Despite having good will and the best intentions, our fundraising campaign failed. It wasn’t because we didn’t meet our funding goal; it was because we were unable to get it started. I initially attributed my feelings of disappointment to the result of being a small group of busy volunteers. Instead of having a dialogue to understand what happened and capture lessons learned, we let ourselves off the hook and moved on.

When we avoid having difficult conversations, we also avoid dealing with the underlying causes of problems that have the potential to destroy collaboration. With the benefit of hindsight I now see that the fundraising obstacle we encountered as an association leadership team wasn’t bad planning or bad timing – it was lack of trust.

Trust is as fundamental to fundraising as it is to collaboration

Trust is a fundamental building block for all forms of collaboration. In addition to being difficult, messy, and complicated, collaboration is fraught with uncertainty. We come together across organizations (and sometimes across industries and sectors) to accomplish something that’s never been done before that we can’t do on our own, like building a local economy that is inclusive and environmentally sustainable. Crossing an uncertain and unpredictable path to get from where we are to where we want to be requires the belief that we have each other’s backs along the way.

We missed a critical warning sign that our fundraising campaign, and our ability to collaborate, was unraveling due to lack of trust. The person tasked with leading our campaign failed to ask for help when assigned fundraising tasks couldn’t be completed due to other demands for her time. More importantly, we failed as a leadership team by not giving our fundraising point of contact the support she needed to be successful. Although we knew she had a lot on her plate, none of us reached out to see how she was doing and offer to help.

Asking for help requires a willingness to be vulnerable, and being vulnerable is only possible when we trust each other. In his seminal book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni describes other ways that lack of trust shows up in teamwork that can get in the way of fundraising, like allowing disputes and unhealthy conflicts to distract us from getting work done, avoiding opportunities to challenge each other and the team to do better, and experiencing low morale and high turnover.

Five ways collaborative groups can build trust in fundraising


1. Create shared experiences

Take time to get to know each other and form a bond. Some examples are having a meal together, doing a field visit, or participating in icebreaker activities.

2. Set clear expectations

Create an agreement about how to work together to raise funds that includes: how decisions will be made, members will hold each other accountable for following through on commitments, and progress will be measured towards achieving funding goals. Setting expectations early on can help minimize communication breakdowns.

3. Demonstrate vulnerability by leading by example

As a collaboration leader take the initiative to share what’s going on, such as disclosing personal situations that are affecting your participation in the group and asking for help.

4. Provide the space for open and honest conversations about fundraising

Recognize when there may be tension in the group. Acknowledge this situation and invite people to share their concerns as well as what is behind them. Come up with solutions that work for everyone.

5. Start off by making small, short-term commitments

If your group is newly formed, make it easy for people to participate in fundraising. For example, organize a modest, brief fundraising campaign that serves as a learning experiment for raising funds and building a track record of working together.

Getting collaborative fundraising efforts back on track

Building trust begins with building the foundation for strong relationships. A day-long strategic planning and team building meeting served as a catalyst for building trust within our leadership team. I involved the team in designing this session by meeting with each person individually to learn what was and wasn’t working and identify topics for discussion.

During this session we gave each other feedback about our performance as a member of the leadership team, set expectations that included not allowing a member of our team to fail, and made fundraising a priority in our annual plan. We changed our meeting structure to include check-ins and requests and offers for help as regular agenda items. A committee that includes an experienced fundraiser is also being established to guide fundraising efforts. As a result of these changes, our leadership team is better prepared to raise funds for the association.

This experience offers valuable lessons for how collaborative groups can work better together to raise funds:

Collaborative fundraising is as much about building trusting relationships as it is about fundraising skills. When we pay more attention to fundraising tasks than the people who are doing them, we run the risk of not reaching funding goals and not meeting our collective potential to achieve social impact. We also miss out on building meaningful relationships with amazing people.

Fundraising doesn’t happen on its own; people need support to work well together. This includes having a fundraising plan, recruiting skilled fundraisers, and putting supportive processes and structures in place. However, it takes building and maintaining trust to put all of these elements into action.

For more guidance and tips on how your network, allicance, coalition, or association can make fundraising easier, download a free copy of The Secrets of Collaborative Resource Development.

Kimberley Jutze is a social activist and founder of Shifting Patterns Consulting, a Certified B Corporation that helps changemaker leaders work better together to achieve greater impact. She specializes in helping networks and other collaborative groups increase their productivity and engagement. You can follow her on Twitter at @ShiftPatConsult and LinkedIn

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