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Looking to Fundraising's Future

February 21, 2018

By Leah Eustace, M.Phil, MInstF, CFRE, ACFRE

I have yet to meet a fundraiser who manages to get to the end of their to-do list each day. There’s always something more to do, and many of us put in both extra hours and extra passion into our jobs. We do it because we truly care about our causes, and we want those causes to have resources available to them so that solutions to problems are found.

But that doesn’t leave much space for thinking and planning for the future, which is critical now that our profession is at a crisis point.

We see leadership gaps across the country. We have a history of picking up knowledge from the for-profit sector about fifteen years after they first emerge (think behavioural economics and authentic leadership). We struggle with inequality and under-representation.

Last year, the Concord Leadership Group published results of a leadership survey, and the findings are alarming:

  • 49% of nonprofits are operating without any knowledge of, or access to a strategic plan (and 62% of the ones that do have plans don’t include any mention of fundraising);
  • 25% of nonprofits say they don’t have a vision compelling enough to unify the board, staff and donors (and 62% of nonprofit leaders don’t even know how to create such a vision);
  • 77% of nonprofits report not having a leadership transition plan or leadership training program; and 42% of nonprofits don’t have any formal mechanisms in place to measure performance.

We need, as a sector, to be thinking five years ahead. What is the role of social innovation and social enterprise? How will generational differences impact philanthropy? What new technology might emerge that revolutionizes giving? What kind of succession planning needs to be in place to ensure there is a pipeline of strong sector leaders?

So, what do we need to do to become more PROACTIVE than reactive when it comes to fundraising?

AFP Canada is working to develop new ideas and programs that will help the fundraising profession look forward. We recently partnered with Rogare, the Fundraising Think Tank, to conduct a critical review of fundraising in Canada, and produce a new narrative for our sector. The objectives of the project are to:

  • Offer clear messaging that can be deployed to minimize negative stereotypes while building a collaborative dialogue with key stakeholders;
  • Change the narrative around fundraising both within and outside our community: fundraising is not a "necessary evil," but an intrinsic and vital part of the missions of nonprofit organizations;
  • Prepare a trained group of fundraising professionals ready to use the narrative to respond to any negative event. 

At the same time, AFP in Canada has just begun a strategic planning exercise that will, for the first time, set a course for fundraising in Canada. It will bring together diverse stakeholders, both internal and external to AFP, to build a long-term vision for the fundraising community in our country. The process will force us to think creatively, and to think ahead. Out of this process, AFP Canada, the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy – Canada, and Canadian AFP chapters will build their strategic plans.

But of course, this work isn’t limited to AFP. The Canadian Association of Gift Planners is preparing for its 2018 national conference, which has the theme, “The Future of Generosity.” The conference will examine issues related to volunteerism and leadership, social enterprise, and diversity and inclusion in philanthropy. AFP’s course will be made clearer—and our programs strengthened—by looking at what organizations like CAGP are doing and ensuring our goals are aligned and that we are working together when possible.

We have a responsibility to our causes, and the people we serve, not to focus solely on today, but also to be prepared for the future. We need to be ready to determine how we can best serve our communities a year from now, a decade from now and even longer. We have proven in the past that when the profession and the sector pull together, we can have tremendous impact. While we have a way to go, these and other initiatives make me feel extremely hopeful.

Leah Eustace, M.Phil, MInstF, CFRE, ACFRE, is the president of Blue Canoe Philanthropy, an idea-generator and strategic thinker with a wide and varied background in charitable fund development. Connect with her on Twitter at @leaheustace.