Monday, November 4, 2013

BIG's Blog: The Gulf

By this time, most of my readers understand that I am espousing a very different approach to fundraising necessitated by the two huge societal shifts that are going on. The first shift is the philanthropic leadership shift as the Depression and WWII generational cohorts decline in number and the Baby Boomer and younger generational cohorts rise to take their place in funding charitable institutions. The second shift is the equally rapid communications technology shift from analogue to digital communications.

Each one of these shifts by themselves would likely cause a rethink of established operating assumptions and tactics, but taken together they are akin to tectonic change by virtue of their seismic shift.

I am in a very unique position as every month I am talking to 20 or 30 different people with leadership responsibility in Development.

What I have noticed for quite some time is the gulf of very differing priorities and perspectives between the two segments of the people I talk to . . . and it always breaks down along what side of Development they are on. If they are a board or Council member, in the case of religious communities, there is a focus on specifically what is changing in fundraising. If, on the other hand, they are the professional fundraising staff leadership, there is almost a singular focus on the “how” of the tactical details that are going to change the trend-line of their fundraising operation. Because, make no mistake about it, professional fundraisers clearly understand the ground underneath them is shifting.

So what is the practical gulf between these groups?

The board or Council leadership does not have to carry the day-to-day responsibility of delivering financial resources for the organization.

The Development Director and their staff, on the other hand, do have the day-to-day responsibility to deliver financial resources for the organization.

The gulf between these two groups is illustrated to me by the direction of the conversation when I talk to members of each group. The questions and focus of the conversation are completely different.

Organizational leadership is very intrigued by the big picture of the shift I am espousing, and are telling me this is all new to them.

Whereas when I talk to paid professional staff they are always interested in focusing on the tactical . . . the “how” of making a new model work.

To an outsider like me this makes total sense. The professional staff has to deliver. Their jobs are on the line if revenue targets are not met. This drives a culture of “looking for silver bullets;” that ONE – hopefully easy-to-implement – new tool, technique, or insight that can immediately increase revenue.

Honestly, with few exceptions, the vast number of professional fundraising leaders understand that “things have really changed,” and they are open to looking at a new fundraising model, but the PRESSURE OF THE MOMENT makes them hesitant to invest time and money in anything that isn’t going to generate an immediate return.

And at the same time, the professional staff understands they have made every conceivable incremental change they can to tweak the way they currently do fundraising. They have no more rabbits in the hat to pull out. Yet they feel the organization’s leadership is only interested in talking about TODAY’S RESULTS.  This singular fact is causing a deep morale problem in many organizations.

How do you bridge this gulf and bring the two groups to the point of talking?

Start talking about the trend-lines in your current program. Looking back over the last three years, what are the trends telling management your fundraising revenues will look like in two, three, or five years?

That conversation can bridge the gulf because it has nothing to do with today’s results; it is about futures.

Join us.
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