Q:  We recently held our gala, at which a very successful appeal was made. While the majority of our guests paid their appeal donation by credit card that night, we have to mail invoices to those donors that didn’t. In the past, our CFO would handle all invoicing. We now have a new CFO who is asking the Resource Development Department staff to create and mail the invoices for these pledges.

Do you have anything in writing that states the best practice here? My instinct tells me that professional fundraisers should only be responsible for raising funds, not being put in the awkward position of also collecting them. I have no issue before an event occurs if a corporation or foundation specifically asks me to send an invoice for its tickets/table so it can process a check. However, having the CFO ask the Resource Development staff to send an invoice after the event to collect payment for a pledge made at the appeal places us in an uncomfortable position with our donors. Any guidance you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

 

A:  To answer your question I did two things. First, I went online. A lot of nonprofit organizations post their gift acceptance policies. These typically include the party responsible for invoicing. I also asked several development professionals I respect. Everything I read and heard placed the responsibility for sending out invoices for pledges on the Resource Development staff. While I know it’s not the answer you hoped to receive, let me share some of the points that were made. These may help you reframe your thinking so you no longer see your office as a bill collector – something that would make me uncomfortable, too – but, instead, can embrace this as an opportunity.

One development professional I spoke with has raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the years for a wide-variety of organizations. She told me that in only one instance did the finance office invoice donors. She didn’t find it as effective because the CFO doesn’t have a relationship with the donor. The typically pro-forma letter comes off cold, and has the potential for making her job more difficult if someone feels slighted for any real or imagined reason.

This successful development professional stated that she much prefers to do the invoicing because it gives her yet another donor touch. She uses the opportunity to keep the donor updated regarding what is happening at the organization, and how that person’s money is being used. She writes chatty, personal letters thanking the individual for his or her gift, telling the donor what’s new at the organization, reiterating the amount paid most recently and how it was applied to his/her pledge of $X, the total paid, and the balance due. She told me she always gets nice feedback from her donors when she sends these letters, to which the invoice is attached.

I would think in your gala example, the opportunity to begin building a personal relationship with individuals for whom the gala may be their introduction to your organization, would be particularly valuable. A letter from you or your department such as the one described above opens the door to future contact, far more than one from the CFO could.

Another development professional with whom I spoke offered a totally different insight. She shared that she likes to consider the invoices “pledge reminders.” While it may be a case of “A rose is a rose…,” the term “invoice” does sound like it should come from the finance office. It connotes the need to collect a bill that is due. “Pledge reminder” is softer. It appeals to the donor’s original intent. It also sounds like it rightfully should come from your office.

So, while your office just inherited more work, it actually could make life easier and more productive for you and your colleagues in the long run. Good luck.