In our sector we are often pulled in many different and competing directions. Individual interests, priorities and differing “opinions” can at times put us in the most awkward and cringe-worthy positions resulting in questionable or bad decisions. Despite the fact that we, as professional fundraisers are the subject matter experts on fundraising best practices, management or other individuals with power can lead (or force) us astray.
Years ago I worked for a small organization that worked with kids living with hearing loss. It was a great organization with a big mission. As implementation of the annual plan was beginning, the Executive Director and the senior-most administrative assistant (who held a lot of power in the organization) started telling me who I should and shouldn’t solicit for donations.
The situation became intolerable in light of the fact that the organization’s fundraising had been stagnant for years and they were light years away from applying some of the fundamental best practices that makes philanthropy flourish.
Several things were at play here. Keep it mind that this is not exclusive to this particular organization. Over the years I’ve heard countless exasperated fundraisers say “oh but my ED won’t let me ….”, or “my board doesn’t believe in…”, or better yet “so and so won’t let me meet with our major donors/Board members”, and so on. You get what I’m saying, you’ve heard or probably have experienced this at least once before, amIright?!!
- Lack of understanding of fundraising best practices
It is the duty of the fundraising professional to stay on top of latest trends, tips, and tools that make fundraising more effective and efficient. Learning about what research and experience tells us about best practices is the cornerstone of professional development. Yet when we share this knowledge with colleagues, the fundraising knowledge-base is continually challenged by those who know less than we do. This demonstrates a clear lack of respect towards our expertise, but more importantly, towards our professional integrity. I would even go as far as arguing that it’s due, in large part, with the second point on this list …
- Opinion, not data, drives decision-making
Do you know any other profession where everyone, including their uncle, knows more about fundraising than you? Confirmation bias happens when someone has a belief about something and then our brains start to actively filter for evidence that our belief is correct. This is the problem with opinion-based decisions. The moment we make up our mind that something is a certain way, our brain starts to look for evidence to confirm it. The problem is that at the same time it also neatly discards any evidence to the contrary.
- Discomfort with fundraising
Not many people are comfortable with asking for a donation, as evidenced by point one above, once colleagues understand fundraising best practices, they’ll understand that it’s not about the money. Another one of our jobs is to continually be in an education mode so we collaboratively build that much-talked-about culture of philanthropy that enables great fundraising to happen.
- White supremacy
This is a biggy. The philanthropic sector is riddled with a culture of white supremacy / white saviour syndrome. After reading this article, you will likely be more aware and/or sensitive towards the systems that have enabled this to persist in our sector.
Here’s what happens: privileged people make programmatic, strategic and financial decisions on behalf of those less fortunate, usually POC. In the example shared above (and I have dozens of similar examples), it was always a cis white person deciding that we shouldn’t solicit a gift from so-and-so because they’re immigrants who don’t speak the language very well and struggle to make ends meet. Never mind that (1) we should never take the power away from anyone, (2) program recipients often make the best and most loyal donors out there, and (3) people in lower income brackets give a higher proportion of their income to charity.
These are very concerning issues in our sector. If we are going to change the systems that prevent good fundraising to happen, we will continually get in our own way. So whether it’s a one-off or monthly gift to the annual campaign, or a major or legacy gift, don’t let non-fundraisers tell you who you should and shouldn’t solicit. Instead tackle the internal culture that prevents your organization from achieving fundraising success.