Donors and organizational politics

A good friend of mine (and a reader of this blog) sent me an email yesterday suggesting that I start reading another blog called “The Third Sector Report“. Being a firm believer that good writers are good readers, I clicked the link and tried that blog on for size. This week’s post by Jeffrey Wilcox CFRE talks about politics inside of non-profit organizations.

Wilcox’s words hit me sideways and personally. They took me back in time to board meetings where two or three groups of board members were discussing different building options prior to beginning work on a capital campaign. Some volunteers wanted us to acquire land and build in one place. Others wanted to expand on our current site. Still others (including one of our biggest and most influential donors) wanted us to acquire an existing building and renovate.

When you get a bunch of people together who are mission-focused and passionate, politics can’t help but enter the equation. Sometimes it is paid staff at odds with board volunteers, and it really gets interesting when donors get involved.

Wilcox suggests that politics is unavoidable and urges non-profit leaders to develop a political management toolkit. There are lots of awesome tools one of which is a written succession plan. <Yikes!> However, I don’t want to steal his thunder. I urge you read his blog post for suggestions of the other tools to include in your toolkit.

In the end, I am convinced this “political management toolkit” is a great opportunity for non-profit leaders to get donors involved. CEOs and development professionals are wasting an engagement opportunity if they sit down and pound out a communication policy by themselves. I don’t see any problem with involving key donors and board volunteers in development of the executive director’s annual performance management plan.

Some donors just don’t have time to join the board of directors, a standing committee or a special event committee. So, why not ask them if they want to help out with a small project that has a distinct start and end? If you can make the case for why these tools in your political management toolkit are important, you will likely find a few donors who are willing to help. In the end, that donor is likely to be more engaged and as we all know … “money follows involvement”.

The bonus, of course, is that you’ve simultaneously built more organizational capacity in addition to deepening key donors’ engagement. Additionally, if the project involves something that a donor is passionate about, then you are modeling what a good “donor-centered” resource development professional looks like.

Have you ever included key donors who are not board volunteers in short-term projects? What was your experience and the results? Please weigh-in and let us know.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
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