Finance and fundraising work towards the same shared goal—maximizing margin in support of an organization’s mission. However, finance is often a separate department, with fundraising housed in grant management, marketing, or donor relations.
Although both can work effectively as separate entities within the same organization, when the teams are aligned, great things can happen. Aligning around shared data resources is a natural way to bring both teams together. Here are several best practices you can implement in your organization to help finance and fundraising improve collaboration around data and information resources.
Best Practice 1: Evaluate Current Fund Development Policies
Finance often acts as the guardian of an organization’s policies, but this can conflict with fundraising when donors wish to give support that is outside the current guidelines. A good example is a fundraising effort that connects a donor who wishes to give a substantial gift to the organization, but the gift is outside the organization’s normal policies. If this happens repeatedly, it may be time for finance and fundraising to collaborate on a policy review.
Often, policies have been in place for years. As the organization changes and grows, its mission changes along with the organization, but policies put in place many years ago haven’t changed. Gift policies, for example, may not encompass new technology that didn’t exist when the policies were written. Finance should provide guidance and collaborate with the fund-raising team to adjust gift and donation policies so they remain in alignment with best practices in nonprofit accounting and governance but still meet existing needs and opportunities.
Best Practice 2: Ensure Finance and Fundraising Understand Data Governance
Who in your organization “owns” the current fund accounting system and its resulting database? Probably finance, and that’s how it should be. But the fundraising team provides data that feeds into the fund accounting database—notably, fundraising campaign pledges, donor information, and gifts and donations that must be accounted for and tracked against funds and programs.
To ensure this tracking is accurate, fundraising and finance must determine who owns what in the data management system. Collaborating on a shared data dictionary, tagging each fund or donation appropriately, and tracking revenue and expenses to the correct fund are important parts of nonprofit accounting and financial management.
Without clean, clear data management, any upcoming audit will be a nightmare of tangled data and unclear information. This can lead to many challenges, the least of which is giving your auditors headaches—and showing discrepancies in your accounting. No one on the team wants this, so be sure to agree on who owns what in the database, how information should be managed, and, in the event of questions, which group has the final say.
Best Practice 3: Improve Communications
Depending on the size of your organization and its company culture, finance and fundraising may or may not interact frequently. What’s your take on this situation? Do the two departments find ways to connect and communicate, or are they frequently at loggerheads with one another?
If you find the two groups are bickering, it’s time for a sit-down. Ask each group to bring their questions, concerns, and challenges to the table. Perhaps employees from each group can shadow the other for a day—a member of finance works in fundraising, and vice versa. This helps each team gain a better understanding of the unique needs, challenges, and benefits the other brings to their work. Often, infighting and silos arise because of miscommunication. Eliminating these miscommunications and encouraging teams to share information freely is a great step
Everyone at the organization wants one thing: to support the mission. To do so, good communication, a shared understanding of job functions, and collaboration on policies and data is essential. With a few simple steps, you can accomplish this in your organization.
Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please call us at 206-605-3113 for more information.