Fundraisers Don’t Have “Roles,” We Have “Jobs”

Posted on 13 April 2012

I hate to disagree with Simone Joyaux’s recent column in the Nonprofit Quarterly for a few reasons: 1) As a consultant, blogger, and all-around nonprofit expert, Joyaux is an excellent source of valuable tips and insightful commentary; 2) the question she asks in her column, “What’s the Role of a Fundraiser,” is a fascinating topic and one that deserves further exploration; and 3) her opinion on the subject is a wonderfully positive, optimistic take on exactly what we fundraisers should strive to achieve in our careers. Unfortunately, her assertions are unrealistic at best, and, at worst, potentially damaging to nonprofits.

Joyaux begins her column with a troubling admission: “I don’t care if the donor gives a gift to my organization or to another organization. It’s all philanthropy. And philanthropy is about the donor. Philanthropy is bigger than any single organization.” Joyaux then lays out a three-fold role for a fundraiser that includes “increase social capital and promote civic engagement;” “nurture relationships to foster philanthropy and strengthen community;” and finally, thankfully: “increase and diversify philanthropy for one’s employing organization.” Only the latter role allows the fundraiser to “turn his attention to his own organization.”

Now I admire Joyaux’s altruistic approach to the role of fundraisers. It’s a very nice image indeed. But fundraisers are not keepers of the flame for the concept of philanthropy. We are salaried employees, oftentimes some of the most highly-paid employees at a nonprofit. It is literally our job to raise money for the organizations for which we work. It’s not our “role” to “promote civic engagement” or “strengthen community.” It is our role to earn our salaries by committing ourselves 100% to raising money for our employers. Not only do they pay us to do so, but they depend on us to help facilitate the essential giving that allows nonprofits to achieve their missions and, in some cases, simply keep the doors open.

It is the role of specific nonprofits to support and strengthen their communities and, to accomplish that, they hire fundraisers to raise money toward that mission. If fundraisers want to concentrate on benefitting their communities in ways other than raising money for their organizations, they can do so in their free time. I do. It’s great, and I don’t have to divert from my professional responsibilities to do so.

I agree with Joyaux that “philanthropy is bigger than any single organization,” but she confuses the topic when she claims “philanthropy and fund development are not about getting your organization’s fair share. Philanthropy and fund development are about finding those who might be interested and then nurturing relationships and loyalty. And not just for money!” Since when were philanthropy and “fund development” the same thing? They are not. Fund development is simply one aspect of philanthropy, an important aspect that needs to be done properly for philanthropy to work.

Just like Joyaux, I have an admission of my own to make: I DO care if a donor gives to my organization or another organization. Why? Because it’s my job. My organization pays me to care. I also care about strengthening community and promoting civil engagement, but I spend my free time working toward those efforts, while I concentrate my work hours on fulfilling my responsibilities as a fundraiser.

We are paid professionals with the very important, very serious, job of helping nonprofits achieve their worthy goals by raising money. Ignoring that, and concentrating on some of Joyaux’s other “roles” is akin to failing our organizations and not fulfilling our responsibilities as employees. I believe that would be harmful not only to fundraisers, but to philanthropy as a whole. As much as I respect Joyaux’s views on philanthropy, I hope fundraisers ignore her advice on this topic and keep doing their jobs in a committed, professional manner.

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