By Marisa DeSalles, Sacramento-based fundraising professional
Recently I saw a director of development position at a local organization whose work I respect. The overview paragraph talked about being the face of the organization, building strategic partnerships, preparation of grants, appeals, campaigns, etcetera. Great, I thought. I can do all of that!
I read further. Under fund development, the second bullet point leaped out and hit me right between the eyes:
Must raise 4 times annual salary.
Okay, I said to myself. Maybe that was phrased a bit awkwardly, so let me keep reading.
Sometimes in a design-by-committee hiring process, weird duties creep in that have no bearing on reality. All the other stuff was normal — donor relations, events management, collateral development — all the stuff we dev folks do before our mid-morning snacks, nothing else problematic at all.
Also, interestingly enough, a couple bullets down on the page was a phrase about developing a “culture of philanthropy” in the organization. Now, that’s a nice and hefty responsibility. How exciting, an opportunity to transform the way the entire org collects and curates program successes and challenges to inform transparent donor relationships and build long-term community engagement. That’s truly directing the development of the organization for the long term.
But that first questionable bullet point about raising four times the annual salary kept sticking out at me.
It looked like someone had copied and pasted it out of a different job description — one from a for-profit company, maybe even one for a used car sales company.
So, I thought, that’s got to be a board member. That one suspect bullet must be coming from some smarmy corporate board member or worse, a consultant hired by the board who comes from a for-profit place where they have sales quotas and tiered incentive structures and daily cash bonuses. (I worked in timeshare telemarketing for a few days, early in my career before I knew better, and I vividly remember how the terrifying sweaty boss would walk around after lunch flashing a wad of cash — a hundred bucks in the form of a “spiff” for whoever brought the highest numbers for that day. You could smell the desperation from down the hall.)
Imagine your major donors, your most cherished and faithful ones, answering that call. How would your development director treat them, knowing their paycheck is on the line?
“Yes, is this Ms. Susan Smith? I’m from the Youth Development Org. I was calling to inform you that you have won the incredible opportunity to invest in youth of color in our community! That’s right! But if you take advantage of this limited time offer, you can actually save not one, but two Black youth for the price of one! And, we’ll throw in the extra STEM summer camp for girls of color if you upgrade to a monthly gift.”
Not only awkward and unprofessional but probably unethical as well.
Meanwhile the dev director is sweating, thinking, OMG, gotta make that spiff or I can’t pay my utility bill this month.
Now, magnify that level of anxiety through the lens of being unemployed in a depression, uninsured in a pandemic, and trying to right the wrongs of the world on what is normally a laughable salary anyway. It’s enough to make me question whether I want to be a development director at all.
The conditioning of continuance of employment upon meeting [random, arbitrary, unrealistic] revenue goals belongs in the private sector — and honestly, maybe not even there. It is yet another destructive relic of plantation capitalism where a person’s intrinsic value is determined by the amount of production they have achieved in the ‘master’s interest’ on that particular day.
I asked about it in the interview. The culture of philanthropy part, that is — because as a Black woman and job supplicant, I did not feel powerful enough to challenge the whole weird used car salesman quota.
The executive director had absolutely no idea what I was talking about and didn’t seem to have any recollection of the actual job description at all. Halfway through the interview, he leaned back in his chair and said, “Marisa, you have tons of qualifications, but I really just need a grant writer to help me get this big federal grant I need.”
Then why did I just waste my time applying to ‘create a culture of philanthropy’ when you just wanted a grant writer-slash-used car salesman to generate revenue?
Worse yet, another local org posted a nearly identical job description with that same line in it a week later.
Beyond the polyester-clad sales quota, both these jobs describe management of development teams that I personally know don’t actually exist at either org. In fact, much of these job descriptions are complete garbage compared to what the actual stated needs of these organizations are, based on my conversations with the EDs after I probed further.
So there are two major problems here — a job description that doesn’t fit and furthers inequities, and EDs that can’t be bothered to write a real one.
But these are BIPOC-led organizations doing amazing work. I’m sure they’d like to attract fantastic BIPOC fundraiser talent, pay them fairly, and honor their unique contributions in relationship building and empathy with both donors and program recipients. (See: Michelle Muri’s post “The power of a fundraiser” for more about just how awesome we are.) Why, then, would these organizations knowingly promote this ridiculous bullshit? Why would they waste the time and hopes of folx who are already traumatized enough without the current crisis?
My suspicion is that they got this job description online or at a board retreat somewhere and never sat down to think about exactly what a director of development actually does, or what type of development their organization actually needs.
Here’s what that negligence means: Anyone who signs up for that job is going to have an uphill struggle to get the proper organizational support required to actually grow and innovate. They are doomed to slog through grant applications to drum up revenue for programs tailored to the needs of the grantor rather than the community. They will spend their professional lives running around putting out lack-of-revenue fires that the ED and board have basically set through lack of fundraising strategy. Without strategy and mindfulness, they are likely to repeat and reinforce the same patterns of systemic inequity that we fundraisers often do without realizing it.
I asked both EDs where they got this job description. One responded, “Our job description was developed (from what I remember) from a series of other job requirements for the same position that we saw and also agreed with.” He was also genuinely interested in knowing where I found an issue with it and wanted my feedback to improve his process. His openness is a concrete example of how to put the 10 Principles of Community-Centric Fundraising into action.
(The other ED was too busy to even respond to me, I guess. Sure am glad I didn’t get that job!)
EDs: If you can’t be bothered to take the time to read your director of development job description and tailor it to your actual needs before you post it, you are going to end up with exactly what you deserve: a bad fit. You’ll have another vacancy in a year or less, with a used-up, depressed used car salesman and a bunch of disenchanted donors walking away from your mission. In the meantime, you’ve turned away plenty of perfectly qualified development directors who could have actually developed your org.
As I wrote back to the ED that responded to me, a true development director is a force of nature, constantly moving the organization forward, not just in terms of revenue but exposure, programming expansion, and equitable, community centered, long-term strategic growth.
We must invest in fundraisers who come from the communities that we serve.
Let’s assume both those orgs would be lucky to have a talented Black woman who lives in the neighborhood they serve and is deeply aligned with their mission. What if, instead of arbitrary production goals, that job description included a commitment to paying for my mental health as a fundraiser of color trying to overcome a lifetime of internalized micro- and macro-aggressions? What if the salary were need-based instead of quota-based? What if I felt like this organization valued my time, talents, and passion as much as they value their grantors and donors? What if all of us felt that way about the organizations we work for?
Our staff play a critical role in building a strong and just community. We must compensate them fairly, invest in their growth, and appreciate them as much as we appreciate donors.
Scrutinizing and decolonizing your hiring practices is a fundamental part of building a diverse, equitable, inclusive, amazing team of humans to carry out your mission. It deserves no less.
Marisa (she/her) is spending her quarantime growing zucchini bats on her front lawn, obsessing over other people’s Zoom rooms, and actively spoiling a multi-generational and multi-species household. Her favorite superhero is Word Girl and she is overly fond of commas, especially the Oxford one. Please subscribe to her new blog at marisadesalles.com so she can justify renovating her she-shed. Politics on Twitter, critters and plants on Insta @kidscatzntech.