I meet with a lot of organizations that do not have a fulltime expert fundraiser on staff. With so many smaller organizations it comes down to what the budget allows as well as the role of the executive as chief fundraiser. Sometimes we are asked to step into the role of the development officer as outside charity consultants or recommend someone who would be willing to work in that position part time. BUT it is a fulltime job in a market place that is very competitive.
Last week, I sat down with an executive director who told me that “the person they hired wasn’t effective in bringing in new gifts,” and they had to let them go. They then decided not to fill that position again thinking that it was an exercise in futility. I’ve heard this so many times. I usually ask what salary was being paid and it is typically below what the market offers. An expert fundraiser who has actually gone out and closed gifts is hard to find. There are many people talking about how to accomplish this in webinars and boot camps but practical experience is hard to find.
I was fortunate to start major gifts work (back in the late 80’s) for a major university with specific goals on how many people to see and how much money they expected me to raise. What helped my success was the personal training I received on how to make an ask and the process. Our team was sent to the IU School of Philanthropy, and we were all videotaped on our presentation and then critiqued by our peers. I learned a lot from that. . .I learned from the mistakes I made and from going on call after call, year after year. This is where you get the best experience.
Becoming an expert fundraiser doesn’t happen overnight. Some people are naturals but given the complexities of how to raise money it takes training and experience. It’s investing in hiring the right person or getting them a coach to walk alongside them (not for a day or two) but for a year or so. Someone they can call on and ask questions because the Board and leadership are looking to them to be the expert fundraiser.
Along with bringing someone in to do your fundraising comes the measure of their performance. Again, I am surprised at how many organizations don’t have metrics tied to performance. How many cultivation visits, solicitation visits and stewardship visits are being made monthly and yearly? What is the dollar goal they are to raise (realistically)? How many proposals are being submitted to major donors? How much is unrestricted and how much is restricted? In some cases, performance bonuses are paid to teams that work well together towards goals.
There are many ineffective fundraisers and perhaps one or two have come through your doors. Did they have the right stuff to begin with? Did your organization put the tools to succeed in their hands? We’ve worked with a number of organizations helping the fundraiser become a star, but like anything else it takes a good coach and a lot of practice.
So what are your choices? You can choose as the executive I met last week and decide not to fill the critical development position (even the admin portion of the job). You can choose to hire an expert fundraiser who truly has been successful and provide realistic expectations and goals for them. You can hire someone who you see has great potential and provide the support they need whether it is a fundraising coach like me or finding a mentor in your area who can walk along side them. This will pay dividends for years to come. Classrooms, webinars, conferences are great support but to become exceptional requires consistent performance.
…”we must become obsessed about talent…as obsessed about finding and developing top-flight, seriously cool men and seriously cool women as the general manager of a professional sports franchise.”
Written by: Paul D’Alessandro
Founder and Chairman