If a fundraising director misses out on a CEO role, they probably weren’t good enough. It is up to fundraisers to stop complaining and change the way they are viewed, says Jason Suckley.
Having worked in various fundraising roles for five years or so, I know what a wonderful profession it is. As a career option it offers intellectual challenge, a hugely diverse workload, an environment of innovation and a chance to learn about aspects of the world around us that few have the privilege to glimpse. Anyone who has led a fundraising team knows that the skills required to achieve a well-balanced income base from trusts to events, from major donors to individual giving is incredibly broad.
So why is the perception of fundraising, both within charities and externally, often not of a highly-skilled team? Why is it that fundraising is one of the least understood professions? Why do we still not attract talent from the private and public sectors? Why do so few fundraising directors become chief executives?
We can approach these questions in one of two ways. We can bemoan the situation, complain that the status quo isn’t fair and wish that we were better understood; or we can do something about it. For me, there are still too many voices within our profession that take the former route rather than the latter.
The fact is, fundraising as a profession still has a long way to go. There are a number of people who would be prepared to tell you that they know everything there is to know about fundraising. Don’t listen to them. One of the most exciting aspects of fundraising is that the manual is not yet fully written. Unlike other professions we really don’t know what fundraising will look like in ten years time. The impact of digital channels, the market for social investment and social impact, the nature of partnerships across sectors, all of these factors and more have the potential to change the face of our industry for good.
The one thing we can predict with reasonable certainty is that declining public sector investment over the next few years will mean the fortunes of the sector as a whole will increasingly rest on the success of our fundraising. The urgent need for fundraising to play a more prominent role in meeting the challenge of the sector provides a clear opportunity to establish ourselves as a respected and well understood profession. The question is – are we up to it?
We need to start by looking in the mirror. If the rest of the charity or indeed the rest of the world doesn’t understand fundraising, it is up to us to change this. If we are not getting the co-operation and information we need from our nonfundraising colleagues, we need to ensure that our planning is fully integrated with the rest of the organisation. If the fundraising department is not meeting its targets, it could be at least as much about a failure to address under-performance as it is about the economy. If we are not attracting talent from other sectors, it is likely to be a reflection of the way we are recruiting. If the director of fundraising doesn’t get the chief executive role it is far more likely that they just weren’t good enough rather than the trustees having a deep suspicion of fundraising.
Being honest with ourselves is a good start. Recognising that we can all do something about this is even better. True, some of these challenges need to be faced by the sector as a whole but many of them can be addressed via the way we work on a daily basis. We can ensure that the development of our people in our teams is a top priority and we have a management team capable of leading this development. We can ensure that we reward good performance while actively addressing under-performance. We can all acknowledge that we don’t know everything and be truly open to new ideas that meet the needs of the organisation as well as potential donors. We can all make an effort to understand the wider challenges of the organisation and work with our non-fundraising colleagues to meet these challenges.
It is a privilege to do what we do. We can shape the future of this profession. Rather than complaining that we’re not well understood, let’s build something we can all be proud of.