Thursday, May 21, 2009

Soldiers of Fortune: A Rock IN a Hard Place

It's time to examine everything, including our way of describing our lives in these complex times.

Thus, I propose that the situation of being "in between a rock and a hard place" is worth reforming as “being a rock in a hard place".

In my search for gain-/ meaning-full employment in the nonprofit sector, I have been asked by head-hunters, ill-informed executive directors and presidents of boards if I would accept a percentage of the funds I raised and/or if I was willing to defer their paying my fee until the money came in.

No! and No!

We professionals in the nonprofit field, whether fund raisers, program managers, chief everything officers or receptionists, cannot survive on the human equivalent of photosynthesis, even if there was one. Deferred gratification of basic work-for-hire (whether employed or retained) by hard-working, strategy-prone development folks should not be assumed. It is necessary to include in a budget the cost of hiring or contracting with a fund raising professional. It is not appropriate, nor ethical, to hire a development person to work for a "commission".

Unless a request for funds is tagged to unrestricted purposes, the appeal is specific to a project, element of a program or service. Donors (individuals, organizations, corporations, etc.) expect funds to be used for that purpose only. Most grant-makers have specified guidelines what they will and will not fund. Some funders are receptive to the reality that it costs money to raise money and may invite inclusion of the expense on a project’s administrative budget line.

In the mind-set of many boards of directors and staff, the title "fund raiser" sounds like an addressee for Soldier of Fortune magazine; no ethical professional wants to be considered a mercenary who prospers on the misery of the chronically or critically deprived. Donors are (or should be) suspicious of a person whose enthusiasm for the cause is compromised by their enthusiasm for their own personal gain.

Many nonprofits underestimate the resource development function within the administration of a nonprofit. Nonprofit leaders, whether paid or staff, usually well-intentioned individuals whose passions fuel their actions and who take their own funds to get things going, don't understand that they have to keep things going for the long-run of their mission. Finding the resources to do that is a full-time job and requires certain skills and takes effort.

Boards of directors need to understand that this is the cost of doing business, nonprofit or otherwise, and must insure that this budget item is covered.We have all heard that the lament that “the board isn’t a ‘fund raising’ board” or know of executive directors / CEOs who don't understand their pivotal position in the process of securing necessary resources (meeting donors, writing letters, leveraging relationships, etc.). Further, they don't understand why the development professional they hired needs to sit in on program meetings, to talk with clients and to be continually, formally educated in the field for which their organization provides a singular role.

I promise you, there is no magic. There is only engagement, collaboration and committment. What's the value of your commitment?

No matter what, Don't Forget to Ask for the Money

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