The Fundraiser’s Management Molecule

As development professionals, we all manage relationships in three distinct directions, or dimensions. This is relevant both to our work with volunteers and campaign leaders, and within our own company/organization. To manage these directions in a balanced manner, consider the metaphor of the management molecule.

Successful fundraising professionals might not describe our management style using the terms described below, but if analyzed, chances are these words would be quite descriptive of our approach to the work we do.

So what is a “management molecule?” For this discussion, imagine yourself as the nucleus of a ‘molecule’ in which you are surrounded by a concentric ring of the people with whom you have contact. Among those relationships are external examples of donors and volunteers, as well as internal colleagues. In this model you are the center, the nucleus of the group involved in the fundraising effort. You manage relationships in three directions: upward, laterally, and downward.

What do the directions (upward, lateral and downward) indicate? Your relationships are managed or led in three dimensions, and each direction is important to the success of your corporate work and the success of your fundraising campaigns. The upward arrow indicates your relationship with your superiors. This includes the chair of your organization’s board, the chair of your fundraising campaign and the chief executive officer (your boss). Certainly, you want to keep those people involved, informed, enthusiastic and working effectively towards the successful accomplishment of the organization’s goals. In your organization, you should strive to achieve the same level of communication between you and your superiors.

The lateral arrows indicate your relationship with those other people involved in the campaign, and in your organization, whose responsibilities might be considered on a par, or at the same level, as your own. In larger organizations, this includes those in charge of component campaigns, public relations, vendors or some other functions vital to the campaign. As a general rule, they report to someone other than you. Within your company this includes those on the same level as you and reporting to the same level of superiors as you. In both instances you have to communicate with, interface with and cooperate with these colleagues to keep them informed and knowledgeable about your plans, your work and your progress. You also benefit from seeking their ideas and feedback. To omit this important element creates a vacuum in which new ideas fail to grow.

Finally, the lower portion of the ring of relationships signifies your connection to those who work for you—your support staff and others who help you get the nitty-gritty of your job done efficiently and effectively. Your daily contacts and follow-up with these people are important and cannot be ignored. Communicating a spirit of support and appreciation for their work on a regular basis is vital to the continued success of your work. Encouragement, positive reinforcement, courtesy and respect are basic elements of this vital relationship.

You must establish routines for communication along each of these three directions (upward, lateral and downward). Communicate with your superiors, current and new information in writing as well as in face-to-face meetings. With lateral peers, invest in them by cooperating with their requests and bringing them into your projects. Collaborate for a higher quality result. For those whom you supervise and depend upon for your success, offer support through access to your time and recognize their good work. Include them in the organizational goals by relating how their work contributes to the overall success of the organization.

A final, and key, element of the molecule’s balance is good health – I’ll call it healthy respect. When there is balanced respect for each level of effort, the boss, the peers and the subordinates, optimum performance will be the result.

The management molecule—When at its most effective position, it is a balanced orb with a dynamic center (you), radiating and receiving thorough, constant, and positive communications in appropriate ways to every level of the organization. To let it get lop-sided—spending more time and effort managing upward to the boss, while ignoring the other aspects of your ‘molecule’—is to court setbacks and delays in your progress. The same is true if you devote more time and energy on lateral relationships, or toward your staff, while your boss wonders what’s happening. Balance and equity in all aspects of managing your relationships—with enthusiasm, energy and thoughtfulness—will help make your management molecule rise to the top!

Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is one of the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to