…”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.” — Tom Peters
I meet with a lot of organizations that do not have a full-time 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 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 paid, and it is typically below what the market offers. Really good fundraisers who have actually gone out and closed gifts are 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 ’80s) 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. 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 a great 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. It has to happen not for a day or two, but 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, solicitation and stewardship visits are made monthly and yearly? What is the dollar goal they are to raise (realistically)? How many proposals are submitted to 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 from the beginning? Did your organization put the tools to succeed in their hands? We’ve worked with many 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 decide to hire someone 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 alongside them. This support will pay dividends for years to come. Classrooms, webinars, conferences are great support, but to become exceptional requires consistent performance.
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