Nurture Fundraisers

I’ve come to recognise the signs. In well over two decades of fundraising consulting, I have had many people book a session ‘to discuss how we can increase our income’. As this is something that I can generally assist with, I schedule their slot. I feel it to be ethical to check what clients need advice on ahead of paying for my time, to ensure that I can help. Some say, ‘we want to talk about increasing our funding from the UK’, my niche area. Others often say that they ‘want advice on raising more money’. Irrespective of the agenda, over 70% of such sessions turn out to be about one thing: undue pressure on the fundraiser (my term, not theirs).

Non-for-profit entities (large and small) globally, have one thing in common: board members with none to minimal fundraising experience. Among CEOs too, very few have worked as fundraisers. Sure, they will have completed the odd form or edited some proposals, but few have had careers as fundraisers and will not have developed an in depth understanding of the field. Financial managers rarely have any fundraising experience.

My clients (the fundraisers) often break down and tell me between sobs of the unrealistic expectations and pressure put on them by their higher-ups. An alarming number of financial managers also apply this pressure (yet fundraisers do not report to them!).

While planning is vital in all aspects of nonprofits, and the fundraiser too must plan, what they cannot guarantee is how much each source of funding will bring in. Yet, this is what they are pressurised to do and, when forced to supply targets from each source (e.g.: R1.25 million from trusts, R3.5 million from companies, R200,000 from individuals, R300,000 from events, etc.) and these are not reached, the fundraisers’ working life is made unbearable. I strongly caution that budgets should be more realistic and service delivery planned accordingly. And then, how wonderful if more is raised, rather than putting dream amounts into the budgets and plan all expenditure on money not yet secured and often with unattainable targets.

I have analysed this issue over the years and have found a pattern: Fundraisers are forced to either thumb suck targets or have these imposed on them; CEOs and financial managers (instructed by their boards) use these unrealistic targets in their financial forecasts and plan the organisation’s service delivery accordingly; the full amount does not come in; the organisation cannot fully deliver; pressure on the fundraiser is ramped up. This is why they book a consulting session with me. Sometimes their CEOs book the sessions for them, thinking that I will have a miracle cure – urgently. I do often provide advice that turns out to be very lucrative, but not to pay the next month’s salaries!

Of course, organisations have ongoing overheads and the services they intend carrying out and know what these will cost. However, what an alarming number of board members, CEOs and financial managers miss is that, although board members approve the expenditure in the budget, this is (or should be) conditional upon the funds being raised.

My best advice is to lower expectations. Fundraisers work hard, very hard. Most could earn more in government or the corporate sector but work in nonprofits because they care. Unrealistic expectations of them will not result in them re-doubling their efforts. Sure, the sector does attract lazy chancers, but they don’t last. Instead of putting fundraisers under undue and counterproductive pressure, CEOs should rather protect their organisations by ensuring that they can easily sever fundraisers’ contracts if needs be. It’s amazing how much happier – and thereby more successful – fundraisers are when they feel supported in their roles.

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