The fundraising leadership crisis – is it real?

publication date: Jan 22, 2015
author/source: Rory Green

Think about your fundraising career.

Rory GreenHave you ever had a bad boss? Unrealistic goals? 

A board that doesn’t understand or appreciate fundraising?

Have you ever stayed at a job for less than two years?

Have you ever really hated a fundraising job?

Well, you aren’t alone. There is a global conversation happening and it is one I think Canadian fundraisers are an important part of. A conversation about a leadership crisis in fundraising.

What do we mean by a leadership crisis?

The charitable sector is currently experiencing:

  • A lack of diversity in the board and senior leadership
  • A lack of understanding and appreciation of fundraising
  • A lack of investment leadership
  • High turnover in fundraising staff
These are significant warning signs that something is wrong and we need to fix it.

I, like many people from the millennial generation, started my career as a fundraiser. I was passionate, cared about the cause and truly wanted to make a difference in the world. And yet, my first experience was in a dysfunctional culture with a lack of leadership, the combination of which, can squash a fundraiser’s passion like a bug under a shoe.

And I wasn’t alone, I see it happening all over the sector. I’ve had the great fortune and pleasure to meet some amazing new fundraisers, who are struggling to stay engaged at not-for-profits.

Quite frankly it scares me. I worry that people are going to leave the sector all together. Or worse - that smart, passionate people are going to stop fundraising!

The solution is in front of us

We are never going to reach our full potential as a sector if we can’t figure this out. Because you can know all there is to know about direct mail, planned giving and major gifts – but none of that matters if you don’t stay in your job for more than a year, or if have high staff turnover in your team. As long as turnover remains high, we'll never get the traction, respect and results that we need. The only solution to this problem is to grow, nurture and invest in leadership.

Let’s take action now

So if you are with me so far, reflecting back on your own terrible bosses and nodding along – I invite you to stop being a victim and start being part of the solution. I’m not claiming to have all the answers, but if we are going to have a positive impact on this sector, here are a few things we can do now:

First and foremost invest in yourself

Don’t just use your PD to learn about fundraising – develop your leadership skills. It doesn’t matter what stage of your career you are at, it is never too soon (or too late) to develop (or sharpen) you leadership skills.

Find and be a mentor

Look beyond off the shelf training, and find a mentor who can help you grow as a leader. And pay it forward by mentoring others – you may find you may learn just as much by mentoring someone as you do by being mentored.

Keep the conversation going

If you would like to explore this issue further you can watch the webinar I participated in with Rebecca Davies and Tony Elischer here. Let’s work together to be a strong Canadian voice and keep this conversation going. Share you stories and experiences below in the comments. And tell us what you think needs to happen to help solve this crisis.

Rory Green has been fundraising since the age of 10, when she volunteered to help run her school’s annual Bike-A-Thon for juvenile cancer research. Fundraising became her vocation at 14, when she lost a friend to Leukemia. Rory Green has been in the philanthropic sector for over eight years and is currently the Associate Director, Advancement for the Faculty of Applied Science at Simon Fraser University. In her spare time Rory is the founder and editor of Fundraiser Grrl, the fundraising community’s go-to source for comic relief.

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