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Building the Better Fundraiser: From Technician to Leader

Resource Center - Foundation

(June 7, 2011) In fundraising there is a lot to learn, techniques and skills to master, but is knowing the mechanics of fundraising enough? What if the train rolls off the track and you need to adapt? As a fundraiser, you need to have staff members who are more than technicians--they need to be strategic, and they need to be leaders.

"Many problems that arise for fundraising are not actually fundraising problems, and so we need fundraisers who can see that," says Simone Joyaux, ACFRE, veteran fundraiser author of Strategic Fund Development, Third Edition.

For example, if members of your board are resistant to helping to raise funds, and you feel like you've tried everything to inform and encourage them, perhaps the root of the problem lies in recruitment. Being able to identify a larger problem, and effectively resolve it by communicating with staff and volunteers, requires broader awareness and strategic thinking.

"Growing as a fundraiser means more than reading the top ten tactics on a given fundraising area," Joyaux says. "The biggest weakness I see is people not knowing anything besides fundraising techniques." It is important to understand program management, group dynamics, governance, leadership, even psychology, she explains. Understanding all the moving parts of your organization will allow you to work beyond simple tweaks in fundraising tactics.

"The best technicians believe deeply in their causes, understand philanthropy, and know how to create infrastructure, document activities, and delineate roles," Joyaux writes. "These excellent technicians use sophisticated solicitation strategies, negotiate major gifts, engage donors, and provide competent support to volunteers. On the other hand, the truly accomplished fundraiser is an organizational development specialist. She expects access to all parts of the organization and convinces the chief executive officer of this need."

Fundraiser as Leader

In Strategic Fund Development, Joyaux makes reference to several fields of study outside of fundraising, including leadership, which she says is a skill that can be developed by anyone. The following is sample of what she believes are some of the top functions of a fundraiser who embraces a leadership role.

  • Value each individual. Recognize the importance of each individual compared to his or her tasks or functions. Encourage personal mastery and self-fulfillment. Encourage diversity and pluralism. Welcome the unusual person and different idea. Consistently advocate for equity. Encourage each person's voice.
  • Motivate others. Encourage commitment, not just compliance, by engaging the collective beliefs of people in your organization and its mission.
  • Remove obstacles--and empower others to do the same. Eliminate barriers that prevent others from doing their jobs. Enable others to realize their full potential and aspirations.
  • Affirm values and set the highest ethical standards. Ensure that the organization articulates its shared values. Communicate and model these values. Help the organization act in accordance with its values.
  • See the entire system, the big picture, as well as its interrelated parts. Think long-term as well as short-term. It's all about systems thinking, never about functional silos.
  • Delegate but do not abdicate.
  • Be prepared to do anything you would ask of others.
  • Take risks and make mistakes.

Professional Growth

Joyaux says her biggest professional growth happens outside the fundraising profession, and she then applies the ideas to fundraising. "Since I believe I'm supposed to be an organizational development specialist--not just a fundraising technician--then reading outside fundraising isn't negotiable," she explains. "Moreover, reading outside the nonprofit/NGO sector is equally important."

Here are three books that Joyaux recommends to fundraisers as examples of wider reading.

  1. The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2010)
  2. Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age by Maggie Jackson (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2009)
  3. The Hidden Brain: Hour Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives by Shankar Vedantam (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2010)

In the end, a fundraiser is well served to be told early in their career that the profession is more than a series of tactics and techniques. Continue to learn aspects of your organization beyond fundraising, because in actuality, fundraising touches all aspects of an organization.

"The development office and staff have enormous power just because philanthropy is a revenue stream," Joyaux writes. "Take on this inherent power and use it well--and that means embrace leadership. You. Go on. Lead."

Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE, is principal of Joyaux Associates in Foster, R.I. Her book, Strategic Fund Development, Third Edition, is available in the AFP bookstore.

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