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Fundraising Nightmares-Make Smart Career Moves!

By Tom Watson on September 23, 2008No Comment

One day, the faculty member left for a job at Hilltop State University as professor and Chief Development Officer. When he left, the faculty member asked Jason if he would agree to be his assistant. After considering a career in business, government or non-profit work, he agreed to join him. He immediately had to learn to direct annual gifts, major gifts and planned gifts. He contacted other universities, went on road trips with peers and read a great deal on how to succeed in raising money.

After settling into the job and developing excellent relationships with staff, Jason’s boss and “friend” told him that he was applying for an open vice presidency at Hilltop State University. His friend did not receive the position and left the state for another position with faculty and development responsibilities. He asked Jason to join him. He wanted to go but had to resign first. He sent a resignation letter to the “new” vice president and his personal assistant read the letter and did not tell her boss. She decided to give Jason the letter to hand carry into the meeting with the “new” vice president. The meeting was brutal because the new vice president felt betrayed. In some ways Jason was caught in the middle of a personal conflict.

Jason left his job and went to Southern university 1,000 miles away. The only person he knew in that state was his boss and “friend”. He was excited to go to a new place, work with his boss again and develop a new fund raising program. He wasn’t there two months when his boss decided to stay as a faculty member, but leave his role as head of development. With Jason’s boss’ departure, he lost a mentor and leader. He was then forced to report to an individual with no fund raising experience, a micro-manager and mean spirited individual. After struggling to work within a new system of leadership, he left this large public institution for a small private institution, which proved to be another poor choice.

The vice president who hired Jason as his director of alumni, parents and development at Smalltown University was on his way out. He left one month after Jason arrived. The president decided not to hire a new vice president, but act as the chief fund raising development officer. He moved the fund raising staff from a beautiful facility to a chapel located next to his office so he could oversee the staff. The experience was depressing for Jason as he was also dealing with family issues. One day, the president, without notice, called Jason into his office and in front of a witness, told him that he was no longer needed. This was one month after Smalltown University received a CASE improvement award. Jason was totally floored and wondered if fund raising was a good career choice for him. After much soul searching, Jason once again packed his bags and moved away to another university, Pleasantville University, once again leaving his family behind in another state.

When Jason’s house finally sold in Smalltown after one year, his family joined him at Pleasantville University. He was finally happy as he worked, for a while, for an excellent vice president. Amazingly, one weekend the VP of development who’d hired him left without notice and overnight a consultant became Jason’s new boss as vice president for university relations, without a formal job search. While the transition wasn’t completely smooth, the need for Jason to stay “put” because of family stability was a factor in remaining in Pleasantville for several years. Eventually the university changed presidents and Jason decided to explore a new possibility.

Jason decided to leave the state for a position at Caring Hospital where he could perfect his generalist skills in annual gifts, major gifts and planned gifts. For a number of years, Jason worked as a productive number two in the office. He had opportunities to leave but decided to stay as he might be considered for his boss’ job as he was planning to retire. Fortunately, after an eight-month search by a national search firm, Jason was hired as VP of Development and executive director of the Caring Hospital Foundation. One thing the president at Caring did not tell Jason was the fact that he was planning to leave his post after a few months. Poor Jason had to work with a variety of presidents over the next several years. He joined a leadership team as the newest person. Over time, he was the last one left of several “old” presidents. Then, one day, Jason received a phone call from a donor who asked why he was still employed there. A week later, the latest president told Jason he was no longer needed. Despite excellent written performance reviews and with no warning, Jason was escorted by security to the door because one Caring Hospital individual decided it was time for a change. It was later known that the Foundation Board Chair knew that Jason was “gone” a week before the ax fell but decided not to tell him. The hospital had a history of similar actions. They didn’t care.

What can we learn from Jason’s career choices? Was he a victim of bad decisions, poor choices or a victim of a career that does not value employee performance or loyalty? Does performance, capability, dedication, relationship building and institutional focus mean anything? Do institutions give “lip service” to promoting philanthropy? Can presidents with CFO mentalities work with CDO’s? How do you view Jason’s career moves? How can non-profits improve recruitment, retention, encouragement and long-term security of development professionals? Would you tell Jason to continue a career path in development or go back to government or business? Is the culture and landscape of philanthropy changing? How can male and female executives work more effectively together? Do non-profit leaders truly care about promoting philanthropy and truly support their direct reports? Is your job and career in non-profit management stable? If not, what can we do to change the paradigm?

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