Fundraiser or Faker?
Ah, the fakers. They're sort of like those sci-fi pod people: They look like real fundraisers. In fact, they often seem to be deluxe, better-than-usual fundraisers. But they're fake fundraisers. You know you've met one or two. They promise a lot but seldom deliver. Along they way, they do incalculable damage.
The problem is, as with pod people, the core competency of fakers is they can appear to be souped-up fundraisers — more visionary, more up-to-date, more likely to cause gazillions of dollars to suddenly pour down on your organization.
Here are some of the signs that give them away, so you can avoid the costly mistake of shackling yourself to a faker when you need a fundraiser.
To do that, we'll look at one of each: Felicia Fundraiser and Frankie Faker.
Felicia Fundraiser gets the job done, pays attention to details and continuously learns about her profession. She reads books, blogs and magazines. Goes to conferences. Finds mentors. She knows her stuff in a competent, quiet way.
The rap on Felicia? She's methodical. Some find her boring — although nobody gets bored counting the money that rolls in month after month because of her work.
Frankie Faker is another story. He's a spinning, effervescent ball of energy. People like that about him. He can talk persuasively about anything that's new. The newer, the better. If he's the only one in the room who's heard of something, he's deep in his area of strength. (The Irish name for this skill is "blarney." The American term for it also starts with a B.) Frankie doesn't raise very much money. That's beside the point for him. But he sure makes folks feel energized.
Fundraisers vs. fakers: donors
Felicia Fundraiser loves donors. She loves them for who they are: generous, special people who make everything we do possible. She studies donors, talks to them, reads what they read and knows their demographics down to a granular level.
The fact that her donors are out-of-style, old people doesn't bother Felicia. She just makes sure to pay attention to the differences between her preferences and theirs. She wants to make sure she's talking to them and not to herself.
Frankie Faker is annoyed with donors. They frustrate him with their slowness to adapt to new technology and their seeming lack of interest in anything cutting-edge.
Frankie wants to change donors. Educate them. Raise their consciousness. Once he realizes how difficult that is, he decides to abandon his donors and search for a whole new demographic segment of younger, cooler donors better suited to his way of doing things.
Fundraisers vs.fakers: budgets
Felicia looks at the fact that around 90 percent of donation revenue comes through direct mail as a sign that direct mail is a strong fundraising medium. She isn't moving a lot of her budget away from direct mail until there's someplace better to move it to. She has her eye on the Web and e-mail, and she invests more there each year. But mail is her cash cow, and she knows better than to starve it.
"Pah!" Frankie says about direct mail. It's a dying medium, an old folks' refuge from the rigors of instant information and rich media. He's more excited about the fact that three-quarters of Kenyans use their smartphones to make day-to-day purchases, from which he concludes that we need to spend a lot more on mobile payment technologies than on direct mail.
Fundraisers vs. fakers: innovation
Frankie Faker is all about innovation. At least, he seems to be. Every conversation with him is a breathless revelation of the next big thing. Which is a different thing every time he talks to you.
He loves to make grand pronouncements like, "Direct mail is dead!" A lot of things have died in his world: e-mail, Facebook, paper money, tea, navies … He greets these extinctions with glee, and he pities the lost souls who cling to them.
Felicia pays attention to the channels real donors really use. That's why she's still excited about direct mail. She's also excited about telemarketing, broadcast, e-mail and Web — especially the ways different media interact with each other. These are big changes that require our best thinking and alertness.
Fundraisers vs. fakers: branding
Frankie Faker thinks a new brand will transform everything for a nonprofit. More slick, more modern, more digital — and we'll never have to lift a finger to raise funds. Donors will seek us out and empty their wallets on us. The latest new colors and a brand personality for the new millennium (and millennials)!
Felicia knows that a real brand lives in the hearts and minds of people inside and outside of the organization, and that mandating new colors, fonts and personality won't budge the needle in that area. She knows her real job is to present donors with exciting actions they can take to change the world, not telling them just how awesome her organization is.
Fundraisers vs. fakers: résumé
Felicia Fundraiser tends to stay at the same job for a long time. She rises steadily and only moves along if she can no longer make progress. That happens if her organization has no vision for improvement, a politically charged culture or a Frankie Faker for a boss.
Frankie changes jobs every two years. Or less. That way he's always a step ahead of the chaos and collapsing revenue that follows him. He makes you believe his varied and busy résumé signifies richness of experience. It actually just shows that he's never carried anything from start to finish.
Fundraisers, fakers and you
If your organization has too much cash and your leadership is bored with that state of affairs — hire Frankie Faker. You'll have an interesting ride that will thrill your leaders and then give them a huge project to work on afterward.
If you're at a normal organization that has more need to meet than money to meet it with, hire Felicia Fundraiser. You'll get the funds you need. You'll have more donors who are more loyal and connected. You'll be good for the short term and set up for more growth in the future.
I know which one I'd rather work with.