We have all been there before. Colleagues who feel threatened by your work. Or you accidently step on someone else’s turf.
I am a pro bono consultant in marketing and fundraising. Most of the time, I am insulated from the internal politics of my clients. But about 1/3 of my fundraising clients have HR problems.
It always starts out innocently. At the beginning of a project, we talk about their fundraising issues. Very quickly I start sensing the unspoken tension, the hesitation about including others in the project. Although a client may appear to have a fundraising problem, once I scratch that surface, it is not a fundraising problem but a symptom of a deeper problem. A problem that has nothing to do with fundraising.
An example: two branch offices, lots of tension
I was helping a client refresh their messaging to donors. They had existed for decades, so their “value proposition” needed to be updated. I asked them the same 3 questions I ask all my clients:
• why is your charity unique?
• what is your recent track record (external metrics)?
• what impact will a donation of $200 make?
My main contact did not know the answers, so he referred me to another office. But the other office did not think that I should have been hired - they were threatened by me and they avoided me. So I went back to my contact and asked again. This went on for months and I never got the answers.
That is not a fundraising problem, that is an HR problem. But without cooperation, it paralyzes fundraising. Imagine trying to convince a major donor to give to you and not being able to articulate why!
Fix your HR problems before fundraising
Here is a quick quiz you can ask your management team to review. Think of it as a polite way to introduce a touchy subject.
Unproductive Board, ED and staff relations
• Does each group communicate well together?
• Does each group understand and execute their responsibilities without interfering with other groups?
• Is there an established process for each group to provide feedback?
• Is your Chair a strong leader?
• Does the ED manage fairly, promote positive morale, delegate effectively and encourage staff development? Does the ED accept feedback and try to change?
• Is there an established process to assess performance? For example, does the Board meet without the ED to discuss her performance? How does the Board manage an ineffective Chair?
• If volunteer tenure is short term, is it due to a lack of people management skills?
Changing role of the Founder
• Is the founder able to adapt to a different style of leadership?
• Does the founder accept changes to strategic direction? Eg Founder’s Syndrome
Fear of change
• Is staff open to new ways of doing things? Do they accept feedback from different points of view?
• Is there a short term succession plan for the ED in case of illness?
• Is there a long term succession plan for the ED, Chair and other key leaders?
Build your courage and address the tension. Otherwise, that feeling of “walking on eggshells” will wear you down.
Lelia MacDonald is a Volunteer Consultant with MAS (www.masadvise.org) - a pro bono management consulting charity. For 25 years, the retired professionals at MAS have helped over 1,300 nonprofits and charities become more efficient in governance, strategy, HR, marketing and fundraising. Apply to MAS today.