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Elephant two: The blame game

publication date: Aug 7, 2016
author/source: kimberley MacKenzie, CFRE

Kimberley MacKenzie, CFREIn my first elephant post I talked about fundraising egos. In that piece I talked about the importance of being service oriented. Today’s elephant is: The Blame Game.

At this point in my career I am very fortunate to be able to present at conferences. It always feels like a miracle when people actually show up. So thank you. Of all the great sessions at conferences to choose I’m very grateful to those of you who choose to come to mine.

There is however one thing that happens every single time. There are always a few people who come to the session ready to play the blame game. Fundraisers who seem to be looking for validation that yes their boss really is awful. I’m sorry, I don’t know your boss. What I do know is that blaming other people for your lack of success is not going to get results.

“The Chief Executive Officer doesn’t get it.”

“The board is unhelpful.”

“There isn’t a budget to do what you need to do.”

“The program staff won’t talk to you.”

“The communications director is a tyrant!”

I’ve heard them all. Even said a couple myself a few times.

Too many of us coast in our jobs until we find another one. Bouncing from one job to another with an inflated sense of self-importance. This kind of unhelpful behavior makes us all look bad. No wonder so many people think fundraisers are akin to bad used car salesmen. To be brutally honest many of us are.

When surveyed 27% of executives in organizations with revenue under one million dollars were satisfied with the performance of their Director of Development. For organizations with budgets between one million and five million dollars, that number was just 36%. That means that 73%! (64% respectively) of Executive Directors were dissatisfied with their director of development.[1]

We need to take responsibility for this dismal perception and start changing it. I don’t think that 73% of us are bad at our jobs. I think the profession in general is misunderstood. It is incumbent on us to help people better understand what it takes to raise money. We do this by taking a leadership role in building a culture of philanthropy in our organizations.

The bottom line is, that rather than blaming everyone else in the organization for “not getting it”, we need to take responsibility for the fact that a lot of people don’t understand what it takes to build robust fundraising programs. That’s okay – we are the experts, our job is to help them understand. In order to do that we need to earn respect and trust the perspectives of the people around us and ask ourselves: How can I influence the change needed to change the culture here?

I hope that by calling out some of these big issues we can start to tackle them together. Next time we see each other at a conference; let’s talk about your challenges. Let’s do it in a constructive, appreciative and sincere way. Let’s stop playing the blame game.

Watch for the next elephant in September. We will be talking about staff retention.

Kimberley is deeply passionate about building the capacity of the charitable sector. Kimberley is Editor of Hilborn, Charity eNEWS and also works with a variety of organizations to advance a culture of philanthropy among staff and senior volunteers, to be more authentic and ultimately raise more money for their missions. She serves as a member of the Advisory council for the Rogare Think Tank in Plymouth University and is currently spending a lot of time writing her first book. Contact her via@kimberleycanada, email her at, or  

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