Fundraising Effectiveness Comes Down to Clarity

Feb 23, 2016 | Workplace Communication

Find the purple unicorn through real strategy.

The fourth in a series of conversations between Jeremy Hatch, artfulfundraiser, and myself. I’m responding to his recent post, In Search of Philanthropic Culture. And Purple Unicorns.

Here’s the deal, Jeremy: I believe in Purple Unicorns.

Both cultures and individuals can lack tenacity and persistence. Your posts in our conversation have done a great job articulating what happens when the development director doesn’t take full responsibility for the role. Certainly, many organizations could benefit from a D.D. taking responsibility for leading in this area. And I agree: it is his or her job!

There are also two organizational factors working against our fundraising staff:

  1. We diffuse power to the point where no one is leading an organization.
  2. The board and executive leadership are unclear of their goals and strategic plan so they don’t hire the right development director: one that fits into the culture AND can lead the development function based on where the organization is now and will be. As you said, we hire these folks based on how easy they are to talk to or their willingness to drink beer. Those are not professional credentials.

First, let’s talk about power and decisionmaking in our charities.

I’ve seen boards, executive directors, and staff at all levels deny their own leadership. There’s a lot of buck passing…and it ain’t the green kind.

We assume that volunteers and staff are well intentioned so they don’t need feedback or accountability for hitting their goals. There are countless people listed on event committee rosters, recognized in the program, who never showed up at one meeting. and did zero work. Blek.

Recently a development director told me about quitting his job because the other departments weren’t held responsible for their results. They chased new ideas and overspent, putting the pressure on the fundraising department to make up the difference. Double blek.

This is difficult to manage as leaders, but it must be done.

Boards and top-level staff need to recognize when disengagement is happening and fix it. Sometimes this means letting people go…for the sake of the organization and that person’s happiness.

Most nonprofits aren’t doing a good job supporting all of their employees with finding their own purple unicorn, that is helping them understand how they connect specifically with the mission. Instead we allow disengagement (i.e. missing deadlines, gossiping, not working) to occur.

We don’t support them in dealing with what may be the trauma of their work. Fundraisers hear some of the most personal and intimate reasons for why someone may be donating: in honor of a loved one who committed suicide; because their mother had breast cancer and it was the only organization who helped her with daily living expenses; because the donor was once homeless and lived in that shelter. This can be difficult to emotionally process.

The executive director needs to bold enough to build personal and professional development into the budget. The board needs to address the human part of human resources through its strategic planning.

The truth is the entire organization needs to have more tenacity when it comes to meeting goals and appreciate each function for contributing to the mission.

Silvery glittery sequins

It’s easier to hire the right person when you know what you need.

I believe in Purple Unicorns because Michael Porter’s strategy work says that they exist. Organizations that are truly carrying out their mission and vision do so because their strategy aligns with every last bit of work that the organization does:

  • Financial goals
  • How key stakeholders are treated and experience the mission
  • The organizational processes that deliver that experience
  • The learning and development goals for every staff person

This clarity contributes to focus, which helps nonprofits hire the right development director (and all staff). Hiring the right candidate means that they are more likely to stay and be satisfied in their job.

Their satisfaction leads to a meaningful tenure, which leads to accomplishing the mission. And accomplishing the mission is like the purple unicorn with a beautiful coat of sequins.