Are fundraising professionals stupid?

I just had another talk with a fundraising director who was getting micro-managed by a nonprofit ED. She was out visiting sponsors for an event and getting emails questioning whether being out of the office was the best use of her time.

This happens all the time.

Even when fundraising professionals specifically ask a question like "Are you expecting me to simply warm a seat?" in the interview, EDs still seem to freak out when they aren't at their desk.

Why is this?

I don't have it figured out. But here are my ideas...

  • Everyone else is at the office when they are working
    This is probably a big one. For most organizations, butts in seats is visible proof that employees are working. (Or at least are physically present. They may be mentally elsewhere!) Empty seats = no work getting done.
  • The ED wants to pop in and ask a question
    This has got to be frustrated for an ED. Most other employees are available for a quick question. If we're doing our job engaging, soliciting, and stewarding donors, we aren't at our desk. So when she comes in to ask us a question, she's reminded that we're not there. Which pops back to the butt-in-seat issue mentioned above.
  • Most other revenue is billable
    It might also be that fundraising isn't a consistent monthly income. It usually comes in chunks at different times of the year: in response to direct mail, or an event, or a major gift project. It becomes a "receivable" only after it's pledged. Only then can the ED show it to the CFO or board and feel reasonably confident that it's coming in.

I don't think we're stupid

I don't think fundraisers are stupid. But I think we stink at "impression management." In many ways, we need to "steward" our bosses (or boards if they are our boss) just as well as we steward donors: we need to prove their investment in us is a good one.

We are usually the only person at our organization, or the only department, that thinks like we do. So we need to translate our activities in a way our employers understand.

The Weekly Call Report

Years ago, I developed what I call a "Weekly Call Report." It looked like this:

It had places for the date and a weekly focus. But the rest of the page (and the back) was filled with spaces to record the names of people I contacted. There are something like 120.

This was just how I "kept score." My goal was to fill up the sheet every week. At the end of the week, I'd make a copy of this and put it in my bosses inbox with a simple "FYI" scrawled on it.

You'll see that I also included how I was contacting the person, why I was contacting them, and any relevant notes. All this helped me then put the information into the database so others would know.

I didn't have to do this. No one was forcing me to keep score. I simply needed to prove to myself that I was doing the right actions. Seeing how I was contacting people and why I was helped me make sure to mix up my communications. If I were too reliant on email, I'd quickly see I needed to pick up the phone or get a face-to-face. If I were too focused on thanking, I'd easily see I needed to step up my solicitations.

I was at a school when I created this, so I also looked at who I was contacting. It got really easy to contact people that graduated around the time I did. This sheet served as an early warning system, reminding me to talk to a variety of alumni.

And it went into my boss' inbox every week. A simply, nonverbal reminder that 100-120 people were touched that week without her having to lift a finger.

If we do our jobs well, we will not be at our seats all the time. This might help you with your "impression management."

Click here get a free PDF of this Weekly Call Sheet for yourself.

How about you? What are you doing to market your worth internally?

About Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman is the CEO of The Concord Leadership Group, the author of Ask Without Fear! and director of The Nonprofit Academy. A coach to leaders around the world, Marc's expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences and has caught the attention of media organizations as diverse as Al Jazeera and Fox News. Marc’s experience also includes pastoring a Vineyard church, managing a gubernatorial campaign, and teaching internet marketing and fundraising at colleges and universities. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family! You can connect with him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook.
To get his free ebook on 21 ways to get board members engaged with fundraising, go to


  1. Thanks for this post. However, I would have to say that I've had the opposite experience - there is the perception from EDs that sitting at my desk means I'm not fundraising. Being out at meetings and not in the office must mean that I'm proactively out getting donors and donations. I don't think there's a right or wrong about being in or out of the office. What is important is that you have a strategy that the ED understands and supports you to implement, whether that means being in the office all the time or not.

  2. Thanks Jeremy! That's great!

    You are so right: the importance is having a strategy that both agree on. (And that proves successful over time!)

  3. Now, how can I forward this on without getting written up?

  4. So true! Such a lack of understanding between process and outcomes. I love your 'call report' suggestion. Focusing on interim measurements, in addition to funds raised, can also help us stay encouraged through slower donation periods. Thanks for the great advice!

  5. Steven: LOL!

  6. Thanks Kirsten!

    I've always thought an exclusive focus on funds raised was akin to an exclusive focus on the harvest. If the harvest were all that mattered, you could justify slash-and-burn techniques.

    But if a SUSTAINABLE harvest, one that would be there year after year, were the goal, we need to measure other activities too!

  7. I agree with Jeremy that this can go both ways, and really depends on organizational culture and the biases and experience of the CEO or ED.

    I've seen both and increasingly am seeing more of what Jeremy's talking about. A friend was recently let go from their Development Director position because instead of constantly being at cultivation meetings they were in the office investing time in social media.

    I think to your greater point - measuring *all* of your activities and being able to articulate how each contributes to the overall goal is key to avoiding that kind relationship between an ED and DOD.

    Great post!

  8. Estrella: Thanks for weighing in!

    I'm glad to hear EDs are getting on people's cases for staying at their desks.

    I was dismayed to hear another colleague getting the "seat warmer" treatment.

  9. I think what it really speaks to is the ED truly not understanding the individual elements of development, how they all work together to achieve sustainable revenue, and how or which development staff activities make that happen.

    That problem can lay at the feet of both parties: ED's who aren't interested in really listening and Development Leaders who aren't conveying their role effectively enough and more often...a combination of both 🙂

    It sounds like your friend has the unfortunate luck of working with an ED who isn't really interested in learning about what it means when someone's in their seat and what it means when they're not.

    One thing that's interesting to me here is how this is something that's going to keep evolving because as our ability to make more meaningful connections from miles away via the social internet grows and deepens, those in person visits while still important won't be as vital as they once were, and won't need to happen as often. In person cultivation will always be important, though!

  10. I, too, am a big measurement & metrics person. And I encourage my clients to create dashboards or other tools to measure activity so they can show, clearly, their progress...especially when a good development officer may be invisible and out doing their work much of the time.

    Here's a post from last year that has another tool in it for helping to measure activity:
    Measuring Your Success With Major Gifts.

  11. Marc, I so like that your tool for showing your value was also a part of your system. Too often we spend generating reports that are just additional work. Sorta speaks to your people in chairs = work even if it isn't the work that gets results.

    Great post!

  12. Thanks!

    Report generation can take SO MUCH TIME. This tool was an easy thing to have near my phone and to fill out as best as I could remember whenever I did happen to be at my seat.

  13. In my days as a DD I can tell you that the truly exceptional results came when I was given every opportunity to shine -- without interference. EDs and boards alike typically have a very short term vision of fundraising - "what have you brought in today?" - failing to recognize that the new donor that you paid a visit to last week becomes a future bequest gift, that the hours (and days) you've spent cleaning up coding in your database will result in more targeted mailings with better results, etc. The most sustainable fundraising does take time to grow.

    An excellent tool I'll be sure to pass on to my readers - thanks Marc!

  14. Over the past several months I have been faced with several situations with clients where the concept of development is treated as a silo, rather than an overall culture of philanthropy within the organization. Having been a development director, sitting ED for 15 years, and now a consultant, I firmly believe that if the ED is micro managing the development director then the silo effect might be in play, as the ED may truly not know what the term development means verses being a fundraiser.

  15. Interesting point, David.

    I was just at a conference when people kept saying "Development is a team sport." Everybody needs to be involved.

  16. Thanks Marc, this needed to see the light of day! I cant count how MANY calls I get from fundraising professionals - professional is the KEY word here- who are stressed by similar situations.

    It really speaks to CULTURE of philanthropy in an organization, which must be worked out if any NPO is going to be sustain-ably successful in their fundraising efforts. I use a checklist (on my site) to assess for philanthropic culture health with those who call me for help. Its the first place to start, if we are to be productive, with great outcomes.


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