picture by mb21 on Flickr

picture by mb21 on Flickr

This post is in response to the Compasspoint report, Underdeveloped: A national study of challenges facing nonprofit fundraising.

Key findings of the report?

REVOLVING DOOR – Development directors are bouncing around and getting fired all the time.

HELP WANTED – Organizations aren’t finding enough qualified candidates for the jobs. Um, perhaps because they are not looking for one person, but for three people wrapped into one person, for the salary of a half-time person? Because based on the job descriptions I look at, that is what they want.

IT’S ABOUT MORE THAN ONE PERSON – File this one under “no DUH.” That’s right, nonprofits are putting all of that pressure on one person, and it needs to be about everyone helping the organization make more money, in whatever capacity they can.

The report finds that high performing fundraising programs promoted a culture of philanthropy. What is a culture of philanthropy?

Well, when “Most people in the organization (across positions) act as ambassadors and engage in relationship building. Everyone promotes philanthropy and can articulate a case for giving. Fund development is viewed and valued as a mission-aligned program of the organization. Organizational systems are established to support donors. The executive director is committed and personally involved in fundraising.”

Sounds just about peachy keen, doesn’t it?

Having a fundraising plan, having a board that cares about fundraising, and having a culture of philanthropy are all vital tools that help nonprofits succeed, let alone development directors.

So often, small nonprofits have none of these things.

In short, the report says the preconditions for success are getting systems in place, making sure everyone knows their role in fundraising, an executive director who comes from fundraising and who loves to ask for gifts, AND a good rapport between the development director and the executive director.

To get all of these things in place, especially at a small nonprofit where there hasn’t been a development director for 6 months to 2 years or longer, is a near impossibility.

What I take from this report is that Development Directors are most often fired for conditions they cannot control. They are fired because they cannot overcome organizational inadequacy, not because they don’t know how to fundraise.

I’ve written how to hire a development director.

And I’ve written extensively about why development directors fail, everything from;

Cheryl Kester responds:

When small nonprofits advertise for development directors, they get so few candidates or candidates they feel are unqualified. This clearly has a direct correlation to the figure in the study that states that 38% of the DDs at smaller organizations have no experience securing gifts.

Why is this? Because most experienced fundraisers do not even look at what are essentially entry-level positions when they come open at smaller nonprofits. I mean, really, I can usually read a position description and quickly assess the huge list of unreasonable expectations of the position and read volumes into that.

YES! I worked for a small music nonprofit that shall remain nameless, where the board’s idea of who to hire for a marketing position was someone who “played an instrument.”

That’s right. That was their defining criteria.

I begged and pleaded with them to do an actual job description and let me post it on craigslist at least, let alone idealist.org and other places, but they dragged their heels for months and refused. Then they complained they couldn’t find anyone qualified. And I heard this from a fundraising friend who worked for another small music nonprofit, this exact same problem happened to her too.

If nonprofits are complaining that they can’t find anyone qualified, I would agree, what are your criteria, seriously? Are they completely unrealistic or simply untenable for someone who actually knows what they are doing? A job description that could encompass 3 people’s jobs for 1/2 the pay of one full-time person? Because if you look out there, that is a lot of what is out there.

So the experienced people don’t bother, because the salary’s insulting for the amount of work that it will be, and the inexperienced people, who don’t know any better, apply. And fail. And blame themselves, when they really shouldn’t.

And they think, “i’m just not good at fundraising” and leave the nonprofit world, when they should be celebrating their failures and being encouraged to learn from them.

THAT is how you learn. Instead they get the boot and the revolving door starts again.

Nonprofits should allocate a professional development budget to development staff. And in my workshops about how to get fundraising jobs, I do tell people to ask in their interviews:

“Is there a budget for professional development?” and

“Who will I learn from, and how?”

But the key issue, the one that everyone seems to overlook, is that development directors are never supported enough by the organization. Think of it this way.

It’s like a company with only one salesperson and no customer service people. Big companies with a million+ dollar budgets have five or more salespeople, all responsible for bringing in big deals. Not to mention customer service people, and databases, a marketing budget, marketing plan, and clear followup methods. Most development professionals have none of these things. Yet they are tasked with raising a million plus dollars.

What is most surprising is how often they succeed, despite the lack of bonuses, support and rewards available in the for-profit sector.

And even when they succeed, they still get fired. So what’s a fundraising professional to do?

We need to agitate for better working conditions.

With the at-will-employment in nearly every US state in effect, it’s hard to feel a sense of loyalty to any organization, when they can fire you for no reason. Really, literally, no reason. I think this is also the reason behind lack of diversity in fundraising. We see so many white female fundraisers over forty and so few people of other ages, genders, abilities, and ethnicities. There’s definitely racism in the nonprofit world. There’s definitely classism and ableism and discrimination. Ideally, a union would help address these issues and give people jobs where they know they won’t be fired without a real reason.

I’ve written about fundraising unions before.

What do you think? Are unions the answer? How can we improve working conditions so that our fundraising professionals have more motivation and are better set up to succeed?

So have you been fired? Were you unable to raise the millions they wanted?

In case you didn’t already know, it was them, not you.