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Good Fundraisers Are Invisible?

Resource Center - Foundation

By Paul Nazareth 

Paul NazarethThe thing about fundraisers is….in the end, we’re human beings.

And, as human beings we seek validation and recognition. Humility aside for a moment, many of us are benevolent wolves in sheep’s clothing; we love to win, we love to sell and are aggressive when needed. But never for personal gain.  Fundraisers fight tirelessly for causes we believe in: the planet, the poor, the hungry and needy. Yet the profession is often misunderstood.

Dan Pallotta tells the world they’ve ghettoized charity to the status of professional beggars. In Canada, Paul Alofs encourages us to dump the term “not” in “not-for-profit” and instead use the term “social-profit” because we do dream of money, but we dream of using it for change, healing and helping.

A humble mentor of mine had raised their charity’s fundraising game with patient internal influence and hard work serving donors. The charity won a fundraising award and I watched as the executive director accepted the award and all the recognition. I was livid. My peer (who has decades of experience) told me privately, “It’s not about me. This is one more professional gift I give my organization. Internally, the leadership and board did recognize me - this is another part of our Case for Support. Our organizational excellence and efficiency is part of our ask.”

No one likes speed dating 

A peer is doing research with affluent donors who have strong relationships with many charities and who have made major gifts for a decade or longer. Their biggest complaint? It’s hard to form relationships when the faces and names in the fundraising department keep changing. You and I both know, dear reader—it’s the whisper at break-time at AFP conferences around the world—that ours is a “relationship business.”

However, it’s very hard for us to maintain relationships with donors when organizations clean house every time there’s a new vice president for philanthropy on deck. Recently, I helped a new director in a hospital foundation rehire after most of the team quit. This will be the third time in 15 years that this has happened. Let’s whisper no longer—both donors and fundraisers feel like they can’t connect.

The best fundraisers I know are almost invisible because they have elevated the connection with the donor beyond themselves to connect with the charity’s brand.

Sure, there are still some fundraisers around who have been with their organizations for a decade or longer. They, and the organizations they work at, are special and unique. Nevertheless more frequent success is found in helping the donor, the board and volunteers form a strong bond with the organization. This is especially important for annual and major giving, as the donor needs to stay engaged. My career has been spent in planned giving where this is also a critical strategy as not many staff stay for the 20 years it may take for realization of the gift. It’s like having a short conversation with a time traveller.

I’ve had donors thank me for a card sent to them ten years earlier, express delight in an event from five years previous and bring in a mailing that is thirty years old. It’s not that the fundraisers are not important, but we are relationship managers and have to push back against “personality fundraising” and the “personal branding guru’s” of the social media age.

I talk about fundraisers learning how to use social media, but that’s more about being responsive, transparent and available.  In 2013, moves-management databases and powerful web-tools help facilitate better lifetime dialogue with donor. A social media strategy can help create an immediate and responsive bond between donor and cause, instead of donor and fundraiser.  

It’s not all puppy dogs and roses  

I started this article by recognizing that fundraisers are human beings. I know that this strategy doesn’t create a safe career, and that it sometimes puts our jobs at risk. Just recently Mr. Alofs had another article in the Globe and Mail, “They aren’t bake sales any more,” talking about the evolution of fundraising strategy and the professionals that make it happen.

Is the public ready for this discourse on professional fundraising and professional fundraisers? No, not even close, as demonstrated by the vitriolic comments to the article online.

At some point, AFP and the newer fundraising programs at colleges and universities are going to have to stand up and engage in public discourse on this subject. We, as individual fundraisers, are going to have to stand up for ourselves, (how many times have I had to defend and at times walk away from the argument about paying fundraisers?) but today is not that day.

This is another reason to be invisible: to keep the focus of philanthropy on the impact first and the donor second so that we can ensure the change we’re trying to make, gets made. Being invisible is, at times, an exercise in humility and care for the cause.

A final case in point is the upcoming #GivingTuesday on Dec. 3. It is a chance for us as a professional fundraising community to all become truly invisible for a day and raise up the causes and actions of organizations, corporations and individuals. Talk to your office teams, fire-up your social accounts and engage in this massive national experiment. More information can be found at or #GivingTuesday on Twitter.

Special thanks to AFP for bringing wise-mentors and peers of all ages and stages into my life. This November I’m speaking at AFP Congress, on how to get more planned gifts by being invisible. I will also be helping to host networking events for fundraisers attending the conference. We hope you can join 1000+ peers to add your voice to the conversation!  

Paul Nazareth is a philanthropic advisor with Scotia Private Client Group and previously worked in planned giving with charities large and small. He speaks at AFP chapters all across Canada and on the board of several charities. Paul teaches the planned giving course with the Georgian College postgraduate fundraising program, is an instructor with the Canadian Association of Gift Planners, is Chair of the Humber College Postgraduate Fundraising Program Advisory Committee and is a passionate advocate of ‘the power of networking in our work and lives. Visit him at  on Linkedin or @UinvitedU on T

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