Whither the Fundraiser

Professional fundraisers at AFP’s 2013 Midwest Conference. Photo by Jasmin Shah.

By Shimon Arbel

I recently was present at a gathering of academicians and administrators from Israeli institutions of higher learning.

When asked what I do, and I replied “resource development,” two participants immediately replied, “Oh, you’re a “shnorrer.”

Fundraising for a worthy cause or institution is an admirable calling that needs no defense. At their best, fundraisers provide opportunities for caring donors to make a positive and lasting difference in society. Donors enrich our world through their commitment and generosity and make good deeds a reality that may otherwise not happen.

Early this month, MIT announced an unprecedented, unrestricted, and anonymous gift of $140 million from an alumnus. The university’s leadership stated that this gift will “allow MIT to invest in daring, high-risk ideas; address some of the world’s most urgent challenges; and sustain support for students, faculty, and the physical campus.”

Israeli universities and colleges, museums, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations actively raise funds from both local and overseas donors, and Israeli corporate philanthropy is on the rise thanks to an increased awareness among Israeli business leaders to contribute to society.

“Shnorring” is the very opposite of resource development. “Schorring” is soliciting for personal gain and personal cause. I include in this category fundraising professionals who charge a commission on donations rather than work on a set retainer. The only cause these people are working for is their own pocket, and in doing so damage the fundraising profession and the sponsoring organization.

Why do some still use the pejorative “schnorring” when speaking of fundraising for good and worthy Jewish causes and institutions? And what is the price we pay for denigrating the fundraising profession?

I would suggest that many if not all of those same people who denigrate the profession would not do so when speaking of gifts such as that mentioned above to MIT. Those same academicians whom I met this month would not dare describe their own applications to funding institutions such as the National Institute of Health (NIH) or the European Union (EU) as “schnorring.”

The denigration of the fundraising professional only adds to the challenge to find talented and motivated fundraisers for the many nonprofits who rely on their knowledge and skills to grow their organizations and meet their needs. Just as there is concern over the anticipated retirement of a generation of CEOs of major Jewish organizations and institutions, there should be equal concern by the growing scarcity of talented fundraising professionals.

Additionally, as a result of a greater demand than supply, fundraisers are commanding significant pay packages, but also moving from employer to employer at a faster rate than ever before as demand outweighs supply. This revolving door among organizations damages both institutions’ growth and fundraisers’ professional reputations.

In 2013, the Evelyn and Walter Hass Jr. Fund commissioned a national survey among 2,700 development directors and charity heads. The study found that one-half of all fundraisers interviewed planned to leave their job within two years or less, and 40% were considering to abandon fundraising entirely. Half of all executive directors reported they could not find well-qualified fundraising professionals, and at many nonprofits, the position of development director had been vacant for months or even years.

The survey’s co-author, Marla Cornelius added, “Too many organizations lack a culture of philanthropy, which means that development directors don’t have the conditions they need to succeed. It’s a vicious cycle.”

As nonprofits in Israel and throughout the Jewish world increasingly rely on the talent and abilities of development officers to meet their needs and facilitate their growth, more will need to be done to raise the image of the profession in order to attract and retain good professionals. This will require a pro-active enlistment effort by those academic institutions that offer master degree programs in nonprofit management and community service with fundraising learning tracks. Jewish communities will need to elevate the fundraising profession by promoting it as a rewarding career. Institutions that employ a fundraising professional will need to provide a support system that encourages the retention of their development personnel.

Securing resources for worthy and significant institutions and causes can and should be viewed as a fulfilling and valued calling that can attract creative and motivated individuals with strong minds and caring hearts. If such individuals are not encouraged to pursue the profession, denigrated as “schnorrers,” or not provided the support and tools to succeed, our Jewish world will ultimately bear the cost.

Shimon Arbel serves as Director of Institutional Advancement at Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem. He has pursued a career in fundraising in higher education for over 30 years.