Friday, 22 August 2014

Why don't fundraisers become CEO's?

Reading about John Bines promotion from director of fundraising at EveryChild to chief executive in the latest issue of Third Sector made me think of a “conversation” (ie conducted in 140 characters or less) that I had recently with @AlexSwallow and @Pollysymondson about the apparently low numbers of fundraisers that move into being a CEO.

It is a topic that interests me for a few reasons; one that I had previously worked at a charity led by not only a former fundraiser but a woman to boot (there is an imbalance at CEO level, apparently, but less so that in the private sector).  

@LucyRothstein held a number of senior fundraising roles before moving from Development Manager at The Grasslands Trust to being its first Chief Executive – she has since moved on to the same role at The Bumblebee Conservation Trust, so it wasn’t by any means a one off!

Secondly, I had wondered myself whether it was something that was part of my own future aspirations; I had a partial answer to this a while ago when a work situation presented opportunities in this direction and I felt it wasn’t where I was headed. 

I put this down to me as an individual; I am a bad public speaker, going off on tangents every few minutes, and I often spill things down myself. I feel like a CEO should have more personal gravitas.

But this discussion, and several others I have had on the topic, make me wonder whether there was something about either the perception of fundraisers suitability for CEO roles, or whether fundraisers simply don’t want to move in this direction. 

I feel that it may be a combination of the two; according to Civil Society’s Director of Fundraising Survey 2011 25% of senior fundraisers have aspirations to become chief exec, but few make the move. I didn’t think even 25% seemed that high considering the survey questioned fundraising directors at the largest charities.

Fundraising seems like a perfect background for a CEO; we understand financial pressures, managing multiple projects and developing new ones, and acting as a bridge between funders and services. We have to know the work of our charity inside out, as we are the ones often facing the general public, and need to build their confidence in us.

When Chris Askew was promoted from director of fundraising at Breakthrough Breast Cancer to chief executive he said in an interview, “there might be a perception that the director of fundraising is too close to the fundraising side. 

Fundraising in many organisations is quite a large part of everything they do, so I can imagine that there might be a concern that someone coming from this part of the organisation’s operational side might have too much of a focus on the fundraising side of things.”

Or maybe we just love fundraising too much? @Pollysymondson commented in our discussion that you are less hands on with fundraising as a CEO, even if it is within your remit - whereas even at manager or director level within a fundraising team, your role is often very hands on in terms of actually “doing fundraising” because that is what you are good at, and what you enjoy.

I'd love to hear the thoughts of others on this topic!

Jemma Saunders

1 comment:

  1. Do fundraisers make good leaders? The answer is often no. Great fundraisers are often technical specialists,but leadership is a specialization all on it's own. When i look around the fund development sector, there are many organizations struggling under bad leadership, so it doesn't shock me that so few CEOs have a fundraising background.