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Peacocks, Peons and Planning

By Lilya Wagner on May 27, 20102 Comments

This is the latest installment in Dr. Lilya Wagner’s series, Fundraising Nightmares.

Megan eagerly looked forward to her interview at the International Outreach to Africa organization, where she had applied for the Vice-President for Advancement position.  She had made the initial cut and now was headed, with confidence, to her second and hopefully last interview before she could enjoy this exciting cause. 

 With outward patience but inner excitement and anticipation she waited in the little lobby of the organization’s headquarters.  She studied the annual report she found on the table, lurking beneath old copies of Time and National Geographic.  She looked at the date.  Hmmm.  Two years old…

Well, it would still give her some idea of the organization.  Wow, she thought, this organization works in 22 different countries!  Just think of the causes for which she could raise funds.  Just think how many people she could help through her skill and experience in raising funds from private sources.

 She had arrived early and before long she had exhausted the annual report’s contents.  She looked at her watch.  Still ten minutes to go.  She could bring herself even more “up to speed” if she could read the most current annual report.  She went to the receptionist’s desk and patiently waited until the young woman finally made eye contact and tore herself away from texting on her iPhone.  “Could I have the most recent annual report,” Megan asked.  The receptionist looked blankly at her.  “It’s on the table there, unless someone stole it,” she answered.  “Yes,” Megan replied, “but it’s not the most recent one, I’m sure.”  “Well, we ain’t got another one, you know.”

 A bit nonplussed, Megan slowly went back to her seat.  Oh, well, she thought.  I’m sure the president can enlighten me on that one.  She sat back and idly surveyed her surroundings.  The map behind the receptionist certainly was impressive, with beautiful pictures.  The lack of a current annual report couldn’t diminish her eagerness to join such a proactive organization.

 Her interview time arrived and she was summoned into the board room.  There sat the president, whom she had met on her previous interview, along with three other people who were strangers to her.  She tried to think back to the pictures on the annual report.  Only one seemed to match those pictures.  Well, turnover wasn’t a bad sign, was it? The interview proceeded. She provided information and answers confidently and with conviction, keeping her excitement under control.  Then the president said, as he began to gather the papers strewn in front of him, “Now, do you have any questions for us?”  A bit taken aback by the almost dismissive attitude, she said, “Yes. I do.  Could I see the strategic plan for the organization and the fundraising plan, if it isn’t part of the organizational plan?  And by the way, could I have the latest annual report?  The young lady at the desk didn’t have a copy.” 

 An uneasy silence settled on the group and glances were exchanged.  Megan noted that the glances were among the three to whom she had just been introduced, and in turn they cast uneasy looks at the president, as if waiting for an answer along with herself.  The president settled back in his chair and smiled benignly at Megan.  “We’re in a planning process just now.  Because of that you would find our old plan woefully out of date, so we won’t look for that copy.  However, you will have the exciting chance to be part of that process if you are our finalist.”  He said this with such finality that Megan didn’t feel confident enough to bring up the matter of the annual report once again.  No doubt the two were connected.

 Fast forward nine months ahead.  Megan, indeed, was the finalist.  She settled into her small office with the big window (which had seemed better than the larger office with no window) and began to discover what her job was all about.  She knew she had to, with her one staff member, work on the database.  No problem there.  That could be updated and added to with competence.  She looked at previous funding records.  Quite sparse.  That wasn’t very satisfactory but, being a proactive, energetic person, she assumed she would, in no time, add to those records.  Then she began to inquire about fundraising goals and projects.  Now she ran into a brick wall.  She asked the president, “What do you want me to plan on for fundraising?  What countries and projects do we have for which I can raise money?”  “Whatever you can get money for is fine with us,” came the astonishing reply.

 Slowly the sad truth sank in.  Without a plan, it was quite unclear as to what she was supposed to accomplish in terms of fundraising goals.  Without a plan, there were no accountabilities.  She had a hard time determining who was responsible for what, and therefore who would help her make a case for funding, and worse yet, for what?!  As for the planning process – well, it consisted of the senior staff getting together, brainstorming for a day and having a lovely lunch, while a highly-paid consultant took notes and promised the next iteration of the plan.  Whether or not that ever arrived Megan didn’t know.  It certainly didn’t come to her.  Time went by and Megan began to realize some sad truths.  She made a list of these, for future reference – a point in time that might come much quicker than she had planned, either by her choice or that of the organization.

  1. Planning is essential in order to know just what will be accomplished by the organization.  If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?! 
  2. Planning makes responsibilities apparent.  It outlines who is responsible for what and when.
  3. Planning brings a team together, working toward a common end result with a common vision and mission.
  4. Planning expresses accountabilities.  With no plan, no one need be blamed for anything because it’s not clear what each person was to accomplish.
  5. Planning is essential for the fundraiser.  Without a plan to clearly indicate what the fundraiser is to accomplish, for what purpose and with resources, the fundraiser will be expected to perform miracles without internal support.
  6. A plan expresses trustworthiness to donors, especially major ones such as philanthrocapitalists.
  7. Indicators that hint the lack of planning should be heeded, such as ancient annual reports and maps that look good but lack substance (most were mirages on the landscape of the organization’s accomplishments).

 Megan realized she should have heeded the warning signs, but for her it was unimaginable that an organization such as the International Outreach to Africa would not be a well-organized one with a plan into which she and her expertise would fit.  Without demands for accountability, the president could preen like a peacock and make things look good, even if the whole scenario was a house of cards, while she, the peon, would be left high and dry and perhaps even be the scapegoat.  Sadly, she brushed up her resume and left for another position, this time much wiser and watchful for warning signals that must be heeded to stay off the road to frustration and failure.

Dr. Lilya Wagner, CFRE, is an experienced fundraiser, consultant, editor and author, teacher and trainer. She can be reached at

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