I am very happy to introduce you to a brand new contributor at Step By Step Fundraising- Gayle Gifford (pictured at left)

Gayle brings over 30 years of experience to her work with nonprofits – from her personal activism for peace, disarmament, environmental, human and civil rights, to her professional work as a consultant and former director of development and senior nonprofit manager.

She is one of fewer than 100 individuals in the US who hold the advanced fundraising credential, ACFRE, issued by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Gayle learned her craft as Director of Development and Communications at PLAN USA, as Deputy Director/Director of Development and Marketing at Save The Bay, and as Director of Development at CityYear RI.

I urge you to read more from Gayle’s fantastic collection of articles and learn about her consulting services by visiting her site, Cause & Effect.  I want to sincerely thank Gayle for sharing her time and knowledge with our readers.  I hope we’ll see her many more times!

– Jim Berigan

If fundraising is a profession, why are we so angry with our amateur board members?

Last week I found myself in a very interesting conversation about the “profession” of fundraising.

A colleague was sharing ideas from a workshop she attended. The presenter  had described a common situation that many directors of development experience.

You know the one. The development director has just laid out a carefully crafted strategy based on best practices and research. Immediately a board member or other leadership volunteer challenges the elements of the plan.

I’ve found that this scenario is very common when planning events or personal solicitation campaigns.

Usually, the challenge reflects the anxiety of the volunteer at being asked to step outside of his or her comfort zone. The volunteer/board member, fearful of the task ahead, comes up with dozens of reasons why the carefully developed strategy won’t work. Why, another organization he volunteered at just sent out a glossy letter instead of asking him to make phone calls.

So my colleague noted that the workshop presenter made the case that fundraising is a profession. One of the ways to tell a true profession is whether or not it has a body of knowledge that is “unique and specific to its practice and function.” (AFP).  She made the case that fundraising does in fact have an established and growing body of knowledge.

The presenter then described a few scenarios of other professions with established bodies of knowledge where it would be unimaginable to find the amateur telling the professional how to do that job. Here are two that came to mind:

  • Could you imagine a board member telling the chief of surgery at a nonprofit hospital a better way to perform an upcoming operation?
  • Or a committee chair telling the head coach at an independent school a better way to train his basketball players? (Well, maybe you could imagine that, but you get the picture.)

So why do board members feel they can tell fundraising “professionals” how to do their job?

But here was my counterpoint.

Before we get a little self-righteous about all that profession stuff, maybe we need to look into the mirror.

Perhaps our board members don’t treat us as the professionals we are because we act like amateurs can do our jobs.

Case in point:

Why do development directors and executive directors act like their board members rose from the primordial ooze as trained fundraisers?

I find way too much agony and even anger in this profession at board members about fundraising.  I’ve written about this time and again (see Banishing your expectation of board fundraising). How, if we believe that fund development is a profession, can we expect good-hearted people with no fund development background to spontaneously do our jobs for us?

We can’t both complain that we aren’t respected for the professionals we are and then simultaneously gripe and moan when the amateurs on our boards don’t act like professional fundraisers.

Find the willing, equip them with compelling cases for support, train them, and hold their hands all the way through the process. In essence, put those professional skills to work.

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This entry was posted on Monday, October 4th, 2010 at 11:58 am and is filed under Better Boards, Fundraising. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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Posted on 10 March 2011

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. D. Allen says:

    I think this misses the point, at least somewhat. What I struggle with, is board members who think any old person can do fundraising (“But don’t ask ME!”)–how hard can it be, right? How can you “train” someone who thinks they already have all the answers, doesn’t need any help (“after all, I’ve attended three black tie balls/galas/golf tournaments, I KNOW how these things work!”), and the staff should just be quiet and do as they’re told!


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