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Skagit Valley Hospital

Raising the Bar

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If we want to raise the bar for philanthropy here in the Northwest, I’m beginning to think that the place we must start with is a wholesale upgrade to the management skills of the leaders within our nonprofit organizations. I know too many executives who are simply resigned to the high turnover rates of their fundraising staff or the sub-optimal performance of their fundraising volunteers. What is going on?

While our country’s business schools are pumping out MBAs armed with the latest research on human motivational theory, precious few nonprofit CEOs, executive directors, or development directors are benefiting from this new body of information, instead relying on old-fashioned and short-sighted “carrot and stick” tactics which do more harm than good.

This year’s AFP Major Gift Symposium in Seattle was a real gift for people like me who lie awake at night pondering these issues. The planning committee deserves our applause for pulling together a group of speakers who seem to be aware of the new research coming out of Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, and Tufts. For those of you who didn’t make it, I recommend picking up a copy of Susan Howlett’s slender new book entitled, “Boards on Fire: Inspiring Leaders to Raise Money Joyfully.” Her ten suggestions for board management are refreshingly down to earth. If you are familiar with Gail Perry’s 2007 book, “Fired Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action,” you’ll recognize many of the same concepts distilled to a more simple and accessible form.

Symposium leaders also unveiled a new “dashboard” tool for measuring fundraising performance that goes beyond simply counting the dollars raised. Besides being a more accurate predictor of fundraising performance 24-36 months out, this tool promises to improve the job satisfaction for the countless development professionals whose work is so often misunderstood or unappreciated by executives and board members. If you want a copy, I’d suggest contacting the AFP-Washington board. I don’t know if they’re giving it out to people who weren’t at the Symposium, but it can’t hurt to try.

While we’re on the topic of good management skills, I also want to put in another plug for Daniel Pink’s 2009 book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” which I wrote about in a previous blog post a few months ago. This remains my favorite book for describing how to effectively motivate non-profit professionals and volunteers to remain loyal, inspired, and effective in our work. You can make it a holiday present for your boss.

So, now that I’ve shared mine, what resources are you coming across, dear reader, that are informing your staff and volunteer management style? Drop us a line at TCG and let us know.

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