Will She Answer the Phone?

Will She Answer the Phone?


25 May 2021


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


An important concept in fundraising is that of “access” to current and potential donors. Access in fundraising implies that if you call, she will answer; that if you send an email or leave a voice message, it will be returned. Each of us has a circle of friends, family, business colleagues, and so on that we have “access” to, and we bring that access along with us to our jobs and volunteer activities. However, that access doesn’t automatically transfer to those organizations; access needs to be exercised by the person it belongs to.

Organizational access is represented by the access we bring collectively. When we discuss Board diversity, one of the measures should be related to this access. The more diverse the Board is, the more access the organization will have in the community. If we all know all the same people – if the Board positions are essentially redundant – our collective access will not be as broad as it might be.

When we consider candidates for Board positions, adding new access to the Board should be one of the considerations. But this comes with a caveat: The person should also be willing to exercise that access on behalf of the organization.

  • If the Board member is part of the local business community, s/he should be willing to help the organization communicate with that community.
  • If the Board member is part of the science or academic community, s/he should be willing to help the organization communicate with that community.
  • If the Board member is part of the Hispanic community, s/he should be willing to help the organization communicate with that community.
  • If the Board member is part of a community of professional women, s/he should be willing to help the organization communicate with that community.
  • If the Board member is part of a specific geographic community, s/he should be willing to help the organization communicate with that community.


This organized communication – this “ambassadorship” – does not normally happen organically. It must be planned and supported by others. And a clear expectation for doing so must be made explicit.

The measure of success? Increased support coming from that community.

More people engaged, more people giving money, more money.


I work with many organizations who have “outreach” goals baked into their organizational DNA, and my general take for most of them is that they don’t really have a working definition of what that is. The net effect is related to “spewing.” The measure of success is how many things are sent out into the universe, or how many people touched or saw or liked something.

I would and do respectfully recommend different metrics:

  • How many Board members were involved, publicly representing the organization into their community of influence?
  • How many people made a first gift as a result?
  • How many donors did we establish access to?
  • How many relationships were thereby “advanced”?


Think about organizing this activity at your organization. Think about how you might change the expectation of Board members coming in such that this ambassadorship was part of your organizational culture.

Imagine a point, 5 or 10 years from now, where the results of this increased level of visibility have resulted in greater community engagement, donor support, and funding. Ever widening circles of influence – of access.

Maybe more and more people will return your emails and phone messages.

More people engaged, more people giving money, more money.


Access can be abused too, of course, and eventually lost completely. Relationships can be squandered, bridges burned. And they can take years or even decades to restore. Maya Angelou said that “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This will cut both ways for your organization. Ignore or abuse your relationships, and your access, at your own peril.

Conversely, access can also be cultivated and developed. It can grow and flourish.


As a general rule, directors have greater access to donors than staff. They are “peers”. (The Executive Director is a notable exception to this rule and often has access equal to or even greater than other directors.) In seeking to raise money in ever larger amounts, staff can get frustrated that they cannot get an appointment, or sometimes even a return call. They don’t have sufficient “access.”

This can lead to an unfortunate negative spiral: fundraising staff who understand their job is to raise money may begin to see their inability to gain access to donors as a sign of professional weakness. (They sometimes even blame the donors – big mistake!) Consequently, they don’t ask for help.

Meanwhile Board directors are equally slow to offer help. Some did not have a clear expectation that they would be asked to help raise money, but rather expected their job to be related to helping spend the money wisely. Others may be reluctant to exercise the access they enjoy to address the needs of the organization. Staff members begin to spend more and more time protecting their jobs. Directors grow increasingly frustrated that staff members aren’t getting the job done. Eventually staff find greener pastures or are dismissed.

Both groups need to change their paradigm. Board directors need to see fundraising as their job and hold each other collectively accountable for using the access they have to getting it done. Development staff need to take advantage of the access that opens up for them, but to otherwise see their job as facilitating the work of the directors and helping them to cultivate and develop the donors to whom they have access toward the highest organizational benefit. The Executive Director can and must do both.


This week, think about this on a very personal level. What are the communities that I am a part of? What could I do in the next month or so to represent my organization (fly the flag, wear the colors, draw attention) into that community? Who could I turn to for help?

Love to hear feedback on this. Love to hear what you come up with.


Cheers, and Have a great week!




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


Photo by Ian Livesey courtesy of Stocksnap.io.



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1 Comment
  • Kellie
    Posted at 10:57h, 25 May

    Great post today David. Insightful, layered and much to consider. Thank you for the inspiration.