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American Express Leadership Academy Focuses on Fundraising

April 28, 2014

As part of our effort to help train the next generation of nonprofit leaders, we continuously challenge ourselves to help raise awareness of, and provide resources for, some of the most pressing issues related to nonprofit leadership today. Accordingly, in response to feedback from our grantees, insight from new studies and our own awareness of the changing funding landscape, we are highlighting the topic of fundraising as part of our Spring 2014 American Express Leadership Academy programs.

Last week, American Express, Ashoka Changemakers, The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and The Thunderbird School of Global Management co-hosted an informative Fundraising for Impact Twitter Chat focused on the topic of best practices in fundraising. The Twitter Chat included participants from a number of organizations, including Atlas Corp, Public Allies, YNPN, Urban Fellows, Echoing Green and the National Urban League, and the discussion centered on the following questions:

  • What are some of the creative best practices you have used for successful fundraising?
  • What trends have you seen in the realm of fundraising?
  • Given the challenges faced by nonprofits, how can collaboration lead to more systemic and scalable funding solutions?
  • How do you measure and communicate the results vs. outcomes of fundraising?

This Twitter Chat was a sneak preview of the upcoming American Express Leadership Academy Funders Panel: An Inside Perspective Live Stream and Twitter Chat on May 7th from 12 - 1:30 p.m. EDT. Those interested in participating can register here using the passcode Amex2014.

This Live Stream event will be moderated by Dennis Whittle, the Executive Chairman of Ashoka Changemakers, and it will include the following panelists: Richard Brown, Vice President of Philanthropy at American Express; Phillip Henderson, President of the Surdna Foundation; and Rose Stuckey Kirk, President of the Verizon Foundation.

According to a newly released study, UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, many nonprofits are suffering from a vicious cycle that hinders their ability to raise the resources they need to succeed. The study, a project of Compass Point and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, found high levels of turnover and lengthy vacancies in development director positions throughout the sector. And, 50 percent of development directors anticipate leaving their current jobs in two years or less.

Perhaps most related to leadership development, the report uncovered deeper issues that contribute to instability in the development director role, including a lack of basic fundraising systems and plans, inadequate attention to fundraising among key board and staff leaders, and lack of an organizational culture that supports fundraising success.

Based on the findings from the study, the authors offer ten compelling calls to action. Below are five of them:

  • Strengthen and Diversify the Talent Pool. Despite the fact that there are numerous existing organizations and academic institutions that focus on fundraising professional development, more work is needed to create a healthy and diverse pipeline of skilled, committed fundraising professionals.
  • Apply the Transition Management Framework to the Development Director Position. The sector has come to embrace the concept that an executive transition is a pivotal moment for organizational reflection, re-evaluation of strategies, and investment in capacity building. The authors ask whether the same framework should be applied to development director transitions.
  • Invest Strategically in Grantee Fundraising Capacity. Funders typically inquire about program sustainability as part of their due diligence, but they might not look deeply at an organization's capacity to develop sustainable income. Drawing on the organizational factors highlighted in this report, funders could develop a more sophisticated "due-diligence" checklist to guide their evaluation of the leadership, governance and operational components of fundraising capacity.
  • Leverage Technological Innovation-Embrace Creativity. Social media, online fundraising, and innovations such as crowd funding are fundamentally changing the means of cultivating and retaining donors. These tools allow multiple staff and board-beyond a single development director-to be in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, a central tenet of a culture of philanthropy.
  • Exercise Fundraising Leadership. Development directors could embrace the challenges outlined in this report by stepping-up their leadership profiles and driving the change that is required within their organizations. While it is often difficult for one person to change an organization, the development director is in a key position to identify the organizational changes needed and then lead a process to realize them.

  • As the authors remind us, creating the right conditions for success-at both the organizational and sectoral levels-requires executive directors, development directors, boards and funders to make changes in their beliefs and practices toward the goal of identifying and developing more sustainable sources of funding for nonprofit organizations.

    If you'd like to join the conversation, register here (using pass code Amex2014) for the American Express Leadership Academy Funders Panel: An Inside Perspective Live Stream and Twitter Chat on May 7th from 12 - 1:30 p.m. EDT. Or, send us a comment or question here. Alternatively, follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and comment there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog with friends and colleagues.

    P.S. Did you know that one in four executives report that they lack the skills and knowledge to secure gifts - and one in five don't particularly like doing it? However, an overwhelming majority of executives- 79%-agree that executive competency in securing gifts is "very important" to their success.


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