Getting on the Bandwagon – The Failure of Fundraising

There has been so much written about the excellent report by Compass Point and the Hass Foundation, Underdeveloped, A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising that a big part of me just wants to ignore it.  And yet, there is so much validity in the report.  But there is also not much new. Those of us who have been fortunate to work in the nonprofit sector for years have long known that development is the proverbial red-haired stepchild of which much is expected but little is given.

Years ago, I was—among other titles—the executive director and only fundraiser at a community college foundation.  Not much fundraising occurred, and so the college president suggested we ask Steve Sample, then president of USC, to talk to us about how he raised so many millions.

I had worked at USC; I knew the answer.  A large development staff, a belief that fundraising was important, volunteers and alumni who understood giving, an administration that resourced the development structure.

At our college, there was me, a person who had 17 direct reports and too many programs to manage, a wonderful board who had all been recruited by being told that they had NO fundraising responsibilities, and a president who thought that someone else should fundraise—certainly not his job.

Talk about your duh! moments.

In my classes and among my clients, I often find people who have been development directors for more than 10 years—and have yet to ask someone for a charitable gift.  Sometimes they are focused on writing grants (in which case, they should be called grantwriters) or on events (ditto, but their title should be events manager).  More often they are pulled in so many directions it is no wonder that they are not successful in what is purported to be their main function.

In the report, there is much written about the problem of development director departure.  And it is a problem.  But so is the opposite—the development director who does no fundraising and is still on the job three to five years later.  And, typically, it is not (solely) the development director’s fault—no fundraising happens because:

  • Fundraising is not valued
  • Resources are not provided
  • The director is asked to do too many other things

I’ve often joked that most executive directors think the development director’s job description is “everything and anything I—or my program staff—don’t want to deal with.”

Until fundraising is considered a valued part—and equal partner—of the nonprofit and sits equally at the table with administration and programs, it will remain that one area that never seems to succeed.

There needs to be a better understanding that asking for cash is only a piece of the fundraising process.  We must identify and learn about those who might be interested in supporting us; get them involved with the work we do; invite them to participate and then show them how their participation matters.  And there is a role for everyone to be part of this process.

Fundraising has to be transformed from a task that seems hard, a little embarrassing, a lot reviled into what it should be—providing others the opportunity to be involved with the great work the organization does and, most importantly, making a difference and making the world a better place.

 Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and build more committed, active boards.  Much of her work is focused on helping organizations develop a culture of philanthropy.  Learn more at .  While there, sign up for her free monthly newsletter.