DickersonBakker Blog

Desperately Seeking Superman

Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, once summed up the secret of his success this way:

The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.”

Vince Lombardi didn’t build a successful football franchise by breaking the bank to sign one or two star players. He focused on building the entire organization.  He knew that if he built a winning organization it would be magnetic to talent. The franchise he built continues to attract some of the top talent in the sport, even to this day.

The lesson? To field a winning team, build a winning organization. Do that well, and the job of recruiting and developing players gets a whole lot easier.

I find this to be as true in fundraising as it is in anything else. And it is particularly true in major giving. Unfortunately too few embrace that simple concept. It takes hard work and consistent effort to build a winning franchise. But rather than digging in and doing the work necessary to build a major gift “franchise” operation, far too many CEOs I know always seem to be hoping to snag a star free agent — that elusive “super fundraiser”. They are desperately seeking a super man (or woman) who can fly in and save the day.

I’m not saying super fundraisers don’t exist. I know many by name. But I would add three words of caution:

  • First, superheroes don’t tend to move in. They fly in and fly out. It’s what they do. If you are fortunate enough to snag one, you may have a run of success for a while, but the hero bug will bite again and when they fly off to save the next CEO in distress you probably won’t be much further ahead than when you started.
  • Second, appearances can be deceiving. In our executive search practice, we’ve dug beneath the surface of many so-called “super-fundraisers”. Oftentimes they have one or two highly productive donor relationships that make them shine – without these donors their fundraising performance would actually be middle of the road. It would be unwise and wrong to assume these relationships would follow them to your organization were they to make a move. The person you think is a superhero may in fact just be an ordinary guy or gal wearing tights and a cape.
  • Finally, I have seen many “super-fundraisers” who do well in one place but struggle in another. I believe that’s because success in fundraising is never just about one person’s individual performance. Even the best quarterback in football will only become a championship quarterback if he has a well-crafted playbook to work with, good receivers to throw to, and strong blockers to give him protection in the pocket.

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing more important to ensuring success in major giving than having the right people in the front-line roles. This is a relational business, and people are the “keystone” of a successful program. But they aren’t superheroes. They are the quarterbacks of your team.

At Dickerson-Bakker we have identified ten characteristics of top producing major gift officers, which you can read about here. There is an art and a science to this work, and even those who excel at the “art” of the work will struggle if the “science” isn’t there. And placing all your hopes and plans for success on the performance of one individual is neither prudent nor sustainable.

So my encouragement to you is this. Don’t put all your hopes into finding that one amazing free agent. Stop desperately seeking superman. Instead, get about the hard work of building a program that will last. Do that well, and you won’t have a hard time recruiting talent. They will come to you.

Need help building a winning major gift franchise? Our team at Dickerson, Bakker & Associates can help. Why not contact us today to learn more?

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