Opening a Can of Worms

Two weeks ago, I asked professional fundraisers to give me their views on a few questions, including this one: Among Board of Directors, Fundraising Committee, CEO and Professional Fundraising Staff, who is primarily responsible for each of the following tasks in your not-for-profit organization? The list of tasks appears below.  I posed the same question to Board Members who volunteer for not-for-profits that employ professional fundraisers.  I was curious about whether leadership volunteers and fundraisers were in agreement on this issue.

557 professional fundraisers responded (thank you!)  While we had a healthy cross-section from highly experienced Directors of Development to front-line staff with under five years in the business, there was no meaningful statistical variation from one group to the next. The Board survey is not yet closed, so I will need to wait one more week before telling you how they answered this same question. In the meantime, though, I am eager to get your feedback on these results.

TABLE 1: Cygnus 2010 Supplementary Survey for Professional Fundraisers Results

Click to enlarge.

Many respondents commented that the wording of our question presented a challenge, as what fundraisers are responsible for and what they think they should be responsible for are two different things. While that is true, this phrasing was intended to force the hand of both paid staff and volunteers on this question, in order to bring the current reality of fundraising responsibility into sharp focus.  I think it accomplished that.

When I saw how my colleagues in professional fundraising answered this question my reaction was, “I wonder if they’ve given up.”  But, your reaction is the one that counts. Please give me your thoughts – then, in next Tuesday’s blog, I’ll publish what Board members said along with some of the insightful comments I received from both professional fundraisers and leadership volunteers.

Showing 14 comments
  • Marie Bountrogianni

    Penny, in our case the Board members play a major role in opening doors, offering names. Our fundraising staf and I (President)do the rest. I also lobbied the governments on behalf of the ROM (we were pretty lucky-both levels were generous)

  • Janie Allen

    We are seeing the need to ramp up our volunteers efforts as well. To do this we are going through Lean Processes for our office work so that we can spend more time on bringing in gifts and we are setting up fundraising training for our volunteers. We are trying to make the training fun in hopes it takes some of the anxiety out of it. I’m interested in hearing about how to change this data in the years to come.

  • Gwen

    Just looking at your results exhausts me! It lines up perfectly with my working life and I AM exhausted all the time. We tell our prospective Board Members in the original materials we send out when recruiting that they will be expected to sit on one Fund Raising action committee. We also explain over and over, that it is not my job to do all of the fund raising… that the bulk of my job is to facilitate THEM doing the fund raising. It doesn’t work and the job is rarely fun any more. I am consistantly working 2 – 4 months of over time each year (one person shop) and I AM actuallly giving up after 11 years in the “biz”. Too bad because when there are excited people working on fund development projects – amazing things happen. And I really love that energy.

  • Susan Conley

    I agree that much of the energy to initiate development actions comes from staff. My volunteers need a clear plan and instructions for their tasks. However, when you get them in front of a donor or give them a defined list of people to call, they are wonderful and more effective than staff alone. It’s worth all of my effort to prepare my volunteers for their relationship building and asks.

  • DawnMarie

    Wow! Can’t wait to see what how the Board members responded. I have a feeling it will be different. The chart does depict the reality for most development directors / fundraisers – but perception is not always reality.

  • Dawn

    Aren’t we all collectively responsible for fundraising? Primary responsibility feels like it would be best described in terms of fundraising function. For example, I consider fundraising staff primary responsible for back office flow/execution of the administrative details of the fundraising plan (recording the gift, ensuring personal acknowledgment goes out, etc).

  • Max

    I agree with Dawn that would be my perception. From experience though, your results are hardly surprising, however I do think you will see some notably different answers from the board.

    Overall, I think there is insufficient strategic planning in most organizations. We tend to just go on our merry way doing good without the rigor necessary to ensure that we are applying our resources and abilities in the most effective way to effectively service our charitable objects.

    To me fundraising is used to service and fund established and projected project goals that the charity may have. These clear goals should be established by the board in consideration of the objects of the charity and then the Executive Director should be tasked with executing these goals (including tasking fundraising with the objectives to fund these projects)

  • Suzanne McDonald Aziz

    I’m not surprised at these findings. More and more staff are directing, initiating and following through on calls because volunteers don’t have enough time. But when volunteers make calls – it adds a great deal to backing up the case.

  • S

    To Janie Allen:

    Would you please explain more about Lean Processes? We would certainly like to spend more to bringing in gifts as well.

    Thank you.

  • Bobbi Krebs-McMull

    While I don’t find the results surprising, I do find them disheartening. The results lead me to two questions: How can an organization be successful if its board isn’t effective? How can a board be effective if it doesn’t know enough and/or care enough to have an integral role in funding the organization? The survey percentages suggest that in most nonprofit organizations it is mainly the duty of staffers to strategize and obtain funds to further the mission of the organization, while the board’s major responsibility is only to thank top donors by phone and to show up as greeters at fundraising events. It will be interesting to know how the boards in this survey view their relationship to organizational funding, but also how they were selected, and if they were given any fundraising training. Given the results of this half of the survey, it is not surprising that there is such a high rate of turn-over and burn-out in non-profit administrative positions, or that so many non-profit organizations fail when one of their funding sources disappear.

  • Lauren

    The results confirm what many of us experience every day. It is extremely disheartening. I agree with Bobbi. How do we balance our passion for our organization and the mission with burn out under the pressure to raise more every year?

  • Joyce Heneberry

    So interesting. I would agree with many whose comments precede me that this is not surprizing but very sobering. This very topic was the crux of a discussion I had on a fundraising call yesterday. A fundraising program that is heavily staff driven will spin its wheels. It is so important to have the board (top of the fundraising pyramid) engaged and supportive. All FD plans should contain shared goals. I am interested to see the other half of the survey.

  • Tara Sudbury

    Very interesting results. The value is in the story these results are suggesting – and I look forward to hearing your take on it Penelope. First off, I think the results are better then they were had you asked these questions five years ago…so lets endorse for that! 30% of volunteers – Board members & fundraising committee members offering up names for prospects is a big improvement as is 17% of in person and phone asks by these volunteers. Generally speaking one story might read that there is way more back room admin tasks absorbing staff time then there should be in order to reach all the potential donors in a donor centered way. Janie Allens lean Processes are in demand! These results may also indicate thank you calls are still being performed by various people based on the gift size…yesterday’s methodology that we know is less effective then recognizing most gifts personally. Board members are likely most comfortable reaching out to those in their immediate network, but once the staff has identified a broader span of prospects are board members getting the support, inspiration and training they need to feel comfortable connecting with potential donors they are “loosely linked to”? We eat sleep and breath our work, but we can’t expect our Board to as its one of perhaps many obligations they fulfill…. so what are we doing to be board centered, service focused toward each board member as we strive to maximize their ROI to the NFP? I think we are doing better than we have been doing in the past but we still have some tweaking to do around working smarter not harder and the key is starting to look like its in training and structured support of our Board and key volunteers…. Without loosing sight that we are paid for our work and volunteers donate their efforts. So looking forward to your interpretations of both the staffs and boards responses Penolope.

    Thank you.

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