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Boosting Fundraising Skills with Assessments and Training

Resource Center - Foundation

According to a study by the Urban Institute, the number of nonprofits in the United States grew 25 percent from 2001 to 2011[1]. Currently, there are more than 1.6 million nonprofit organizations registered in the United States alone. While this proliferation of nonprofits in recent years has created more opportunities for charitable giving, it has also created more competition than ever before for nonprofits of all sizes to acquire and retain donors.

To survive and thrive in this new “marketplace,” nonprofits must sharpen their fundraising methods by introducing more objective means of assessing and driving performance. For the American Red Cross, a globally-recognized not-for-profit with a network of 650 national chapters, 500,000 volunteers and 30,000 employees, this required becoming more proactive in its approach to development and positioning fundraising as a science and skill-driven process within the organization.

A Charity of Choice

Like most charitable organizations, the American Red Cross relies heavily on volunteer and community donations to deliver its mission of preventing and relieving suffering, domestically and abroad, through five key service areas: disaster relief, military family aid, blood services, health and safety education and training. In an increasingly crowded non-profit arena however, the American Red Cross needed to reaffirm its position as a “charity of choice” among individual, corporate and foundation donors. To accomplish this, the development group looked to introduce a program to improve the fundraising skills of individual employees by providing them with a formal process for engaging prospective donors and expanding existing donor relationships.

The program would need to scale nationally across seven regional divisions and support fundraising efforts for all five lines of service. Additionally, the organization wanted to initiate a metric-driven approach that would support a stronger training culture and help leverage workforce analytics to measure, manage and improve fundraising efforts.

Stepping up Fundraising Skills

As fundraisers, we are tasked with preserving and nurturing the goals of our organizations. To do this successfully, nonprofit organizations must approach fundraising and development as a skill set that can be benchmarked and improved with the help of the right tools.

As a result, the American Red Cross, partnered with AUGUR Inc., a PI Worldwide Member Firm, to quantify the fundraising skills of 1,000 major gift officers, chief development officers, chapter executives and strategic support staff. Conducted in three phases, this science-driven process, utilized PI Worldwide’s Selling Skills Assessment Tool™ (SSAT) to benchmark each individual’s strengths and diagnose areas for improvement in five core fundraising activities including building trust and credibility with different types of donors, identifying donor needs and creating long-term donor relationships.

Next, the employees completed a two-day skills training based on PI Worldwide’s Customer-Focused Selling™ (CFS) model. The interactive CFS program leveraged each individual’s SSAT data for targeted skill development and incorporated industry terminology, organization-specific case studies and content to make the learning experience highly relevant and engaging.

The Benefits

Following the introduction of workforce analytics to optimize the Red Cross’ approach to fundraising, employees have been more effective with individual, corporate and foundation donors and are using their CFS skills to help the Red Cross deliver on its development goals. They continue to report great success implementing the Donor Growth Strategy plans they developed during training.

The CFS fundraising process also works collaboratively with the organization’s donor tracking technology platform to help Fundraisers build stronger relationships. The SSAT and CFS training set a powerful foundation for the culture of training at the American Red Cross; the organization now has a common language across the divisions and a way to baseline skills. New fundraisers attend CFS training six months after being hired. Classes are held quarterly with continuing education programs available to all fundraisers who have already completed CFS.

The greatest testament to the success of the program is the organization’s investment in PI Worldwide’s comprehensive Train-the-Trainer program which certifies internal leaders in the delivery and reinforcement of the CFS process. In the coming months, American Red Cross fundraisers who have completed CFS will take the SSAT for the second time to measure changes in skill levels. This will provide the American Red Cross with new data to help drive continued performance at the individual, regional and corporate levels.

In the fundraising environment, development is all about relationship building. The CFS program has enabled Red Cross fundraisers to engage with donors in a way that ensures long term success. It has helped tremendously in getting employees to view fundraising as a structured process with a strategy and steps to achieve the goal of making fundraising science-driven.

As the need for science in the fundraising field builds in response to industry growth, increased competition and even economic factors, nonprofits can leverage workforce analytics like employee skill data and targeted training to help development professionals achieve strategic objectives. By leveraging management science and statistics, nonprofit leaders can manage agency-wide performance more effectively and ultimately do a better job of improving fundraising results to be more predictable and sustainable.

Susan Rowell serves as Director of Training for Development at the American Red Cross. In this role, she is responsible for the development and execution of programs aimed at talent development and retention. Prior to joining the American Red Cross, Susan worked as the Director of Human Resources for an independent boarding school outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

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