Fundraisers Need Commercial Experience to Reach Top Job - Research
19 October 2013 at 8:15 am
Commercial experience is essential if a fundraiser is to become a chief executive, research by Sydney-based Not for Profit marketing consultancy, More Strategic has shown.
The research, presented at the Resource Alliance's International Fundraising Congress (IFC), comprised interviews with 12 former fundraisers from around the world who had moved up through the ranks to become chief executive or executive director.
Other trends included the ability to build comprehensive internal relationships – most importantly with the board, the desire to manage people and the ability to cope with the loneliness of being CEO.
“Lessons from the Top is about the learnings that ex-fundraisers who are now CEOs have to help others on the same journey,” More Strategic co-founder Gavin Coopey said.
“Despite the different career paths they each took and the different fundraising environments in their respective countries, there was a high degree of coherence in the results.
“One thing that particularly marked out everybody was that they either came from or had delved into the commercial world. They were committed fundraisers but they also had a broad perspective on business.”
More Strategic compiled “Seven Super Strengths” that enable a fundraiser to become a CEO. The strengths are:
- They need to be business people not just fundraisers;
- Good fundraisers naturally understand the art and the science of fundraising, and how to engage external audiences – all important skills to use as leaders;
- An interest in person management is essential. CEOs have to be interested in people and how to get the best from them;
- A 360 degree perspective on the operation and the world is a must. CEOs have to be engaged with the mission, and understand service delivery, the finance team, in fact, all aspects of the ‘business’. Too often Fundraisers are focussed specialists not generalists;
- Understanding the power of persuasion is an essential strength, as too is an understanding and appreciation of internal politics; all of which helps with managing stakeholders;
- Being a CEO can be lonely so it’s important to build the necessary support networks including mentors and other external networks of peers;
- Most critical is an understanding of trustees and how to work with a board. If a CEO fails it will undoubtedly be because they haven’t built the board they need. As one interviewee put it, “The executive manages the business, I manage the board”. While another remarked that “most boards are impossible, clueless totally clueless, but happy to be clueless”.
“Most boards don’t understand fundraising or they have limited knowledge of what is important for sustainability,” Coopey said.
“This is partly why they don’t know they need fundraisers as leaders. However, as financial sustainability becomes increasingly difficult to guarantee, particularly in the UK and Europe where finances are tight, more boards are beginning to open up to concept of fundraisers as leaders.”
The Australian fundraisers-turned-CEOs interviewed were Jennifer Doubell, executive director, Peter Mac Foundation – Australia; Alex Green, general manager, Sir David Martin Foundation; Kate Thiele, chief executive, Guide Dogs, SA and NT; and Jan Chisholm, fundraising director, Vision Australia and former chief executive of Pareto Fundraising.
Neelam Makhijani, chief executive of the Resource Alliance, which works with NGOs around the world to help them build their financial sustainability, said: “Fundraisers have the passion for the cause, the ability to inspire a wide range of stakeholders and the income generation skills needed to lead charitable organisations from strength to strength. The sector should work harder to develop and encourage more fundraisers to take on these leadership roles."