Is There a Crisis in Fundraising Leadership?

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How do we attract, develop and retain good fundraisers?young_leaders_stock

At last week’s International Fundraising Congress, many of us were transfixed by a provocative conversation about “The Emerging Fundraising Leadership Challenge.

International fundraising guru Tony Elischer, managing director of Think Consulting Solutions, and 5 dynamic women:  Rory Green,  Maria Ros Jernberg,  Joanne Warner,  Elise Ledsinger, and  Lucy Gower led the conversation.

(By the way, if you have not discovered Rory Green’s hilarious Fundraiser Grrl Tumbler feed, go there right now and subscribe for some much-needed laughs!)

The presenters bemoaned what it’s like for emerging fundraising leaders who are looking for a bright future.

How do we spot, train and develop young talented  – and especially tech-savvy –  fundraisers?

Is fundraising leadership “pale, stale and male?”

Do you agree? Let’s talk about the “stale” part of the above sentence.

Everything is changing about fundraising today. (You’re probably tired of hearing me say to you, “fundraising has changed.”)

Our industry is being blown apart by new technology and new ideas.

Our industry is being blown apart by new technology tools.

Our industry is being blown apart by new technology tools.

The way we communicate is changing drastically.

What donors expect and respond to is very different.

So the stale ideas that are prevalent in so many boardrooms and executive suites are clearly not going to take us where we need to go.

And stale ideas are not going to keep talented fundraisers around.

31% of fundraisers left their jobs because of an “old-school culture of fundraising.”

What’s the old school culture look like?

  • It’s when the president of a college tells me “I don’t know whether to believe my staff.” (This has happened to me more than once!)
  • It’s when the board members think they know more about fundraising than staff does.
  • It’s when your leaders aren’t willing to try out anything new – just sticking with the same old stale fundraising efforts year after year.
  • It’s when a toxic culture squashes young fundraisers’ ideas and dreams.

Penelope Burk found that 40% of fundraisers said that conflicting opinions  on HOW to raise the money was making them leave their jobs. 

Try a “Risk” or “New Strategies” Fund as part of your development budget.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had a budget item for new technology or to try out new ideas?

Remember, this small pool of money will very likely pay itself back before you know it!

Does your organization have a "stuck in the past" attitude toward fundraising?

Does your organization have a “stuck in the past” attitude toward fundraising?

I like fundraisers who say “give me one dollar and I’ll give you $4 back within two years.”

That’s what a risk fund can help support.

This way you won’t have to deal with the perennial, “We don’t have it in the budget.”

If you have an innovative culture, your staff feels supported to try out new technologies.

And you’ll probably emerge on top in a few years too.

Could it be that the leaders of charities do not appreciate fundraising or talented fundraisers?

Whoa! They don’t appreciate fundraising?  And/or they don’t appreciate “internal fundraising competence?”

Could it be that there is something “fundamentally wrong with the internal culture of many organizations,” in that fundraisers, and particularly talented young women fundraisers —  are not respected, appropriately rewarded or listened to?

(I have to say, what else is new here?)

The presenters called the situation “shameful at every level.”

If you want to be successful, fundraising needs to be integrated into every aspect of your organization.

Everyone needs to understand fundraising and their role in supporting donors and the overall fundraising effort.

I’ll be writing and speaking more in the coming months about how to develop a stronger culture of philanthropy at your organization.

Screen shot from the Fundraisergrrl tumbler feed!

Screen shot from the Fundraisergrrl tumbler feed! Our go-to place for humor!

Can you create a culture in your organization that inspires risk and change?

  • Can you make employees feel important and valued?
  • Can you set a good example of work-life balance?
  • Can you create a culture that values the work fundraisers do?
  • Can you make your employees feel safe and supported?

Do you want to keep your best young talent?

Then make sure you appreciate and recognize “the skills and insights of the next generation of leaders.”

I’m willing to bet our sector could do a much better job than we are doing.

Finding and cultivating new talent has got to be a priority to help lead us to a powerful and productive future.

If you agree, leave a comment!


So come on everybody – let’s make a pledge to the new ‘Grow it, Be it, Value it’ Campaign.

Join the movement to value talent, invest in the next generation, be open to change, look for and nurture new fundraisers coming up in the ranks!

Read all about the Leadership Crisis in Fundraising here. It’s worth your time but it might make you angry!

Give me a comment! Do you agree or NOT?