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Fundraising Leadership – Made Not Born

Thursday, 9th May 2013 at 10:04 am
Staff Reporter
A charity’s fundraising department needs its own champions and middle management will have the biggest impact on an organisation’s fundraising and perhaps even the charity’s ultimate success, says Neelam Makhijani is Chief Executive of global Not for Profit, Resource Alliance.

Thursday, 9th May 2013
at 10:04 am
Staff Reporter



Fundraising Leadership – Made Not Born
Thursday, 9th May 2013 at 10:04 am

A charity’s fundraising department needs its own champions and middle management will have the biggest impact on an organisation’s fundraising and perhaps even the charity’s ultimate success, says Neelam Makhijani is Chief Executive of global Not for Profit, Resource Alliance.

If leaders are dealers in hope, as Napoleon Bonaparte had it, fundraising departments could probably use a few more.

The US, the world’s biggest fundraising market, faces a crisis of confidence. According to recent research, half of chief fundraisers plan to leave their jobs within two years; 40 per cent are considering leaving fundraising all together.

Australian charities should take note. Fundraisers in the country face many of the same challenges causing their US colleagues to despair: economic uncertainty, increasing competitiveness and internal upheaval, among them. All are putting strains on departments that remain crucial to charities’ fortunes. And, while leadership is vital at any time, it’s particularly important at present.

For a start, there’s not much hope about in Australia either. In Deloitte’s recent survey of the country’s fundraisers, only one in 10 was optimistic of a better year ahead. Motivating staff, maintaining morale and sustaining the vision when the fundraising environment is tough, and many have seen restructuring and redundancies, is a mighty challenge.

Graham Leigh at workforce development charity Skills – Third Sector told a recent Resource Alliance breakfast briefing in London that even where employment in the sector remains strong, job security is often low. Getting the best from people in these circumstances takes inspirational managers.

Furthermore, fundraisers face increased competition as a result of the economy – another factor identified in the surveys. We need strong leaders both to make the case for investment in fundraising in the face of tighter budgets and to champion new thinking and methods that will see charities succeed. One finding of a recent year-long study into the UK’s most successful fundraising charities was particularly striking: ideas matter.

“It is the quality of thought that underlies action that gives rise to greatness, not the actions themselves,” the report, Great Fundraising, argued.

Finally, we need leaders to help develop expertise in fundraising departments and cultivate the next generation. Many charities have already come up against skills shortages and difficulty finding experienced fundraising heads.

Made, not born

So where is this leadership going to come from?

Well, first, it’s probably not going to come from the board. As we know, lack of leadership and understanding of fundraising at board level is among the most common challenges fundraisers battle against. Instead, the fundraising department needs its own champions. It is middle management that will have the biggest impact on the organisation’s fundraising and perhaps even the charity’s ultimate success.

Second, it’s not already necessarily to be found in the sector. The reason charities find it so hard to source the fundraisers they need is because the industry is desperately short of people with the required skills. Our research while developing training for the new Future Leaders Programme for Fundraisers revealed a big gap in middle management expertise. As one fundraising director told us, there is a “crying need” for better professional development in this segment of the market.

Fortunately, however, leaders are made, not born. The skills to lead from the middle, to motivate staff, and to convince, educate and persuade the board can be taught. Leadership training is well tested elsewhere in the private and third sectors, and it can have a dramatic impact on fundraising performance.

The reluctance to invest in fundraising and middle management is not usually down to doubts about that, however. Instead, it has two causes: First, the difficult economic environment is squeezing budgets, leaving training looking like an unnecessary luxury to some. That’s easily answered, although a difficult market makes skills and investment in their development more valuable, not less. Without good leadership in the fundraising department the market will just be more difficult, for longer.

The second complaint is retention. With high turnover in many departments, some charities fear they’ll never see the return on their investment in training. But, again, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Poor leadership results in poor retention. Moreover, by developing fundraisers as leaders, they can be given more responsibility sooner, boosting productivity.

If organizations don’t have the leaders they need in fundraising, it is up to them to do something about it; there really is no one else to blame. To take another famous observation about leadership – this time from industrial Jean Paul Getty: “The employer generally gets the employees he deserves.”

Fundraising deserves better.

About the author: Neelam Makhijani is Chief Executive of the Resource Alliance – a global charity that works with organisations to help build financial sustainability by building skills, knowledge and promoting excellence within civil society.

The Future Leaders Programme for Fundraisers is accepting applications until 31 May 2013. For more information click here.

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