What’s the Role of Fundraiser?

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Simone JoyauxAre you a fundraiser? How do you define your role? How does your boss define your role? What does the board think?

I’ve got a great job description for a chief development officer. Check it out on my website, www.simonejoyaux.com. Click on Resources and visit the Fund Development section of the Free Library. You’ll find the job description under General Information.

It’s a really good job description. I developed it from lots of resources and lots of years of work.

But let’s step back a minute.

What’s the true meaning of the role of a fundraiser?

Let me tell you a secret: I don’t care if the donor gives a gift to my organization or to another organization. It’s all philanthropy. And philanthropy is about the donor. Philanthropy is bigger than any single organization.

You know the old adage “a rising tide raises all boats.” I believe that. I believe that nonprofit charitable organizations are about community and the capacity of the community to respond to its challenges and opportunities. I believe that philanthropy is essential to help build healthy communities.

I believe that relationships are an end in themselves, not merely a strategy to secure gifts of time, advice, and money. I believe that your organization should honor philanthropy as much as your organization honors its specific mission. I expect your staff and your volunteers to respect philanthropy to other organizations, too. I expect your staff and volunteers to honor donors and their interests first and foremost, not your own mission.

But that’s not what I see. What I see is an intense and exclusionary focus on one’s own mission and financial need. I see a forceful and panicked need to convince donors to give to advance one’s own cause.

Here’s a wild suggestion. How about this threefold role for a fundraiser:

Role #1: Nurture philanthropy as a community-building process. (By the way, have you ever read John Gardner’s wonderful monograph called Building Community, published years ago by the Independent Sector? I treasure that monograph. See www.independentsector.org.) The fundraiser—and his / her nonprofit—work to increase social capital and promote civic engagement.

Role #2: Nurture relationships to foster philanthropy and strengthen community. Here, the fundraiser helps the community build relationships. And the fundraiser helps his organization participate in community development, writ large.

Role #3: Now the fundraiser turns her attention to her own organization. In this role, she increases and diversifies philanthropy for her organization’s mission. She ensures a donor-centered operation to assure donor loyalty. She acts as an organizational development specialist, not just a fundraising technician. (See the monograph on my website, Choosing Your Road . . . Organizational Development Specialist or Just Another Fundraising Technician.)

I don’t think that the third role happens well without the first two roles. I think that too much focus on the last role harms the first two roles. And that harm is harmful for all organizations and all communities.

Philanthropy and fund development are not about getting your organization’s share. Philanthropy and fund development are about finding those who might be interested in you and then nurturing relationships and loyalty. And loyalty is not just for money.

So that’s my rant for today. I do a fair amount of ranting. Stay tuned! And visit my blog on my homepage…professional tips, pet peeves, and personal rants at www.simonejoyaux.com.

  • Michael Edwards

    excellent piece, tks Simone.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Thank you, Michael. I’m pleased you found the column useful.

  • Morgan

    Thank you for this informative and pleasant rant Simone! I will certainly read more on your blog.

    Do you have any articles or advice for starting our in fundraising or working with Americorps? (I joined Americorps Vista right out of college as a Fund raising Coordinator for a small non-profit.)

    I look forward to reading more on your blog and again thank you for a great article.

  • Greg Field

    Nice piece Simone– Thanks for the good thoughts and thanks to NPQ for getting it into my inbox. I passed it along to my colleagues in Developmt/Fundraising.
    One quibble– I went to your site to look at the job description. It was awfully long– sets out more work than one person can possibly do! And, from my perspective, a job description that is as long as your model is simply not a very practical road map or guide for the work.
    Just my 2C worth.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Hello there Morgan and Greg. What fun…responses and comments. So here are my thoughts in return.

    Morgan, take a look at the various free PDFs on my website, in the fund development section. There’s lots about the key components of fund development, what it takes to make fund development effective. Read the PDF about creating a fund development plan, too. A good fund development is, in many ways, a description of your fund development program. Also, attend workshops through your local AFP chapter.

    Hi Greg. I’m looking at the job description right now – but there isn’t anything I’d eliminate. Indeed, it’s long. And, if one were to write down the full scope of any job, the length would be longer than this job description. That’s why there are books about the work.
    I do appreciate your concern about length. You could merge some items. Or take one of the numbered items and then add a bit of text that says “including but not limited to such items as…..”
    Note that the job description does not say that one individual does all this. The job description says that the chief development officer is responsible for assuring / ensuring that this work gets done. At a university, the CDO may have a dozen or more people actually carrying out this work, but the CDO is still responsible for making sure it’s all done.
    I don’t think a job description is a road map or guide for the work. I think the body of knowledge that you hire for is the road map / guide for the work. I think the job description is a document that describes the scope of accountability. And I believe that a CDO is accountable for all this.

    Thanks, Greg and Morgan, for writing in.

  • Mazarine

    I do believe the reason that nonprofit employees are so focused on the mission and getting money is because [b]that is what will get them hired or fired.[/b] Soft goals, such as “building relationships” are nice in themselves, but a hardnosed MBA CEO isn’t going to accept that you “built a lot of relationships” this year instead of raising that million he wanted. [b]The trouble isn’t with fundraisers per se, it’s with leadership and unreasonable expectations.[/b]

    Don’t get me wrong, I love what you wrote about creating relationships, and i think that you’re right, that that is far more important than just being focused on the short term grab for donor cash. You don’t get far in this field without being warm, caring, and able to build relationships with people.

    I do believe that if you can get every single person in your organization to be a fundraiser, to create and build those relationships with donors, and solicit them, then there will be an organizational [b]shift towards a new model of interaction and responsibility for getting money on everyone[/b], [u]not just the CFO[/u].