A Crisis in the making

Published by Tony Elischer on

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With the emergence from recession of many countries (albeit slow and staggering for some) and many markets announcing reasonable steady growth in voluntary income, it may seem that the not-for-profit sector is in a strong place and continuing to manage growth and development to meet the many varied needs of the Sector. The reality is that this growth and success is fuelling another major crisis for many charities. Yet it is one that the Sector fails collectively to recognise as the biggest challenge to our ability to continue to grow the power of fundraising to meet future needs, which inevitably grow faster than the resources we can generate to meet them.

The crisis in the making? People and leadership. We have come a long way in building a professional infrastructure to recognise, grow and support fundraisers, through training, institutes, trade bodies and conferences, but so much of this fails to get to the heart of what we need to focus on, identifying, nurturing, recognising and retaining leadership. Across all developed fundraising markets there is a major shortage of skilled, experienced and dedicated fundraisers with recruitment processes often cycling around the same individuals, encouraging them to move after a relatively short time in post. Charities, frustrated with the situation, often settle for second best or, to be honest, for mediocre people, who once in place on the senior ladder will never move, unless they are pushed off.

If we are to address this crisis we need to start by changing the outlook, views and biases of the Sector and go straight to the heart of where this should all begin: Emerging Leadership. Early talent spotting, as practiced by the commercial sector, of young driven passionate professionals who can be fast tracked to take early leadership positions and grow their skills with the support of their managers, their organisations and the Sector as a whole. I believe that this crisis has been an undercurrent in our Sector for the last ten years or more and we have continued to avoid addressing the issue, instead resorting to the easy option of raising salaries and competing with hygiene factors to outbid our competition in attracting the limited talent that may be on the market. This is not sustainable and we have to push harder on ‘home growing talent’ for our own organisations and for the future growth of the Sector. I am not coming at this from a personal development or human resources perspective (but they are naturally central factors in this process!); this is the responsibility of every manager who believes in fundraising and the future potential of our profession to continue to change the world.

The most successful companies of the last decade balance youth, equality and a dynamic culture as an integral part of their brand and approach to business. It is shameful that in the 2014 in the UK we run headlines on an equality survey that states our leadership is ‘pale and stale’. So many young people do explore working for not-for-profits as an option, but they either shy away as it is not clear that there is a career development path or better still a fast track option for development. Others joining full of energy and drive very quickly get ground down by the culture and the frustrations of the structure, policies and systems around them; they then move on or out, dependent on how ‘damaged’ they are! I do appreciate that these reflections are generalisms and some charities are getting it right, but quite simply not enough.

I believe that organisations can grow leadership, but this has to be balanced by spotting the right ’DNA’ in people. Looking for openness, determination, energy, maturity beyond years and raw talent, no matter what format that comes in. Catching people early and then helping to accelerate their knowledge, provide opportunities to build experience and investment to shape and grow their natural talents will begin the journey of growing the a strong pipeline of leadership.

future_leadershipCharities need to create cultures where egos are kept in check and managers balance being directive with being supportive and embrace the opportunity to grow and coach others to succeed; ‘A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others’ Anonymous.

How many times have you cringed at a the cliché ‘putting the fun back in fundraising’! But to grow leadership fun, celebration and recognition are critical cultural factors for success; look at Facebook, Google and many other high achieving companies of the last ten years and the cultures they created for success.

Future generations will live their lives in reality and digital reality seamlessly, networked, connected and switched on. Charity cultures need to embrace this and change working practices and expectations. We now have the tools to work more productively and effectively than ever before in the history of mankind and emerging leaders will help us do this, but only if they are given the space, the belief and the investment.

At the IFC this week we will launch the first conference session to challenge people to be more aware of and oriented towards emerging leadership; the ninety minute session on the 15th October at 15.30 will be something truly different that will challenge everyone’s thinking and will begin a campaign to get people to Grow Be or Value emerging leadership as the future of the Sector. Check out the new web site and take the pledge at http://www.growbevalue.com/

Remember: “If you want others to believe in you, you must first convince them that you believe in them.” Harvey MacKay



International Fundraising Congress (IFC)This post is part of the 2014 IFC Series. 101fundraising is proud to be the blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress! Check out HERE when Tony is presenting at the IFC.

You can also watch the webinar ‘The emerging fundraising leadership challenge‘ with Tony Elischer and Rory Green for FREE (Thursday 16 October 16:00 CET) by clicking HERE.

Tony Elischer

Tony Elischer

Tony has over 30 years hands on experience in the not for profit sector. He has been a consultant for the last fourteen years working at the highest level across a wide range of causes and organisations and is the founder of the leading international consultancy THINK Consulting Solutions. He is an internationally regarded expert on fundraising and marketing, having extensive experience of helping charities worldwide with strategy, fundraising, management and troubleshooting. In the last 12 months he has worked in over 20 countries.


Kathy · October 14, 2014 at 11:26

After 15 years in the sector (now out), couldn’t agree more. This is also why board level are so often dazzled by ‘on trend’ management speak and current buzz words. I see style over substance so often now, completely to the detriment of the charity.
Supporters are confused and then disengaged – income going down but got a shiny, on trend annual report? Then this is you!

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