Scary by Marco Mazzei from Flickr

Scary by Marco Mazzei from Flickr

If you’ve ever had a crazy fundraising job, you need to read this post.

Here’s a secret blog post from October 2009, that I put on my private blog, before I had started Wild Woman Fundraising.com. It was just after I finished a crazy job, and so many things on this list rang true for me.

In honor of Halloween, here’s are 10 scary secrets for you!


What I have to say… may shock you, but read on!

Today I met a former Development Director at a networking meeting, he laid some knowledge on me about nonprofits which I found PARTICULARLY INTERESTING. He said,

0. Nonprofits do not rigorously define what success is, programmatically.

They fail to clearly show EXACTLY what they are doing with the money, and why they are more efficient and effective than other nonprofits. This is because the numbers don’t add up, between how much money they raise and how many people they actually help.

1. Nonprofit organizations are PATHOLOGICAL ENVIRONMENTS that allow all pressure to be put on the Development Director,

who is expected to overcome all organizational issues and raise millions in the first month.

2. The Development Director can raise a ton of money and the Executive Director can say, “I raised that money, goodbye.”

And the board can say to the ED, after the ED raises a ton of money, “WE raised that money, goodbye!” There is a lot of grabbing of glory, a lot of egotism since money is not tied to performance, people have other reasons for getting into the nonprofit world. Like ego.

3. He said that usually boards will fire executive directors when there is a lot of turnover on the board.

They will come in and say, “Who is this guy?” and fire the ED. but I didn’t see this at a previous job. Probably because the board was completely in the dark about the nonprofit, and they were all the ED’s friends. I hope what’s his name gets fired (he did). I had another nightmare about him last night. I keep having nightmares about how awful it was there.

4. Non-performing boards are the biggest cause of non-performing Executive Directors.

If there are a lot of frauds on the board, will they hire the Executive director with a fire in their eyes that will go out and ask them to commit to giving? No, they will hire a fraud, just like them. The Executive Director takes their cue from the board. The Executive Director is just trying not to get fired. If there is not board buy-in via strict donation requirements, there will not be any fundraising movement on the executive director’s part. If the board can be paid to fundraise, there would be much more movement on their part. Accountability is not clear.

5. The Executive director has to push for donations from the board, but not too hard, because then they will get fired.

So they tell the Development Director to push hard, and use the DD as the “fall guy.” (I WAS TOTALLY SET UP TO BE THE FALL GUY IN A LINE OF FALL GUYS!)

6. He said, “If you stay in this business long enough, you will get fired, because if they don’t like you, there’s nothing you can do.

And you will be the truthteller, and if the Executive Director and board aren’t willing to fundraise and invest in the nonprofit, your hands are tied and you can’t raise the money you need to raise.” And that was exactly what it felt like, my hands were tied. So nonprofits will cycle through Development Directors each year for an illusion of progress, saying, “Well THAT guy certainly didn’t know how to fundraise. Let’s hire HER!” All the while abdicating their responsibility to MAKE THE ORGANIZATION GREAT.

7. Another thing he saw over and over again was nonprofit boards assuming that everyone who worked at the nonprofit was an idiot.

So they think. “Why should I fundraise for an organization where everyone is an idiot?” And this cultural hivemind thought persists despite turnover from board and staff. I HEARD THIS from other people when I worked at this nonprofit, both the board and the CEO thought staff were STUPID! Oh, it’s about how much money they make. Nailed it!

8. He said he saw gross negligence on the part of boards to make sure that the person in place at the top was doing ANY kind of fundraising, even people being paid a quarter of a million to do their jobs, putting the endowment in hock, etc.

9. He said that the nonprofit pretty much runs on the board and their friends’ money, and if they don’t give $ or get $, they need to get off.

And if they don’t give or get off, they are going to just run the nonprofit into the ground. Which, he noted, there is no law against.

10. So as a caveat to getting involved in nonprofits,

if you can find a high-performing board, or get into a development office that has more than one person in it, you can have a fairly successful career, but no matter HOW talented you are, you cannot force the board to see their basic obligations if they do not want to accept them.

Finally, he told me about this website called Givewell, which was started by people who came out of the hedge fund industry, where investment risks are highly researched.

This site rates nonprofits on a hedge fund standard of what they are doing, and the conclusion of this site is that there are VERY FEW nonprofits out there that are actually helping ANYBODY, and that the world would probably not be any worse for most nonprofits going away. And then they list their top nonprofits that they can find are actually DOING something. It’s a very small list.

I was shocked. This meeting really shocked me. I want to be involved in a nonprofit that is actually DOING something. I assumed that most nonprofits DID do something, that the nonprofits I had been involved in were anomalies. Apparently not. Apparently MANY nonprofits are like one of the previous places I worked, and DON’T ACTUALLY DO ANYTHING. WOW.

What do you think? Is this true, in your experience? Is this not true? What would you add? What have YOU noticed in your nonprofit career?

If these problems are shocking to you, and if you have some of them, and want to know what to do about them, then buy my book, The Wild Woman’s Guide to Fundraising, because I have a whole chapter about what to do in situations like the ones described above. If you’ve experienced some of what you see above, this situation is messed up, and you don’t have to take it anymore!

Free Preview of The Wild Woman’s Guide to Fundraising below:

The Wild Woman’s Guide to Fundraising by Mazarine Treyz