Fundraising and Zombies – Part 1

zombies-flickr-rodolpho-reisThe first blog in our Zombies series by IFC CEO, John Baguley, looks at exposing the zombies within your fundraising team. With phrases like ‘It’s the way it’s always been done’ and ‘Alright for them, but it would never work for us’, is there a zombie lurking in your fundraising department? 

My dear old friend Paul had a great very well paid position, as head of fundraising at a very venerable charity.

His pay had been pegged to the cost of living when the organisation had been booming, under a charismatic leader some thirty years ago, and it still equated to the income of a high-flyer in a growing concern. Paul had never flown high, indeed anything approaching take-off gave him vertigo, and he loved the quiet life. Arriving in the office rather later than his staff he would slowly take off his old coat and scarf hanging them carefully on a coat-hanger behind his door. Then unpacking his lunch-box and putting it in same place in the fridge he was ready for the morning’s slow shuffle through the office, turning down ideas, stifling innovation and avoiding looking at any figures or meeting the Director, who incidentally thought fundraising a rather unnecessary evil so avoiding him was not difficult.

There are three sorts of fundraisers

“There are three sorts of Fundraisers” Paul used to say “those who understand the maths and those who don’t. Heh heh…”

Most of the charities income came from the government in the form of an annual grant, and occasional legacies arrived from supporters who knew the organisation in its glory days, so providing just enough additional income to breathe new life into the organisation, often when life itself was trying its hardest to escape.

Paul’s staff worked best when he wasn’t there and rarely suggested anything new: “We tried that years ago – didn’t work” was Paul’s stock phrase or when quoted other organisation’s success, “Alright for them. It would never work for us”.

Just the way things had always been done

And so it went on year after year, as the supporters grew older and the work became less and less relevant to the poor beneficiaries. The members of the Board, who were allowed to serve as long as they could shuffle into the meetings and some of them way past that, felt only a vague unease offset by a fine lunch and the knowledge nothing could be done; it was just the way things had always been as far as they could recall, which was usually not much before the fine lunch. Of course the Chairman met with the Director before the Board meetings to ensure everything went smoothly, and so it usually did.

Unusual events exposed Paul as a zombie

It was shortly before the last general election when a concatenation of unusual events exposed Paul as a zombie. The incoming government cut the organisation’s grant by 30% to help balance their books, a new trust fundraiser was appointed and the Chairman died from food poisoning.

The new Trust Officer was passionate about the cause, a passion he had kept well muted at the interview following a strong hint from his brother in the finance department, noticed the previous Trust Officer had written strong applications to several major funders, but that Paul had not sufficiently overcome his pessimism about the world he almost inhabited to actually sign them and submit them to the grant-making trusts.

The Board, none of whom wanted to move up to become Chair, took the surprising decision to appoint on an interim basis a young whippersnapper (who was the nephew of the treasurer and reputed to be quite bright) until a new more senior figure could be appointed.

The Trust Officer and interim Chairman took to each other at once, forming an alliance with sundry staff and suddenly the Director himself moved on – shortly before a new firm of auditors carried out a full audit. The Chairman asked the senior managers namely Paul, the Finance Director and Head of Operations to write three year strategies for their departments, and soon it was clear to everyone that only effective fundraising could save their jobs. Work quickly ground to a halt as CVs were buffed up and sickies taken to see recruitment agencies.

Part Two of Fundraising and Zombies will look at how hard it is to identify a zombie, and why you should never tell a zombie that they are dead…

Fundraising and Zombies was first published on UK Fundraising.

Photo: Rodolpho.Reis on Flickr.com

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