Becoming a Fundraising Maestro

Why do relatively few successful fundraising professionals become not-for-profit CEOs or board members, let alone serve on the senior management executive team?

This question needs answering, when you consider that for many Australian not-for-profit organisations, fundraising provides the largest source of income and the dollars to deliver new, transformative programs and services.

Now more than ever fundraisers are required as leaders. It is they who have the knowledge that can help the Australian nonprofit sector navigate through a time of flux, when the very concept of philanthropy/nonprofit income is being redefined by the arrival of venture philanthropists, impact investors, crowdfunding and social media, all of which is growing not-for-profit organisations’ funding and market reach.

An urgent need to invest in leadership capacity-building

Pro Bono Australia’s 2015 sector survey, Gauging the State of the NFP Sector, identified nonprofit capacity-building as a priority – particularly investment in education and training relating to leadership and management, strategy and governance – given the pace of sector growth and change, and the challenges and opportunities this presents.

It is gradually starting to happen. As not-for- profits seek to manage accelerating change and invest in leadership capacity-building, more executive fundraisers are joining their organisations’ executive teams.

And more fundraising managers are being challenged to lead on change, which is a
key leadership responsibility. It’s no longer enough to simply respond to the evolving environment, to just manage change. The most effective fundraising leaders today create change in their organisations, and impact organisational culture.

As the 2012 paper What Makes Fundraising Truly Great, by Professor Adrian Sargeant, Jen Shang and Clayton Burnett, states:

“What was distinctive about the approach of the [fundraising] leaders we interviewed was their ability to discern complex systems at play within their organisations and consciously manage those systems to achieve the outstanding fundraising they sought to create … what seemed to us to be unique 
to this group was an ability to think clearly about themselves, what they could offer the organisation and how organisational systems could be managed to create the environment for fundraising to flourish.”

But be careful what you wish for

The challenges that face fundraising leaders are the same for many departments and managers in all types of organisations. That is, they feel disconnected from the main action at the executive table.

The request to be represented at the executive team level of course is not limited to those in fundraising. It’s echoed in IT, marketing, human resources and more. The motivation is to have a voice and to be able to use positional power to bust through the vertical silos of organisations. Including the corresponding dysfunctional behaviours, turf wars, lack of collaboration, and resource battles that are collectively given the label of ‘internal politics’.

The lack of board level engagement, 
cross departmental support, and inclusion 
in strategic discussions, is often more a symptom of the organisation not operating effectively, than an indication of a conscious decision to exclude fundraising from these conversations. Again, other departments can find themselves in the same situation.

Therefore, fundraising managers need to be careful what they wish for. If they gain a seat at the big table they might find that all their issues still exist, the internal politics are alive and kicking, except they are now part of the problem too!

Having direct power is not as powerful as you may think. The power to influence others can be far more effective, as people you are influencing end up doing things because they want to, not because someone told them to do it.

The importance of creating harmony

The ultimate answer is to have the entire organisation work effectively, together, aligned to the outcomes of the mission/ purpose statement. As opposed to the turf wars between departments, where internal metrics create competition that leads to non-collaborative behaviour.

The good news is that fundraising leaders are in a unique position to wield their influence across the depth and breadth of an organisation.

The funds they raise are what powers organisational functions. That means their role can legitimately enable them to embed themselves within every department, and thus become ‘sponsors’ of change, 
as described in the 2014 edition of Best Practices in Change Management by the research company, Prosci, which states that “during a transformational organisational change, leaders throughout the organisation are expected to sponsor the change.”

Fundraising leaders can attend the team meetings of other departments – whether finance, marketing, operations or programs – and gain an understanding of how the organisation works and interacts, with the message of: “I am hear to listen, learn and to see if I can help”.

Just like a maestro needs to know how to have the entire orchestra playing together to the same beat, cadence and feeling, fundraising leaders need to know how to have their organisation aligned, to enable the fundraising development function to embed and flourish across the organisation.

They need to know what motivates people and teams and how to transcend the silo walls that exist inside most organisations today so that they can all play together, harmoniously!


F&P Magazine | April / May 2016


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