My letter to the editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy
To the editor:
As someone who spent a decade as a fundraiser and left due to burn out, I deeply resonated with this special report, Why Fundraisers are Fed Up. The article called out a few themes of why this is happening — all tied to leadership, management, and resources.
But why are we blaming non-profits for these issues? Philanthropy is to blame for much of this toxic culture, and should be doing more to change it. It’s true that managers and CEOs are putting lots of pressure on fundraisers (in addition to what fundraisers put on themselves), but it is because they have no choice. Missions are large, and the societal issues we face are not getting any smaller. While foundation leaders pull back resources as they worry about a down stock market, organizations are worried about paying their staff next month and fulfilling their mission to those they serve. And this power imbalance is only getting worse.
Philanthropy is so focused on impact that they leave little to no money for capacity building, leadership training, organizational development, or other support systems for organizations.
Here’s what funders can do NOW:
- Fund multi-year general operating support, easing the burden on fundraisers who have to make their case year after year, competing with their peers for a few dollars. This isn’t the first time you’ve heard this, in fact, Vu Le has been shouting this from the rooftops for years — see here, here, and here.
- Be transparent in your funding decisions. I believe the most stressful time for any fundraiser is the period between the meeting with a funder and the moment they come back with a decision to fund or not fund. For all our sakes, make decisions in a timely manner, and let us know when we can expect to hear from you.
- Trust organizations. Trust their leaders. And allow them to make mistakes. Projects evolve. Projects fail. Your dollars may have not had the exact impact and ROI you expected. But did the organization learn from the experience? Did they adapt and grow, and shift accordingly? Flexible dollars allows for flexible and creative programs.
We have to start by looking at ourselves: those with the money and power, and fix the root cause of the issue. We can’t just put the blame on organizations who are already stretched thin because no one wants to pay for the un-sexy work of capacity building, management training, and staff benefits.
Sarah DeLuca is a philanthropy and money coach with Move Money, Shift Power. She works with both individuals and foundations who are moving and aligning their money with their social justice values. A slightly editted version of this letter was published in the September 2019 issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.