My father worked as a Civil Servant for 30+ years, retiring with a full monthly pension after a one employer career, grinding it out every darn day at a clunky desk and sad overhead lighting. On Fridays, he would treat himself to a Snickers bar as a reward for another week in the can. When I left the cushy life of a major gifts job in higher education years ago, citing boredom, he seriously thought I’d lost my mind. Similarly, when I went freelance full time a few years back, turning down offers to lead organizations, he assumed the worst for my health and happiness, wondering when I’d ask to move into my parent’s basement.
The working world is changing in a hurry, and these changes are likely to be permanent. Short term project teams, outside specialists, and employee contractors are the future paths for most Americans. This impacts all of us, when employers see less value in lasting relationships with employers, showing less and less loyalty to staff.
Even the most accomplished non-profit leader is a bad meeting away from a Friday morning escort to the parking lot. Most non-profit workers I know keep a spare box around, just in case, or are actively (often desperately) looking for the next full-time opportunity to escape the impossible expectations of their current responsibilities. It is a frosty working world out there.
What does this constant flux mean for career professionals, when the essential value of our profession has been developing close personal relationships with funders and donors?
What will a freelance fundraising world look like when we stop fearing change and embrace inevitability and opportunity? What if your job could be the thing that you love to do the most, and not a pile of other duties as assigned?
In a Freelance Fundraising World, let’s make some assumptions:
- Fewer full time workers will be required, as technological advances eliminate the need for staff members for various functions. Think about the Vice President’s full time administrative assistant of yesterday. In all about the rarest organizations, this position no longer exists. So let’s assume a smaller cadre of actual staff members will be required to come to the office each day, working exclusively for one specific organization. Wouldn’t serving several organizations in specific, helpful ways been more rewarding than the daily grind? Yes, I think so.
- More part time workers and freelancers will be employed, managing tasks and revenue areas directly. Event coordination, annual fund management, stewardship fulfillment can and eventually will be outsourced for many organizations. Consider the annual fund, where staff members cycle through continuously for many organizations. Does it make sense to hire, train and support an annual fund manager who will stay 18 months, or would it better to hire a specialist or outside company to manage these programs, particularly when technology is increasingly important to our rapidly changing means of communication? Wouldn’t it be more fun to manage galas for a living exclusively, if galas are your passion?
- Some relationship fundraising will remain a staff function, but does it have to be this way? What if corporate sponsorship was outsourced to specialists? That might mean we have to reconsider our ethical standards related to compensation. It seems inevitable that we need to rethink our prohibitions against commission based compensation, when it is a perfectly ethical (practical as well as rewarding) in every other kind of profession. If people perform, they should be well compensated. Wouldn’t it be better for truly gifted salespeople to be rewarded handsomely for producing truly strong results in corporate support and sponsorship?
- Boards of Directors will need to step up meaningfully again. In a freelance gig model, with fewer and fewer permanent staff resources, board members are going to have to TRULY do their job, accepting responsibility for advancing, cultivating and stewarding relationships, less reliant on the crutch of staff who, too often, do all the work. This is a return to how Boards functioned years ago, where volunteers led most of the fundraising, before paid staff members became the norm. And I think maybe it was better. So a major gift gig fundraiser might have a new job, teaching and coaching Boards to do their vital work. Doesn’t that sound like more fun than 100 assigned major gift donors in the portfolio?
For the fundraisers, time to embrace this reality. Consider freelancing, side work, and outside contracts. Our organizations will only benefit when we all find the right hustle.