Have you ever heard a fundraiser say:
“Oh, the Board is a real problem, they just don’t understand fundraising”
Have you ever heard a board member say:
“Oh, our fundraisers are a problem, the results they are achieving are not good enough”
Perhaps you have said it?
As a fundraiser for 6 years and then as a fundraising consultant for more than 10 years, I have heard these statements many times. In almost all cases, the hard truth is that BOTH board and fundraiser are at fault. It has been my common experience that there is plenty of blame to go around.
These statements are obviously an expression of frustration. They are often expressed when results are not hitting the target. Sometimes, a Board is pushing for results in an unreasonable way. Sometimes, a fundraiser has made a request for more support or investment for fundraising.
The good news is that there are things you can do to fix this frustration.
What research reveals
The 2013 Under Developed: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising report lifts the lid on a range of important matters linked to the blame that follows poor performance.
“Many non-profit organizations lack basic fundraising systems and plans. More than one in five non-profits (23%)—and 31% of organizations with operating budgets of under $1 million—have no fundraising plan in place. By contrast, just 7% of the high performers are without a plan. In addition, 21% of organizations overall—and 32% of organizations with operating budgets of under $1 million— have no fundraising database. Just 12% of the high performers have no database. Across the rest of the sample, only 9% of respondents strongly agreed that their organizations had sufficient capacity to carry out their fund development activities. The comparable figure among high performers was 28%.”
Significant deficiencies in fundraising plans, database infrastructure, and capacity investment are obviously going to produce poor conditions for success. Given these findings, it is not surprising that more than 50% of non-profits are going to experience considerable frustration and conflict about results.
The 2013 study Who’s asking for what? Fundraising and leadership in Australian non-profits by the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non-profit Studies (ACPNS) at QUT also lays this issue wide open in its various forms. The key findings showed the disparity between the views of organisational leadership and fundraisers was larger on issues such as:
- The extent to which fundraising is a profession
- How well boards understand fundraising
- The need for fundraising experience on a board
- The influence a board has on staff turnover
- Donor satisfaction with organisational performance
- Resourcing of fundraising
Again, given these findings, we can hardly be surprised that frustration rises and rises, fingers of blame are pointed and things degenerate from there.
The issue of high churn in fundraising
In many of these situations, the fundraiser might eventually leave in frustration or be fired. Then, the organisation hires a new one hoping that things will work out differently, only to find history repeating itself and another conflict about fundraising practice and performance.
In the midst of this revolving carousel, both talented and terrible fundraisers swirl around from one job to the next. At the same time, talented and terrible CEOs and board members also move around but move much less than the fundraisers.
I personally know some fundraisers who have worked in a steady succession of full-time roles in 8 or 9 different organisations in a 20-year career. Their LinkedIn profiles almost read like a most ‘rap sheet’.
On any reasonable assessment, that kind of churn cannot be regarded as healthy for fundraisers, the organisations they work for and the boards and CEOs they work with.
What are fundraisers or board members guilty of?
I have also observed that some fundraisers and some board members don’t do themselves any favours in avoiding unnecessary conflict.
There are fundraisers who make extraordinary claims about what they have achieved, often selling themselves as the sole achiever of astronomical results and denying the team they have likely worked with.
Then there are the board members who once ran a sausage sizzle or trivia night and now consider themselves a fundraising guru.
Both attitudes are toxic for success.
Both board members and fundraisers can be guilty of shortcomings that contribute to gulf such as:
- not developing or working to a realistic plan,
- making insufficient investment in training,
- making insufficient investment in data collection and management,
- poor donor engagement,
- adopting quick fix solutions over more sustainable approaches,
- placing an undue premium on results without due respect for the effort required to achieve those results,
- setting unrealistic expectations,
- picking the wrong people to listen to,
- assuming what donors know (instead of just talking more with them),
- thinking that marketing effort directly correlates to fundraising results,
- being unduly sceptical about embracing certain types of fundraising activities (such as bequests).
What can be done to fix the problem?
Change for the better will never happen unless everyone involved can take a proper step back from their viewpoint and find a more objective way to firstly acknowledge the problem.
If that were to happen then the obvious next step is to have all involved take the time to discuss:
- the breadth and depth of their particular issues,
- what they think the problem is,
- what some solutions might be.
All easier said than done.
My long experience in seeing many of these situations is that most problems come from misunderstandings and narrow fields of experience or learning.
The act of just taking the step to make an honest and sobering admission about the problem can be the big step that changes everything.
Once the proper nature of the problem can be agreed, a disciplined focus on getting the fundamentals right is the only way start on changes that have the best chance of becoming permanent improvements.
That may require some frank admissions and some new knowledge and professional advice. But no matter what, it will also require that all involved stop the blame game and find a more constructive way to move on.
One final swing! Too often have I heard the cliché “What we need to do is find something outside the box” as the magic panacea to fix the problem. I suggest the road to success lies not outside the box at all. Instead, you are probably far better off just making sure that the box works properly.
AskRIGHT provides professional advice to board members and fundraisers to involve your organisation’s board in fundraising.
Register now for a 30-minute free consultation with one of our fundraising consultants or join our webinar Helping Your Board Become Great at Fundraising.
To find out how Jeff can help your organisation, contact j.buchanan@AskRIGHT.com.
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