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Boss clueless about fundraising? Here's what to do

1 March 2017

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 March 1, 2017
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Read part ONE of this interview here!

So if you’re feeling a little bit of that burn, what can you do if your boss doesn’t have a lot of fundraising experience? You talked a little bit about concepts of money. But what else?

KP: Another thing you can do when your boss doesn’t really know a lot about fundraising is to help them learn. There are so many resources both free, low cost, and then some are a bit more intense, to really help them to understand what they need to do. Make it easy for them. So as a fundraising professional, do you have a clearly articulated but simple fundraising plan?

Is there a clear place for your CEO or ED to plug in, or your manager depending on where you are, at what level in the organization? Does everybody have a role? Or is it just sort of murky?

So have you set up your operational processes, the ways in which you move the paper and the people and the things to make it easier for your boss to start to understand what you do and also to help them to get more fundraising experience? So if you are cultivating new donors, does your boss understand where in that cultivation cycle they belong? Do they know it upfront?

Have you armed them with enough information about a prospect or a donor so they feel comfortable being able to go in and shake that hand and tell the story? Have you been able to bring them up to speed or enroll them in what actually is resonating with your donor family, and can you continue to keep them abreast of that once things are changing?

Can you make sure that you’re carving out time and insisting on carving out time to meet with your manager so that you’re able to kind of continually kind of drive that home in a really good way? Both by telling the stories, coming to them with big nugget challenges that you want them to sort of dig in with you and be a thought partner on so that they can sort of ruminate with you on how to be able to solve problems around things that might be happening where fundraising is the symptom but is not necessarily the actual problem. So they can put their ED hats on.

So are you taking the time to create opportunities for them to plug in? And in order for you to be able to do that, have you made it so that your job is clearly thought out? Before folks jump down my throat, because I know folks are like, Kishshana, I don’t have time for that. Because I am running. I am running. No, you’re not running. You are running yourself ragged.

One of the things I learned being in the trenches, folks, is you can either plan your time or you can let your time plan you. Are you creating space and opportunity and have you taken the time to really set yourself up so that you have the plans that make sense? You have sort of the tactical implementation. You have who is an owner, a manager. Who is the collaborator? How different folks sort of plug in. Then, having that, are you able to use those tools to be able to help guide your manager who may not have a lot of fundraising experience or understand what you do, to a place and space where they will.

Come with me to this AFP meeting, for example. There’s going to be lots of EDs I want you to meet there. Creating opportunities for them to be in commune with their peers so that they can start to feel more comfortable in that part of their job, because it’s not their only job.

Fundraising Career Conference 2016


MT: I love that. That actually answers my next question, which was how do you get your boss to start to understand what to do and what you do? It’s like you can actually show them, for example, the pie chart. I was thinking of this as you were talking, Kishshana, from Fired Up Fundraising for example, where Gail Perry has this chart and it just shows. Here’s the donor cultivation cycle.

A great, huge slice of that pie is talking to them, making them feel good about supporting you, following up with them. Then a teeny, tiny little slice of it is the ask, which everyone is so afraid of. Then the rest of it is like following up and thanking them again. Appreciating them, asking them if they know anybody else who wants to support you? So that’s something I think our bosses don’t realize, that they have to be pressing the flesh in a directed way in a concerted effort kind of way. Not a random way.

So I love that you emphasize our responsibility to educate them. I think people should really listen to you because you’ve had some very fancy titles. VP of External Affairs and Development, and other titles like that. That’s for a national organization. People need to know, hey, there’s a reason why you got to that place and that point is because you did smart things like this. Right?

KP: Absolutely, and I took risks, okay? So I will not pretend that it was all roses, folks. I have fallen on my sword a couple of times. So part of the challenge in carrying the weight in being a frontline fundraiser, particularly if you also manage a team, is that you are both responsible for your own goals as an individual contributor. But you’re responsible for educating your team, making sure they get to their goals, for managing up. Particularly at the VP and Chief Development Officer level, you’re managing your CEO.

You’re interfacing with the board on a regular and frequent basis. So if you’re a mid level manager, you may say, Kishshana, look. I’m a manager of events or I’m a development manager. What are you talking about? You’re going to get there. In order to get there, you have to be able to continually have your eye on the bigger picture and really understand that often times, doing the right thing – and right, to some folks, might feel relative. But sticking to best practices. Understanding what works. Staying current in what is happening in the philanthropic space, in the social goods sector. Being able to try new things.

Understanding that some things will fail. So you’ve got to fail fast, and that sometimes it’s not going to work out. Are the very things that allowed me to move up pretty quickly within my field and get to both positions of leadership. It wasn’t just being a darn good fundraiser, because to your point, and Gail does lay it out in her charts. Asking is the easy part to me. All that stuff in the beginning is the stuff that I used to hate, and that was the hard stuff. Doing the proper research. Having the conversation. Getting the folks to the meeting. Getting them back.

Really making sure we understand how to help folks build excitement, deepen their engagement expand their involvement to get them to a place where they want to do something transformational. So really being able to master those things early for me, then allowed me the space to be able to practice all the time.

To this day, whether I am coaching a team of fundraisers or I’m going out to give a keynote or I am doing a webinar, or I serve on some boards. Whether I’m asking myself. I still practice. I still get in front of that mirror. I practice with my 11 year old. These preteens are very harsh. They’re a hard audience, okay, guys? She is a tough cookie, and for her entire life, the only role she’s ever known me to have is mommy the fundraiser and mommy the entrepreneur. So she’s a tough crowd.

So if I can pass muster and get a smile and get a yes out of an 11 year old, let me tell you what. You can fundraise. I still practice. So my ability to be able to continue to be self aware, I think, was really helpful in me really moving up. My ability to really understand my weaknesses but really press hard on my strengths allowed me to know sort of where I’m going to fit in. Because I didn’t fit in every organization, and where I’m really going to thrive.

I knew really, really early on that I was not a specialist. So I am not a major gift guru, although I have raised lots of money through major gifts. But I have also raised lots of money through other things, through special events and through annual funds and through planned giving. So I have learned very early on that what really got my juices flowing was being in all of it. I’m just nosy. I want to be in everything. So I really got good at that and I think that really allowed me to be able to take some risks that put me in better position to move up in my career

MT: People have learned so much from you. You are the consistently highest rated presenter we have ever had at the Fundraising Career Conference. Also, you know, you continue constantly to expand your skills and commit to professionalism. That’s one of the things that I love about you. So I’m so happy to hear that you still practice to this day, whether or not you have a full time fundraising job or not.

I wish more people, and I’m thinking of myself here, were committed to that. So you’ve talked about strengths a little bit, and just for people who don’t know, who didn’t come last year or the year before and don’t know what that is. Marcus Buckingham and the Gallup poll people had a 20 year span where they interviewed like four million people.

They came up with all of these 20 something strengths, I would say, that people can have. So for example, you can take the test online. My strengths are positivity, strategic, individualization, which means I treat everybody as an individual, which is a good strength for a manager. You don’t like generalize. Then positivity. That was good for a fundraiser to have. I think you have that too. I think ideation was another one. You have five of them, basically. So if you want to go online and take that, you should take it.

So in the Strengths Finder, we are encouraged to embrace our strengths and honor other people’s strengths. My question to you is, you know what your strengths are. How can a boss learn to honor our strengths in fundraising?

KP: Oh, you’re going to ask me all the tough questions, Maz. First of all, I just want to say, it may not be popular, but everybody is not meant to be a boss. There are lots of folks who are in a management role who just really needed to stay as an individual contributor. But often times, people are rewarded for results without thinking about the fact that do they actually have the skills to help other people get those results? So I’ll say that.

That being said, the philosophy of working from a place of managing your strengths and not your weaknesses is actually a philosophical place to start. I think that it takes knowing where your manager actually is and what they actually think about talent to know whether you are actually going to thrive underneath that particular individual. So I did not thrive under managers who did not believe that actually you should operate from a place where you are really pushing the envelope on your strengths every day and that they’re going to push you and stretch opportunities to really flex in those places.

I had more than one manager who really wanted me to just kind of really work on the things that I sucked at. I know I’m amazing. Humbly stated, of course. But I am not good at everything, okay? I can ruin a thing or two, and I had more than one manager who wanted me to just keep getting better at the things I would consistently ruin. So first I used to burn toast completely. Now the toast is just regular old burnt. It’s not all the way burnt. I’m not lighting up the house.

Part of understanding your manager style is I think part and parcel of a foundational piece of being able to manage up. So it doesn’t mean that you’re going to change who they are. But it does mean that you, as the team member, working underneath someone, should really understand what makes them tick if you can, because there are some people that are very hard to read. Then what you can do to protect your own authenticity and your own success within an organization.

For example, I’m not a micromanager but I worked for quite a few. Necessary for their role, I think, in some ways or forms. But I don’t thrive underneath that. But I know in order to be able to have any hope of being successful and really rocking out in the areas that I’m great at at work, micromanagers need lots of information all the time. So if I slack on providing information and an overabundance of it, all of a sudden I found myself in a swirl of types of conversations I didn’t want to have pulling me off my game of really delivering on my goals.

So part of understanding how to work with someone if they’re not really feeling the whole strength finder and that philosophy is understanding what they do feel and what they do understand. Everything is not for everybody. So do you have enough there in your role to be able to be successful despite how your manager may operate? Or are you only going to ever go as far as you are because that person is there? I mean, those are some of the things I think as professionals we have to ask ourselves.

It doesn’t mean jump ship early. It just means you’ve got to constantly be in conversation with yourself and then also trying to build as healthy as you can of a relationship with your manager.

MT: So what I’m hearing is that it’s important to know yourself to get ahead in your fundraising roles and check in with yourself as things are happening. Say, huh, how do I feel about this? What do I think about this? Is this part of my values? Is it not? Also, am I even good at this? Can I get better at this or should I not even try to get better at this?

So for example, one of the things in the strengths finder for example, is that I don’t have this, but it’s woo. Right? That’s one of the strengths you can have. What does woo mean? Woo means you’re good at meeting people, shaking their hand, getting them to like you and moving onto the next person. It doesn’t mean you’re building relationships, necessarily, but it’s good for a frontline fundraiser to have as they press the flesh and move around.

So knowing that about yourself allows you to go out to these meetings with your boss and just do it, knowing that. But if they want you to stay inside and write grants, that’s not taking advantage of that strength for you. Maybe you have a grant strength. Maybe you don’t. So how do you deal with that?

KP: That’s in conversation. So I would hope – and every organization doesn’t have this. I say this with a little hesitation. But I would hope that if you’re having check ins and regular conversations about how things are going, what your goals are, how those tasks are helping you meet your goal, etc. with your manager, you’re able to sort of bring these things up.

Hey, Kishshana, one of the things that I was really excited about was last month when we had that major donor come to the office and I got to greet them and talk with them for a few minutes about their gift. I was really excited and they were really into it. I know that I write grants and that’s my job and I kick butt in doing that, but I would love to be able to have more opportunities to be able to get out and do that because that energized me. I got back in the office and I think I wrote three grants that day.

So are there opportunities that we can think of together that I’ll be able to do that in the future? Because I just felt so energized in that small moment. It really helped me do the other parts of my job a lot better. So as opposed to saying, I am unhappy that I’m not able to do this, this, and this, and I need to do this. I want to do this. No. Frame it in a way that really helps you say, I appreciate where I am even if where I am isn’t where I want to be forever.

Here’s an opportunity I saw that kind of gave me a glimpse into something that could help stretch me. Can we think together on a way to help create more of those experiences? Then see how that conversation goes.

Kishshana Palmer 2017

MT: Oh, I love that. A lot of us were feeling overwhelmed on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s just easier, we feel, to complain about it rather than to actually be proactive and positive like what you’re saying, and say, hey, I like that. I wonder how I can do more of that. Maybe I should ask my boss how I can do more of that. Wow. So that’s kind of what you’ll be talking about, actually, at the conference, is about managing up. I know people – I’ve heard them say this phrase for years, like managing up.

If your boss doesn’t know how to fundraise, just manage up. So what can people do to start managing up? I know you’ll be teaching this in more depth at the Fundraising Career Conference in April. Are there some phrases they can use or things they should know? What do you think?

KP: Well, here’s what I’ll say. You have to steward your career the way you steward donors. So managing up in my mind starts with managing yourself. If your stuff is messy, and you’re not quite right, please don’t try to go manage other people. Across, down, whatever. Start with yourself, really understanding your role, how your role fits into the fabric of your team. How your team fits into the fabric of the organization. What is the perception of your role?

Not of you as a person. People can like you and think you are terrible as an employee. They really want to have drinks with you after work so let’s say that. But how does that all wrap into the fabric of the organization? Then do the same thing for your manager. How do you perceive them in their role? How might you manage they perceive themselves in that role? How does that wrap up into the team, wrap up into the fabric of the organization?

Take a little bit to do that because I think that often times we see things only from our own perspective and we don’t step into the shoes of our manager to understand what pressures they may be going through that keep them from being able to really be receptive to feedback that you might have. Then I would say that it starts a conversation.

How are things going? If you could have your druthers, what would be different? What does success look like for us as a team based on our goals, and are we getting there? Being able to have these sort of broader based conversations with your manager and then say, here are some of the things that I’ve been working at that I think will help us with that. Do you think these things make sense?

Then how do you see yourself in that? This is you talking to your manager. So that you can get some talking. Now, some of you are going to say to me, Kishshana. I can’t even get five minutes with my manager. Look folks, talk fast. So if your manager is the kind of person that responds better to the written word than they do to having conversation, get it in some bullets. I’d love to talk to you Kishshana about two ideas I had, boom, boom.

Here’s a link to something I want you to read. I’d love to be able to cover this in our one on one on Thursday. So really starting to be proactive in helping your manager be successful. That will in turn help you be successful. It should, in turn, help you be successful.

MT: I’ll just say that, for those of us who still want to have a good relationship with our manager, this is extremely good advice. For some of us who our manager will never meet with, and it’s just an endemic problem across our organization. You can’t have a meeting and they don’t respond to your emails or whatever. Find another job. We’ll teach you how to do that at this conference.

KP: Absolutely. I agree with that completely. I think that all of the concepts that I’m going to share in my session at the Fundraising Career Conference in April are from my experience. I’ve managed six teams over the last 15 years of some really great professionals at all stages of their career, managed intergenerational teams. So that’s with the generational dynamic that comes in.

I have been managed. I’ll share some of the ways in which some of my team members have been really great at managing up. I’ll also talk about some of the things that I think are best practices I’ve seen for my own peers on how to manage up to their CEO, ED, etc., and some times where we just fall flat on our face. So like some things to avoid, and hopefully that will give folks enough information to kind of say, okay. Let’s take an assessment of where I am and what’s the next step I need to take to improve the relationship if the relationship needs improving? To step away from the relationship if you need to do that, or to make space for a relationship to be improved if you are the manager.

So hopefully we’ll be able to cover that in our time together at the 2017 online Fundraising Career Conference. So folks, sign up because it’s going to be great.

MT: I can’t wait. Thank you so much, Kishshana, for this interview today. If people want to work with you, what are you accepting clients for right now?

KP:  I am accepting clients to work with me one on one. So if you are a fundraising professional or a nonprofit professional looking to transition into fundraising, I have a coaching program that really helps you figure out what’s your next step and helps you to get the job you want. So we figure out what’s going to be your next best thing.

So about a third of my business is doing that right now. I also work with nonprofit organizations around training for teams and training for their boards. So I do a lot of work in management and board governance. Lastly, I do quite a bit of speaking. So if you want me to come in and talk at your conference or to talk to your association or to talk to your organization about ways that they can embrace social good, then that’s something that I do as well.

For more information, and some of the other services I offer, I would encourage you all to head over to www.fabulouslyfundraising.com where you can find out more about the work I do.

MT: www.fabulouslyfundraising.com everybody. Go there. Her newsletter is fantastic. Sign up for her stuff.

Thank you so much again, Kishshana. This has been a joy. If you want to learn more from Kishshana about how to manage up in your fundraising career, click below!

Fundraising Career Conference 2016


Join us for the 3rd annual Fundraising Career Conference April 17th, 19th and 21st 2017. Since 2015 over 900 people have attended this online conference, resulting in more successful job interviews, 42% salary increases, new jobs, better workplace environments, and more! This year we’re going deep, with sessions on how to build trust with your boss (and not get fired), how to be a better mentor and manager, creativity and play at work, and more! Learn more


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