Fundraiser, Lawyer and Lobbyist: these are my three roles. I always wanted to be a banker, but I didn’t take that road. It’s just as well. These days, I think I made the right choices. I’m proud of each of my career paths. My clients, employees, and friends are better off because of those choices.I used to joke about how these three professions are perceived. You know I never miss a good punch line. It’s almost too easy to make people laugh at finding one person who has chosen these three careers.No more! I have made it clear that I am devoting the rest of my life toward changing the quality of the fundraising profession.I can’t change how lobbyists or lawyers are perceived. But I can damn well have an impact on the perception of fundraisers. This is not a measure of the quality or character of those who, like me, chose this career path. It is a fundamental preparation problem.We call fundraising a profession. It’s mixed, though, and that’s putting it gently. Plumbers have a better set of standards for their profession than fundraisers! Let’s take a lesson from this profession. You might not know it, but plumbing and fundraising are a lot alike.Plumbers, in the end, either get water flowing or stop it. Anything in between is not acceptable. Fundraising is that way: you either raise a buck or you don’t. Like plumbers, fundraisers get credit for someone else’s good work. The guy who installed the dishwasher did a great job. So when the next plumber puts in the garbage disposal, it works great!Fundraising is the same. We value and appreciate donors, we recognize them and we use the money the way the donor intends. The water runs when it is supposed to and doesn’t when it shouldn’t.But plumbers have more reliable standards than fundraisers for telling the consumer whether they can depend on us to do the job.In an interview with a prospective client today, I was hit with the same old stuff: Why don’t you raise money on a commission? Can you guarantee success? We have hired people like you in the past, and they didn’t raise anything.Okay, I am a conservative, and I’m not usually in favor or more controls. But I think it is time for us in the fundraising profession to consider some oversight. Not from the IRS, but from the commerce department. The refractory issues are not that of the IRS. The question is, “are we competent to do our jobs?”We know what needs to be done. The Hartsook Chair at Indiana University established the only licensure for fundraisers in the UK.Fundraisers need to be held accountable for what we say we do. I am weary of having to defend fools who set up shop as fundraising consultants or join national groups or attend classes and get certification from prestigious universities for sitting in a seat and never demonstrating they know how to identify, let alone cultivate or solicit, major gifts.I am proud of my profession. We have accomplished incredible, seemingly impossible tasks.I am doing something to improve it.What are you doing?
Photo credits: National WWI Museum
President and Trustee
The Sunderland Foundation
Recipient of the
2018 GROWING PHILANTHROPY AWARD FOR TRANSFORMATIONAL CAPITAL PHILANTHROPY
Kent Sunderland was presented with the prestigious Growing Philanthropy Award in Kansas City by Hartsook President and CEO
Matthew J. Beem during National WWI Museum and Memorial’s VIP event, Night at the Tower.
He was nominated by Matthew Naylor, Ph.D., President and CEO of the National WWI Museum and Memorial, and was selected unanimously by Hartsook Institutes and the International Board of Visitors Growing Philanthropy Committee.
Kent was Vice Chairman of Ash Grove Cement prior to its recent sale. As President of The Sunderland Foundation, he has played a significant role in advancing philanthropy with major gifts.
The Growing Philanthropy Award recognizes a distinguished group of individuals and organizations whose efforts increase philanthropy through research, innovation and challenging the status quo. For more information, contact [email protected].