What’s the Role of Fundraiser?

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.