Hold your horses. In a moment we’ll give you a chance to vent confidentially with an Agitator Survey on CEOs, Boards and other horrors in your fundraising life.

But first, the serious and disturbing reasons behind the Agitator Survey.

Over the past decade the number of nonprofits has shot up by 47% to a whopping 1,056,000 organizations. Yet private giving as a percentage of the US national income dropped by 11.7% in the same period. Clearly, too many organizations chasing too little money.

So, it’s no wonder that sooner or later fundraisers — or more exactly, the skill level of these fundraisers — would fall under the microscope. After all, the days of long apprenticeships, serious mentoring, and skills built on carefully-supervised on-the-job experience are long gone.

The demand for ‘fundraisers’ and ‘development’ folks has so far outstripped properly trained supply that you’d have to be completely delusional to think the cup of skilled fundraising and development pros is running over.

So, although the findings came as no surprise to anyone in this trade who doesn’t live under a rock, the release of UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising rightly generated a tsunami of alarm, not only in the trade press, but also among some of the most thoughtful bloggers in our space.

I urge you to download and read the full report and share it with your CEO, Board and colleagues. But in a nutshell, here’s what UnderDevloped uncovered and some of the insights it triggered:

  • High turnover and long-open vacancies in key development posts are harming the nonprofit sector’s ability to meet its funding needs;
  • Half of the development directors said they expect to leave their current jobs in two years or less — the rate is even higher for smaller organizations;
  • 40% of the development directors indicated they aren’t committed to careers in development;
  • There aren’t enough qualified development folks out there. 53% of CEOs reported they couldn’t find enough qualified candidates … 33% were dissatisfied or lukewarm about the performance of their development directors … and 24% said their development directors have no experience or are novices at ”current and prospective donor research”.

Taking a look from the development directors’ side, here’s the deal:

  • 23% of the nonprofits surveyed have no fundraising plan in place (31% for organizations under $1 million in annual revenue);
  • Only 41% of the development directors surveyed said the partnership between them and their executives on fund development work is strong;
  • A majority of development directors reported only little or moderate influence on key activities such as getting other staff involved in fundraising or developing organizational budgets.

And when it comes to morale and esprit d’ corps of development folks, the headline in Katya’s Non-Profit Marketing Blog nailed the essence of the Report: “Half of fundraisers want to quit — and a quarter of bosses said they fired their last fundraiser.”

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

“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.”

So what’s the solution? Here’s what the UnderDeveloped Study Team recommends, as summarized by Katya.

1. Embrace the importance of fundraising across organizations.

2. Elevate the field of fundraising. As explained by Kim Klein, “Money is one of the great taboos in our culture. We are taught not to think about it or ask about it … As with the subjects of sex, death, mental illness, religion, politics, and other taboos, people say little about their experiences with money. With people so carefully taught that it is rude to talk about money, it’s certainly not an easy task to ask
for it.”

3. Strengthen the talent pool.

4. Train boards differently.

5. Treat fundraisers like the key staff they are with appropriate transition planning.

6. Invest in building grantee fundraising capacity.

7. Do more with technology and the innovation it allows.

8. Set realistic fundraising goals.

9. Share accountability for those goals.

10. Fundraisers and executive directors should both show greater leadership.

All of these recommendations are sound, but frankly, they’ll fail unless a true culture of philanthropy, fundraising, and stewardship is instilled and aggressively encouraged inside the organization. And that’s the CEO’s job. It’s not something that can or should be easily delegated.

There’s simply no excuse for a CEO to complain that she/he can’t find good talent, especially while disparaging, neglecting, ignoring and cutting staff fundraisers out of the loop, or denying them access to continuing education and other essential resources.

Nor is it tolerable that a CEO ignore the damage caused by a weak, slothful or stupid Board, even if attempts to remedy Board quality costs him/her their job. Like it or not, the CEO is the sun around which the governance and operational effectiveness of a nonprofit revolves.

As far as Tom and I are concerned, CEOs who can’t or won’t fulfill this essential duty need to be called out and held accountable. They endanger the mission of their organizations while demoralizing staff and wasting resources.

Thus our somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but quite serious Agitator Survey. Please take the survey now.

We’re interested in what our readers, comprising mostly development directors and staff fundraisers from a diverse and large number of nonprofits, experience and think about how well your CEOs are doing.

All responses to the Agitator Survey are confidential and anonymous. We’ll deliver the results back to you in 10 days.


P.S. Lest you think Tom and I are not interested in solutions beyond whipping the CEO into shape, I recommend you read Simone’s 3 posts in detail and also Katya’s suggestions for what you should do before you take that next fundraising job or hire your next fundraiser.




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