Where are all the challengers? The agitators? The objectors? The realists?
The 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…………
Is 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!