This one will probably get me in trouble, but frankly I don’t care.  I’ve been working in fundraising for almost 25 years.  Richard has been in it for over 38 years.  Throughout  that time we have continually witnessed the erosion of solid fundraising professionals in our industry.
However, before I get into this, I want to be very clear.  While Richard and I definitely believe this is a problem we have to address, there are many, many great development professionals who are doing phenomenal work.  There are most certainly people with passion, a real sense of call for their job who are incredibly adept at their work.  You are amazing.
Unfortunately, there are not enough of you.
By now, you have probably either heard about or read the new report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy called, “Under Developed: A National Study of Challenges Facing Non-Profit Fundraising.”  If you haven’t read it, please do.  It addresses this issue in great detail.
Often the non-profits we are so fortunate to serve ask us to help them in the hiring process for major gift officers and development directors.  In the last 3 months, between Richard and myself, we have probably looked at 80-100 resumes in four different searches we are involved in and held numerous interviews, both over the phone and in person.
It’s depressing.  Either these good people don’t have enough experience or their work history has so many moves it makes your head spin.
So what is going on?  Here are some thoughts:

  1. The non-profit industry has exploded in the last 15-20 years and we can’t keep up with demand.  This has resulted in many unqualified development professionals in positions they have no business being in.
  2. Leadership does not see the value in hiring quality development professionals. As we have written about numerous times, leaders (including boards) do not value a culture of philanthropy, therefore they don’t place a high value on the development department.  Thus, pay is low, along with their power and influence in the organization.
  3. We are not educating well.  Now admittedly, I don’t know every program in the country well, but who is training our students well in non-profit fundraising besides Indiana University?  I know there are all kinds of programs in universities today related to non-profit management, but aside from a handful of young people I know, the resumes and interviews I’ve been experiencing leave me unimpressed.
  4. Our industry conferences are very poor.  I’m going to be honest, I’ve attended dozens of fundraising conferences over the years and I cannot for the life of me say I was ever impressed with the quality of any one of them.  Yes, they are a great time to meet people, but if I’m to be honest about the quality of the seminars, they are really lacking.  I don’t know how many professional conferences I’ve attended in which someone is presenting about how well a strategy worked and there’s no data to back the story up.  I mean, the beauty of our industry is that it produces tangible results, right?  Yet these conferences are filled with seminars that are either commercials for agencies and consultants like us, or a lot folks talking about anecdotal evidence to prove how great their strategies are.  Richard and I get so angered with these conferences that we rarely ever attend.
  5. Lack of mentoring—How many older, more seasoned fundraising professionals are actively mentoring younger folks?  And, conversely, how many young professionals are seeking out more experienced professionals to be mentored?  It’s not happening enough.  I don’t know if we’re so ego-driven that we feel threatened by mentoring or being mentored, but this is where our industry could do more.

Gosh, I’m sure there are a ton more reasons.  I just can’t get into them all here.  But, now that I’ve laid out some “why” reasons, let’s quickly talk about what can be done.  Here are some thoughts:

  1. Better leadership—If there is not a true culture of philanthropy in an organization, you will not attract or retain good quality fundraising professionals.
  2. Long-term vision—Connected to leadership, if an organization does not value a long-term vision, it will not hire, train or value good people.
  3. Better professional development—Our industry needs to get better at providing higher quality training.  We need to push our universities to create better programs and make them just as attractive as holding an MBA in business.
  4. We need the “good ones” to step up—If you are an exceptional fundraiser you have a responsibility to the industry you love so much.  You have to be able to give back your time to help the next generation of professionals.  They need to learn from you and me.  We have to come alongside of these young professionals and help them grow.
  5. Demand that fundraising conferences step up their content—If you are on the planning committees of conferences you have an obligation to be smart and creative about the type of seminars and training that takes place.  Demand that presentations always come with results.  Attract quality people.  Think outside of the box, don’t just go through the motions of the same old, same old.
  6. Don’t hire low quality people—You may be desperate to hire people.  But don’t allow yourself to hire someone just because “she was the best of the lot.”  If you have to, think outside the industry and find people who have the skills and attributes you are looking for and really train them.  And, for gosh sakes, if you see a resume where every two years an MGO is at another non-profit…that is a huge red flag, not a badge of honor.

We have got to get this right.  Our industry is going to continue to grow.  There are more needs out there than ever.  If you, who are so good at this work, don’t step it up, we will not be able to meet the demand for good quality development professionals.  Let’s help our industry thrive.  Together we can do it.
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