How to Succeed in the Fundraising Business
After more than 35 years of working for nonprofit organizations and in fundraising, I've learned plenty. Some have been deliberate learnings when I took on a task with the knowledge that I would have to expand my knowledge to complete it. Others have been serendipitous learnings as a result of watching someone else either stumble or succeed. And still others have been challenging learnings gained from pursuing formal education.
In all that time, one of the lessons I've learned (sadly, by watching others' mistakes) is that when nonprofit organizations and employees don't think like businesspeople, they can end up "out of business," either corporately or personally. But there is a better way …
Value your fundraising team. Years ago, the "mushroom theory of management" was making its satirical way around business schools: Keep your employees in the dark, dump manure on them and can them when they're mature. That's amusing, but not as much when you consider how often it's true.
A fundraising leader (or frankly, any leader who strives for excellence) knows that employees are not like interchangeable parts. You've maybe worked for or with someone who seemed to think, "Employee A can walk and breathe simultaneously, and Candidate B can walk and breathe simultaneously. So, one's as good as the other." But let's face it: We all prefer to work for the person who values our skills, shares information necessary to do the job, gives credit when it's due, allows us to grow—and yes, takes necessary action when someone isn't performing at the expected level.
I recently heard someone describe an organization as "one of those places that regularly lays off anyone with experience and then hires entry-level staff to try and get the job done." That kind of reputation—of a company or a manager—becomes known, and over time it can do lasting damage.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.