Survey of fund-raisers shares stresses, secrets

Fund-raising "is a much higher-profile profession than it used to be," says Stan H. Retif of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Fund-raising "is a much higher-profile profession than it used to be," says Stan H. Retif of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 30, 2014

What keeps fund-raisers up at night?

Having to raise funds.

They worry about having the time to pursue the big donors while small tasks clog schedules. They worry about their jobs - their performance, or lack of it, is painfully obvious.

And they worry about having to come up with new and novel ways to raise money. All this according to a recent "Demon Exchange Survey" by the Association of Fundraising Professionals - Greater Philadelphia Chapter.

"It's a much higher-profile profession than it used to be," said Stan H. Retif, a fund-raiser and president of the 550-member Philadelphia chapter.

Resources are diminishing, needs are growing, and nonprofit boards expect miracle results from donor campaigns but don't provide the development-office staffing to make them happen.

And where, by the way, is development director Steven Wasserleben going to rustle up enough local art, craft, and gift items for a silent auction at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education's Enchanted Forest fund-raising party on May 16?

"I should have been more proactive at getting a volunteer committee to do what I'm doing," said Wasserleben, sounding stressed en route to a meeting Monday.

Valuable as the auction items will be to enhance the party "beneath the stars in a twilight forest," they won't yield the major dollars Wasserleben needs to raise for his organization in Northwest Philadelphia.

"I'm supposed to be going after the big guns," he said. "I should be out meeting with donors, meeting with prospects."

Wasserleben said he and other board members of the fund-raisers' association wanted to raise some of their "demon" issues in advance of the group's annual Franklin Forum conference May 9 at the Cira Centre.

"It's tough balancing your work with your life," he said. "When you do this work, can you have a life? It's not a 9-to-5 job, period."

Fund-raisers need to connect with donors when they are available, and that is generally evenings and weekends.

Most fund-raising organizations are "operating under significant budget constraints at the level required to hit the results the organization is looking to achieve," said Regina Donovan, president-elect of the group.

"The stress that fund-raisers experience comes from that fundamental misalignment," she said. As Temple University's assistant vice president for development, she oversees from 15 to 20 fund-raisers.

Constantly on her mind is how to convert more of Temple's 300,000 living alumni into donors.

Retif said that when he started his career decades ago, people fell into the business - like a retired coach who ends up raising funds for college athletics. Retif went to law school, didn't like it, and responded to a job advertisement in the field.

Now, he said, young people seek out development as a career.

"It's a place where people can make a difference in people's lives," said Retif, development director for EducationWorks, an $8 million nonprofit providing educational services in poor neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Camden, and Chester.

In the end, he said, what matters is the mission:

"Folks have to be mission-driven. If they aren't, I don't see how they can be successful."


Fund-raisers said these aspects of their jobs caused them sleeplessness and anxiety:

Persuadingdonors with

money to give more . . . 94%

Constant pursuit

of new donors . . . 93%

Small tasks eroding time

that should be used for

raising larger sums . . . 89%

Economy's impact on giving . . . 88%

Outreach effort is a dud . . . 83%

Pressure to identify novel, creative ways to raise funds . . . 81%

Big donors changing focus . . . 72%

Boards unwilling to raise

or donate money . . . 67%

SOURCE: Association of Fundraising Professionals - Greater Philadelphia Chapter



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