One of my favorite bloggers Linda Spencer has written some very insightful posts about the dangers of fundraising professionals - and the organizations they join - expecting that their rolodex of contacts and donors is transferable from from one nonprofit to the next. By the way, you can read Linda's posts here: http://lnspencer.com/about-charity-reviews-for-donors/and I hope she won't mind the shout out.
A trend I believe is right in line with the "rolodex transfer" is that of fundraisers bringing their Playbook.
Hint: This is often accompanied by descriptions of wildly successful campaigns or events at the fundraiser's former organization. This is followed by a chorus of oohs and ahhs and the collective agreement that "if it worked over there, it's gotta work here!" This phenomenon is even more pronounced when a new fundraiser brings it up super early - and often. Now, in fairness, there is a perfectly legitimate chance that a few - in fact, maybe all of those good ideas and plays - will work at the new charity. Where I'm confident that we, as development professionals can do better is in the area of assessment and adaptability.
This is also one of those areas where I believe there are dramatic differences between the for-profit and nonprofit arenas. In the corporate world, we often see examples of CEOs that come in, run their playbook and win; they're even admired and given the complimentary title of Turnaround Artists: Think Lee Iaccocca. They also come in the form of the less-admired like Al Dunlap. He earned the nicknames "Chainsaw Al" and "Rambo In Pinstripes" for his laser-like focus on profitability at the expense of people. But it often works - for a while anyway - regardless of the company, its products or services, structure - and people.
This is where nonprofits are different. It's been said - and I agree - that ultimately a charitable organization is truly successful when it puts itself out of business. That's obviously a biggie. But a nonprofit's People - donors, volunteer fundraisers, staff and everyone else - vary dramatically from charity to charity in terms of wealth, motivation, time, talents and even commitment - along with so many other things. This translates directly to fundraising capacity. Just because you were the king or queen of the high end gala at one organization doesn't mean a similar event will work at the new place. Even if a Community Walk or Ride was just the ticket - and you were the one to punch it at your last place - it may not connect with your new constituency.
Fundraisers come into new jobs with a lot of pressure to perform. In the best cases, the development professional steps into a role where there are realistic expectations given that it's going to take some time to get to know the organization and its donors and ideally, fundraising is looked at as a team sport, with all of the staff believing they have skin in the game. In the worst cases, the fundraiser is looked at as nothing short of a rainmaker. He or she is given a desk, a phone, computer and after several months of sitting in that silo, dirty looks when the dollars don't start cascading in. It's really no wonder typical industry turnover is less than every two years. In fact, a 2012 study noted that on average, fundraisers stay at their jobs a mere 16 months and that the indirect costs of finding a replacement amount to $127,650. While this is a bit dated, my hunch is that things haven't moved much. (For more info, see: https://philanthropy.com/article/The-Cost-of-High-Turnover-in/226573)
This goes back to the playbook idea and what ultimately becomes a vicious cycle of HIT IT BIG or move on. As such, both organization and fundraisers need a new approach to be successful:
Both organizations and their fundraisers have a responsibility to develop both the team and the right set of plays to win.
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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