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.