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?
Will You Be There When John Shamberg Calls?
A big part of fundraising is showing up and being available. I learned this lesson on a very memorable New Year’s Eve, a very long time ago.
As an eager young fundraiser working for Washburn University, I didn’t know that it was unusual still to be at work in the evening of December 31st. But, there I was.
Earlier that year, a graduate of Washburn University School of Law told me he was going to give a gift of land to his synagogue, a private K-12 school and Washburn. John Shamberg, who has since passed away, made millions of dollars for institutions all over the world, and he wanted to give a significant gift to organizations he valued. His 40 acres of land on the outskirts of Kansas City were valued at $450,000, and his intention was to give $150,000 each to three organizations.
He’d left the task to the last day of the year, but now he was ready to make it happen.
He called the synagogue. No answer.
He called the K-12 school. No answer.
Then, he called Washburn and got me.
“Bob,” he said, “you just won the jackpot!”
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