institutions with the necessary resources to educate tomorrow’s leaders, by giving people the opportunity to invest in that mission. At the end of the day, that meaningful motivation can truly make a difference.

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