Bad Executives and Lost-in-Space Boards: More on What Stops You from Raising Money

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Make sure you’ve read my previous column, Part 1, introducing “UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising.” This study, released in January 2013 by CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, provides useful information to fundraisers, bosses, and boards. (Also check out the articles in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, January 13, 2013, and in the Nonprofit Quarterly, January 19.)

In my column last week, I talked about why fundraisers leave their jobs. In this column, I focus on body of knowledge, and those bad chief executive officers and those lost in space boards and board members.

Here are my various and sundry thoughts about fundraisers who don’t know the body of knowledge.

I’m always surprised and disappointed when I mention key names in the fundraising world—authors and experts and researchers—and fundraisers don’t know whom I am talking about. I’m disappointed that so many consultants and fundraisers aren’t reading research. The bottom line: I’m worried that professionals in fundraising aren’t continuing their professional development.

I think fund development is a difficult field. You have to know the body of knowledge about fundraising. You have to know the body of knowledge in management and governance and communications. And you have to know “why,” not just “how.” You have to know strategy and tactics.

Hiring the right development officer.

Read about executive director dissatisfaction on pages 8 and 9 in “UnderDeveloped.” Yes, development officers should be able to conduct prospect research, solicit gifts, enable volunteers to successfully participate, etc. Executive directors should use the CFRE International role delineation (described in the Test Content Outline), to verify what fundraisers need to know. So don’t hire an inexperienced development officer. Or, if you cannot afford a knowledgeable and experienced fundraiser, consider developing someone from within.

I have successfully helped development officers acquire the skills and expertise to perform better within their institutions. I have helped organizations find a high-performing current staff person who wants to become a development officer. Then, through a consultancy and private coaching, that reliable employee becomes a good development officer.

By the way, did you know that professions dominated by women are typically paid less than jobs held by men? Too often, professions dominated by women are disrespected. I’m curious: How many female development officers are fighting male CEOs and boards often dominated by men? So maybe there is a bit of sexism playing out.

I wonder: do bosses and boards listen better to male development officers? Hmmm…


Various and sundry thoughts about bad bosses and boards and board members.

Board members think that just because they know their own business, they know the fundraising business, too. But effective volunteer fundraisers are, most usually, effectively enabled by competent fundraisers.

Fundraisers get real tired of fighting about fundraising with their bosses and boards and staff colleagues. So many fundraisers (and consultants, by the way!) are tired of disrespect. So many fundraisers are tired of learning the body of knowledge, developing the expertise, and gaining the experience…only to be denigrated by bosses and boards that think their opinions trump expertise.

Bosses and board members don’t do what the fundraiser tells them to do. Instead, bosses and boards confuse their personal opinion (which is useless unless that personal opinion is based on the fundraising body of knowledge) with expertise. And board service does not mean knowledge or expertise!

Too often, executive directors deny their fundraisers access to board members. And sometimes the development director isn’t allowed to attend board meetings.

(If this non-contact and participation is because the executive director doesn’t trust the fundraiser…I understand. But then get rid of the fundraiser! Get someone you trust.)

About your board members…every single one of them should be required to help identify those who might be interested in your cause, help nurture relationships, help carry out specific fundraising tasks. I’ve written a lot about this in my NPQ web column and in my years of blogging.

If you want successful fundraising, then you have to recruit board members who will adhere to such performance expectations. You have to screen candidates and secure their commitment to performance expectations prior to nominating them. The governance recruitment and training program has to be pretty darn good. The organization has to enforce consequences for non-performance, e.g., fire lousy board members. (See my article in the print edition of Nonprofit Quarterly. And I’m writing a manual about how to do this.)

If all this isn’t in place, you cannot expect your fundraising program (or your development officer) to be successful.

Here’s another one of my pet peeves: how you prepare your budget and how you define your charitable contributions goal. How many of your organizations set the charitable contribution goal based on how much money you need to do your great work? And then hand the goal (e.g., the gap!) to the fundraising department? Wrong! Setting the charitable contributions goal doesn’t depend on how much you want. See my NPQ columns and blogs about this topic. Don’t create unreasonable expectations for your fundraiser.

Read “UnderDeveloped” to learn about executive director skills and interest in fund development. Hey, I get it that you might not have much experience in fundraising and you have so much else to do (all that agency management stuff) and you don’t much like fundraising anyway. Too bad! Tough luck. The competent development officer will guide and train you and direct you to participate in fundraising activities. Yes, your development officer will be your boss when it comes to fundraising.

When I read page 16 of “UnderDeveloped,” I got so angry that I wrote “criminal and stupid!” in the margin. I’m talking about you, Mr. Executive Director. You don’t let your development director influence key organizational activities. And you set goals in the wrong way.


A few final thoughts

See page 22 of “UnderDeveloped” for a very nice diagram of the vicious cycle. Good summary of the conditions for success. And pages 23 to 27 list 10 calls to action to “spark conversation and provoke action.” Compare these 10 calls to action with the calls to action in Sargeant and Shang’s report, “Growing Philanthropy in the U.S.

We can do this—all of us organizations and executive directors and fundraisers. We can do this. More importantly, we have to do this. Otherwise, there won’t be sufficient loyal donors who give gifts. If we don’t do this, the nonprofit sector will flounder. If we don’t do this, organizations will die.

Come on. Let’s get it together. We can make a change.


  • beesparks

    I just want to thank you for these insights and the guide to making sense of “Underdeveloped.” As a young professional just a few years into my fundraising career, this is invaluable information, and has quite honestly boosted my confidence in my professional abilities, and helped me make sense of past job experiences where it just didn’t work. I passed this information along to my current ED, who hired me several months ago to build a fund development/marketing/community relations department for the company, for the first time in the company’s history. I hoped this information would be an inspiring to him as it was to me. He was angry with me for bringing this “cop-out” to him, I was reprimanded and told that I was being “insubordinate, and volatile.”

    I guess it will take some enlightened ED/Dev Director teams to really make this change happen.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Oh good heavens, Beesparks. I am angry on your behalf. I am disappointed at his claim that you are trying to deny your own responsibility. Just because good fundraisers share the UnderDeveloped Report with their bosses and boards does NOT mean that fundraisers are denying their role in helping everyone understand fund development. Of course, fundraisers have a role in responding to the UnderDeveloped Report. Of course, fundraisers must learn the body of knowledge and too many don’t know it. But this is a team sport.

    So my advice to you is start looking for another job. If you don’t raise the amount of money this boss says you must raise — then he will penalize you. If you explain that the economy affects dollars raised, he might blame you. If you explain that absent board member help, not as many dollars will be raised, he could punish you. If you explain that loyalty — spending time and money on building loyalty — is essential, he might punish you.

    I suggest you continue to try showing your boss what the best experts say. I suggest you continue sharing research from the top experts. And keep learning yourself. And working hard. And look for another job. You deserve better.

    Subscribe to my e-news. Subscribe to my weekly blogs. I regularly recommend books and research and give you tips. I recommend other bloggers and authors. Unless your boss is one of the world’s leading experts and writes books and articles and presents worldwide about fundraising — then those of us who do know more than your boss. And if your boss isn’t smart enough to learn from the best – and learn from you who are trying to share the best – then you deserve better. Find another job.

    Good luck.

  • S. Smith

    I generally agree with the writer but got to the last few sentences and lost respect for her writing as soon as I saw the typical, INCORRECT, usage of the word flounder. Flounder is a flat fish, while “founder” means to be caught – usually upon the rocks – disabled and going nowhere and/or sinking. I assume she meant founder.

  • Bonnie Osinski

    Thanks again for yet another insightful post, Simone!
    I too want to make sure we keep up the dialogue so that Underdeveloped does not fade away. Beesparks’ hair raising, but not surprising, experience tells us that there are those in the nonprofit world who will not listen to what they don’t want to hear.
    While the report sheds light on the problems fundraisers face in dealing with ED’s and board members, program staff often create serious problems – especially if they are supported by an organizational culture of disrespect for development professionals. I was DOD of a nonprofit at which program staff felt they should not be bothered by development staff, especially those working on proposal development. ( I don’t think there is any such thing as a “grant writer” but I lost that fight years ago.) We found it very difficult to get meetings or information from them, but they did not hesitate to complain when the proposals did not accurately describe their programs. The grants manager who stayed with us the longest lasted one year. And I’m not there either.
    Closely related is the expectation that the person responsible for developing proposals, and sometimes even the DOD, be an expert in the disciplines that underlie the organization’s mission. I have seen nonprofits miss out on hiring excellent development staff because of this mind set, which places less value on fund raising expertise. I recently spoke to a potential client who wanted help because she was having trouble keeping development directors on staff. They had just fired a director of development because, after three months, he was not producing proposals that met the standards of the program staff. In my attempts to learn more about the situation, I tried to be as gentle and diplomatic as possible. However I don’t think she liked what she heard and I doubt that I will hear from her again.
    Keep up the good work!
    Bonnie Osinski