A few weeks ago I received a letter from an exasperated fundraiser who had been on the job at a large nonprofit for less than six months and was unceremoniously fired. He was about to secure a gift for $1 million and yet he was fired. Why?
I called this fundraiser who was looking for some expertise and thinking around how to position his experience in the job market. Before we talked about that, I asked questions about the organization. I wanted to obtain an understanding as to why he would be let go just as he was getting traction and was about to close on a significant gift.
It did not surprise me that it came down to management and leadership. As we went through the play by play of what happened, I discovered that this was a new position. Essentially, his supervisor was a vice present of development. Below that there were various fundraisers in major gifts and grants. The vice president had been encouraged by her superiors to hire a director level professional.
It seems that this particular vice president is a micro-manager. She manages everything. There is not anything that junior team members are permitted to do without a complete and thorough vetting by the vice president. Instead of doing that which is unique to her position and delegating the rest with supervision, she spends countless hours a day managing every aspect of everyone else’s position. Fear reigns supreme.
Certainly the president of this large nonprofit and other senior executives noticed this and they strongly encouraged her to hire what I would call a “buffer”. Someone who was seasoned and would be able to manage the more junior staff so she would be able to spend her time out in the field building relationships and securing significant gifts.
But this was not to be. This vice president had been entrenched in the organization and had been on staff longer than the president and many senior staff members. This meant that she wielded a large amount of influence. However, she managed by fear.
While the fundraiser who reached out to me did what he was asked to do, there was never going to be any “win”. When she asked him to be strategic, he would present papers that were strategic only to be taken to task for not being detailed enough. When he looked at details, she complained he was not being strategic.
I’ve seen this type of dysfunction before, and it does not serve a nonprofit or social enterprise. It’s obvious that the vice president promptly let go the fundraiser before the gift closed because it would have been much more difficult for her to let him go once the gift came in. Senior leaders would prefer to stay the course with what they know rather than take the vice president to task for being a complete management failure.
In this particular case, the nonprofit has been around for decades. This organization is a leading charity that should be changing with the times. However, the vice president retains an incredible iron grip on the organization – not allowing for any creativity, innovative programs, new messaging, etc.
Instead, the vice president relies on long standing past donors, but does not take into account the changing landscape in the sector.
The fundraiser that reached out to me was simply a “fall guy.” He was hired to placate senior leadership so the vice president could say that she tried. But, no matter what he did, he was not set up to succeed. He was set up to fail – plain and simple. Creativity and an infusion of new ideas and opportunities were quickly shut down so as to continue with the status quo.
And, I am sure, the vice president is now moving forward, pleased that she has gotten rid of her headache. However, an incredible disservice was done to the fundraiser who left an excellent job, and relocated his family, for this opportunity. A disservice was also done to the organization, which will remain in the past with messaging and tactics that do not remotely begin to incorporate new practices. And, finally, someone is allowed to retain an iron grip on the nonprofit simply because the president preferred to maintain existing conditions.
One final note, this particular vice president has had a number of years where she has not made the financial goals for the organization. But, for whatever reason, this is deemed okay.
Author of, “The Rise and Fail of Charities In the 21st Century: How The Nonprofit World Is Changing And What You Can Do To Be Ready.” Get your copy here.
© 2015 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.