Rock Star Fundraiser vs Charity Choir

A number years ago I was being recruited for a vice-president role at a large charity. During the final interview with the fund development team and the CEO, the CEO said, “I’m looking for the one rock star fundraiser who could land us transformational gifts.” I found the remark, the sentiment and in the presence of the fund development team quite disturbing.

Unfortunately, I continue to hear the term ‘rock star fundraiser’ being used by executives and board members referring to an individual who is the panacea to the ailing finances of the charity.  A stellar professional fundraiser and a ‘rock star’ fundraiser are not the same thing.

The list below highlights why I think charities should be building a band of fundraisers rather than focusing their efforts on searching for that lone ‘rock star’.

  1. I find the term ‘rock star’ objectionable, as it likens a successful professional fundraiser to a million-dollar roundtable salesman and that charitable giving is measured by sales quotas.
  2. Every charity strives to have the best possible team working everyday for the cause. It’s in the best interest of the organization and the community to recruit the best talent needed to move the organization forward and this can’t solely be resting on the performance of one person. Sustaining fund development relies upon the collective effort of the board members, staff, volunteers and donors.
  3. Rock stars can come and go and often do not bring an affinity and long-term commitment to your cause, so trading off short-term gains for building a culture of philanthropy aligned with the cause is an important recruiting consideration.
  4. In the case of my interview, I felt the value of the team had been diminished. Prudent donor and fund development strategies ought to be viewed as a collective team effort. It takes many people to move a cause forward because every individual performance rests on the combined support of every employee, volunteer and donor. Charities need choirs not rock stars.
  5. When executive leaders and governance boards begin to believe one person can transform the fund development program they undermine their own leadership responsibly to build strong, high performance teams and culture across the organization.
  6. A good fundraiser doesn’t place themselves ahead of the cause. Fundraisers garner success by attracting donors and securing gifts because the charity mission, the organization’s collective strength and social impact is compelling.

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