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The Fundraiser’s Bill Of Rights

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You probably already know that donors have a bill of rights. They were created almost 30 years ago by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Prudent, logical and fair, they cover everything from access to financial statements to assurances their gift will be used as intended.

But what about fundraisers? Aren’t we entitled to certain inalienable rights? (You know, besides the right to leftovers after the board meeting?)

You had me at hello.

Look, fundraising is one of the most meaningful and rewarding professions a person could have. But there’s no sugarcoating the challenges we face. Low pay. Long hours. Duct-taped office furniture. A board comprised solely of “idea fairies” or stubborn board members who balk at term limits. A boss, CEO or board member who thinks just because they don’t like something (i.e. the end of year appeal) donors won’t like it either. [Pro tip: you are not your target audience.]

I could go on all day. One of the staples in my tv diet as a child of the 70’s was “Kids Are People Too.” And hey, us fundraisers are people too. On top of having a right to operational office furniture we need these 10 rights to survive and thrive:

1. The right to clear, measurable and realistic fundraising goals.

Clear, measurable realistic fundraising goals are rooted in fact, not fiction and based on donor’s giving history and capacity, not a pie in the sky number your CEO gave you.

2. The right to term limits for board members.

Would having the same job for your entire life be healthy for you or your workplace?

No! It isn’t healthy for a board either.

Not having term limits is breeding ground for dysfunction, stagnation, founder syndrome and a sure-fire way to stifle innovation. If this is your struggle bring in outside experts to enlighten your board on the importance of term limits be it a funder, a board member from a successful nonprofit or outside counsel (aka a fundraising consultant like me). If you want to cushion bruised egos and provide a pillow-soft landing, get creative crafting a “founder’s circle” or other non-governing honorary entity to celebrate these individuals for their service before you “plaque ‘em” and “sack ‘em.”

3. The right to professional development opportunities.

Even on a shoestring budget you can find educational opportunities to advance your fundraising knowledge, such as Bloomerang’s weekly free webinars.

Make the time to invest! According to research by Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, Dr. Rita Kottasz and Dr. Adrian Sargeant each additional form of training is associated with an increase of $37,000 in fundraising income.

The hardest part may be making the time.

4. The right to an annual performance evaluation based on realistic metrics that include donor retention and donor satisfaction (not just revenue).

Tying performance solely to income is counterproductive. It leads to stress, burnout, and turnover. Fundraising outcomes are dependent on a highly complex group of factors some of which fundraisers may have little or no control over such as the health of the overall economy, the organization’s reputation and leadership, broken systems, bad data or a history of bad practices they inherited such as donors not being property thanked or stewarded. At the end of the day measuring donor retention and satisfaction are superior metrics to assess fundraiser performance, since donor satisfaction is the number one driver of donor loyalty.

Equally important to how we measure fundraising performance is that we simply do the performance evaluation in the first place. I train fundraisers across the country and I’m continually shocked by how many of them don’t have regular performance evaluations, much less annual goals or even up to date job descriptions.

5. The right to role models and mentors in the space.

In the overworked fast-paced profession of fundraising mentors are like unicorns. If you don’t have someone you can meet with in person fangirl (or fan boy) a fundraising expert from afar by following their blogs, posts, and content. Drop your email here and I’ll personally invite you to my free trainings.

6. Leaders who understand and respect how fundraising works.

You deserve a CEO and board of directors who understand fundraising and deeply respect the role that it plays in fulfilling your mission. If fundraising is the f-word at your organization, I can assure you that the grass really IS greener at other nonprofits. If this is you prioritize making a career change to an organization well screened to boast a thriving culture of philanthropy.

7. Autonomy in how you work.

Fundraising is part art and part science. Rely on the science to test your appeals, donation forms, and subject lines. Delighting donors and building authentic relationships demands creativity and diligence.

8. Respect from leadership that much of your job is done “outside” the office and may include visiting with donors in their homes or at community events.

A few years ago I was shocked to find out that one of my earliest fundraising mentors working for an enviably successful hospital foundation had a CEO who demanded he be at his desk from 9 to 5. My mentor was highly successful despite his CEO. No doubt that resulted in him putting in more than 40 hours a week and contributed to his ultimate burnout and departure.

If you are a CEO reading this, I implore you, – let the fundraisers be fundraisers. Their job is relentless and unforgiving. Respect the afterhours and out-of-the-office component of fundraising. Give them flexibility in how and when they work.

9. A culture of philanthropy that celebrates gratitude, donors, the role of fundraising and embraces risk taking.

Cultural change takes time. Luckily, I have a sheet cheat to get you started! Grab these 12 Ways to Create a Culture of Philanthropy to transform the culture at your nonprofit.

10. The right to nurture one’s own self.

If you don’t take good care of yourself who will? This world needs your talents. You feeling burned out hurts you and your cause. Put on your own oxygen mask with these great tips from my friend Beth Kanter’s new book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit and try her self-care plan to start implementing self-care behaviors to reduce your overwhelm.

I hope you read this and said “Hell ya!” or “Amen, sister!” at least a few ties. Better yet, I hope you tape this to your computer monitor. You deserve all this and more. The world needs your talents.

What things would you add to the list, dear fundraiser? Drop your comments below!

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  • Rachel Muir

    You could not be more right! Wow. I should have made that #1 Jack!
  • jack silverstein

    I would also add the right to a competitive salary. How many times have we heard that because we work for a non-profit we either should take a lower salary or that job satisfaction is worth a large percentage of our compensation?
  • Rachel Muir

    We are not our jobs, Nancy, indeed.
  • Rachel Muir

    Excellent point.
  • Nancy Brown

    The right possess and share personal political or social justice stances in their personal space, including social media. We are not our jobs.
  • Sepideh D

    14. Enforcement of, and that with the support and backing of leadership, the fundraiser's right to boundaries that donors may infringe upon, no matter if done maliciously or benignly. These could be personal boundaries or otherwise. The fundraiser has the right to determine and act upon with confidence what is out of bounds or creates discomfort.
  • Rachel Muir

    Could NOT agree with you more, Bob THANK YOU!
  • Bob

    11. Recognition and comprehension from leadership that while all causes may be worthy and compelling in their own right, not all causes are created equal when it comes to inspiring donor investment. Some societal issues will always garner more support and investment from donors, no matter what approach is taken. 12. Understanding that comparing crisis fundraising to standard day-to-day fundraising is like comparing apples to cars. There is simply no better way to tap into the hearts and minds of donors than during a time when an issue has been elevated to the point that it's literally impossible to avoid hearing about it. That, combined with a timely and relevant fundraising campaign, generally equals a guaranteed outpouring of support. 13. Recognition that fundraising phenomenon like the viral ALS ice bucket challenge are very rare, and are the direct result of a celebrity happening to pick up on and publicize it. It's generally impossible to "make" something go viral.
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