I haven’t always been a fundraiser, but having been in the sector for a while now. I have to admit, I love it. I love how much we share ideas and I love that even through we’re all in competition, we help each other out. It’s really refreshing.
What I find less refreshing is the expectations we have of our senior management and the lack of business skills training in our sector, but before you jump to tweet in outrage, let me tell you why…
Earlier in my career I worked in the commercial sector in sales and business development. My MD trusted me as the expert he had employed to generate new business. He invested in me to keep up with the latest techniques and he let me get on with it so that he could get on and do what he was doing as the MD, which was running the company. That was his job, and getting new business was mine. Simple.
I remember a time fairly early on in my career when I came up with an idea. An idea that would generate new business in a new market, an idea which I 100% believed would work. I bounded into my MD”s office with all the enthusiasm and excitement I was feeling. It didn’t last long. I will never forget the look on my MD’s face when I told him my great idea and I will never forget how gutted and demotivated I felt when he point blank refused to listen. I didn’t understand. Did we not both want the same thing?
But that day, and what happened next taught me some key business skills that I’ve employed throughout my career. The problem wasn’t that my idea was bad or that he didn’t think it would work…
The problem was I wasn’t talking his language…
I realise now that I’m a creative person, I’m passionate about what I do, I get excited when there’s something new on the table and if I believe in something, I can enthuse other people and make them see the opportunities…I now know it’s one of my best skills, and it’s why I love what I do.
That day, my MD told me to go away and write a business case, not to be awkward, but because he needed to know that my great idea, the one which made my eyes light up was a solid, well thought through concept that was financially sound, risk considered and carried realistic expectations. I did, he approved it and it worked….really well.
I learnt from that day. I learnt that whilst we both wanted the same thing, he had different responsibilities as MD of the company, and he needed to be confident that this idea was appropriate for the company. He wanted to know:
- Was it appropriate for the brand
- What level of risk did it carry
- Was there a mitigation plan for any risk
- If it failed could we cope with the loss
- If it worked, could we cope with the success
- Was sustainable and deliverable long term
- WOULD IT BE PROFITABLE?
My senior managers and trustees need to know much the same thing.
Since working in the charity sector, I hear all the time about how fundraising isn’t understood and how it’s blocked/stifled/misunderstood at senior management and trustee level.
We seem to expect that our senior management should have a deep understanding about fundraising, but when I think back to my days in the commercial world, there’s no way I would have expected my MD to have an in depth and up to date knowledge about marketing and sales, because that was my job.
When it comes to getting change through, I’ve always called upon my grounding in the commercial sector to be able to give my senior management confidence in what I’m recommending. I often wonder if I hadn’t have had that grounding, would I have been as successful as a fundraiser? I come back from conferences with loads of great ideas, but if I didn’t have the skills to get them approved and implemented, it’s a waste of time.
This is just my experience of how crucial business skills are in our profession. Unfortunately I don’t see many sessions on key business skills at fundraising conferences. We are great at idea sharing and as a fundraiser you can have the best ideas in the world…but if those ideas don’t see the light of day, you are never going to make as much of a difference as you need to.