For the last year in my job at SolarAid I have had no line reports. From managing a small team of five I am now “Head Fundraiser” managing just me.
At first it felt strange – especially having been a Director of Fundraising in several past roles. But after a short while it seem to work really well. I was spending more time engaging (and hopefully inspiring) supporters. Not just major donors too – but supporters who can amplify our message and engage their networks on our behalf.
I could spy or pick up windfall opportunities (that got us quicker off the mark). I could sense my experience was being put to better use – not just by me but also in a way that benefitted everyone else too. Most of all I was enjoying fundraising again. Most significantly of all we are raising more money.
Reflecting on this I think fundraising, like everywhere else, is subject to the Peter principle.
The Peter principle : the members of an organisation where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability.
Or perhaps you subscribe to the The Dilbert principle : hierarchy just serves as a means for removing the incompetent to “higher” positions where they will be unable to cause damage to the workflow, assuming that the upper echelons of an organisation have little relevance to its actual production, and that the majority of real, productive work in a company is done by people lower in the power ladder.
This is the consequence of a command and control structure. With power at the top and run by hierarchy. Yet I think empowering staff at your front line has many advantages. In my case as Head Fundraiser with no line reports I can:
1. Do what I do best – fundraise.
2. Lead from the front not sit at the back trying to direct.
3. Use my instinct (in effect instinct = the sum total of your experience) in sensing when something could lead to significant income. This is so much easier from where I am now standing
4. Engaging and ‘line managing’ key supporters. Treated the right way supporters are now your extended fundraising team. By thinking of them advocates not cash machines they will engage their contacts and resources on your behalf. To do that you need direct dialogue with them. You don’t really ‘manage’ them – but you can inspire, influence and steer them.
5. Spend more time meeting key influencers – people who are critical gatekeepers or who able to recommend us to others.
Plus, or rather not plus, think what I don’t have deal with – frequent one on ones, appraisals, draining staff issues, reporting, restructuring. I know many peers who seem to have a torrid time with these issues and I sense they have lost the zest for the profession they love. They are important of course – but are they best use of your time as an experienced fundraiser? I found these management tasks had to be done usually at the cost of those difficult phone calls (you know those heart pounding ones you put off) and external meetings you need to do to fundraise well (along with proposals to adapt and shape).
Hierarchy vs Cohesively
That’s not say in my new role I don’t help steer direction or influence strategy. If you are a decent fundraiser you should be equipped with influencing skills. And because you don’t line manage someone I find you tend to be better at communicating ideas to colleagues and how it would benefit them or their goals. You start to give much clearer briefs. Instead of hierarchy its about working cohesively. And of course projects become an easy way to realign teams temporarily around a purpose where I can take a formal lead.
When I need help I turn to the team that supports me (“…can you please produce this donor report?, can you please send this out to this supporter? can you please add this person and the following information to the database?…”) and then get back to fundraising. I trust them to do what they do brilliantly.
In the air force my dad tells me experienced pilots can remain as senior pilots rather than rise up the ranks of management. Of course the health service aims to have system where heart surgeons don’t spend time on management and admin. So why not fundraising ? Why not put your most experienced fundraisers at the front meeting those critical donors and funders to … er fundraise. Have others manage.
Recently someone did tell me of an in house face to face fundraising team where they had separated out management of the team with the person leading it. Are there other examples you know of out there?
Right better get back to fundraising.