Staffing the fundraising role
All parts of the voluntary sector – from heritage to education, or arts to faith – are beset by the problem of ‘churn’ when it comes to fundraising staff. This is as true now, post pandemic, as it has been in the past.
The expectations and naivety of senior executives and trustees alike can sometimes be staggering. “We need to raise £3 million capital (or £700,000 annual revenue), let’s recruit someone for 20 hours a week at a salary of £20,000 pro rata, and that should do it.”
Enthusiastic, and dare one say somewhat romantic applicants respond positively when they are encouraged to assert that singlehandedly they can hit the target. Unsurprisingly, after collecting a couple of baskets of low-hanging fruit famine strikes and failure is the conclusion. Off this person goes, possibly to a promoted position based on the evidence of the low-hanging fruit collected.
What you would hope happens is that learning from their mistakes the organization in question realises that it needs to:
• invest more substantially in resources to achieve its fundraising targets
• integrate fundraising with its overall communication strategy
• recognise the shared responsibility and ownership of fundraising and that all members of the organization (all staff and all voluntary leaders) are de facto ambassadors for the organization and its fundraising needs, and therefore draws up terms of reference with regard to fundraising for everyone.
• bone up on what comprises best practice in fundraising and implement it
• ensure that it gets in place a fundraising strategy that is tailored to its unique circumstances as an arts organization and not one borrowed from the local hospice that is as dangerous as it is inappropriate
Sadly the above scenario is rarely the case.
What the organization is more likely to do is convince itself that while the departing member of staff was very pleasant, they were not really matched to the task. With a minor slap on their own wrists for imperfect judgment last time around and a tweak here and there of the job description, they go down the same recruitment path as before. Why go through the discomfort and hard work of confronting the problem, which may also mean higher levels of personal commitment in terms of endeavour and even money, when there is the soft option of ‘relocating’ the problem until the next incumbent in the fundraising role is found to fail.
You may well ask how such organisations survive? The irony is that their intrinsic value and quality are high and they are headed up by very able staff and voluntary leaders – were this not the case they could not survive as they limp from financial crisis to financial crisis. The frustration is that the able staff and voluntary leaders seem to suspend their full faculties when addressing the challenges of fundraising. They deserve to flourish, not scrape by, but to do so need to take sustainable fundraising much more seriously.
Behind this all too common sad state of affairs is a most unhealthy class structure across the voluntary sector.
Within this class structure, the patricians are the deliverers of the charities’ services, or perhaps practitioners of the art form (if an arts organisation). The plebeians are the necessary underclass of fundraisers, without whom the organisation cannot function, but who should never be centre stage on high profile occasions. The fundraising staff do not seek high profile, but to function effectively do need the same standing as colleagues in other parts of the organisation and the respect and co-operation of these colleagues.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking that these comments only apply to ailing small-scale outfits. The speed of turnover of fundraising staff within charities large and small is alarmingly high. Fundraising is not a one-person role; it is not a one-department role. Everyone has a part to play.
A few guidelines from the fundraising garden:
• know your onions – make the effort to understand basic principles of best fundraising practice
• use a carrot as well as a stick – understand the various measures of success in the fundraising process, not the simplicity of targets reached or missed
• avoid pumpkin hour – build the fundraising carriage on more than fantasy and wishful thinking so that it is fit for purpose
• avoid the Californian dust bowl – when you harvest a good crop be prepared to cultivate the soil by giving back without taking
• the strongest beans and peas in your fundraising staff still need the support of good poles, regular feeding and the smiles of approbation and encouragement from an overhead sun, some days if not everyday
• compare oranges with oranges – the national charity expenditure on donor acquisition or the hospice strategy which can assume relevance of cause to all the community will not be right for an arts centre
• prune – if your trustees are dead wood when it come to fundraising, consider hard pruning and re-growth.