Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.
Last month, CompassPoint, in conjunction with the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, released a report revealing some unfortunate statistics which provide real insight into the fundraising industry. Through raw data collected from more than 2,700 nonprofit and development professionals from across the country and representing a cross-section of organizational structures, Underdeveloped illustrates the oftentimes challenging career tract of fundraising, particularly within smaller nonprofits. The report explains how frustrations within a development position can commonly lead to myriad hurdles for an entire organization and offers tangible advice on how the sector as a whole can dramatically reshape the field of fundraising.
It’s no secret that fund development is tough work. With limited financial resources and human capital to dedicate toward annual funds, campaigns or special events, nonprofit organizations typically find themselves stuck in a rut; a rut that seldom generates new or additional funds. Moreover, the apathetic and even sometimes fearful attitudes toward fundraising among staff and board members can lead to a philanthropic dead-end. For fundraisers who find themselves discouraged with their organization’s fundraising landscape, or lack thereof, transitioning into another position or leaving the sector altogether seem more promising than transforming a stagnant development infrastructure into a flourishing operation.
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Regardless of the sector, remaining cognizant of a budget, while increasing productivity and probability generally is not a simple task. However, when the implications of failing to produce measurable results are so high; when a nonprofit may no longer be viable enough to provide shelter for the homeless, or an after-school program’s doors must close because its financial sustainability ran its course, then the conversation of how to revitalize attitudes toward fundraising must be revisited. The report provides excellent recommendations on what can be done to reroute the current direction in which the fundraising profession is headed, including strengthening talent, sharing accountability, and creating achievable benchmarks. Here are some other helpful starting points:
- Build cohesiveness. Development is not one position, but rather a unified effort. Anyone directly associated with a nonprofit should be viewed as a fundraiser. At all times, staff, board members, and volunteers should be should be ready and willing to champion the organization’s mission, cultivate relationships and promote giving.
- Be innovative. A mentor at my first fundraising job once told me that I was “too naïve to know what won’t work.” It was empowering. I carry those words with me each day in my fundraising career. All nonprofit professionals should remain open to taking risks and coloring outside the lines. Especially within smaller shops, innovation should not be such a scary word. Fundraising doesn’t always have to be a predictable routine.
- Don’t apologize. The report presents an excellent case for why the field of fundraising needs to be elevated. Because money is viewed as a taboo topic, professionals oftentimes come into the sector with a hesitancy of asking others for money, that is if they come into the sector at all. Philanthropy is impactful and rewarding. Raising funds should be viewed as an invitation to a donor to make a substantial change in an area they care deeply about. We should never apologize for offering such a tremendous opportunity.
Lindsay Walker is a fundraising consultant. She earned a B.A. in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and a M.P.A. in nonprofit management and policy analysis from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/lindsaydwalker/ and follow her on Twitter at @lindsaydwalker.
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