760.496.9205 Contact Us

The New Role of the Manager: Enabling High-performing Teams

Management Series

Frontline fundraising managers have long been expected to balance a range of responsibilities to excel in their roles. Juggling a donor portfolio, multiple fundraising priorities, faculty partners, organizational dynamics, and the performance of a team of individual direct reports is commonly considered routine among managers.

When it comes to the fundraisers that report to them, most managers aspire to develop and support high-performing teams. Unfortunately, given the systemic lack of formal management training and an industry culture that frequently relies on senior staff to simply “figure things out” on their own, it is not surprising that many managers default to behaviors that unintentionally undermine their team’s performance.  

The pandemic compounded the situation, as managing remotely while simultaneously being expected to derive greater results from limited resources requires managers to be more intentional and efficient.

Through January 2021, Plus Delta surveyed our clients, yielding insights as we begin to emerge from the pandemic:

  • After work/life balance and Zoom fatigue, the top challenge identified by managers was the need to more effectively motivate and coach their direct reports.
  • 46% of frontline fundraisers indicated lower confidence in their work because of the challenges posed by doing their job during the pandemic.

Given these challenges and the opportunity to come out of crisis stronger, we have committed to publishing a series of building block articles derived from the curriculum and coaching that are the foundation of our Management of Frontline Fundraisers (MFF) program.

Our goal is to help managers focus their efforts on defining and coaching a short list of core competencies that drive results among frontline fundraisers.  We have found that managers taking this kind of proactive approach can foster an essential element of high performing teams: the underlying confidence to learn, improve and achieve at higher levels.

The Management Series steps through the requisite core competencies to enable managers to easily apply them with their teams.

Role Definition (Who)

The first of these competencies is clear role definition for both the manager and fundraiser. Job descriptions are not enough; managers and their direct reports need to understand what it means to have a growth mindset, how to coach and be coached, and that the right behaviors lead to the best results. Imagine a sports team (fundraisers) and their coach (manager) relying on each other to understand both their individual roles and the interplay between those roles, all in the context of achieving a shared goal.  Now, imagine if one team member doesn’t understand what is expected of them and, rather than the coach stepping in to coach them, they are simply allowed to default to actions that keep them busy without actually contributing to scoring points.  Expand the situation across all the players and you have an organization within which everyone may be active, but no one is productive; nor is anyone learning how to improve. Clearly defined—and understood—roles drive behaviors that contribute to measurable results.  Continuing the sports analogy, scoring points is the result of behaviors like consistent practice of the basics, willingness to make (and then analyze) mistakes in order to improve, and committing to a higher standard to raise everyone’s game. Absent clearly defined roles, improving individual and team performance is unlikely.  

Approach (What)

Second, accountability to a defined approach for engaging with donors in the philanthropic process is a powerful lever to improve fundraising performance.   Beyond managers holding their teams accountable to a set of performance goals, consideration needs to be given to whether or not metrics are driving the appropriate levels of discipline relative to the “right” behaviors (i.e., those behaviors that generate greater gift revenue over shorter periods of time).  Activity and productivity being different things, a shared methodical fundraising approach that organizes questions and tasks into stages with defined gates between them ensures that productivity is prized over activity.  Each member of the team, not just the manager, can see how prospective donors move through the philanthropic process and which fundraiser behaviors drive results. This in turn fosters accountability among the gift officers themselves (vs. only to the individual in charge of metrics) and to the shared approach to raising money.

Tools (How)

Building on the role (who) and approach (what) competencies, fundraisers and managers can leverage effective tools (how) to achieve greater results.  We think of facilitation and communication tools as essential to increasing fundraising results.  One-on-one communication with donors has long been considered part of the “art” of fundraising, to be applied uniquely by individuals with disparate experiences within infinitely unique contexts. Unfortunately, this results in a feel-good, style vs. substantive approach that can inadvertently undermine the very things we want the most from effective communication:  trust-building, dispelling assumptions, enabling dialogues, and problem solving. By integrating effective facilitation and communication tools into their fundraising approach, managers can develop critical aspects of fundraising teams’ performance such as self-sufficiency, maximizing giving and shortening solicitation cycles.

Developing and sustaining these core competencies is essential to building high-performing teams.

Each month over the next 9 months we will provide actionable insight on one or more of these core competencies.  We are pleased to share our experience, and sincerely believe you will gain significant value from these articles. Thank you for all you do on behalf of the mission-driven organizations you serve.

Please reach out with questions or comments to guy@plusdeltapartners.com


Have a Question?