Gloves Off??

Published by Tony Elischer on

Where are all the challengers? The agitators? The objectors? The realists?

MuppetsThe more sophisticated and developed our Sector becomes the more people seem happy to stay in line or fall into line. We seem to be growing a Sector that likes a quiet life, likes to ‘play it safe’ and makes sure everything is obsessively politically correct.

We know that the biggest crisis our Sector faces is people and leadership, hence the reason we settle increasingly for mediocre people, people who are rarely going to stand up and disagree or challenge the status quo.  To be honest, I feel that too much of our Sector is ‘comfortable’ in their jobs, gently bouncing along doing what they know, doing what they feel safe with and, all being well, delivering a single digit percentage increase each year. This makes me so angry, as I genuinely feel that no fundraiser should ever be comfortable; it is not part of the job. Our job is to be uncomfortable, to push to the edge and to raise our sights truly to change things.

We know that demand for charitable support is getting greater and more competitive every year and that our current strategies can’t keep pace with the need. Our solution? Pretend this isn’t the case, carry on ‘business as usual’ and if we don’t hit any targets simply reduce the budget to what we did achieve or reduce it the following year! Result = less impact, fewer lives changed or saved.

Take a moment to ask yourself what is shaking up the world of fundraising today? How are we changing our profession? Where are the inspirational radical new programmes and ideas? Sure, you’ll be able to list one or two, but that is about it! We compare ourselves to the commercial sector on a regular basis but look at any industry sector and see how it is radically and rapidly changing itself to adapt to market changes and to invent whole new markets. But please don’t use the money and resource excuse cards, we all know them so well, the whole point about our Sector is that you know when you sign up that frankly you have to ‘achieve miracles with very little’ that’s what makes it the dynamic and exciting place that we all want it to be. I always say to any new fundraiser the three things you will never have enough of are time, resource and praise.

Like so many people I have talked about the need to fail more, but even this seems a bit lame in the fast changing world we inhabit. Frankly we all need to man/woman up and start to be more honest with our organisations and ourselves. Can we really manage the risk on a programme that is going to take three years to break even? Have we really got the skills, brand and proposition to land £1m corporate partnerships? Is our social networking strategy actually achieving anything? Is integration just a dream? Why the hell do we keep doing events that don’t make money? Can we ever get to a point where our CRM systems drive additional income and relationships? And, and, and…………

MonkeyIs it age? Is it experience? Or is it sheer grumpiness? That increasingly makes me want to make sure that everything I do is about trying to ‘tell it as it is’ or perhaps as I see it based, on my experience and views of fundraising over three plus decades? I love the fact that people reflect on this outlook as ‘refreshing frankness’, although even that view makes it sound politically correct!

When I was growing up as a fundraiser there seemed to be more curmudgeons about and I was lucky enough to have George Smith as my mentor, a man who always told it as it was and helped hundreds of charities see the wrong things they were doing and the right things they should be doing. George never toed the line, he never played by the rules and his total passion for our Sector meant that people listened to his views and took action, often-alternative action. His blunt and direct style wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but those that related to it certainly benefitted from his wisdom and insight. I hope I can sit in his shadow and get angrier as time goes on, because somebody bloody has to!


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.


Dorothy · February 26, 2015 at 17:12

Thank you, Tony, for your integrity and frankness!

As the people who enable our organizations to exist and perform the work they do, you’re absolutely right that we should be upsetting the peace a lot more often. However, we are fighting not only external forces when we try to shake things up, but also our our colleagues, who abhor change.

I say we keep trying to make people feel uncomfortable and start getting them to really pay attention to what matters!

James M Schaffer · February 26, 2015 at 18:05

Masks, not gloves, need to be removed. Our sector needs and I believe has the courage to let go of certainties. Our fast changing world will on its own impel us to do so. Anger/agitation has little to do with it; moral indignation is too often disguised envy. Love more than money (least of all the latest “social networking” tricks) propels our sector. The people I’ve worked with over the past 30+ years were and are courageously loving and brave and anything but “mediocre.” “Where are the inspirational radical new programmes and ideas?” They are everywhere, if you have the eyes to see and heart to appreciate the beauty and boldness of the start-up nonprofit/NGO. These leaders have likely never heard the name Rockefeller, attended a sector conference, boasted on Linkedin, or read the latest books on fundraising fundamentals. They might not even know that they are operating within a sector that rewards careerists with sometimes amazing salaries and/or consulting gigs. They are too busy attempting the improbable, often at personal risk, for the sake of the other, for the love of the other. They are anything but mediocre in their individual, anonymous, bewildering struggles and triumphs. These are the true risk-takers, and there are millions of them. Instead of gloves, they take off masks in their own humble ways: “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live with.” — James Baldwin (the great American civil rights risk taker)

Sheila · March 3, 2015 at 12:03

I agree with Dorothy. Most of our “people” hate change. And the people who hate change the most? The trustees! They like to rock up four times a year and talk about “this is how we did it in 1986 and it worked well” – the world has moved on. But the trustees who are still on the board 25 years later haven’t, sadly.

Fundraisingwoche - Das Finale | sozialmarketing.de - wir lieben Fundraising · March 2, 2015 at 08:01

[…] Gloves Off?? The old dog fundraising: When Fundraisers Lose […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *