revolving door.Last week, I mentioned the new report by CompassPoint called UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising that is getting lots of press. Two of the findings the press and bloggers are reporting on are:

  • more than half of all fundraisers want to leave their job, some even to leave the entire field of fundraising, and that
  • about 25% of CEOs want to fire their fundraiser.

I think we can do better than this. I think we can create organizations that have happy CEOs and fulfilled fundraisers. Last week, I wrote about 3 Ways CEOs Can Slow the Revolving Door. This week, I’m writing to fundraisers.

3 ways to have the job of your dreams

  1. Get religious about tracking your time

    When I was the one person development shop for a rural hospital, I developed the habit of tracking my time. I got “religious” about putting everything I did on my Outlook calendar. Then each month, as I’d prepare my board report, I reviewed my month and recorded the hours on an Excel spreadsheet. That helped me easily run the percentages of my time devoted to each task.

    This exercise wasn’t to penalize me. I wanted to get a realistic idea of where my time was going. It also gave me a ready answer if my boss got annoyed by not seeing me in my office. (It’s really hard for bosses to realize that butts-in-seats don’t meet fundraising goals.)

    Since I wore many hats, my categories of time were:

    • Annual Fund: I included all aspects including drafting letters, working with the mailhouse, sending thank you notes, etc.
    • Major Gifts: This is what I loved doing, and I knew it was the best way to guarantee I reduced my cost to raise a dollar ratio.
    • Capital Campaign: We’d finished a campaign but there was still campaign work like pledge reminders. I also included the seemingly never ending list of capital fundraising projects in this category.
    • Special Events: I took over the existing bikathon but under the CEO’s leadership we killed that program and started a gala instead. Any detail that was related to that–negotiating with the orchestra and venue, printing books, organizing the volunteer committee, etc.–was tracked to this category
    • Community Relations: We were a small hospital in a rural community so attendance at community events and service clubs was helpful both to the hospital and to my relationships with prospects. I wanted to capture the time spent on these important tasks. Since they weren’t directly fundraising related, I could reign it in if need.
    • Non-fundraising Hospital Meetings: This included things like staff trainings, department director meetings, my work with the internal leadership institute. Anything I had to do as a “team member” and manager at the hospital.

    We always measured our cost to raise a dollar within each fundraising category using the appropriate portion of my salary as an expense. This helped us track honestly.

    When you do this, try to balance the number of categories with as many as you need to be specific but as few as possible to be helpful. If your CEO isn’t supportive yet, I’d recommend just doing this on your own for six months or a year to see where your time is going. Six months or a year in fundraising will most likely help you hit a couple direct mail appeals and a special event or two.

    You might be surprised where your current time is going. I found this tool to be helpful in keeping me on track during the day. And since it was my own guide, it didn’t feel “Big Brother-ish.”

  2. Grow a spine

    What use would I be as a coach if I didn’t kick you in the butt every now and then?

    Seriously, I’ve talked with so many fundraisers that are pulled in more directions than snakes on Medusa’s head. I’ve joked about wanting to create an expanding hat rack that I could give fundraisers as a gift.

    I think the “problem” is that we like to help. We really want the best for the place we work. So we pitch in wherever we can. At one job, I got tremendous pleasure out of fixing the IT issues in the office. Someone have a problem printing? Fear not, I’d come flying out of my office and make it right.

    The problem is, I wasn’t being graded on IT issues. That was someone else’s job. And no matter how great it felt to help, and no matter how grateful the team was that I helped, the school wasn’t paying me for that. They were paying me to raise money.

    So I had to develop a spine and not jump at every computer need.

    Computers might not be your thing. But I’ve seen fundraisers work on new employee orientation, bake sales, staff parties for other departments, gardening, cooking, and all sorts of crazy things.

    If your boss asks you to do something and you say “yes” every time, he or she will have no idea that you’re not able to complete your work. So get a spine and learn to say “no” to none specific things. Sure “other tasks as assigned” is in your job description, but you are an adult. You need to politely speak up for yourself.

    In my time management seminar, I tell of one new fiscal year when my boss came to me with a whole list of “top priorities” for my job to focus on in the new fiscal year. The awful thing was each of these by themselves were excellent. Things the program needed to be done. But they weren’t “by themselves.” They were being piled onto an extremely full job.

    So I took a legal pad and listed all of my current responsibilities down the left. Then I listed each of the new responsibilities on the right. I set up a meeting with her and said, “I need your help.” I showed her the lists and told her I could make an argument for why each task was an “A1” priority. But I only had 24 hours in a day so I needed to know if there were some things on the left that I could take off my responsibilities.

    Next I asked her which tasks she thought were more valuable than the others. “When an alum calls on the phone, I need to know if it’s more important that the alum speaks to a human or that the grant proposal gets completed.” Both are important, but one had to trump the other in head-to-head competition.

    It was scary to ask but it sparked a great discussion that continued on during the year.

    So grow a spine.

  3. Get educated

    I told this to the CEOs too. But I also told them that just as they wouldn’t tell their heart surgeon how to do his job, they should get out of the way and let you do yours.

    But that requires you to be at heart surgeon excellence about fundraising. This will involve investing time and effort. But it’s worth it.

    Here are some places you can look for education. As with the list for the CEOs, some of these I believe in so strongly they are tools I’ve created or have a business relationship with.

    • Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Daily Emails
      Your CEO and your board will look to you to see how things are going. They need you to know if what your organization is experience is typical or not. They need you to interpret for them.

      The Chronicle’s daily emails help you do that. Every day you get links to a few articles from the Chronicle and a few to philanthropy related articles in other news media. This is gold for you. And it’s free.

      To set up your free account, go to: (I decided to get a paid subscription this year. The paper editions come out far faster than I can read but the Chronicle team does amazing work for our industry and deserves our support.)

    • The Ask Without Fear! free newsletter
      Published continuously since 2003, my own free newsletter brings to you the best I can find on tools, techniques, and tactics. You’ll get the best of what I’m learning delivered directly to your inbox.

      To see what others are saying about it, and to claim your free subscription, go to:

    • Movie Mondays
      Another terrific free tool is Every week, the Movie Mondays teams sends a video on some aspect of fundraising right to your inbox. These aren’t “theory.” These 5-10 minute videos are of staff, board members, donors, or foundation officers telling actual stories about effective fundraising. You’ll get a lot of great ideas right at the beginning of your week!

      To learn more and to sign up, go to:

    • Distance Learning
      There are an increasing number of services that provide education right at your desktop. Some of these ones I’ve personally helped create. For lack of a better term, I’m calling it “distance learning.” Here they are:

      • The creators of FundCoaches pulled together people like Tom Ahern, Simone Joyaux, Ted Hart, Guy Mallabone, Marcy Helm, and me. They told us to deliver our best but to do it in 20- and 30-minute chunks. This is CFRE accredited education right at your desk. Still in beta, you can see the current course offerings in the “store” at
      • 100 Donors in 90 Days: We gathered a dozen of the best fundraising experts around the world to create a program that will help you get 100 donors in the next three months. You get interviews with the experts and detailed step-by-step guides to help you put the ideas into practice. To see the success nonprofits are experiencing, go to:
      • The Donor Retention Project: While attracting new donors is important, the real money is in keeping those who’ve already given. Did you know that on the average 7 out of 10 donors in the United States doesn’t give a second gift to a nonprofit? This project will help you stem to tide. Noted scholar Adrian Sargeant says even a 10% increase in retention can have a 50% increase to your over all annual funding! This project is slated to be released later this year. To learn more, go to:
      • Ask Without Fear! DVD: I went into the studio to record the principles of my book Ask Without Fear!. This is great for learning about your profession and for training for your board. You can learn more at (To learn more about the board retreat-in-a-box, go to:
      • The webinars produced by CharityHowTo have to reach a very stringent quality. And they cover a wide range of topics from nonprofit communications, to Facebook, to asking, and more. These are well worth your time. To learn more, go to:
      • Asking Matters has a free assessment that helps you identify what “type” of solicitor you are. This will free you up to ask in the ways best suited to you. This is great for your CEO and board too. If you want more, check out the new book Asking Styles: Harness Your Personal Fundraising Power. Or take the free quiz at

Lots more

That’s a start at the three things I’d recommend. The learning opportunities didn’t even include the important professional conferences like international and local chapters hosted by professional associations like AHP and more regional associations like the Utah Society of Fund Raisers.

Seek out others in your area. More fundraisers are willing to meet collaboratively than you might expect. Connecting with other fundraisers helps remind you that you are not crazy. It makes your work more enjoyable. And it provides some stability to your fundraising career.

Your turn

Don’t settle for the work situation you have. This is your life. Live it large!

I’ve given some ideas for your taking responsibility for your work. This might involve spending some of your own money. But some conferences will comp the registration fee for speakers so that might help make it more affordable.

What would you add? Either to make your work more fulfilling or to learn more about your industry? Tell us in the comments!

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