Until this last recession, a fundraising professional’s average length of stay in a position was ridiculously short. I’ve wondered why that is. Is it because of other opportunities, termination, or a change of profession?Well, I am pleased to see a blog, Fighting Fundraiser Turnover: What Charities Can Do by Holly Hall of the Chronicle (May 31, 2012) telling us that two major institutions–CompassPoint and the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund—are taking this seriously.Well, it is about time. Oops. I don’t mean to say it’s about time these people took it seriously. I mean it’s about time somebody did.You know I particularly respect the new CEO of AFP, but AFP should have been looking at this long ago. Maybe even the Center on Philanthropy. But whatever, whoever—thank you for doing taking a look at the underlying cause of this turnover that hinders our ability to grow philanthropy.If you follow this blog, you know that we think part of the answer to this problem is ?“ best practice-based and research oriented academically accredited Fundraising Management advance degrees.” In a random check of the nonprofit management programs in the country, we found that two thirds didn’t require a course in fundraising to get a Masters or other advanced degree. Tell me, how do you run a nonprofit and not have a baseline understanding of fundraising?We have since found advanced degrees in healthcare, higher education, and even the arts frequently don’t even have fundraising courses available as electives. These future leaders of some of our largest nonprofits couldn’t take a course in fundraising even if they wanted to.One thesis that those now researching the fundraiser turnover issue is the disconnect between the CEO and the Chief Fundraising Officer. As my grandmother used to say, “Bingo!” There are some fantastic CEO leaders who understand the role of fundraising. Karen Haren, the much recognized CEO of Harvesters Food Bank, and last year’s Food Bank of the Year from Feeding America, knows how to get the most from her fundraising staff. And they don’t move.Martin Gidskey, President emeritus of Purdue changed a University in part because of his ability to get production out of this fundraising team led by my friend, Murray Blackwelder who now leads the UMKC Foundation in Kansas City.David Smith, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City is a master at setting a standard of excellence in fundraising. Does anyone lead fundraising better than Gregg Conway, long time CEO of the nearly 100 year old Tulsa Boys Home?In each of these cases, the CEO and fundraiser relationship is in sync.So there are a lot who understand the critical role of the fundraiser, but—and you know I can’t list them–too many who don’t. Many CEO’s don’t involve their fundraiser in setting goals. Many won’t engage in support of the effort by participating in cultivation and meetings. Many tell their fundraiser, “call me when you get the money”.And this is a great time for us to unearth and bring light to this issue. Under their then CEO Kala Stroup, our friends at the Non Profit Leadership Alliance (formerly American Humanics) indicate that over this 10 year period over 600,000 CEOs are going to move on to retirement. The recession may have slowed that somewhat, but this shift is huge.We’ll keep an eye on this work. We are going to watch this work carefully. We believe that the philanthropic potential of our nation has not been realized. And it is not because there isn’t need nor enough worth causes.Congratulations to CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund for taking it on, and thanks to Holly Hall for shedding important light on it.It’s incumbent on those of us who can influence fundraising thought and philanthropy to not lose sight of our goal, which is, of course, to grow philanthropy. The fundraiser and nonprofit leadership are key.
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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