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Bridging the Gap: Top 10 Tips for Building a Relationship with Your Development Team

Bridging the Gap: Top 10 Tips for Building a Relationship with Your Development Team

By Peter Drury & Rachel Robert

Do you ever scratch your head – or perhaps notice your counterparts in Development scratching theirs – wondering why it has to be so confounding to work together? Numbers are just numbers, right? The relationship between accountants and fundraisers should be easier than it often is.

Unfortunately, there are many misunderstandings between finance and development professionals that, in extreme cases, can interfere with an organization’s fundamental ability to deliver on its mission. To prevent such misunderstandings, we’ve compiled the following list of tips for improving the relationship between finance and development departments:

Tip #1: Be friendly and courteous. This may seem obvious, but it’s absolutely essential. Get to know each other as people, not just as staff members.

Tip #2: Take time to listen (and tell) why each of you find the mission of your organization to be compelling. By taking in each other’s core commitments, you gain a better mutual understanding of motives and goals. This can be the first step in building trust between departments.

Tip #3: Learn how each of you will define “success” for your department and organization this year, and in future years. Identify specific projects that need collaboration to achieve that success (e.g., outstanding accounts receivable, large grant requests, intricate funding timing, or contribution trend analysis). By understanding how Development defines success, you can help them better articulate the plans, as well as the risks, associated with their goals.

Tip #4: Define and leverage your alignment. You each are accountable to the executive director and board of directors – and on related data points! Find the ways you can help each other be successful.

Tip #5: Agree to operate using a single set of financial data. Using a common set of numbers, including financial and contribution tracking metrics, will reduce the risks associated with miscommunication and misperception. This is critical to the credibility of both departments. It will involve each of you tracking a couple more items than you are accustomed to, but it will be worth it.

Tip #6: Don’t wait for confusion or a crisis. Schedule proactive communication with the Development Director to help anticipate roadblocks. By meeting routinely, you will have an opportunity to share current activities, pivot where necessary, and refine how you will meet shared goals.

Tip #7: Develop shared terminology. Development and Finance professionals often use the same words – but with distinctly different definitions. For example, what does it mean when a gift is “likely,” “confirmed,” “committed,” “pledged” or “recorded?” Eliminate confusion by identifying these words and proceeding with caution when they are used.

Tip #8: Offer to be a resource in preparing and/or analyzing financial data. Examples include budgeting, forecasting, estimating probabilities and timing for grants, data analysis, GAAP or Board reporting. With a touch of humility (being mindful that you may be intimidating by virtue of your role), help Development staff translate what they do into financial terms. They will reciprocate by trusting you more, and working with you more consistently.

Tip #9: Work together on historic benchmarking. Reviewing historical data provides important insight into what is working – and what is not. Spend some time jointly analyzing the past five years’ data. You might be surprised what shared insights emerge!

Tip #10: Know when to be afraid and when to be encouraging. As financial manager, your job is to identify and help manage the risks of the organization. For example, work on further analysis with the Development Director when their results are not tracking with those of prior years (and there isn’t a solid explanation as to why); if the development team begins benchmarking results against other organizations or “industry standards” instead of prior year results for your own organization; or when dashboard indicators show a decline in the median size gift, donor retention rate, the number of new donors per period, or the number of new prospects.

About the Authors
Peter Drury is Director of Strategy at Splash, a nonprofit that cleans water for kids internationally, and is creator of the “Beyond Cash” Fundraising Management Dashboard. He teaches Nonprofit Management, Strategy and Fundraising Courses at the University of Washington, and is a past President of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Peter can be reached at: peter@splash.org.

Rachel Robert is Director of Finance & Operations at Seattle Repertory Theatre, one of the largest and most renowned regional theatres in the country, producing a combination of classics, recent Broadway hits and cutting-edge new works. She teaches Financial Management for the Masters in Arts Leadership program at Seattle University. Rachel is a licensed CPA and is a founding member of the CFO Arts & Culture Round Table, including 35 members from Seattle, Bellevue and Tacoma. Rachel can be reached at: rachelr@seattlerep.org.

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