And in This Corner…..The Never-Ending Battle Between Fundraisers and Advancement Services

Yes I said “battle.” Too strong a word? Perhaps. But not always. I’ve been in the room several times when disagreement turned to yelling and one party had to leave the room before things escalated further (were fisticuffs next?). Keep in mind that I was in the room as a third-party consultant, so the fact that tensions boiled over so strongly in the presence of an “outsider,” when people usually behave better, says something about the severity of the tension.

Fundraisers and advancement services practitioners commonly hold a number of negative perceptions about each other. What follows may come across as a bit raw and blunt, and by no means are these observations universal, but I’ve encountered these attitudes in dozens of nonprofit organizations.

Fundraisers sometimes perceive advancement services as:

  • Rigid
  • Fussy
  • Unhelpful
  • Hostile
  • Overly controlling
  • Too hung up on data minutiae
  • Too concerned with data for its own sake
  • Unable to see the forest for the trees

Advancement services practitioners, similarly, sometimes view fundraisers as:

  • Lazy
  • Unintelligent
  • Unwilling to learn
  • Unable to learn
  • Clueless with computers
  • Not caring at all about the data and data integrity
  • Unappreciative of advancement services’ efforts
  • Ignorant of the time and effort required to fulfill data requests
  • Having wildly unrealistic expectations of data, reports, systems, tools, etc.

I’m sure this sounds familiar. The results of this are familiar too – conflict, lack of trust in colleagues, lack of trust in the quality and accuracy of data and reports, silos, lack of easy access to needed information, reduced productivity, shadow databases and spreadsheets to get around the system, and more.

The good news in all of this is that there is a simple approach that can go a long way toward improving cross-functional collaboration and collegiality between advancement services professionals and front-line fundraisers (or between any work groups with different functions). Simple may not be a strong enough word. I’d go so far as to call it the essence of common sense. But there are plenty of familiar quotes about the uncommonness of common sense!

If there’s a simple, common sense strategy to address this situation, why is this problem so pervasive? Because even though the solution is simple and elegant in concept, to runs counter to some fundamental “philosophical” aspects of the way American management is done. These fundamental elements are so deeply conditioned that we’re almost complete unaware of them. What’s more, even when they’re pointed out, they are usually so thoroughly accepted as inherently true they may as well be accorded the status of mathematical axioms!

For example, asking someone if it’s necessary and helpful to have common metrics and to conduct “objective” annual employee evaluations causes most people to react as if I had asked them to explain how they know that grass is green. Why this example? Because it’s just one commonly accepted management strategy that turns out to be counterproductive and that fails on a number of fronts:

  1. It destroys morale and harms people.
  2. It does not improve performance, which is its stated purpose.
  3. It prevents honest two-way communication between managers and subordinates.
  4. It pits employee vs. employee.

Item #4 is the connection to the issue of advancement services vs. fundraisers. As I explore this issue further in subsequent posts, I will argue that this “eternal conflict” is, in fact, a natural and completely expected consequence of an underlying (and, I think, obvious) systemic problem, which has an equally obvious systemic solution.

Brandon Ferris
Senior Director of Strategic Services and Fundraising Counsel


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s