How to deal with brilliant but difficult fundraisers

The effect on staff morale and performance might be a greater risk than losing a good fundraiser, writes Valerie Morton

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q: My best-performing fundraiser is a nightmare when it comes to working relationships within the charity. What should I do?

This situation is more common than one would expect, despite seeming unlikely. People skills such as being intuitive, thoughtful and subjective might not come naturally to someone whose job requires the 'left brain' attributes of being logical, analytical and objective. But fundraising is a people-focused activity, so it is interesting to work out what might be causing this problem.

I have come across situations similar to that described in your question, which might be helpful examples.

The first case was a target-driven high achiever. He was intensely competitive and extremely arrogant. He simply felt that none of his colleagues came close to his level of ability and, perhaps to reinforce this view, he had to belittle or find fault with his manager and those who reported to him.

Communication skills

The second example was someone who was not a natural people person but was able to switch on fantastic communication skills with donors. In the office, however, it was as if she felt she could just relax and be herself, with the result that she came across as uncommunicative.

In another charity I employed a great fundraiser who had a reputation for being brusque and uncaring with colleagues. In this case the situation was transformed after the team took part in a Belbin team roles analysis. The issue was simply that her strengths brought with them allowable weaknesses. Her colleagues became more forgiving after using this concept. They appreciated that it was because of her strengths that she displayed what appeared to be thoughtless behaviour, but that her intentions were sincere.

Finally, and most challenging, was an individual who simply had significant development needs. He was a forceful character who achieved results with an approach that was intimidating rather than nurturing - he was also like that in the office, causing great distress among colleagues.

As with most problems, the first step is to ask why it is happening. Is it a temporary situation because of a domestic problem, or does it match one of the scenarios above? Then you need to consider whether investing in some personal development is the solution. Despite this fundraiser's high achievement in some areas, you might need to consider a performance management route or, in the case of severe behaviour such as bullying, a disciplinary procedure.

Although the potential loss of a good fundraiser is a worry, the overall effect on staff morale and performance might be a greater risk. Look at the bigger picture and be brave.

Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

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