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Preface: “Ten Colossal Fundraising Mistakes Every Nonprofit Must Avoid”

Dick Taft is working on a  new book planned for 2017 release. Learn more by reading Dick’s preface below:

Several years ago a young, dynamic nonprofit organization asked me to advise them on future fundraising, marketing and communications strategies. My new client worked in a specialized area of training and education on college campuses. Funded over its first ten years primarily by a group of thoughtful, capable, devoted and financially committed trustees, the agency believed it was time to hire an experienced development officer to spearhead an effort to broaden support. The executive director was dynamic, articulate and totally passionate about the cause. A newly minted case for support and website were in place. Fundraising opportunities seemed limitless!

Before I arrived on the scene, my new client had retained an experienced recruitment firm to help find the new development officer. After a number of months the firm had identified several promising candidates. The executive director asked me to meet with the person considered to be the top prospect. Apparently the references had all checked out and there was a strong bias toward hiring this particular fundraising executive, subject in some degree to my opinion. The candidate and I set up a meeting. After just forty-five minutes warning bells were going off in my head. I conveyed my concerns and doubts to the executive director of the organization, citing a number of key issues that bothered me. I went so far as to say that I didn’t think the new hire would last more than a year on the job. My concerns not withstanding, the candidate was hired. What happened in the weeks and months ahead was fascinating and extremely relevant to anybody considering hiring a new development officer or, for that matter, anybody running a nonprofit organization.

In the chapter just ahead, I’ll tell you the problems I saw and how I came to my negative conclusions about a seemingly qualified candidate identified after a nationwide search. But first, to set the stage, let me give you some background for understanding why the red flags were raised in this job interview. Some years previous, I had written an article for a several fund raising journals entitled, “Why Development Directors Fail.” In that article I raised a wide range of concerns I suspect few nonprofit boards or CEOs fully understand…things too subtle to detect even for some of the well-respected recruitment firms. The article evoked a huge response from the nonprofit community. At my firm, the Taft Organization, we received thousands of requests for reprints. Subsequently, working closely with an associate at Taft, I wrote an entire book devoted to this very subject. We specifically addressed our concerns to the CEOs of nonprofits, titling the book, “How to Rate Your Development Office.” The National Society of Fund Raising Executives, today known as the Association of Fundraising Professionals, awarded our work, “best fundraising book of the decade.” It became an instant best seller at Taft’s publishing division. .

Why was the book so popular? Primarily because all over the nation nonprofit fundraising had become a game of “musical chairs” and nobody wanted to talk much about it. Nonprofit after nonprofit would hire a fundraising executive with high hopes of accelerating their annual revenues or succeeding at a capital campaign. But after some months, or several years, disillusionment would set in and it would be time to find someone else to carry the fundraising torch. In fact, studies at the time we wrote the book showed that the average tenure for a development officer was roughly eighteen months. No laughing matter. This game of musical chairs can be very disruptive, terrible for morale and, quite often, irrationally expensive. Believe it or not, little has changed regarding fundraising tenure, despite the efforts of professional associations to legitimize fundraising through accreditation programs, lofty titles and all kinds of other cosmetics. Average tenure today is still under twenty months, according to my analyses.

I’ve seen the same scenario again and again: hope and excitement, followed by puzzlement, then impatience, finally turnover and a new search for the holly grail. Perhaps by now you’ve guessed what happened to my client and my prediction that the new hire wouldn’t last a year. I was wrong. Turned out to be six months. Followed by a negotiation over the $60,000 fee my client had paid the recruiter. Finally, a new search…a new beginning.

As you proceed with excerpts from “Fifteen Mistake,’ I’ll explain in more detail what I saw that led me to my early conclusions. And I’ll tell you what you need to know to make the right hire. Then, in each chapter, I’ll describe colossal fundraising mistakes I’ve seen countless nonprofits make, how these mistakes can negatively impact your fundraising success, and how to avoid them. Welcome to the Taft Organization website. Stay tuned!