Posted April 1st, 1997

Benefit from Inter-Departmental Cooperation

Much has been written recently about building relationships, working in teams, and cooperating between departments in the world of for-profit business. How important is cooperation between departments in the charitable setting?

My experience suggests that often in pursuit of an objective, we create an environment in which we operate autonomously. We often forget about the bigger picture when preoccupied with our own concerns.

What impression do we give donors who may be receiving our information? Do you know everything your donors receive from your organization? How are your donors acknowledged when they make gifts? If the business office handles stocks and/or certain types of gifts, how are they acknowledged? When do you learn that the gift has been received?

Building a sense of teamwork

Working together in teams in the business world has, arguably, improved productivity and the “bottom line” of many for-profit corporations in America. Those who labor in the not-for-profit world may be able to learn from their experience.

Cooperation between the business and development offices

Suppose your institution receives a gift of appreciated stock. The business office will probably process the gift, assuring that stock is liquidated according to established policies, and then usually provide the donor with the appropriate documentation according to IRS regulations.

In the ideal situation, this donor would also receive an acknowledgment from the development department, the chief staff officer, the chief volunteer officer, or the person who directs the program the funds will be used to support, as appropriate. A comprehensive record on your donor system would also be established indicating the type of property the donor used to find the gift and their program interest.

Cooperation between the legal and development offices

Often, a gift by will or trust is administered by outside legal counsel or the internal legal department. This is usually important to closely monitor executor fees, probate fees, and other administrative fees involved in settling an estate. In this ease, the ideal situation involves the development office working closely with the family of the deceased to express appreciation, and to keep family members and other close friends informed about the value each individual’s estate contributes to support programs.

Family members can sometimes feel as though they, too, are major donors when a spouse, parent, or other family member remembers your institution with a gift. These family members may themselves become prospects for current and deferred gifts.

Cooperation between the development office and those who answer the phone

Do you know everyone who answers the telephone in your institution? Do they know how to respond to donors? Do they know who you are and what your office does? The first impression many people have of your institution comes from the person who answers the phone. Overlooking details such as how the phone is answered occurs too often. Getting to know these persons and familiarizing them with the nature of your efforts can be well worth the time involved.

Simple instructions supported by a printed note pad or phone sticker with your legal name may be appropriate. Capturing the name, correct spelling, and phone number of the person calling is important so that you have an opportunity to follow up promptly and efficiently.

When special marketing efforts are in progress, consider including those who answer the phone in staff meetings and other activities in order to build and maintain open lines of communication.

Cooperation with the program departments

If you serve a hospital, do you receive a list of patients who are being treated in your facilities? If a major or long-term donor is among your patients, it may be appropriate to send flowers or magazines.

If surveys are used to monitor the programs your institution facilitates, it may be appropriate to seek demographic data, or determine if those who receive your services have charitable interests.

There are obvious ethical and public relations issues that must he considered. This level of cooperation sets up the opportunity to enhance the overall effectiveness of your institution by encouraging all departments to adhere to the same procedures when contacting donors.

Cooperation within the development department

Different staff members may be responsible for major, deferred, annual, special event, direct mail, and other gifts. Recently, we were working with the staff of an institution when they discovered that the direct mail managers were deleting donors who were no longer responding — at the very time their gift history indicated that these same donors were most likely to include the institution in their wills! Once the direct mail and gift planning staff began working in tandem, these problems were corrected with little or no additional cost to the direct mail effort.

Lessons learned

The examples cited illustrate only a few of the many ways you can work together as a “team” in your institution to better serve your donors and those who benefit from your services. The goal in the nonprofit sector, just as with the for-profit world, should be to increase efficiency through cooperation to create an environment that benefits all.

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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