I don’t know about you but I am getting weary of defending our profession against claims of transience, ephemerality, lack of loyalty, ability to deliver, and being in it only ‘for the money’. Like it or not, deserved or not, professional fundraisers have a reputation of moving on when the going gets tough or when another job at higher pay is dangled in front of us. Good grief, 16–18 months is the average in a position! What’s with that?
My personal observation tells me that this is the case in far more instances than I would like to see – fundraisers doing exactly that – ‘I’ve got six months of experience and that now qualifies me for a job at $5,000 more per year’ – ‘the board is not engaged so I can’t do my job’ – ‘this cause is just too difficult to raise money for’ – ‘I don’t have any support’.
But I also believe that there is more than a little balancing that needs to be done to put this issue in perspective and that the ‘blame’ for this trend is shared.
Are organizations hiring well?
I question whether many nonprofits hire well. They may not understand fundraising in the first place so have unreasonable expectations (silo anyone?) and are not likely to ask the right questions about past performance. For example, if an applicant indicates that they have raised $5 million in his or her past job, I would want to know how? Who else was involved in the process? What was the role of the volunteers? The board? The Executive Director? How did the fundraiser actually coordinate all of those roles? Nonprofit leaders need to invest time in understanding fundraising so they can ask the right questions and get real answers. They need to know how fundraising works; that it does not happen in a silo and they need to embrace that it is a core strategic function of the organization.
Focus on culture
We have to admit that while there are great nonprofit employers there are also lots of organizations that are not and do not focus on culture, staff development and retention, or quality of the work environment. And this is only exacerbated by the endemic problem of a new CEO, ED or VP Fund Development coming into an organization and ‘cleaning house’. I despair that there is gross ignorance of the impact this has on setting an organization back rather than moving it forward.
Do your homework
I’m not so sure that fundraisers are doing a good job of properly exploring an organization before they sign on the dotted line. If we were, then why are there so many instances of ‘if I’d only I had known that going in’? Do your homework – and that involves more than just looking at their website. Here is a great example: You ask about the role of the board in fundraising activities and the response is ‘Oh yes, the board is very involved.’ Well, it is easy to explore that if there is a board member in on the interview but if there isn’t, and you expect to be working closely with board volunteers, why isn’t one of them on the search team? You are perfectly within your rights to ask that question and to ask to meet with several board members prior to accepting an offer. Yet, I have never seen that happen!
Lastly, sometimes it is just the reality of the profession and the sector that in order to move up you must move on. If you are not working in a large development office (and most are not) then opportunities for advancement up the management ladder or even getting experience that will round out your skill sets often necessitates moving to a different organization. However, in the excitement of getting a new job with more responsibility and pay are we considering the implications of our career decision? Frequent job hopping is like a red flag before a bull when looking to fill fundraising positions.
Organizational Professional Impact
The unfortunate outcome of this is that it paints all of us with the same brush and that is an issue we should all be concerned about. Why? Because constantly recruiting and hiring new fundraisers has real and negative impact on an organization’s ability to build long term results and the relationships that underpin that success. If we want our sector leadership to understand that it takes time to identify, cultivate and secure a donor, and that it can take 8, 12 or even 24 months, that building that relationship is the key to success, then how do we explain why we move around so much? Aren’t we undermining our own profession by doing this? Where is our stickiness? Are we speaking out of both sides of our mouths? Granted, unrealistic expectations and magical thinking are all too often real problems in organizations with fundraising needs. But what skills and expertise are we learning if we run from the first sign of challenge?
As my friend Sharilyn Hale quotes ‘any job can become a vocation, and any vocation can become a job’. Her recent blog post, Fundraising & the Value of Vocation is well worth a read.
Perhaps we should be practicing and communicating this more often through both word and deed.