What if a fundraising professional could start from scratch?

I recently met with a fundraising professional who has been given the opportunity to build a resource development program starting from scratch. On the drive home, I was mulling over the possibilities in my mind, and I must admit that the opportunity appears to be exciting. My thoughts quickly turned to all my fundraising friends who walked into existing situations.

When you walk into a non-profit with a resource development program in place, there is typically a staffing structure already there. A donor database decision has likely already been made. A resource development plan and strategy are laid out, and board volunteers already have expectations.

So, I started off my return trip home with the belief that any fundraising professional would give their left arm for the opportunity to start from scratch. However, as the miles passed, I kept coming up with daunting issues. I decided to pose just a few of those questions to the readers of this blog and see what you think:

  • How do you instill a sense of “philanthropy” into an organizational culture where it might not already exist?
  • If your resource development plan contained nothing but blank pages, where would you start if you need to start bringing in dollars immediately? Would you focus hard on grant writing? Or do you take a longer view and focus on cultivating relationship with individuals?
  • Do you acquire a donor database or a CRM?
  • What should the development department look like?
  • How do you engage volunteers who weren’t recruited with resource development roles in mind? Do you take a pass on trying to engage these people and work hard at identifying and recruiting different volunteers with fundraising skills?
  • When you don’t have any donors and no existing database, who do you start talking to? Who do you engage in planning?

As I thought through some of these questions, my mind seized on well worn expressions like:

“The grass is always greener on the other side.”


Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.”

So, I toss the question open to you. Would you desire the opportunity to start over from scratch? Where would you begin? How would you tackle some the questions that I laid out above?

Please use the comment box found below to weigh-in with your thoughts. Who knows . . . that person I visited with might actually be a subscriber to this blog, and your feedback could be very insightful and valuable to them.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC


  1. I have had this experience in my career, and in my case the board at the nonprofit I worked with hand-picked me to start a development program where none previously existed. I literally had to dig out a foundation with chopsticks but man did I learn. That was 8 years ago and I am now an independent consultant in Western Pa who specializes in doing just this sort of thing. I have my CFRE and learned through the school of “hard knocks”. My biggest take-away is that you absolutely MUST get the board on board. Proper board training cannot be underplayed for without that you surely will go nowhere fast and your development staff (regardless of how small or large) will get burned out and you will have turnover.
    Kate Bayer, M.Ed, CFRE
    Bayer Consulting
    Pittsburgh, PA.

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