Glaring At Each Other Over the Divider: Fundraising Leadership in Crisis?

This one dropped like a ton of bricks, didn’t it?  When you saw that headline in the Chronicle of Philanthropy this week that half of the top fundraisers in a survey of 2,700 (!) organizations are actively contemplating leaving their post, did you think: “Yup, that’s me.”?  Or did you think, “Geez, I wish ours would…”?  This story and the survey results themselves paint a pretty bleak picture about the state of fundraising leadership nationwide.

Before even getting to the introduction to the survey results themselves, one of the underlying issues emerges.  In her preamble, Linda Wood, representing the study underwriter – The Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund – says, “While familiar to fundraising professionals, the term culture of philanthropy is not yet well understood nor commonly used across the sector.”  Amen to that, Linda Wood.  If we’re being honest with ourselves, I’m not sure we would all say that the term “culture of philanthropy” is well understood and commonly used within the fundraising profession.

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So why are we glaring at each other?  Why are organizational leaders so dissatisfied with their fundraising leader – and vice versa?  (And why is this mutual disregard even stronger among organizations with budgets under $1 million?)  More importantly, what can we do to fix this crisis in fundraising leadership?

Solution?  We need to get over the idea that one staff member makes a fundraising shop.  Maybe, but not in the way that both this survey and the Chronicle’s coverage seem to be suggesting.  It is folly to expect that a highly-skilled, externally facing fundraiser who is passionate about being out with donors will be good at – or satisfied with – database maintenance and the detailed planning of special events.  A gut check on performance metrics is in order.  However, the additional reality is that many, many organizations are going to have one or maybe 1.5 team members to devote to development.  Simply hiring a bigger, more specialized shop isn’t the answer if it is years from reality for many.

Three other results from the survey suggest the resolution:

  • 75% of executives say that they don’t have a board meaningfully engaged in fund development
  • 25% of these executives will admit that they aren’t very good at fundraising
  • And 20% will cop to not enjoying this task very much.

There’s a whole lot of finger pointing in the headline of this survey, but there’s the heart of the matter:  nurturing a culture of philanthropy is everyone’s job, not just the chief development officer, not just the CEO, not just the board… And, not just these three entities working together.  A real culture of philanthropy exists when EVERYONE on the staff, among the volunteers, among the donors understands the role that philanthropy plays in the organization and what role they must play in creating resources.  

One of the CEOs at a Big Brothers Big Sisters agency with whom we worked puts it this way,  “When I interview anyone – from a match support specialist, to a member of the finance team, to a member of the partnership development team – I say to them ‘We are all fund developers here at Big Brothers Big Sisters. So what role do you see yourself playing in that?'”  He asks that during the interview process and sets a powerful tone for anyone coming aboard.  If this happens at all staff levels, imagine how much more intensive the expectations setting is for board members!

(Bob and I talked more about the process of setting expectations in the podcast called, “Take this Job and Shove it“… a podcast with more positive recommendations than the title betrays!)

Solution?  We just need to become “donor-centric”.  Again, maybe.  I certainly believe that donor-centric organizations are stronger than those who view and treat their donor base as a “mass of revenue to be acquired”.  (That’s a fun meeting to take: “Hello, revenue generator.  What transaction might we offer you to most quickly and efficiently get you to cough up more bucks?”)  Just as “culture of philanthropy” means as many things as the number of people you ask, “donor centric” is in danger of being a term in search of a definition.

This survey by CompassPoint is excellent – it really is.  But I think it misses one critical point:  being donor-centric and focusing on building a sophisticated, investment-minded, collaborative approach to philanthropy doesn’t solve the underlying crisis:  lack of shared bold vision.

  • A culture of philanthropy exists not when everyone can recite the case for support, but when everyone embraces the vision for what this organization is doing in the world.
  • A culture of philanthropy that encourages fundraisers to stay happens not when everyone is involved in relationship-building (though that’s really nice too!) but when everyone building relationships is guided by a desire to find others are are inspired by the ability to transform the world.
  • A true culture of philanthropy exists when everyone attached to the organization shares in boldly – but not rashly – staking a claim about “Here is the problem; here’s the role we play in creating a solution; here’s what happens when we make a mistake; here are the outcomes we’re aiming at achieving in the world.”

We are passionate about moving the needle on this challenge – creating a practical, “lived” approach to creating a culture of philanthropy – and helping solve this fundraising leadership crisis.  Here’s resource from our “Most Requested Tools” to help you get started.

6 thoughts on “Glaring At Each Other Over the Divider: Fundraising Leadership in Crisis?

  1. As always – you at the OSBORNE GROUP help me THINK FEEL and DO better! This is so helpful and points out why i so adore one of my employees – she is constantly urging/forcing/encouraging/asking me to clarify to her what the potent vision is. When I am not able to do so, we dig in and work on it again. It is an iterative process to find, fine-tune, and focus on our bold vision.

  2. Jane – you are a joy, always, to work with! Thanks for your feedback. I wonder what results might have come if this survey had asked how many have that member, like your member of the team, pushing toward vision. Critical in what you do and we so appreciate the fact that you’re there, doing the hard work.

  3. The study is alarming in what it says about the health and strength of the non-profit community, and you very rightly point in the direction we all need to be moving. Thank you!

  4. Sally – You’re welcome; thanks for reading. We all care too much about this sector to think that we’re this precarious… but solvable.

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