In Search of Philanthropic Culture. And Purple Unicorns.

Feb 18, 2016 | Life Coaching Blogs, Social Responsibility

The Gap of Expectations

10394488_10204132557901150_5806912981899308065_nThe third in a series of conversations between Jeremy Hatch, artfulfundraiser, and myself. Here he goes. . . .

In her inspired call for increased organizational resources and deeper commitments to the fundraising process, Stef Krievins of Stefanie Krievins & Co. righty articulates the limits of what fundraisers can be expected to accomplish without a lasting commitment to philanthropic culture, board engagement and executive leadership similarly invested in the same effort and on the same page. 

I sincerely believe that this gap of expectations between fundraising staff and organizational leadership is a major contributor of short tenures in our profession. We are all looking for the Purple Unicorn of career fulfillment and professional success.

This Organizational Ideal sounds quite irresistible. Adequate staffing and training budgets. Engaged volunteers proactively making connections on our behalf. Executive leadership engaged in the work. But you know what? It does not exist as an Ideal, not at least in any organization I know about.

The largest performing arts organization in the world is the Metropolitan Opera, with a $300million+ annual budget and a Dream Team Board of Directors in the most affluent market imaginable. And yet? They have had in recent years a giant and ongoing leadership and fundraising problem that almost sent the organization to bankruptcy. I promise that at the Met the fundraising staff grumbles about the Board and the Board grouses about the fundraising staff. So it is everywhere.

Building a Philanthropic Culture sounds lovely. But who should lead it? If fundraising is truly a Profession, it must be the Fundraiser who sets the example, who recruits and trains the right volunteers, inspires the board, leads up to the CEO and others in the organization. Why? Because that is the Job.

Let’s compare the Professional Fundraiser who skates every 18 months to the next gig, when times get tough, with other sorts of professionals. Let’s begin with Physicians. Doctors heal people, and for the most part are overwhelming successful in keeping most of us healthy (or patched up) despite extraordinary barriers: private insurance, regulatory red tape, threats of malpractice, downward pressure on resources and income, and on and on.

Doctors have challenging work. And yet the vast majority of them put their head down and do their business of healing. Compassionately, for the most part, despite the obstacles, stress, and high stakes. Because that is the Job.

A Doctor is a Professional. So, too, is a Teacher. Teachers have the most challenging obstacles imaginable with a lack of resources and support starting the long list. And yet Teachers teach, every day. I look back at a lifetime of education from small pants to graduate school and competent, professional teachers (and occasionally inspiring) put me where I stand.

Are there difficult obstacles for fundraisers? There are. But this cannot stop us. Board members won’t help? Find someone who can. Board members should be recruited from the Development committee. Boss doesn’t know how to raise cash? Teach them. Take them with you to $5,000 low carb lunch meetings. No one wants to pay for professional development? Find a mentor. Your older colleagues want to see your professional success. Funders don’t get it?Cultivate them in your good work and by casting a vision.

Fundraising is a noble calling that I’ve devoted nearly 20 years of my life to for some wonderful organizations. But if we are to truly call ourselves professionals we need to own our work, lead our colleagues and volunteers, commit ourselves fully to the organizational challenges we face, and quit looking for that Purple Unicorn of the next job, the easier path, a little more money, a windowed office.

Inspire. Lead, Ask for cash. Do your Job!