We don’t pay nearly enough attention to the issue of disrespect and the horrible price our sector pays for ignoring it or shrugging it off with a “well, that’s the way it is.”

Disrespect runs rampant in the nonprofit world. We see it every day, reflected in the actions and attitudes of nonprofit boards, CEOs and fundraisers.   It has infected the way nonprofits deal with donors and the public.  The disease of disrespect threatens us all.

The symptoms are all around us. Failure of boards and CEOs to pay for proper training,  continuing education and reward success. Failure of fundraisers to educate boards and CEOs on the values and skills of our trade, and to demand proper compensation.  Failure of organizations to recognize and treat donors with the skill and respect valued partners in a relationship deserve.

Five years ago the landmark study  UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising warned that more than 50% of American’s fundraisers wanted to quit and 25% of their bosses said they fired their last fundraiser.  Only 41% of the development directors surveyed said the partnership between them and their executives on fund development was strong.

In a powerful, detailed and resource-filled three-part post, Simone Joyaux in Simone Uncensored weighed-in with a thoughtful distillation of the problems surfaced in UnderDeveloped.

“In summary, here’s the scoop: Development officers quit. Bosses fire development officers. Boards don’t play. Organizations don’t get it. This vicious cycle threatens financing of the sector. And, this has been going on for years and we aren’t really fixing it.”

Today, five years later, we’re no closer to a cure for this disease.

In fact, just three days ago, in his post Have You Lost Your Soul Tom cited some very worrisome figures from the NonprofitHR 2017 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey:  “Less than 1% of nonprofit funding has historically gone toward supporting nonprofit talent and only 0.03% ($450M) of the sector’s $1.5 trillion annual spending has been allocated to leadership development.” And feeling unwanted? According to this survey, only 19% of nonprofits have a formal program to retain their top performer

If that’s not a sure sign of disrespect topped off with a cherry of willful ignorance I don’t know what is.

No doubt every Agitator reader can t recall dozens of instances where he or she felt disrespected.  And with a bit more soul-searching instances in which he or she demonstrated disrespect toward colleagues, bosses –and yes, donors.

The damage of disrespect for the public and donors, as seen by the tsunami of media revulsion over some UK fundraising tactics in recent years,  and, in poor retention rates in many countries.

In a Third Sector post titled  Fundraisers Are not ATMs   Ian MacQuillin, head of Rogare the fundraising think tank at the Plymouth University Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy tells the following story (with some details changed to protect the innocent and spare the guilty):

“ A couple of years ago, the curator of a London art gallery popped into the fundraising director’s office to say that an artwork had just become available that would be perfect for the gallery’s collection, so could she – the fundraising director – find the £35,000 required to buy it.

“With the intonation of someone saying ‘duh!’, the fundraising director replied: “No!”

“The curator was taken aback and asked why.

“The fundraising director’s response was threefold:

“The extra £35,000 wasn’t budgeted for (and besides, the curator had already spent all her acquisition budget…).

“The fundraising team was at full stretch and didn’t have spare resource to tackle it.

“Did the curator expect her to magic the money out of thin air?”
“Yet this is exactly what many at charities expect their fundraisers to do – conjure up money from nothing. If NGOs need money, all they need to is pop along to their fundraising department, enter a code, and withdraw the cash. In other words, they treat them like ATMs.

“It’s been postulated – with some justification – that one of the causes of the 2015 [UK] fundraising crisis was that fundraisers treated donors as ATMs: something from which to extract money. But if charities were treating their fundraisers like ATMs, demanding more and more money while simultaneously cutting their resources, is it any wonder things played out as they did?

“Last week I tweeted something along these lines and it got more than 125 likes and retweets. It’s clear this hit a nerve.

“Yet this isn’t new. For a long time fundraisers have spoken about the need to instil a ‘culture of philanthropy’ that will nurture and support long-term, donorcentred fundraising; and railed against the short-term targets foisted on them that can only be met through more transactional methods….

“And for years, we have known that others at charities view fundraising in terms of a ‘necessary evil’ and distanced themselves from their fundraisers, using pronouns such as ‘them’ rather than ‘us’. You could see this during the 2015 crisis, which was the result of what ‘they’ – fundraisers – did, not what ‘we’ – charities – did (partly by treating fundraisers like ATMs).

“What the response to my tweet is telling us – and we knew it anyway – is that there is something fundamentally wrong with the charity sector: the devaluing and disrespecting of fundraising.

“This won’t change simply because fundraisers point it out (they’ve been doing that for ages). But if nothing is actually changing, we obviously need fresh thinking and a fresh approach.

“The first thing we need to know is the extent of the problem. But more importantly we need to know why it is problem. We don’t really know what causes the ‘necessary evil’ attitude. Is it the result of organisational silos, fixable by a bit of integration? Or is it ideological ­­– the use of us/them language suggests it might be – which could require re-engineering the way people think about fundraising?

“Rogare recently looked into the barriers to implementing relationship fundraising, hypothesising these reduced to two things:

  • Lack of a culture of philanthropy at organisations that would allow relationship fundraising to take root.
  • Fundraising is not sufficiently professionalised to generate the trust needed start building that culture – NGOs don’t trust the specialist knowledge fundraisers claim to possess.

“That identifies two possible routes to an eventual solution that will close the gap between fundraisers and the rest of the charity so that fundraisers are not treated like cashpoints.

“But moaning about it won’t fix the problem, however good that might feel.”

As all too many Agitator readers well know, and as our reader surveys show, there’s lots of “magical thinking” out there. And Ian makes clear some of the destructive results.

It’s time we all take a serious look at steps each of us can take to build respect for our donors, for those with whom we work and yes, for ourselves.