A trend I believe is right in line with the "rolodex transfer" is that of fundraisers bringing their Playbook. Hint: This is often accompanied by descriptions of wildly successful campaigns or events at the fundraiser's former organization. This is followed by a chorus of oohs and ahhs and the collective agreement that "if it worked over there, it's gotta work here!" This phenomenon is even more pronounced when a new fundraiser brings it up super early - and often. Now, in fairness, there is a perfectly legitimate chance that a few - in fact, maybe all of those good ideas and plays - will work at the new charity. Where I'm confident that we, as development professionals can do better is in the area of assessment and adaptability.
This is also one of those areas where I believe there are dramatic differences between the for-profit and nonprofit arenas. In the corporate world, we often see examples of CEOs that come in, run their playbook and win; they're even admired and given the complimentary title of Turnaround Artists: Think Lee Iaccocca. They also come in the form of the less-admired like Al Dunlap. He earned the nicknames "Chainsaw Al" and "Rambo In Pinstripes" for his laser-like focus on profitability at the expense of people. But it often works - for a while anyway - regardless of the company, its products or services, structure - and people.
This is where nonprofits are different. It's been said - and I agree - that ultimately a charitable organization is truly successful when it puts itself out of business. That's obviously a biggie. But a nonprofit's People - donors, volunteer fundraisers, staff and everyone else - vary dramatically from charity to charity in terms of wealth, motivation, time, talents and even commitment - along with so many other things. This translates directly to fundraising capacity. Just because you were the king or queen of the high end gala at one organization doesn't mean a similar event will work at the new place. Even if a Community Walk or Ride was just the ticket - and you were the one to punch it at your last place - it may not connect with your new constituency.
Fundraisers come into new jobs with a lot of pressure to perform. In the best cases, the development professional steps into a role where there are realistic expectations given that it's going to take some time to get to know the organization and its donors and ideally, fundraising is looked at as a team sport, with all of the staff believing they have skin in the game. In the worst cases, the fundraiser is looked at as nothing short of a rainmaker. He or she is given a desk, a phone, computer and after several months of sitting in that silo, dirty looks when the dollars don't start cascading in. It's really no wonder typical industry turnover is less than every two years. In fact, a 2012 study noted that on average, fundraisers stay at their jobs a mere 16 months and that the indirect costs of finding a replacement amount to $127,650. While this is a bit dated, my hunch is that things haven't moved much. (For more info, see: https://philanthropy.com/article/The-Cost-of-High-Turnover-in/226573)
This goes back to the playbook idea and what ultimately becomes a vicious cycle of HIT IT BIG or move on. As such, both organization and fundraisers need a new approach to be successful:
- Continually assess your fundraising/development operationally: both successes as well as failures. The time to be looking for your next fundraiser is not when you have one last quarter of payroll available or else it's...well, you know.
- Recognize that fundraising is absolutely a team sport and that your team is everyone that the organization reaches including clients, program and fundraising staff, volunteers, donors, leaders -and the list goes on - engaging all of the team ensures you are not dependent on any one individual to 'save' you.
- Hire fundraisers for their skills NOT their rolodex or because they did an amazing event or party that everyone's talking about.
- THROW OUT YOUR PLAYBOOK! You're at a new organization with a different audience and resources both internally and externally. Know who and what they are before you pitch all the amazing things you did elsewhere. First, assess your environment and the opportunities, see what may be applicable and what will surely not be and come up with a fresh playbook customized for your new organization.
- Be adaptable and figure out how your skills can leverage the strength of the organization and help mitigate any weaknesses (yes, I said weaknesses and not opportunities) to better fundraising.
- Job Search and Accept Roles Sensibly: Let's face it, the best fundraisers are great salespeople and they should be. They can usually sell themselves into and on a job. Look for roles where you have a true passion for the mission, can apply your skill sets and strengths and not be tempted to try to repeat the past.
Both organizations and their fundraisers have a responsibility to develop both the team and the right set of plays to win.