The Professional Face-to-Face Fundraising Association: Why Collaboration Matters Most

By Sherry Bell, Chief Executive Officer, Grow Fundraising & Consulting, Inc and President, PFFA Board of Directors.

I got my start in performance management in 1998 with my first real job after graduation from The Ohio State University. It was a direct sales position and I loved it. I’ve been a fundraiser since 2005. That year I moved from sales to fundraising and I started working for a multi-national face-to-face fundraising agency, tasked with setting up teams in the United States with enough freedom to create my own model to do so. 

By 2006, I was overseeing operations for this international fundraising entity in the United States. 

Coming from direct sales, I was accustomed to friendly competition, support, collaboration and opportunities to learn from other people’s mistakes and triumphs. As I began to move up into the executive ranks of this face-to-face fundraising organization, I found it almost entirely devoid of peer collaboration. It now makes me think of this quote:

“Creating a better world requires teamwork, partnerships, and collaboration, as we need an entire army of companies to work together to build a better world within the next few decades. This means corporations must embrace the benefits of cooperating with one another.” - Simon Mainwaring

From my perspective circa 2006 in U.S., the general environment for face-to-face fundraising was exclusionary, and reaching out to colleagues for support or brainstorming was unheard of – at least to me as a new comer. But as the desire to grow productive teams grew, I believe we all began to look deeper. We found that whether this environment had been brought about by decade old torches we no longer had to carry or by the fact that the industry was so small, at that point in time, it no longer mattered because we could change it.

To this day, this exclusionary environment among Professional Fundraising Agencies is often what you see in other countries with existing and/or growing face-to-face fundraising presence in the market. I believe this has, in part, led to the negative public perception and media scrutiny facing programs in some countries around the world. And it makes you wonder what could have been avoided with proactive collaboration. 

Collaboration benefits the nonprofit, the Professional Fundraising Agencies and our donors

From the start, we wanted it to be different here in the U.S. We wanted that collaboration, because it benefits everybody. This was a key reason first signs of the Professional Face-to-Face Fundraising Association was born in 2014.

If you look at sister organizations that came before the PFFA in the U.K. and Australia, members couldn’t imagine Professional Fundraising Agencies (PFAs) sitting in a room for a full day, three times annually and having open discussions about how to better the industry, how to ensure sustainability and how to do so collaboratively with other PFAs to ensure clients can reach their fundraising goals. But yet, that’s exactly what the PFFA started doing with a full commitment to do so from all of the leading PFAs in the market. And the organization grew to include hundred or participants from more than 50 organizations – non-profit and for profit.

Only through the concerted efforts of our participants and members over the past 5 years, has the industry been able to foster a mutually beneficial environment for non-profits, PFAs and affiliated organizations, that openly self-regulate, gather organizational strength from decades of collective experience and support the level of collaboration that, at the end of the day, ensures sustainable growth for non-profits in the U.S. 

What is unique about this face-to-face self-regulatory body here is not that significant presence of experts in face-to-face; or that non-profits have realized the value of face-to-face; or that the leaders in the field realize that common sense self-regulation supports sustainable channel growth. 

What makes the PFFA and the face-to-face channel in the U.S. unique is that:

1.   PFFA Members are pro-active in their desire to self-regulate

Concern and support for ethical and sustainable fundraising practice that puts the donor experience first and works to prioritize that experience through the lens of what is equally as beneficial for the communities in which we fundraise. It’s our commitment to excellence. 

2. The PFFA balances for-profit objectives with the needs of non-profit clients

For-profit service providers, PFAs, have broken down silos and broken through decades of impish behavior toward one another to provide non-profit clients with reliable service and enjoy a more collaborative and effective environment for their fundraising teams as well. This has become the very definition of balancing for-profit objectives with the need of non-profit clients.

How did PFFA get there?

It took two years for the PFFA, meeting three times a year with a large number of non-profits, Professional Fundraiser agencies and affiliates, to construct a Code of Conduct made for and by the people that would abide by, benefit from and be beholden to it. 

It took three years for PFAs to build meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships that have led to established, top-tier PFAs to partner with other like PFAs to ensure clients get their budgets met. 

It has taken equally as long for PFAs to begin to shepherd other smaller, new-to-market organizations and agencies by providing valuable subcontracts to launch their business in the U.S. while requiring them to comply with the highest standards of self-regulation in their business model.

The PFFA has created a space that welcomes new market agencies into the space with a very low barrier of entry and provides a tangible incentive for these organizations to participate openly and with the support of those who have forged the path in the U.S before them. 

“It is straightforward for me to be ethical, responsible, and kind-hearted because I have the resources to support that.” - Edward Tufte

What is the result of meaningful collaboration in the Face-to-Face Fundraising market in the U.S.?

For non-profits, this provides the very real benefit of an industry with high standards, reliable cost per acquisition, controlled and sustainable growth and the benefit of collaborative resources and experiences – a non-profit led market and industry. In addition to the tangible benefits of territory management, due diligence processes, conflict resolution services, a united public facing regulatory presence, benchmarking and an effective Code of Conduct, PFFA members also receive the benefit of meaningful collaboration. 

The PFFA offers a structured opportunity to break down silos and competitive barriers and benefit from a rich, collective experience. A place to gain insight, streamline services and innovate. A common-sense approach to responsible, effective and sustainable face-to-face fundraising.

“The most abundant resources that we possess amongst the 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States are passion and knowledge, yet our most scarce resource is collaboration.”- Adam Braun

The PFFA is a membership based, nonprofit led, donor centric association committed to the practice of ethical, sustainable and innovative face-to-face fundraising in the United States. 

For more information:

Email Sherry Bell at

Call the PFFA at 1.833.4. PFFAUS, email at or visit

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