It can be lonely working as a development team of one. Lucy Taylor of Achates Philanthropy explores ways to boost capacity and overcome ‘lone fundraiser syndrome’.
Fundraisers can inhabit a cold and lonely world. That experience can be thrown into even sharper focus when they find themselves in a position of being the sole person within an organisation 'responsible' for fundraising. Small to medium arts organisations - and even some major cultural institutions - tend to have, at most, a development team of one.
Even when an organisation has a dedicated fundraiser or Development Director, the problems can be compounded by the expectation that fundraising can operate as a discrete function within an organisation.
Which lone fundraiser doesn’t recognise the scenario where you are handed development on your first day and expected to ‘just start raising some money’? That might be followed by ‘this trust application needs to go out by Friday and if you can just develop a cultivation strategy for donors (once you’ve found them) and then look after them all yourself that would be great... and we must do something about legacies.’
It is understandable and not unusual for CEOs and Artistic Directors to be greatly relieved to hand over the fundraising mantle to a dedicated development person. Problems often come, though, when senior staff don’t have enough understanding of the fundraising role to be able to support or manage the development person. How do you set appropriate objectives when you don’t really understand how that role works? How can you evaluate success if you don’t know what success looks like beyond raising money?
Then there is the rest of the organisation. Many people will recognise the situation in which they have worked really hard to cultivate a relationship with a significant potential supporter only to wince in horror as a member of the wider team handles them badly
on their arrival in the building.
Let’s not forget the central issue of capacity and resourcing. One would think ‘all hands to the pumps’ would be an immeasurably more efficient fundraising approach. This doesn’t seem to play out in reality very often. A significant factor seems to be that few people
actually like fundraising or feel they are good at it.
All of this adds up to a problem that is nearly always anti-strategic. Can we be strategic when the need to achieve funding for an organisation is placed firmly at the door of one person?
Day to day operational pressures will always take precedence. Is it really the fault of the hard-pressed fundraiser for not getting round to writing that fundraising strategy that was in their job description or for not doing it properly? Who can blame them when they are juggling that funding application that had to be done yesterday with the time consuming task of courting donors?
Equally the whole notion of a fundraising strategy that is written and executed in isolation is problematic.
Are the ‘symptoms’ of ‘Lone Fundraiser Syndrome’ sounding all too familiar?