One of my former staff members, Janet, came to me with a major issue: Gayle, my supervisor seems to think that his main responsibility is to police me and my colleagues regarding our visits, our contacts, our proposals, etc. He belittles the staff when they are not making their revenue goals. I make my goals, but shouldn’t he also be out raising money? He is “shy” and doesn’t want to meet with donors and that is a real concern for all of us who report to him.
Janet, my answer is emphatically yes! All supervisors at every level in the development arena need to be meeting with donors and raising money.
I understand that there is a great deal of paperwork and decision making that needs to be handled at the supervisory level…performance reviews, quarterly and annual reports, budgets, recruitment, organizational behavior issues, administrative activities around fundraising and informational events, decisions around capital campaigns, etc. But these types of activities should never preclude senior development officers from fundraising. They may have less time available to them, but should always make time for fundraising.
First, a key ingredient in fundraising success is the ability to have a supervisor model good fundraising behavior from start to finish. How did he/she identify the prospect? How did he/she get to know them? Who on the leadership team will be working with him/her to take the donor to the next level and focus on the priorities? Why did he/she choose this person? Were there any problems that had to be ironed out along the way? How is your supervisor continuing to cultivate the donor? When the donor decided on the level of contribution, how did the supervisor handle it? Who else on the development team got involved? What problems arose and were solved along the way? How will the gift be used? How was the proposal written? How is the gift going to be announced? What was the reaction of leadership each step of the way?
Second, for fundraising, my belief is that it is all hands-on deck, all the time. To meet and exceed the goals each quarter and each year, everyone needs to be involved; otherwise, leadership simply becomes overhead, and no one wants that. A solid development officer or supervisor understands that overhead can easily be cut when budgets are challenged. If the mission is critical, if the priorities are urgent, everyone needs to be focused and taking steps to get to the goal.
Third, staying active in fundraising should also be important to the supervisor. Jobs don’t last forever, organizations change, leadership changes and no one’s job is always going to be safe. The bread and butter of any development officer is how much their team was able to raise and also how much had he/she raised? Doing, not just supervising.
Some of the questions I ask when I interview someone include: How did your team do in revenues over past years? How did you do? Tell me about a recent gift that you secured that meant something important to you and why? How did it impact the organization? These questions are difficult to answer persuasively if the candidate at any level has not been fundraising actively.
Fourth, when a supervisor stays involved in fundraising, he/she also understands the challenges that development officers face every day—on a first-hand basis. If there is a problem within the organization’s administrative areas, he/she understands…the same is true for when difficult leadership get involved with the development officers or perhaps other staff members associated with the development officer are not carrying their own weight. When fundraising is fresh for the supervisor, it also means that he/she can more readily advise staff, finding solutions to some of the fundraising obstacles that they may each be facing, coaching them through challenging moments.
Everyone likes to go home at night knowing that they have made a true difference within the organization, as well as a positive impact on the community. So, supervisors, do not use administrative work as an excuse to stop fundraising. Don’t think that rising to this level excuses you from all fundraising responsibilities. Embrace fundraising and use it to bring value to everything you do.
Big Tip: Hone your fundraising skills every day—when you are successful you will be valuable to many organizations and you will always have a job that is both stimulating for you and impactful for others. Over time, this becomes a real legacy for you and your teams at every level.