Strong fundraisers, weak bosses?

The best leaders I’ve had in my career have been surgeons, academics, arts administrators, software sales executives, and humanitarians. Most have been brilliant.

The fundraisers, by and large, have not.

Now, this could just be bad luck, and I have had a few exceptions to this, and know colleagues who’ve only had capable, supportive, and inspiring fundraiser bosses and would follow them to any organization. And I really thought carefully before opening my blog post with this. But it’s my truth and experience, and I know I’m not alone because Tony Elischer has started the conversation of fundraising leadership as a way to stem, what, in his view, is a crisis in our sector.

In his 101 blog post, Tony presents the problem.

And last week, live from the International Fundraising Congress, Tony, and our other guest and 101 blogger, Rory Green, joined me in the first 101 webinar to examine the premise our sector is starved for leadership because it eats its young (emerging leaders). And I cast no stones; I also lead a team. I’m typing in the mirror.

And I’m keeping this blog post short because the webinar is long. Please watch it below (or click here), and then come back and finish reading and add to the conversation.

If you can’t watch, here are some conclusions so far by Tony and Rory with much, much more detail of course in the webinar conversation:

  • Everyone along the management chain can make actions to improve culture and management practices to spot talent early on, value and retain it;
  • Fundraisers have a responsibility to the sector and themselves not to job-hop;
  • Organizations need to think outside the tick-box when hiring. Shouldn’t attitude and track record matter more than how many years a candidate’s spent in a similar role?

And now it’s our turn. It’s our turn to respond, debate, and offer solutions. Because crisis is a scary charge.

For me, it was excruciating being the webinar host. I’m much better at editorializing than interviewing other people. But it’s given me a few days to think about my own experience, and start to answer these two questions upon which I hope you’ll all pile on and add your own. Here are questions for you, dear 101 readers, on the topic of emerging leadership and how we can save a sector in crisis (my answers in italics):

  1. What can leaders and/or organizations do to incent emerging and mid-career fundraisers to stay?

My answer: as a leader, I’ve fallen down when I haven’t learned the personality type and motivation of each member on my team, and be sensitive to the group dynamic, which is ever changing. I’m a direct communicator – at my subtlestI’m a neon sign – and with this, I must be aware of the style of my team member, and how they’re receiving me and my message. Know better, anticipate where everyone on your team is coming from. On motivation: it doesn’t matter if in five years a staff person sees themselves as a fundraiser, ornithologist, or humanitarian aid worker. I will support them in getting there. In the meantime, they’re expected to be the best fundraiser they can, and represent our department and profession as such. This has nearly always resulted in mutual loyalty and long, committed employment.

  1. What can fundraisers do for themselves to make sure they get what they need to thrive and grow into leaders themselves?

My answer: there’s the advice in real estate to ‘buy your second house first’. Indeed, the best jobs I’ve had have been those that presented the biggest stretches. And it turns out that with each of these I had a boss who hired me for a personality trait, or something – an attitude, or value – they saw in me unrelated to my fundraising. These bosses turned out to be supportive, always available when I needed them, but gave me trust, autonomy, and support when I failed. This undermines Tony’s statement that fundraisers need to grow into their jobs, but it does support wholly what we all agree: that people are everything, and this starts at the top.

Unrelated, one last question for you to consider and answer, please:

  1. We’ve had over 300 views of the webinar since Thursday, and had over 200 of you watching live! We’re going to plan a series of webinars for 2015, and of course they will be about what you want to hear about and will participate in. Some ideas brought for already: as I said on the webinar, niche fundraising. There’s been interest in bringing together fundraisers from around the world to discuss the peculiarities of, say, museum or church fundraising. Or would you rather we kept it broad and for everyone, like this first webinar on emerging leadership? Someone has suggested fundraising in China, which I know I’d love to learn more about.

And you? Please let me know here or at your ideas for the next webinar.

Lastly, Tony Elischer and Rory Green are happy to chat in this space if you want to ask questions, get clarification, or ask them to deepen anything you heard them say on the webinar.

Now over to you, the 101 community!


This post is part of the 2014 IFC Series. 101fundraising is proud to be the blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress!

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