I’m writing this on Labor Day. Maybe that’s fitting.
I woke this morning to an email with a job posting. I keep reading these announcements out of curiosity. I like to see how different organizations see fundraising.
This announcement was instructive – though not unusual.
The organization’s goals for this position:
- Funding from new sources – especially grants. And the expansion of individual giving.
- Building a departmental infrastructure for fundraising.
- Improving marketing and communications to support fundraising.
Included in the list of responsibilities (17 items in all):
- Oversee all resource development and fundraising.
- Oversee all communications work – including all publications.
- Manage the budget.
- Write and develop high-quality grant proposals and other solicitation materials.
- Identify, cultivate and oversee grant development.
- Development close relationships with the philanthropic community.
- Develop and maintain an information system.
- Maintain government contacts.
- Strategy and production for all fundraising and communications materials.
This is supposed to be one person!
That’s a tremendous amount of responsibility.
Worse, authority seems questionable since the position doesn’t report directly to the CEO. There’s no mention of other fundraising staff.
And of course, no salary range is offered.
That’s setting someone up to fail.
A look at the organization’s 990 shows their income is almost entirely government grants. They raise a small amount from other sources.
My guess is the uncertainty of government funding is pushing them to diversify. That’s good. I encourage it!
But this posting is aspirational thinking. “If we just hire a Development Director, we’ll raise lots of money!”
Here’s the problem: one person managing 5 million in government grants is a full job itself. (And not an easy one!)
Developing a major gifts program or an individual giving/direct response program, ditto.
The same for communications, P.R., and social media…
This kind of wishful thinking helps no one.
Because of it, some fundraising professional is being set up to fail. What was the process the organization used to prepare this posting? Did they consult with any fundraising experts?
Many experienced professionals will pass this by once they’ve looked carefully at it.
But other may not. Maybe we’ve all felt pushed to bite in the past. Because of our current situation. Because we felt sure we could help. Because we felt we could change the culture once we arrived.
But it’s a hard lesson when it fails.
It saps your confidence. It can hurt relationships and reputations in the community. It may even sour you on the entire sector.
And the organization will have spent time bringing a new development officer in. Introducing her to board members and donors, to community contacts and others.
And then they’ll lose this new person to outsize expectations. And go through the whole cycle again.
Does anyone wonder why turnover is such a problem in our sector?
Organization leaders: plan first, then hire.
Ask yourselves: Is our board committed to fundraising (not just as an idea, but as a board activity)?
Will we support this new person with adequate salary, authority, budget, and staff?
Do we have realistic expectations for developing a fundraising department?
Do we have realistic expectations for the time it will take and the funding it requires?
Development professionals: look carefully before you leap.
Ask yourself: Is this an organization with a culture of fundraising?
Will I be able to grow something wonderful?
Or will I be blamed when unrealistic expectations don’t bear fruit?
What’s the expectation for my time?
Have they outlined priorities?
We do this work because we care about the needs in our world.
Fundraising is mission.
But we can’t feed ourselves on mission. We can’t live full lives on mission alone. We have other obligations – families, communities, friends – that matter to us as well.
If you’re adding a fundraising professional to your staff – and you should, if you’re serious about fundraising – plan first. Don’t waste your organization’s time or a well-meaning fundraising pro’s, either. This should be a long-term change in your organization’s culture, not a quick solution to all your problems.
If you want to succeed, you need to give your new person all the tools she needs to succeed. You need to be sure your organization is ready to become fundraisers. The entire organization, not just your development officer.
It’s not fair to expect miracles.
It’s not fair to you, to your new hire, to your other staff, to your board.
It’s not fair to your donors.
And it’s not fair to the people you serve.