How the ‘It’s Not My Job’ Syndrome Pervades Nonprofits and Kills Fundraising


Big picture of universe 300x236 How the ‘It’s Not My Job’ Syndrome Pervades Nonprofits and Kills Fundraising

Do your employees see the big picture, or just the moving parts?

Philanthropy, Not Fundraising

Are you confident your employees – all of them – are fully engaged in your mission so they don’t bungle openings to turn inquiries into interest, interest into involvement and involvement into investment? Do your workers just do their job, or do they understand their real job to be part of your greater vision-focused undertaking?

Unless you’ve created a culture of philanthropy in your organization – one where everyone who works there is fully informed and passionate about your work and the values you enact in the community – then you’re inevitably going to blow opportunities to garner vital support. Under-informed workers lead to disengaged workers. Disengaged workers lead to disengaged constituents.  And here’s how it happens.

Your employees have no sense of purpose. They just go through the motions. They do stuff.  But they don’t understand their real job because they don’t understand where they fit within the big picture. In Do Your Employees Have A Sense of Purpose? from the Fast Company blog, Roberta Matuson reminds us with an example of what happens when a disengaged customer service rep deals with someone who wants to unsubscribe. Rather than engaging with them and finding out their reasons, the rep simply does the deed and terminates the relationship.

Imagine someone calls your reception desk and/or mailing list manager and asks to be removed from your mailing list. The call recipient politely complies. They believe being reactive/responsive is their job. You, the annual giving manager, never even find out this transaction occurred. You’ve lost a supporter, have no idea why and have missed the opportunity to proactively re-engage this individual who once cared about your mission.

Imagine someone calls your marketing coordinator looking for an opportunity for their business to partner with your organization. The marketing staff member tells them about advertising rates in your program catalogue and thanks them for their interest.  They believe they’ve done their job with flying colors. You, the development director, never even know this call happened. You’ve missed the opportunity to proactively brainstorm a possible sponsorship or grant relationship.

The most likely culprits of the “it’s not my job” syndrome are these:

1. You create/maintain departmental silos. Marketing, development, volunteers, human relations, customer service – each department operates in isolation and rarely do they meet. Marketing is charged with putting butts in seats; development with getting those seats named. There’s no integration of campaigns and relatively little sharing of data. It’s not marketing’s job to inform development staff of who purchased tickets, nor is it development’s job to provide marketing with contact information for their donors. Opportunities for cross promotion and developing deeper ties with your constituents are missed. Even worse, your own staff don’t help one another do their jobs. Rather, they become competitive and territorial.  “Don’t touch my subscribers”, “don’t touch my donors,”  “don’t touch my clients” and even “don’t touch my volunteers” become common refrains. No one thinks in terms of our constituents.

2. You believe your work culture is innovative and bottom-up and that this openness encourages passionate, collaborative work styles. You even make it a point to encourage employees to develop new projects and to involve folks in other departments. The problem? You don’t give your employees information about what other folks are doing,  a sense of purpose about where they’re headed, or how the work of different departments works together towards an integrated whole. So employees begin to figure this out for themselves (for better or worse/right or wrong); anything else falls into the “it’s not my job” box.

3. Your non-development staff believe that fundraising is a nasty business and that major donors are motivated by ignoble purposes (e.g., assuaging their consciences, rubbing shoulders with society peers, aggrandizing their reputation, etc.). They believe development staff have ‘cushy’ jobs and/or are always trying to get in their way (pimping their clients as ‘poster children’ to promote giving).

There are several cures for “it’s not my job.”

 1. Include all staff in conversations about the big picture. This can be done via regular organization-wide meetings (hold them bi-annually, quarterly or even monthly, depending on your size and geographic reach). It’s important that everyone who works for your organization understands you are a philanthropy that could not survive without philanthropic support. Sometimes this can get lost in the shuffle, especially with organizations that also receive a significant portion of their operating budget from earned income. Similarly, development staff must appreciate the work being done in the field – without which there would be no case for philanthropic support. In the 30 years I worked in the field I always began any presentations I made to program staff with a huge thank you to them for their work, without which mine would have been meaningless and impossible.

2. Create cross-departmental task forces or work teams focused on specific objectives. When you bring together folks with different skills and perspectives you (a) create a holistic approach that avoids duplication (i.e., different teams working on the same problem, thereby wasting precious limited resources) and (b) foster greater awareness of the depth and breadth of what your organization is doing.

3. Create an orientation program to introduce new employees and board members to a range of disciplines and demonstrate the way each department works together towards a common goal. This is the absolutely best time to instill a culture of philanthropy, and I’ve often garnered some of my best suggestions for new ways to acquire and retain donors from conversations with new staff about the who/what/when/where/why of development.

4. Make job descriptions results-focused rather than task-focused. When your marketing manager thinks they’re expected to “publish and distribute a monthly e-newsletter” they think differently than if they’re expected to “create and curate online content that inspires philanthropic engagement.” One approach is transaction based; the other focuses on transformation. One has them thinking from a donor-centric, purposeful perspective; the other, who knows?

Sadly, the ‘it’s not my job’ syndrome pervades the social benefit sector and comes from tunnel vision about the roles of employees in different departments. It also comes from tunnel vision about the myriad ways people find and connect with us in the digital age. You can’t fault employees if they aren’t given the proper perspective. How much better might it be if everyone were hired simply as a ‘team player’ to further the organization’s mission and help it achieve its vision for a better tomorrow? Wouldn’t this help assure that opportunities to foster a holistic culture of philanthropy are not missed?

For the year ahead I have a dream your leaders will embrace a culture of philanthropy that engulfs your entire organization.  You will eliminate silos and include everyone in the transformative power of your mission. You will make sure that everyone associated with your organization is clear about the values you enact and has stories they can tell about the ways you help to repair our world. Philanthropy will become the glue that binds everyone together – every department and every volunteer – working towards a common goal.

 Do you have an example to share of how the ‘it’s not my job’ syndrome caused your organization to miss an opportunity?

 In order to create an institution-wide culture of philanthropy you must first clarify your goals and objectives. The 7 CLAIRIFICATION KEYS TO UNLOCK YOUR NONPROFIT’S FUNDRAISING POTENTIAL will help you do exactly that. Grab it here for next-to-nothing (just covers my costs). And if you’re not happy with it, let me know and I’ll refund your purchase price (modest as it may be). I want you happy and I want you to succeed!

mab image How the ‘It’s Not My Job’ Syndrome Pervades Nonprofits and Kills Fundraising
Get Clairification via email and receive free fundraising and nonprofit marketing coaching you can use!

As an added BONUS, you’ll get my popular “Donor Thank Calls E-Book + Script” for free.

About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.


  1. Claire, your post nicely addresses one of my great nonprofit pet peeves. Ideally, the organization’s top leaders would lead. They would make sure everyone in the organization understands the mission and goals. They would ensure that silo-thinking is eliminated. Unfortunately, top leaders often fail to build the ideal culture. The good news is that leadership is not entirely dependent on a job description or job title. Development professionals do not have to wait until the CEO breaks down walls. You’ve outlined some practical ideas for things development professionals can do to contribute to a healthier organizational culture. The result will be happier staff, happier donors, and more donations.
    Michael J. Rosen, CFRE recently posted…Impressive Statistics v. One Good StoryMy Profile

  2. Great point Michael. Leadership is key, and it can come from anywhere. It’s just a bit more challenging trying to lead from the bottom than the top. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done!
    Claire recently posted…How the ‘It’s Not My Job’ Syndrome Pervades Nonprofits and Kills FundraisingMy Profile


  1. […] Claire Axelrad writes an open letter to nonprofit leaders calling for them to embrace culture of philanthropy, one that gets everyone involved. As she says, "Unless you’ve created a culture of philanthropy in your organization – one where everyone who works there is fully informed and passionate about your work and the values you enact in the community – then you’re inevitably going to blow opportunities to garner vital support. Under-informed workers lead to disengaged workers. Disengaged workers lead to disengaged constituents. And here’s how it happens." You can read it all at: How the ‘It’s Not My Job’ Syndrome Pervades Nonprofits and Kills Fundraising. […]

  2. […] How the “It’s Not my Job” Syndrome Pervades Nonprofits and Kills Fundraising […]

Speak Your Mind


CommentLuv badge