Flaw #5 from the Project Streamline report:
Simply put, many nonprofits believe that foundations do not trust them, and they interpret the burdens of application and reporting as evidence of that distrust. Trust emerged as an important theme in nonprofit interviews and focus groups, particularly when fundraisers and executive directors contrasted foundation fundraising with individual donor solicitation. When working with individual donors, nonprofits fundraise through relationships. Donors typically put their faith and money in the organization based on a series of conversations and materials that the organization already has on hand, such as annual reports and brochures. Nonprofits commented that, compared to individuals, foundations are not always worth the effort. The difference, they hypothesized, has to do with trust.
According to a development officer from a large, international nonprofit organization, “Sometimes, I feel like program officers look at me as a used car salesman—like I’m smarmy. I wish there were a little more compassion.” And, indeed, foundations do regard development staff with suspicion. As one small foundation representative stated, “We don’t work with fundraisers… development staff are salespeople.”
Fundraisers ARE salespeople! There’s nothing wrong with selling, but it is incredible important when you deal with someone that you understand their objectives and incentives. In the for-profit marketplace, companies have an “investor relations” department. These groups still want to paint a nice picture of a company, but it is not so much their job to raise money as it is to answer investors’ questions. I’ve predicted in the past that a similar role will evolve at nonprofits.
But that being said, I do think it is important to trust your grantees. Don’t trust everyone and anyone, but if you refuse to give money to anyone you do not trust, you will be left with a handful of organizations that you do trust. In Grassroots Philanthropy, Bill Somerville talks about trust as one of the single most important issues in the nonprofit/grantee relationship.
If as a funder you do not trust the people you interact with at a nonprofit, walk the other way. There’s over a 1,000,000 other nonprofits you can look at instead.
Note: I want to elaborate on my statement that fundraisers are salespeople. Fundraisers get compensated to bring money into their organization. Not to assist donors in their grant decision making process. Now great fundraisers might reframe their role as a trusted advisor to their donors (just as many great salespeople do), but that doesn’t change the structure of the fundraising profession.