How Professionalism Is Endangering Fundraising Success

Development practitioners pride themselves on their professionalism.  Certifications like Certified Fundraising Executive or the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy Fellows program are growing in prominence.  And I can understand why.   In our world today, education is almost universally viewed as a good investment.

And I’m all for education.  But, I have a problem with our push toward more professionalism.   A rather substantive problem.  Far too often, I am sensing from development leaders a bias away from engaging volunteers (or others) in our work.  Instead, the bias is toward technical proficiency and skill.

The thinking goes like this:  “We are the professionals, we have the training, we have the education, we have the certification, and we have the research, the analytics, and the databases.  Relying on volunteers is a practice of the past, when development programs were less sophisticated and the use of technology was minimal.”

We make mistakes when we fool ourselves into believing that education and technology trump wisdom.  The wisdom, of course, is that effective fundraising is always about engaging others, asking for their input, active listening, and responding thoughtfully.  Engaging key volunteers in all aspects of our work is not a thing of the past because our work fundamentally has not changed.   As one becomes more sophisticated in their understanding of development work, so, too, should they grow in their understanding of the increased value of well-placed volunteers.

Yes, you can conduct development work on your own, relying primarily on database screens and analytics.  But you won’t be nearly as successful as you could be if you engaged and utilized savvy volunteers.  The right volunteer, with the right relationship, at the right moment, on the right call, can make a gift grow beyond your researched ask amount.  This is our work – to create those environments which encourage the highest levels of generosity from donors.

CFRE’s tag line is, “get the recognition you deserve.”  When we appeal to our most base instincts, getting more recognition sounds like a pretty good thing.  But I thought we were in this work because we cared, primarily, about something bigger than ourselves.

Yes, get the education.  Get the certifications.  Get them because you want to grow in your understanding of how to be exceptional.  Don’t get a certificate because you want more recognition.  That’s a transactional approach to life.  And when we do development work well, we engage a relational approach.

When a development practitioner concerns himself less with his own recognition, when he concerns himself more with the recognition that his institution and its donors receive, and when he engages others effectively, his value will not be questioned.


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