So You Got A New Job, Huh?
After a year as a consultant and a reporter-at-large for Fundraising Success magazine, I was offered a full-time employment opportunity by one of my nonprofit clients, the United Spinal Association. I was excited about getting back on the “other” side of the desk again.
This would be my first new job since becoming director of fundraising for Consumers Union more than eight years ago. That seemed to me like the distant past (in a galaxy far, far away), and I was trying to remember what I did when starting at CU.
My first day at United Spinal was supposed to be Jan. 2 but, under the category of “stuff just seems to happen,” my father passed away on New Year’s Day and I missed my entire first week of work. My new employer was very understanding, and I started work the following Monday.
As I drove to work my first day, my head was filled with ideas and questions of what to do first. The good news was since United Spinal had been a client of mine, I had some knowledge of its programs and mission, but not nearly enough. So I made a list of things I needed to do to make my transition into the new organization a smooth one and to start to plot my development approach for the future. Main points included:
1. Learn the names and responsibilities of my fellow employees throughout the organization.
2. Get to know my 12 staff members (including their strengths and weaknesses).
3. Learn about the programs we offer as part of our mission.
4. Create a new strategic plan for the development department.
The first day was filled with meeting many fellow staffers and learning about the organization. As the new kid on the block, it was up to me to remember all their names and responsibilities.
(Do you have trouble with names? I certainly do. It took me a couple of weeks before I was comfortable enough to address all the staff members by name.)
One of the good things about previously working with United Spinal was that I was able to hit the ground running, so to speak, since my desktop computer was all set up and I already had completed all the HR meetings and paperwork that is usually a big part of your first day.
My first task was organizing my office. Going through old files is tedious but gives you the opportunity to learn about what your predecessor was up to. In my opinion, it’s always better to build on what was done (and is being done) rather than start from scratch. You should be able to find some positive ideas or programs that you can use as a base from which you can grow your own program.
I had two bulletin boards put up so I could pin up all the direct-mail samples for the year on one and all the important e-mails and organization information on the other.
Next up was the creation of a strategic plan. Before you can start writing this plan it is imperative to know your new organization’s mission and the programs that support it. That’s why I waited two months before writing the new strategic plan. In this case, there was no written plan from my predecessor that I could edit.
Staff evaluation was next on the list and is critical. Are the individuals who are currently on staff worth keeping? In my case the answer was yes. The existing group was talented and dedicated. All that was needed was to add a little leadership and -- presto -- we had a good team to put the new plan in play.
Set-back No. 1. At the end of my first week, I received a resignation. This was someone who I was looking forward to working with. This individual explained that he/she had been unhappy in the position for the last three months and that it had nothing to do with me.
Unfortunately, I now had a hole in my staff that would have to be filled -- and that took take effort which could have been channeled elsewhere.
Set back No. 2. At the end of my seventh week, another person resigned. (I was hoping it wasn’t contagious.) This was a critical position that would be hard to fill since it was in New Hampshire, rather than in our main offices in New York. We immediately started to spread the news by phone to nonprofits, agencies and vendors in the region. We also advertised in the DMA Nonprofit Federation’s e-newsletter and with the New England Direct Marketing Club, along with a few local newspapers. Our new hire started a few weeks ago.
It has now been three months since I took this position (no one else has quit -- thank goodness), and each week I feel more comfortable with the people who work here, the mission and my plan to improve fundraising.
If you find yourself in a new position in the fundraising section, remember to be sure to get to know your new organization, take immediate stock of the people who work with and under you, and develop a plan for moving forward.
Cary Castle is director of development at the United Spinal Association.