What Fundraising Job Descriptions Say About Your School

Dec 31, 2015

By Jason Lewis
Executive Consultant

Organizations rarely consider how much their job descriptions reveal about them. For a savvy fundraising professional, job descriptions are a looking glass into the opportunities and barriers they might encounter in the role. The fundraiser understands that his or her job description reflects a culture and a philosophy, an approach to planning and hiring, and insight into how fundraising performance will be evaluated.

When conducting a fundraising performance audit for a client, I always start by reviewing job descriptions. I pay close attention to clues that suggest reasonable expectations and a well-organized plan, or, as is more often the case, the expectation that the fundraiser be superhuman.

Too many schools are looking for both quantity and quality of donor relationships—at the same time and from the same staff.

Schools with smaller fundraising shops are particularly susceptible to unrealistic expectations. Your fundraising professional cannot realistically organize a high impact special event every other month while consistently stewarding major donor relationships. The staffer who regularly meets with the critical, sustained donors (say, 50 or so on a quarterly basis) is normally not the same individual who submits a pile of new grant applications every month.

A common red flag I see in many job descriptions is the phrase “friend-raising.” Not that growing a donor constituency isn’t important, but it usually implies that whoever supervises the fundraising office (the head of school or a board development committee) is, practically, oblivious to how effective fundraising really works.

An organization should certainly work to expand its donor base and to nurture long-term relationships with potentially transformative givers, but never at the same time or in the same contexts. A new donor isn’t likely to write your organization an especially generous check anymore than a loyal friend is going to tolerate being treated like you just met yesterday. A fundraising job description should reflect the distinctions between new donor acquisition and renewal.

I learned the importance of this principle early in my career when I was expected to organize an annual golf tournament. This was a large-scale, highly visible event that the board was particularly fond of. The problem was that it never raised any significant dollars. This, coupled with the fact that I wasn’t the most organized event planner, ensured that the event, at its best, was only useful for friend-raising.

What I didn’t understand then was that the board chairman was evaluating my performance solely based on what he could see: the golf tournament and the monthly donation numbers in the board report. What he couldn’t see was the long term benefit of sustained relationships with people for whom our mission resonated.

The effect was that we never adopted an objective method for evaluating fundraising performance based on indicators consistent with our goals—raising money through large gifts! If we had, we probably would have cancelled the golf tournament (or assigned it to someone more capable than me!), and the lunch meetings I was scheduling with potential major donors would have consumed far more of my time.

So, what does your fundraising job description say about your school’s priorities and concrete expectations for the position? Does it identify specific success indicators, expectations for time on task, and metrics to evaluate effectiveness beyond just how much money is or isn’t raised?

Show me your fundraising job description, and I’ll tell you whether your funding operation is positioned for the best funding opportunities.