Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE is recognized internationally as an expert in fund development, board and organizational development, strategic planning, and management. She is the founder and director of Joyaux Associates. Visit her website here.


Today, I’m reprinting one of Tom Ahern’s newsletters for this column. Tom is one of North America’s leading experts in donor communications. I really liked this issue so I thought I’d share it with you. Here goes:

Sallie D. wrote to say she might be leaving her job with a Catholic charity and going with a secular charity instead.


Well, she and I are old friends, so she alluded unblushingly to what she suspected was the real reason: “Because I don’t pee like Jesus.” I.e., I’m not a man. I.e., Catholics lean a little patriarchal. I.e., I’ll never be the boss here; it will always be some guy.

Hardly a stunning revelation. And it’s not just Catholics. The whole fundraising profession has a serious problem, I believe.
I look out at my workshop audiences. They are 80-90% female.

And I bet 75% of them report to a male. Who often second-guesses everything. Leading, in the poor fundraiser, to a crash of confidence, morbid self-doubt, and feelings of worthlessness. Talk about your toxic workplace.

What’s the #1 complaint I hear at workshops? Just this: “I’m sure you’re right. But my boss won’t let me.”

The latest incident was just a few weeks ago, in Australia. My workshop ended. A female director of development approached. She said, “My headmaster won’t sign any letter I write that includes a P.S. He believes they’re undignified.”

Reaction #1: Well, I guess he doesn’t know about the eye motion studies which reveal that the P.S. is some of the most valuable real estate in a direct mail appeal and unusually good at boosting response rates, when used well.

Reaction #2: Jerk.

I used to commiserate with fundraisers who’d experienced this form of workplace discrimination. I would say, “It’s so sad.”

But after hearing the same complaint dozens of times, I have to ask, “Why does your boss think you’re incompetent?”

Because that’s what behind the second-guessing, after all. Your boss is telling you loud and clear that he does not trust your judgment and expertise.

And you, Ms. Fundraiser, need to call him on this patronizing attitude. Or start tuning up your resume.

The following is best practice, from a personnel point of view:

The head of fundraising (the director of development, or advancement, or whatever you choose to call the position) should have sole and final approval on every donor communication, whether it’s an appeal, a newsletter, the donor portion of the website, the annual report to donors, emailed solicitations, fundraising event invitations … etc.

After all, the fundraising position is judged by results.

No one — no executive director, no board chair, no committee member — should be allowed to second-guess the chief fundraiser’s opinion.
It’s her responsibility. It’s her job. It’s her neck.

Any other approach is self-indulgent crap.

Have I made myself absolutely clear?Here’s more; this from an article entitled “High-tech Addition Is Taking a Toll on the Brain,” published in the 06-08-10 International Herald Tribune. Scientists report the addictive behavior of people who simply cannot unplug. Apparently multitasking is a bit like our primitive fight or flight response: We respond to immediate threats and opportunities – and it gives us a rush. But research shows that multitasking does not make people more productive. In fact, “heavy multitaskers have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information…. [E]ven after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist.”

Apparently we’re rewiring our brains with all this technology. And the rewiring isn’t for the good. Just more distraction and less attention.

In Distracted, Jackson asks, “Do we yearn for such voracious virtual connectivity that others become optional and conversation fades into a lost art? For efficiency’s sake, do we split focus so finely that we thrust ourselves in a culture of lost threads? Untethered, have we detached from not only the soil but the sensual richness of our physical selves? Smitten with the virtual, split-split, and nomadic, we are corroding the three pillars of our attention: focus (orienting), judgment (executive function), and awareness (alerting). The costs are steep: we begin to lose trust, depth and connection in our relations and our thought. Without a flourishing array of attentional skills, our world flattens and thins. And most alarmingly, we begin to lose our ability to collectively face the challenges of our time. Can a society without deep focus preserve and learn from its past? Does a culture of distraction evolve to meet the needs of its future?”

In this attention-deficit world, what happens? Surface knowledge rather than depth. Limited thinking rather than depth of thought. Learning but not really. Social media as a means but also a substitute for genuine relationships and honest relationship building. Superficial conversations and shallow experiences. Erosion of trust. Narrowing connections.

What will we do in philanthropy and fund development? How can we gain the attention of our donors and prospects? How can they gain ours? How will we nurture relationships? How can we create extraordinary experiences?

How can we reduce the distraction in our own lives? How can we offer less distraction and more meaning to our diverse constituents? How do our organization, our employees, and our board get distracted and how can we re-focus?

Read Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. This is the book that worries me the most. I think we need to talk about this. Are you ready?