An article in a recent edition of The Chronicle of Philanthropy is provocatively titled “Half of Fundraisers in the Top Job Would Like to Quit.” The article details the challenges of serving as the chief development officer in any organization, large and small, particularly when there is an absence of a culture of philanthropy. The article reports results of a new survey of development directors and non-profit chief executive officers. The kicker is that one third of the CEOs are unhappy with the performance of their organization’s development leadership.
What’s a fundraising professional to do? If you’re among those ready to throw in the towel, is there anything that can be done to improve your situation? And if you’re evaluating a new job opportunity, how can you assess whether you can be a success in your new job? In short, what can you do to be certain you’re in the group that’s challenged and fulfilled by your work, not just waiting for the perfect time to hand in your resignation?
The aphorism “knowledge is power” holds the key.
If you’re in an unsatisfactory situation, you often can benefit greatly from other’s perspectives. An informed and knowledgeable partner can help you sort out the underlying issues and devise approaches to resolve those issues. Ask for help from your personal network, of course, but don’t overlook local or regional organizations that support the work of non-profits such as the NorthSky Non-Profit Network. They offer various informational sessions but also serve as a convener of groups that talk together about important shared concerns. Someone who brings a credible, external perspective to the conversation with the CEO and/or the board can also be helpful.
Even better, be proactive in taking steps to stay away from an unproductive work environment in the first place. Let someone else take the job in a toxic environment. This simple strategy depends on the level of awareness you bring to your search, of course. Heather Krasna has written a great “how to” guide in her article entitled “Conducting a Reference Check on Your Boss.” You can find it on-line here. The amount of information available to even a modestly pro-active job seeker is impressive, and should be an important part of deciding when to say “thanks but no thanks.”
As fundraisers, we’re all educators – about our organization and its needs, of course, but also about the fundraising process. Doing a better job educating our internal audiences about the business of raising money can only improve the relationships between CDOs, CEOs and volunteer boards. If we all do this work well, it may mean that the next time they’re asked fewer fundraisers in the top job will be hoping to quit.